Something that always frustrated me when it came to wanting to make video games was that by trying to spend $0 on assets, tools and more, I was limiting what I could do without having to learn everything the hard way (which isn't a bad idea to learn anyways). Not only that, but trying to simply utilize only "Free" items was time consuming to find what I wanted.
I always thought, why should I spend money on something that I could eventually learn how to do myself? Sure I could save hundreds of hours in the long run, but I don't I have the funds to just drop money on tools. Soon I decided that maybe I should find ways to fund the tools and assets I want without breaking my bank account.
With that said, I spent some time doing research on ways to acquire funds without having to spend any money, or as little as possible. Although some really aren't the best solutions, there were some that caught my eye and had some merit.
1 - Discounts
Although not really "Free", most sites have sales where tools and assets are on sale. I have seen up to 90% on some stores where you buy a bundle of maybe 30 or more assets for $20. When you see sales on sites, look at whats all included in them to see if the bundle would be worth it. Granted if you are working solely on 3D and there is a 2D sale, buying it might not be worth your time. Constantly checking the active sites you use is still a good idea though. There could be a 75% sale that includes audio, 3D, 2D, GUI components or even tools!
2 - Selling Assets/Content
Perhaps you are able to create some really nice assets for you games? Consider placing them on asset stores to try and make a small profit to fund your own video games. Depending on what sites you use and the type/quality of your content, you might be able to at the very least buy a tool here and there to accelerate your games? If you are unsure on what to make or what price to place on them, just take a look at similar items to see whats included and how much they cost.
Depending on whether you have a website and access to merchandise, you could also place items on your site to sell in an effort to pull a side income to your side income to fund your projects and general expenses. That market can be very aggressive, but working on your marketing skills, SEO and outreach you could easily pull in some additional income.
Another thing to consider reviewing is seeing what sites have an overall better sales performance than others. If you are focusing on building assets that tie into a specific game engine, try to get those on that site as those tend to perform better. Don't feel like you have to keep them all on one site, you can expand your sites so long as you keep your pricing the same across the board.
You can also create stunning scenery backgrounds with a game engine to sell. You could be building scenes for a game, or just using the tools for practice to create stunning views. You could even record yourself creating the scenes and upload the videos to generate income off of ads?
3 - Ads
Let's say you already made a small game and its a free one available on the mobile stores, why not place some ads in it to try and pull some small amounts of revenue from it? Depending how you setup your ads and how often the game gets played you might pull in a steady amount of income? Keep in mind it that if people aren't playing the game then you won't see any income, and in order for people to play them they need to know about them. Having somewhat of a marketing strategy to get the word out about your game will help, but does come at a cost to do so.
Do you have a website or blog that you pay for? If so, then look at acquiring ads on your site to try and get a small amount of revenue from it. You might not have a lot of traffic, but maybe you have enough to earn a dollar or two a day? Something is still better than nothing, and if you pay for them, then looking at finding ways to make them pay for themselves is always a good idea.
4 - Donations
I have seen Go Fund Me accounts that ask for donations on small items or startups. If you want to give it a go you can set one up and see how it goes.
5 - Playing Games
Oddly there are apps that you can install on your device that will pay you to play other games. You most likely won't make bank on something like this, but maybe you get $10-$25 a month playing mobile games in your spare time? You could apply those funds to purchasing some tools or assets on your own game. Another bonus if you look at it that way is seeing what does or doesn't make a good game. By playing them you should see some components about a game that you do or don't like. I myself use Mistplay to pull in a few extra dollars a month that I can put towards my online shopping.
If you are someone who would just assume not spend much money, if any, on a video game hobby, then looking into some of the options above would be a good start. I have openly avoided spending money where I don't need to and earning or saving money where I can. Looking at discounts, earning extra income from games, blogs, or anything really to save money is helpful. Avoiding assets is not always the best option as some are very powerful and can save hundreds of hours per game, and most come with great documentation to help you along the way.
There are tons of great assets, tools and more out there for everyone to purchase that can accelerate game design and get you cranky games out faster. Unfortunately some of them cost money and not everyone can dump endless funds into games to get them started, but sometimes you don't need all the funds either. Do some research, stay alert for sales, get creative on making extra money to pay for the ones you want, and make some killer games!