Money Matters: Cut Costs Now to Splurge This Summer

There are only a few weeks left of the Spring 2009 semester, so how are you going to spend your summer? If you’re like many poor students across the country, you’re going to waste at least the first month of summer vacay working (and sweating) your ass off in the grueling heat in order to pay off the debt you racked up this term.

This past weekend was the first summery weekend in New York (and the Tri-State area), and as I walked through Manhattan, giving my pasty arms their first taste of real sunshine in months, I was infinitely jealous of all of the people in shorts and flip flops sitting outside the restaurants and cafes, casually throwing back margaritas and nibbling on tapas. I immediately regretted all of the cabs I took this winter when it was too cold to walk a few blocks to the subway, splurging on expensive bar nights (and overpriced coat checks), and every other frivolous nickel I threw away, because this weekend, I could not afford a leisurely afternoon of day-drinking. I realized that if I could not afford this luxury, how would I afford a fantastic vacation this summer?

Well, it’s not too late to cut costs where it matters and save up the money to enjoy the weather this summer and make the most of your three months away from school. By cutting down on what you think are daily necessities, you’ll be surprised by how much you can save in a short period of time.

1. Caffeinated Drinks

Now that you’re not pulling late-night study sessions, you can start to wean yourself off of lattes (it’s too hot for them now, anyway). Even if you can’t go a whole day without caffeine, start brewing your own joe in the morning, you know, since you won’t be rushing out the door to hit the 8 a.m. lecture.

If you grab a capp every weekday morning, you are probably spending, on average, $4 a pop. That’s $20 a week. So if you nix the Starbucks now, you’ll save $100 by Memorial Day. If you can forgo the habit for the whole summer, you’ll save about $450 by Labor Day. And that’s even a low estimate.

2. Bar Nights

The bar scene is especially appealing in the winter, when you want to wear a halter top and work up a sweat on the dance floor in frigid temperatures. But once summer hits, there’s bound to be a pool party, barbecue, bonfire, or keg party every weekend. Stay at home and make your own margaritas or sangria’s by the pool, and you’re probably only going to spend about $10-$20, especially if you make a large batch and split the costs with your friends. Even if you go to a party with a door charge, you’re probably forking over $5 for all-you-can drink.

If you can forego a $10 club cover charge for twelve weeks of summer, you’ll pocket $120.

If you usually drink three full-priced cocktails a night at $8 a pop (average mixed drink price) and tip at least 20%, you’ll save almost $400 by the end of August.

Factor in the other expenditures, such as cab fare or coat check (if applicable), and you’ll find you can cut $700-800 easy out of your summer party budget.

3. Food

No more rushing through the campus deli for a plain, overpriced turkey wrap. No more drunken deliveries after an already-expensive night at the bar. It’s summer- take advantage of picnics and barbecues!

Made-to-order sandwiches and combo meals can range from $5-$10, so your lunches could be costing you $25-$50 a week, or $100-200 a month, or $300-$400 in a three-month period.

Delivery options can cost up to double, especially when you factor in gratuities. Spend just a week’s worth of your takeout allowance on frozen chicken breast and hamburger patties, and you can cook out for “free” for the whole month of July, with enough cash leftover to buy a cute bathing suit for the fireworks on the 4th.

4. Transportation

The New York City subway costs over $80 a month. When I had a car, I was putting at least $30-40 into the tank a week. Now that the sun’s out, you can walk, Rollerblade, skateboard, or ride a bike. Or you can just stay home and invite your neighbors to a game of volleyball in the quad of your apartment complex. Even if you can just cut a fraction of your transportation costs, you’ll save more than enough for the gas and parking when you take a road trip to the ocean.

5.  Soft Drinks

Like coffee, many college students down Coke, Pepsi, or Mountain Dew to keep going all day.  Or, we grab Sprite, Iced Tea, Gatorade, or another flavorful beverage to quench our thirst.  The heat this summer is going to make you even more dehydrated and thirsty all summer, so be good to your body and save on vending machines by filling up a Nalgene bottle every morning from your own kitchen sink.  Drinking two store-bought drinks a day can rack up $28 in quarters a week (based on $2 bottles), which is $112 a month, or $448 from May to August.  Not only will your body thank you for replenishing the liquid you lose in sweat, you’ll cut calories– and you’ll have enough for a round-trip flight to a variety of locations when you realize summer’s almost over and you have yet to take a holiday.

These are five little things that we tend to over-indulge on during the winter months when we’re busy with school, freezing our butts off, and simply overspending to battle the depression and cabin-fever that sets in when the dismal winter season starts to take its toll.  If you’ve been cooped up in the dorms and retreating to your parents’ houses for the summer, you’ll save an exponentially greater sum on housing and utilities, grocery shopping, and even laundry.

What expenses are you most looking forward to cutting this summer? And, more importantly, what summer splurges are you going to spoil yourself with once classes are over and you have almost four months of freedom?

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