You know how we’re all poor college kids, yet we have so many “needs” that continue to rack up our credit card bills? One of the best ways to start saving money is to simply re-evaluate your budget. I know people who use budgeting software and balance their checkbooks religiously, but I am not one of those people.
First of all, it’s nearly impossible for me to predict how much income I’ll rake in in a given week. Second, there’s no way I can simply skip my monthly Metrocard (or other necessity) because I miscalculated. So I charge it. And then I charge five energy drinks because the grocer only accepts credit for purchases of $10 or more. But the reality is, if I quit energy drinks (over $2 a pop), I would save hundreds of dollars a year. What are you wasting your money on?
1. The Bar
In New York City, you’re going to pay at least $10 for a Long Island Iced Tea. For $10, you can buy a jug of Carlo Rossi or an 18-pack of Natty Ice, and you can nix the tip. Even at cheap college bars, you’re bound to pay a cover charge to enjoy Nickel Nite, and even though you’re basically drinking for free, you have to tip on every round. Instead of having a big bar night this week, have a liquor potluck, and invite all of your friends to come over with that random bottle that’s been collecting dust for months. You’ll get drunk without spending a dime, and won’t have to wait 20 minutes for an overwhelmed bartender to take your order.
My roommate has EVERYTHING delivered. Newsflash: Just because a restaurant advertises Free Delivery, you’re still going to spend 15-20% more than you would if you walked your ass down to Willy’s Wings. This also falls in line with the bar thing, mentioned above, because if you think about it, a regular tip should be 15-20%. So if your bar tab is $20, you should be tipping about $3-4. But at the bar, patrons usually tip per round, and good tippers will tip per drink. So even if you’re buying $2- or $3 pints, you could be tipping near 50% per round. And hey, I’ve been a waitress forever, so I’m not advising anyone to save money by skimping on the tip; just cut out the services that require a tip in your life.
3. Prepared Foods
That $5 sandwich you buy at the coffee shop every day will cost you about $25 a week (I’m not counting the weekends, when you’re not rushing from class to class). That’s $1,300 a year. Seriously. For about $10, you can buy a loaf of bread, a half-pound of lunchmeat, and a quarter-pound of cheese, and make your own sandwiches for a week. At an Italian restaurant, you’ll be paying around $15 for a pasta dish that you could make at home for less than five bucks. Even your daily coffee is overpriced. It’s okay to treat yourself to a full-service dinner sometimes, but before you go for that latte that’s been upcharged with Soy milk, flavored syrup, and a double shot of Espresso, ask yourself if the caffeine in a cup of Joe you brewed yourself would still do the trick.
You don’t need them, they pollute your lungs, they yellow your teeth and make you smell like an ashtray, and they cost $5-$10 a pack, depending on your location. Any questions?
Sure, gas prices have plummeted. But you can save even more! Do you and your friend always have to take separate cars on a rendezvous? Figure out a carpool schedule that’s fair for everyone. Do you frequently start and stop your car? That wastes gas, so keep it running when you’re parked in your friend’s driveway for a minute while she finds her keys. Obey the speed limits and traffic laws – braking hard and accelerating too quickly will eat gas like a pre-menstrual Ricki Lake at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Oh, and get your engine checked regularly. A faulty car has to work twice as hard to get you where you’re going.
6. Brand Names.
You can recreate just about any high-end look by having a watchful eye for clearance sales, discount department stores, and thrift store racks. Likewise, Boar’s Head will cost you twice as much than your store brand deli meat, and when you’re buying macaroni and cheese in a freaking box, it doesn’t have to be Kraft. That’s the point of Mac N Cheese.
7. Your Gym Membership.
Just because you have one doesn’t mean it’s going to motivate you to go. If you go to the gym sporadically, you probably don’t need the membership. And if you are paying big bucks for an exclusive fitness center, you might consider checking out low-cost clubs like Planet Fitness ($20/month) or free rec services at your school. Investing in a couple of weights, a medicine ball, or some DVDs might also save you money, and then there’s running, push-ups, and squats, which are always free.
8. Your Friends.
It’s great if you and your pals don’t have to go strictly tit for tat, but the phrases, “Oh, I’ll get this, you can get the next time,” “I know you’ve had a rough week. Let me buy you a drink,” or “If I order a pizza, will you have some?” are going to get you into trouble. So is saying you’ll put the bill on your credit card if everyone chips in– you’re bound to end up overcompensating for someone. Sharing is great. Just make sure you’re not getting the raw end of the deal.
9. DVR or Tivo.
I’m pretty much obsessed with Lost, but I know if I miss it, I can catch up on ABC.com over the weekend. So I also know that if you miss Nip/Tuck, The Office, or G’s to Gents, you aren’t going to die. Say you spend $10 extra on your cable bill each month for DVR: that’s $120 a year, just to be able to fast-forward through commercials.
10. The “Little Things”
An iTunes song for $1. A magazine for $4. 75-cents for a bagel and 25-cents to add cream cheese. $20 to overnight your financial aid application because the deadline came out of nowhere. Saving money is like dieting. If you try to restrict yourself too much, you’re bound to break, and splurge. So that $1 iTunes song snowballs into Jimmy Buffet tickets, that coffee-shop bagel becomes routine because you don’t feel like you have the money to shell out a few bucks on storebought English muffins. And you’ve been so disorganized that you’re always running late, which means you’re going to have to spend money on efficiancy. It all adds up.
Before you buy something, ask yourself, is it worth it? Do you need it? If you didn’t buy that item, could you put the money towards something nice for yourself, like a new pair of shoes or a weekend vacay? It is okay to spend money on superfluous things, but try to cut some of your expenitures out of your life first, and then plan a day to reward yourself. Chances are you still won’t spend as much money.