This past year, I challenged myself to live a more financially responsible life. It wasn’t easy whatsoever—but it did teach me how to save, standup for my current situation, and be as low-budget as possible.
I dedicate this post to all the student loan paying, career-building, starving-artist struggling, parental point-proving, badass hustlers out there that need to save money.
Before I begin, let me confess that I still have student loans and I am definitely being harassed by debt collectors—but what 26-year-old with a B.A. and a M.A in 2013 isn’t? This is a guide for people to stop spending their money on excess shit, and to start valuing wha they do have. I do know how to eat on $40 a week and how to budget my life without being a penny pinching crank…not how to reap the most benefit from your taxes.
I started with collecting every receipt from my purchases. It was only going to be a one-month thing, but then it turned into the whole year. Every once in awhile, I would organize my receipts into separate categories (laundry, food, clothing, entertainment, ect.). I add up the totals, and see which pile had the largest amount of money spent. From there, I would cut all the things I didn’t need to buy in the future to cut down on excess spending. For example, on my grocery list meat and cheese were the most expensive items. I eliminated meat, and would only buy cheese if it was on sale.
I was also finding that I would naturally gravitate towards name brand products instead of generic ones, so on my next trip to a CVS, Walgreens, or Duane Reade I reached for lesser known brands and saved a couple of dollars.
One thing I noticed, is that I was eating my meals out a lot. To combat this, I made 3 or 4 meals at home one night and brought them all to work with me so that I didn’t have to worry about having food or relying on delivery. Then, if I did well for one week I would have a Friday night meal delivered or spend money on a night out.
Probably the hardest thing I had to do was face my debt. I have been running away from paying back my student loans for awhile, and finally it got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping because of how terrified I was. I went online to each of my school’s portals, found out exact the amount of debt I was in and consolidated. I called up the consolidation company, explained my situation, and lowered my payments based off my income. One of my school payments fell to a debt collection company (long story)….ruthless horrible people at Eastern Revenue. They found my roommate’s number on the internet, and tried to scare me into paying. I called them, and made it very clear that was unacceptable, and they weren’t going to harass, scare me, or overwhelm me with payment notifications or threatening calls. I told them my situation, and was very real with them about my plans….and they backed off. Of course, I still have to pay…but I wasn’t going to let a company terrify me into making quick decisions. Also, the best part was when they asked if I could borrow the money from someone I laughed really really hard and said, “You must be fucking crazy.”
You’re already in debt. Might as well handle it on your terms.
1. Save and collect all your receipts for one month:
Figure out where the majority of your extra money is going to, and try to trim the fat, so to speak. Most of the time,you will be subtracting needless items that you don’t realize you buy…or things that are super unhealthy for you. According to last month’s receipts, I really love buying Ben and Jerry’s AmericaCone Dream ice cream. Yeah, that needed to stop.
2. Play the “How much will this improve my life” game:
Is this purchase going to improv the quality of your life? Will you have it for awhile? Or will you throw it away in a matter of months because it’s not new and shiny anymore?
Also, consider your life. Why are you spending your paycheck on Forever 21 leggings when you work in an office? Save your money, and buy quality products less often.
3. Keep track of all your payments, and keep them separate.
Sometimes, housemates will designate people to handle the finances. If you owe one person, rent and utilities write two checks or do two QuickPays. Write dates and memos on everything, and text/call your landlord to make sure he or she got the rent money. They maybe your roommates/friends/partners/spouse, but that’s your money.
4. Plan your meals ahead of time for the week, and grocery shop for only those items.
If you go in with a plan, you won’t feel so overwhelmed when it’s time to make food choices. Also, this prevents food from going bad in your fridge. If you’re only shopping for a few items that you need to use in these predetermined meals, it is less likely you will forget about something in the refrigerator.
5. Give yourself a day when shopping online:
Add all the products you want in your basket, and then walk away from the computer. Ask yourself if you really need those items, and then come back to in the next day and decide. Insider Tip: For some online stores, if you leave items in a basket for awhile the company might send you digital coupons as an incentive for you to make your purchase!
If I can give you any advice, it would be this: Learn how to trade your services. Need a haircut? Make friends with a stylist and walk their dog. Build your friend a web site in return for cooking lessons. Also, try SkillShare.com.
Make good buying decisions, face your debt head on, don’t apologize for student loans, and be patient. One day, when you live in your swank-ass mansion you will look back on this time of your life and chalk it up to building character.
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Laura Delarato is the creator of Curvy Candy, and pretty much an all around badass.