“I live in an expensive area and have an entry level job. There’s no way I could save enough money to travel.”
Sound familiar? Well, guess what? I lived in Chicago, a notoriously expensive city, making about $34,000 a year, and if I can do it, so can you. You don’t have to be a financial wizard. All you have to do is set priorities.
Most people have more wiggle room in their budget than they realize. Start by writing down all of your living expenses (rent, utilities, student loans, food, etc…) Okay, these are the things you actually need. Now make a list of everything else you spent money on in the past month (if you’re like me and use your credit/debit card even for $2.00 purchases because you never have cash, you can just look at your bank statement). Gum, lottery tickets, that $15 bubbling foot massager that you just had to have…
How much does that add up to? Probably more than you thought. It’s easy to spend a few bucks here or there without even noticing it, but when you really pay attention and prioritize, you can find some simple ways to save. Here are some of my favorite ways to cut expenses:
Skip Starbucks (& other coffee shops) – Some evil genius figured out how to dump 19 oz. of sugar into coffee and charge $6 a cup. You can do this at home for a fraction of the price (and the calories). For me, Starbucks is a very rare treat, usually around the Pumpkin Spice Latte time of year. (I know…I’m such a cliché.)
Cancel your cable – With services like Hulu or Netflix for $8.99 a month, there’s no need to pay hundreds of dollars for channels that never have anything good on anyway. I do pay $30/month for Internet service, but only because I’m an Internet junkie and it’s not possible to hang out in Starbucks all day without buying anything. 🙂
Ditch the gym membership – You don’t need a gym to stay in shape. You can run or hike outdoors and it doesn’t cost a thing. Not a runner? Websites like BodyRockTV offer free daily workouts. And don’t give me that “I don’t have enough room” excuse. I have a tiny studio apartment and I make room.
Get a library card – Love to read? Me too, but you won’t catch me in a Barnes & Noble. Many libraries these days have even gone digital and carry a decent selection of audio and e-books that can be downloaded right from their websites.
Cut the clutter – Not only will you feel lighter, but selling things on Craigslist or eBay is a great way to earn some extra cash. When I moved from Indianapolis to Chicago I downgraded from a spacious one-bedroom to a shoe box-sized studio. That meant reducing the amount of “stuff” I had by about 2/3rds. And guess what? I don’t miss any of it.
Eat in, not out – Okay, this one is tough for me because I’m such a foodie. Luckily I’m also a pretty good cook. I do occasionally splurge on carry-out, but I honestly can’t tell you the last time I ate in a restaurant that someone else wasn’t paying for. If your culinary skills are lacking, there are literally thousands of YouTube videos that offer free tutorials. Pick a few basic dishes and master them.
Lose the booze – I love a glass of wine as much as the next person, but, if you’re really tightening your budget, cutting out the alcohol can equate to major savings. And I’m not just talking about the cost of liquor. Drinking lowers your inhibitions and impulse control. After a couple cocktails you’re a lot more likely to order a round of shots for your buddies or late-night pizza delivery. I know, I’ve been there.
(On a related note, I don’t smoke, but if you do, you probably already know it’s costing you thousands of dollars a year. Plus it’s killing you. I know it’s hard, but quitting will make both you and your bank account feel amazing!)
Skip the movies – Going to a movie is ridiculously expensive. A ticket alone will set you back $10-$15 and don’t even get me started on the concessions. Wait a few months and it’ll be out on Redbox, anyway.
Get a roommate – This is a great way to cut your rent and utilities in half. In my case, it’s unlikely that I would find someone willing to pay for floor space in my studio, but if you have a bigger place, go for it. Having a roommate as an adult might not sound very appealing, especially if you’re used to living alone. It’s something I never would have considered before I made travel my priority, but it’s amazing how your perspective shifts when you have a dream in mind.
Plan ahead – Gas stations & convenience stores jack the prices way up on things like drinks and snacks. Bring your own if you’re going on a road trip or running errands all day. Oh, and learn to carry a water bottle; it’ll save you money and it’s better for the environment.
Pack a lunch – Buying your lunch, even just a few times a week, can easily cost you upwards of $700/year. That’s a plane ticket, my friends. Bringing last night’s leftovers to work with you or making a quick sandwich before you leave is an easy way to save.
Sell your car – If you live in a major city with good public transportation, chances are you could get by without one. In a more rural area this may not be feasible, but you could still downgrade to a much cheaper, less “cool” car. It may be slightly embarrassing to drive around in a used Grandma-mobile, but hey, they’re reliable and they get the job done.
Move in with friends or family – In this day and age, it’s not really that unusual to see people in their 20’s or 30’s moving back in with mom and dad. I’m currently in the process of trying to sublet my apartment and do just this.
Downgrade your phone – I didn’t think I could live without my iPhone, but I’m surviving (although going through withdrawals). Downgrading from a smartphone can easily cut your bill in half.
Don’t be a store snob – If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with an Aldi or Trader Joe’s, they are definitely worth going out of your way for. You might have to bag your own groceries, but you’ll be paying a lot less for them. In the summer, find a farmer’s market near you. Not only will you find cheaper, healthier produce, you’ll be supporting your local community. For non-perishables & cleaning supplies, take advantage of Dollar Stores. Why pay more for the exact same tube of toothpaste?
Do your research – Often times you can get away with paying much less for the same product just because it doesn’t have a fancy brand name. However, be sure to read the reviews. The cheapest option is not always the best way to go. If you buy a shoddy product for half the price of the brand name version and it falls apart after only 2 uses, it’ll end up costing you more to replace it. So do your research before making a purchase.
Splurge smarter – Everyone needs a treat every now and then. Planning out what to splurge on and when helps you resist impulse buying. For example, I’ll pick Saturday night to be a “spa day” (since I won’t be out boozing). I’ll get a $5 bottle of wine, soak in a bubble bath, and read a good book. I feel pampered without breaking the bank.
Some of these may seem like a pretty big sacrifice at first, but after a while you won’t miss half the crap you used to think you needed. Having a specific goal in mind really helps you prioritize. The next time you’re tempted to order a pizza instead of cook, just ask yourself what you want more: pizza or a trip to Italy? (Duh, you want to eat pizza in Italy!)
Saving money feels great. Getting to live your dreams? Even better.