There is no need to pay any money in order to learn Mandarin Chinese. There are many ways in which you can learn this language for free.
I personally haven’t gone to any schools or paid any fees to learn. Granted, I have paid some money to buy some books and an electronic dictionary, so perhaps it will be a lot more difficult to learn Chinese without spending a single penny, however there is no need to break the bank or even take a class.
I personally started out learning because a friend of mine was learning as a hobby. He was plugged into the local Chinese community and spent time with them regularly. Many of them were bi-lingual so we were able to pick their brains as to how to say certain things in Mandarin. We also had ample opportunity to practice what Mandarin we already knew.
So this is an excellent free tool that you can use which is highly effective. Try to get plugged into your local Chinese community. Make friends with Mandarin speakers and try to learn as much as you can from them. It won’t cost you anything and is much more enjoyable than sitting at a desk in a classroom with a bunch of other people.
There are also many free resources on the web, this website being just one of them. Therefore you will be able to learn quite a bit without spending any money, however there are some things that are worth spending your money on.
Eventually I recommend making friends with someone who barely speaks any English at all. This is something I did and it was really helpful. There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end and being forced to communicate only in Chinese. Why do you think children who move countries become fluent within a year ? Complete immersion. So try to create an environment where it’s “sink or swim” and your Chinese will improve dramatically. This the main reason I decided to move to China.