In the past, I used the phrase I’m broke too loosely, so casually. If I knew my cash should be going towards rent instead of going out to dinner with friends, I would send out a text that read, “Can’t tonight, I’m broke.”
The thing is, that’s not being broke. That is allocating your funds. That’s having a budget. Really broke involves things like eviction notices and past due fees. Being broke means having to pick between milk and juice at the grocery store — because you can’t afford the luxury of having both in your fridge that week.
I had to learn how to budget my money when I went from having a salaried job to working freelance. That is when I realized how far you could really stretch a dollar — and how rude it is to refer to ourselves as broke, especially in relation to people who really are broke.
Now that I’ve learned how to budget, here are some of my tips for prioritizing the important stuff while still indulging.
How to socialize
While I no longer go out for dinner — or drinks — multiple times a week like I used to, I have found a way to eat out once a week and still stay within budget. A few of my favorite local restaurants offer lunch specials Monday through Friday, with full meals ranging from $9.99 to $12.99. Even better, some are BYOB so I can have a glass or two of Trader Joe’s $3 Charles Shaw cabernet sauvignon with my lunch without spending $8 a pop on a restaurant’s house wine.
The Savings: I used to spend $50 each time I went out for dinner and drinks, so lets say $150 per week. Now I go out once a week for lunch, and spend about $20 a week. That’s a saving of $130 a week!
I apply the same concept to socializing at a bar. If I have to get out, I limit it to once in a while and try to stick to weekday happy hours, versus paying regular price on a Saturday night. Instead of limiting myself to a bar setting when I want to see my friends, I ask them to do things that are free: staying in for dinner, going for a walk, or sitting around my fire-pit.
How to pamper yourself
I like my visits to the hair and nail salon just as much as the next girl, but a $30 bi-weekly pedicure and $65 bi-monthly root touch-up is something a tight budget just won’t allow. So I improvise by converting my bathroom into my very own private sanctuary by stalking up on salon products that I buy with some Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons.
I fill my bathtub with Epson salt, and go to work with my own foot scrub and pumice sponge. I also dye my own roots with an at-home touch-up kit, and tweeze my eyebrows instead of paying to get them waxed or threaded. I light a couple candles and listen to some jazz music — and forget that salons other than my own even exist. Plus, it’s comforting to know that you aren’t sharing nail clippers and files with strangers.
The Savings: Epson salt: $4.99, foot scrub: $3.99, pumice sponge: $2.99. That’s $12 worth of products that will last you for at least 3 months, as opposed to $30 (not including tip) every two weeks. Now I spend about $4 a month on pedicures versus $60. A box of root touch retails for $6.99; a $58 savings (again, not including tip) And I also save $10 every time I tweeze my own brows, instead of getting them professionally done.
How I avoid accumulating debt
It is almost impossible to pay down debt when you are living paycheck to paycheck. Yet it is very easy to use your credit card here and there, and tack it on to your preexisting balance. But there are two things I do to make sure my debt doesn’t continue to accumulate.
I leave all of my department store and major credit cards tucked away at home so that I am not tempted to buy that handbag I just can’t live without, which I really don’t need at all. I only have one credit card in my wallet for emergencies, hidden in an inconvenient pocket.
I also transferred my credit card balances to one card with a 0 APR promotion. So even if I am just paying the minimum each month, at least it is slowly paying off the debt as opposed to it being applied to the interest and not making a dent on what I owe. For me, the key was to divide the amount of my debt — for example $3,000 — by the amount of months the offer is valid (Typically they will range between 12 to 21 months.) That way, my debt is paid off before the interest kicks in.
How I shop for groceries
I cook at home for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner! And while not eating out cuts my cost tremendously, I am still very conscious of the way I spend my money at the market too. As long as the ingredients are basically the same, I buy store brand versions of my foods and products. I also coupon; I keep the store coupons that print out along with my receipt, and bring those with me the following week. I even take the time to go online and load digital coupons.
To help relieve my dining out withdrawal symptoms, I teach myself how to cook my favorite restaurant’s dishes. YouTube has taught me how to cook everything from an authentic bolognese to filet mignon.
How I shop for clothes or housewares
If I need a dress for a wedding or something for the house, I start with a consignment shop first. Unsurprisingly, wealthy towns have the best pickings. I bought a BCBG Max Azria dress with the original tags still on it for $18 for a black tie event a few months back. My cast iron vintage dining room chairs? $40 a pop.
If I can’t find what I need second hand, the next step is the clearance rack at stores like TJMaxx and HomeGoods, where you can get great labels and brands at prices that are an absolute steal.
Another little trick is to buy clothes that are on sale because it is the end of the season. This works well for basic items that never go out of style.
And if I have to get something online, I make sure to sign up for a store’s email list, which will typically give you a coupon code or free shipping as a first time buyer.
How I make extra money
I get bored of clothes and accessories pretty quick, so instead of just letting dust collect on things that I’ll never wear again, I sell them and make some much needed extra cash. Apps like Poshmark are great for trendy items, and I had a wonderful experience with a private shop when I sold a vintage Fendi purse. A simple Google search will tell you what the going rate is for something similar to your own stuff, so it’s worth looking around before negotiating with a buyer.
I also sell the home items and furniture I don’t use anymore. Each time I moved from apartment to apartment, I found less and less use for a lot of my furniture — becoming the not-so-proud owner of multiple lamps and chairs that I just didn’t need. Rather than storing them for infinity in the basement, I sold them. There are a few options here: You can go the online route and sell on sites like eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, or use apps like Let Go. There are even online garage sale groups on Facebook, which are town-specific.
I got rid of crap, preventing me from becoming a hoarder, while also making money that I really needed!