We’re all guilty of throwing ourselves the money-problems pity party. You know, the one where you complain about how you’re not making enough money at your job and hesitate to make plans with friends because you’re really broke right now, even though you just came from a mani/pedi. But with the new year upon us, there is no time like the present to reexamine our spending habits and find ways to stretch that paycheck further. Imagine never receiving another email from your bank with that gut-wrenching, yet all-too-familiar, subject line: Your Account Has Insufficient Funds. Wouldn’t that life just be SO much better?
Few people actually want to sit down and face the reality of their finances. I know I was much happier not knowing exactly how I was spending my money, even though I never seemed to have enough. So I’ve gone ahead and done the dirty work for you, and found a few of those superfluous expenses and silly habits that are just devouring your savings account. Feel free to thank me later.
1. Cash is king.
Put away your debit and credit cards, and give yourself a weekly allowance in cash that is within your budget (once things like rent and bills are accounted for). Try to rely solely on this weekly allowance for your daily expenses. If it lasts you the week without making any adjustment to your normal spending habits, you’re living within your means. Otherwise, you’ll start to realize almost immediately where you’re spending unnecessary amounts of money, and believe me, you’ll think twice before pulling out your wallet as you see those bills physically disappear. Using cash will help you make smarter choices, and the benefits of those choices will end up in your savings account.
2. Water doesn’t have to cost money.
I know you’ve heard it before, but buying bottled water is costing you a fortune and you probably don’t even know it. If it’s the filtered aspect of bottled water that you like, buy yourself a Brita or a faucet mount that filters your water at home, and start saving some serious moola. Get yourself a Nalgene or any other type of BPA-free bottle that you can reuse, and bring it to work. And while we’re talking water, what is up with sparkling water and how expensive it is? If you’re addicted to it like I am, and often find your fridge filled with six packs of Perrier or San Pellegrino, then you need a SodaStream stat. This little machine changed my life and helped me save a ton of cash instantly. Unless of course you’re drinking sparkling water to supplement an even more expensive habit like prosecco, I suggest buying one.
3. Rethink your dining habits.
I’m not going to suggest you start cooking for yourself more often because (a) you probably already know that and (b) it would be a very ambitious New Year’s resolution. But if you’re spending too much money dining out three to four times a week and you know the names of your GrubHub delivery guys, something must be done. Enter Blue Apron or Plated. These food subscription services—along with others like Hello Fresh and Peach Dish—will deliver pre-portioned, easy-to-follow meals to your door for as low as $9.99 per person. It seriously can’t get easier than having everything you need delivered to your doorstep, and I bet that price is about half the amount you spend on an average delivery order. Try signing up for one of these services and schedule a home delivery just twice a month to kick things off, and bring your lunch to work a couple of times a week, and you will see some of that cash you were wasting back in your wallet.
4. Use a real grocery store.
Stop using your corner deli, the bodega across the street, and pharmacies as your supermarket. This is not where you should be buying groceries, people! These places will sell you food, whether a box of cereal, a carton of milk, or a bunch of bananas, at a much higher price than a full-sized grocery store ever will. Of course, there are more expensive markets than others. Try to find the best-priced one nearest you, and stock up on your essentials there once a week. That way you can stop relying on convenience stores or even the vending machine at work for your breakfast. Oh, what, you think I didn’t know?
5. Brew your own coffee.
I know you’ve heard this one too, but making your coffee at home is one of the easiest ways to save money. Basic coffee makers are as low as $25—the same amount you probably spend on the stuff in under two weeks. Buy a box of your favorite sweetener and some creamer (or, in my case, almond milk), and start brewing. There’s nothing like waking up to the hearty, rich smell of a fresh pot of coffee every morning, especially when you know your savings account is growing every time. And for those who prefer coffee at their desks or on their way to work, invest in a cute thermos—a practical accessory.
6. Don’t be a sucker for brands.
We are an extraordinarily brand-conscious society, and I’m not just talking about fashion. A trip to the supermarket or pharmacy can get much pricier when you start plucking all the name-brand items you recognize off the shelves. When it comes to buying essentials or household staples—flour, sugar, cotton balls, paper towels—use the store brand. You’ll pocket money every time. A CVS-brand peroxide will always be less expensive than any other the store offers, and most of the time there’s not a major difference in the quality.
7. Don’t super-size anything.
Aside for being suckers for name brands, we’re also suckers for a good deal on pretty much everything. How about an extra $1 for the large bag of popcorn instead of the small you asked for? Or the added $15 for a 10-minute massage to go with the mani/pedi you came in for? Then there’s the classic “new student discount” on yoga classes, for 10 classes, when you just came to try one, or spending $10 more just to get the free shipping. These offers might sound tempting but they were never part of your original plan. Turn around and walk away.
8. Apps are our friends.
Since moving from New York to Miami a couple of months ago, I’ve had to adjust to a driving city lifestyle for the first time in nine years. Just between gas and parking meters I’m spending upwards of $50 a month! Then I discovered a few apps that have seriously become my new BFFs. Waze will get me to my destination sooner, therefore wasting less gas than if I braved traffic on my own, GasBuddy will find the cheapest gas station near me, and PayByPhone let’s me pay for exactly the amount of time I need to park my car, which means no more rounding up to the nearest dollar because I don’t have exact change. Relying on apps to assist with your daily commutes can make every single day less expensive.
9. Don’t overpay for a workout.
As long as we can get a good workout for free by running or walking, it’s hard to justify how much we spend on gym memberships and classes. I strongly believe our health should be a priority investment, but if those pricey classes are starting to take their toll on your bank account, it’s time to realize that you don’t need to pay someone in order to exercise. Maybe you need to switch to a less expensive gym if all you use is the elliptical machine and free weights. Consider alternative ways of working out with programs like Tone It Up that offer amazing online workouts for free. If you like bike riding, consider making an investment in the bike and then riding it more often as a way to work out.
10. Face your mani/pedi problem.
Ahh, yes, we’ve come full circle. I’m not going to try and persuade you to start doing your own nails because, while that is right-on, it would make me a total hypocrite. I’ve tried countless times to do it myself and it always turns out looking like I have a toddler for a manicurist. What I am suggesting, however, is that you find ways to limit this grooming expense. Try alternating between a manicure and a polish change, and get pedicures once every four to six weeks. Another option is to try nail stickers, that are surprisingly easy to put on, and, if done right, totally look like an awesome manicure. Hey, if it’s good enough for Heidi Klum, it’s good enough for me.
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