As a college student I’ve had to learn how to live on a budget. I had a job my senior year of high school and spent the majority of my money on frivolous things like clothes, shoes, and many many meals out with friends. I also blew all of my graduation money on things that really weren’t necessary (more clothes) and when all of that cash ran out I felt really silly for having spent it in the first place. The first few months of college were tough for me because I had to adjust a lot of my spending habits. It was really difficult to change my habits because it was essentially changing my whole lifestyle! I know I’m not the only person living on a tight budget right now so I figured I’d share some tips that have helped me financially. Please note that these are just steps that I took that have helped me personally. I don’t have any official financial training or knowledge. Here goes!
Tips for Living on a Budget:
1) Stop buying Starbucks
Fancy beverages can add up SO quickly. If you buy a latte every day in downtown Chicago, you’re spending about $35 a week on coffee. That’s almost $2,000 a year that you could save simply by nixing your daily fix. If you really can’t give up your daily Starbucks, you can try to cut back to one or two drinks a week. I bought a reusable cup so that I can make tea or coffee at home and take it with me. That way I’m a little green and saving all kinds of money. It’s not as difficult as you think!
2) Buy generic brands and shop smart
When you’re at the grocery store, it’s easy to get sucked into paying more for something because you are familiar with its brand. In reality, generic brands are usually the same exact product as its branded counterpart and they are just a fraction of the price. When buying cleaning products, medicine, and grocery staples such as milk, opting for a generic brand will save you a lot of money. I’ll be the first to admit that I am brand loyal with some silly items (Jello Pudding for example) but whenever I have the option, I try to choose the less expensive alternative. Another great way to compare value while shopping is to check the price by oz. I’ll try to explain this to the best of my ability using the picture below.
Instead of looking at the total price of an object which can often be misleading (different sizes and shapes of containers makes it difficult to tell how much of the product you are actually getting), look at the “Unit price”. This breaks down the price into how much you are paying per ounce. Look for the lowest unit price and you’ll end up spending less and getting more. I learned about this in third grade and it’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever been taught!
3) drop the gym
(I feel like my mom will love this cartoon)
Having a gym membership is really a luxury. Exercise is free and if you don’t consistently use your gym membership, it’s just a waste of money. For those who live in nicer climates, you can exercise outside almost year round. For those who live in the cold, there are plenty of indoor exercise opportunities that don’t require a monthly payment. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve found that workout videos are extremely effective and a much more affordable alternative than a traditional gym. Unless you have the motivation to frequently attend your gym, try something else and save yourself some money.
4) eat at home
I don’t think many people realize just how expensive it is to eat out all the time. In Chicago I spend a minimum of $5.00 per meal when I eat out. Sadly, my usual expense for a delicious meal is about $10.00 and that adds up quickly. By always keeping my fridge stocked, I can ensure that I’ll eat at home more often. I can get two weeks worth of groceries for myself for about $80.00 from Trader Joe’s. This includes ingredients needed to make experimental dishes I’ve read about in the blog world as well as plenty of desserts. At three meals a day, I only spend about $2.00 per meal during those two weeks. SO MUCH CHEAPER THAN EATING OUT. It may seem like more work, but it’s healthier and much more affordable than your other option. Also, cooking doesn’t have to be time-consuming. There are plenty of simple recipes that call for few ingredients and only take a few minutes of prep time.
5) save a percentage of your paycheck for emergencies
Now that I’m working again, I’ve made a decision to save money for a rainy day. I put 20% of every paycheck directly into my savings account so that I’ll have extra funds for life’s little emergencies. I would suggest putting in the highest percentage possible because saving money is always a good choice but every penny helps. I also take advantage of my bank’s “keep the change” program in which the extra “change” from my various transactions automatically rolls over into my savings. It’s nice to save without even thinking about it!
6) recycle! upcycle! Just…cycle?
Finding new uses for old things is the most fun way to save money. I feel like bloggers not only understand this but also take it to a whole new level. In my apartment we reuse our plastic grocery bags as trash bags, make our own art, and buy LOTS of used clothing. I wear my clothes more than once in between washings (it’s not as gross as it sounds and is actually recommended for most items!) and I’m always trying to find creative uses for old things. I have about a billion DIY projects saved on my computer and I’m willing to be that 95% of them use something that would be thrown away otherwise. Perhaps I’ll post some of them for you eventually!
7) Get netflix
I have saved SO MUCH MONEY by having netflix. I watch a LOT of TV because I like having the background noise while doing homework. Nine out of ten times I’m watching tv it’s a tv show on Netflix’s instant section. Instead of going out to a movie on a date, stay in and watch your Netflix! You probably think I get paid by netflix to talk about them all the time but I promise that I don’t. I just love it so much that I think the world should know :).
Hopefully some of these tips were new for you. I know I always like to gain some insight on how others make life work when there isn’t much cash around and now you can see how I do it!