As a grad student, I live on a modest stipend that puts me solidly into the “lower class” category, by U.S. standards. Who knew that having a master’s degree and working on my Ph.D. would leave me with an income of a mere high school graduate, at least temporarily?Anyway, while I don’t have tons of extra income to spend on luxuries, I hardly live in a Spartan way, eating dinner out of a can of beans or consisting solely on PB&J. With some smart budgeting, it’s quite easy to afford necessities and still have a little extra to spend on fun stuff, without going into debt.
Without further ado, here are some tips to live frugally:
Keep track of your expenses
I love Mint.com, which is a website that connects to all of your financial accounts and aggregates them so you can keep track of how much you’re spending on what, but there are plenty of other ways to keep track of where your money is going, and whether it fits in your budget or not. If you’ve never tracked your expenses before, you might find out that you are dropping $50 a week on Starbucks or your favorite smoothie place, without even realizing it.
Avoid racking up credit card debt
Just don’t do it. Save debt for important things with more reasonable interest rates, such as cars or housing. Or, you know, work on paying off those pesky, inescapable student loans.
Keep an emergency fund in savings, just in case you need to repair your car unexpectedly or pay for medical costs, anything of that nature
It’ll be a nice buffer that will reduce additional worry and stress. If it’s hard for you to save, have some of your paycheck automatically go to a savings account. It’ll be as if it never existed, but instead it’s steadily accruing interest!
Live in an affordable area
My current college town has a much lower cost of living than bigger cities, such as New York, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco. So, just about everything costs less – rent, eating out, happy hour, gas, even taxes.
Unless you really, really hate living with other people. Splitting the rent will always save you money over having your own place, meaning a couple extra hundred dollars per month and thousands per year.
Cook at home most of the time, which will save you money for eating out
I don’t usually have a ton of time to cook, so I like to make big meals and pack up a couple days’ worth of leftovers for lunch and future dinners. Crockpot recipes are a great way to achieve this. Just buying lunch every day adds up quickly! With regard to grocery shopping, stick to a list, check weekly sales, and never shop when hungry.
Cut out unnecessary spending in lots of small ways
Turn down the climate control, walk instead of bussing or driving, take advantage of a student discount, make coffee instead of getting Starbucks, buy clothes from thrift and discount stores instead of paying retail, cancel services (like cable or other subscriptions) you don’t use much anyway, share Netflix with family or friends, and avoid overdraw and late bill fees, just to give a few examples. These tactics all amount to saving a couple dollars here and there, but they can quickly add up.
Go out for happy hour rather than later
Happy hours give you the most bang for your buck, often with half off drinks and food. Cheap appetizers can sub for more expensive entrees. If you absolutely must go out late at night, pregame at home first, saving you lots of money on overpriced bar concoctions.
Comparison shop online
Smartphones make this even easier nowadays, so you can check to see if the product you’re eyeing at Target retails for less on Amazon.com. Read reviews to make sure you’re getting what you’re expecting and not wasting money.
Wait for sales
If you’re patient enough, whatever you’re lusting after will probably go on sale at some point. Plus, with time, you might figure out you don’t want it that much anyway.
Look for free or cheap activities to do
If you live in a decent city, it’s easy to find free or discounted fitness classes, festivals, movie showings, museum nights, and so on. You can go always outside and enjoy nature with friends, without paying a dollar.
Figure out what things don’t matter to you all that much and scrimp there, while paying a bit more for good quality things that do matter to you. Sometimes paying more for quality can save you money in the long run, because it saves you from having to replace shoddy quality products.
Indulge in small luxuries now and then
Whether that’s with food, a book, music, a nail polish, or whatever strikes your fancy. It’ll satisfy your shopping bug when you can’t afford to buy more and prevent you from feeling deprived. Just make sure this doesn’t happen all the time!
Post by Elise Bui (CLAS ’09)
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