Hard Times Handbook

Our guide to living better, for less, in the recession

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It's tough out there. The recession is supposed to be over, although you'd never know it to walk the streets of San Francisco. But we're here to help; our Hard Times Handbook offers tips on bargains, deals, and discounts to make those fewer dollars go further.

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Broke doesn't mean bored

Eight great ways to have fun in San Francisco for $5 or less

By Johnny Funcheap

Living on a tight budget and still trying to have fun in San Francisco is a near impossible task. This is an expensive city, thanks to the reality that everyone wants to live in the tiny 49-square-mile cultural oasis — driving up rents and the cost of just about everything else.

Despite its reputation, the city is actually getting slightly more affordable, if ever so relatively. (In 2008 San Francisco actually fell in the rankings of most expensive cities in the U.S. from fourth to fifth.)

Leading the charge toward making the city a more affordable place to have fun are numerous businesses, government-run sites, and co-ops that are trying to survive in the recession themselves — and using big discounts and fun free events to try to lure you in.

Here's a list of my favorite deals and freebies I've found so far for 2010.

CAFÉ ROYALE

Waving the flag high for nightlife in the Trendynob with its curved couches and velvet curtains is the cozy beer and wine bar Café Royale. This late-night venue (it's open until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays) stages more than 20 nights of free events each month, an eclectic mix of live entertainment that includes jazz bands, Beatles karaoke, book readings, slam poetry, stand-up comedy, and even the odd accordion night. You can dine on small plates and noshables until the wee hours, and wash them down with a robust selection of wines by the glass and creatively yummy Soju cocktails like the Pom Pom and Creamsicle. And for billiards fans, Café Royale has one of the few three-quarter size tournament tables in San Francisco at just 75 cents a game.

800 Post at Leavenworth. 415-441-4099. www.caferoyale-sf.com

COUNTERPULSE

More an arts and culture community hub than just a performance space, CounterPULSE serves as a home and venue for a diverse mix of local artists, dancers, and playwrights to practice and showcase their latest works. A majority of the events at this nonprofit theater (plays, dance performances, as well as classes and workshops) are free. For more elaborate productions that require tickets, CounterPULSE has a wonderful "no one turned away for lack of funds" policy. You can also get in free by donating a few hours of your time to the volunteer usher program.

1310 Mission at Ninth St., 415-626-2060. www.counterpulse.org

$5 MOVIE NIGHT

Saving money on going out to the movies used to mean you had to blag your way to a cheap ticket using a long-expired student ID or arrive by lunchtime to save a few bucks on a matinee ticket. The historic Roxie Theater has done away with all of those shenanigans, at least on Monday nights, with cheaper-than-matinee prices ($5) to all films (except for the odd film festival or special screening when regular ticket prices still apply). This stalwart of the Mission District, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday, is an independent art-house theater that shows limited-run art, music, foreign, and documentary films on two small screens.

Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-431-3611. www.roxie.com

BART DISCOUNTS AND FREE RIDES

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