I’m not accountant, and I am certainly no Bill Gates, but there is one thing I do have backing me up–experience.
I am quite lucky on many levels. I have a full-time job. I have supportive parents who can lend a helping hand at times. But I am also experiencing what a great deal of young people are also experiencing: Debt.
Having a paycheck is nice, and is much appreciated. But between student loan repayments, rent, and a variety of other bills, the payments can really add up, and take away from your paycheck. So, in an effort to turn my financial situation around for the better, I’ve come across a few useful tips that others may find useful.
1. Lower your bills
I have seen suggestions online to get your student loans set to “income-based repayment”. While this may be a great option for some, if your loans are anything like mine, they won’t budge. Thus, find other areas you can cut. Are you paying for an Internet/cable package? Cut it down by choosing one over the other. Most T.V. shows are available online nowadays, anyway. Study up on your phone plan. Are there features you can cut that you don’t use? You may be paying too much and not even know it. And, if the loans won’t budge, see if you can change your due date. It doesn’t help when all your bills are due at the same time.
One of my favorite things to do is try new restaurants in the city. While there’s nothing wrong with doing this on occasion, it can become a bad habit when you’re buying meals for lunch, dinner, and sometimes even breakfast every day. If the thought of grocery shopping and not buying meals out is daunting, set a goal for yourself. For example, vow to go grocery shopping on Saturday, and not buy a meal out until, say, Friday night. A box or 2 of whole grain pasta, brown rice, and some basic fruits and vegetables can get you through the week money and health-wise. A bottle of hot/soy/tomato sauce and you’re set.
Also, never, and I mean NEVER pass up the opportunity for a free meal!
3. Don’t let going out devastate your bank account
Do you like to have a few drinks with your friends out at that cool bar on the weekends? Going out on a Friday night can cost you dinner, and drinks at the bar will add up on you quick. Do your wallet a favor and have your friends come over to your place first. Split a pizza with them, and have everyone go in on a bottle or 2 of wine or whatever other alcohol. When you go to the bar you can then spend less.
4. Have fun for free/cheap
I live in Chicago, and with one of the highest sales tax in the country, it feels like there really is nothing you can do to have fun without spending. But there are! There are plenty of neighborhood festivals (when the weather is warmer) that offer free entry. Go for a walk along the lake and take pictures of your favorite scenery. Spend time learning about a new subject, and get a library card. I recently started a book club at work and it’s awesome! It forces me to read more and also creates social activities when we have meetings.
5. Start a change jar
Get a jar or a vase or some other container and collect your loose change. You’d be surprised how a little change here and there adds up. Empty your pockets or purse. Look under your couch or in the cushions. And, don’t pass up a shiny coin on your walk home. Take it to the bank and see your balance grow. It may not be much, but every little bit helps. A gain is better than a loss!
If it was a perfect world, I’d be typing this post on a yacht, with a handsome young man serving me martinis while I sunbathe off the coast of Jamaica. But hey, this is real world, USA. Sacrifice one thing so you can reward yourself later. Does your friend want to do dinner and a movie? Make a meal at home and meet him/her at the movie later. Or go out for a meal, and opt to Netflix or Redbox a movie to save the dough. And if you do go to the movies, for goodness sakes, buy snacks beforehand.
7. Leave the debit cards at home
If you’re leaving for a night out, or going shopping, bring a set amount of cash and leave the credit card at home. That way you won’t even be tempted to swipe that card. You’ll be forced to budget for what you need only. If you’re going to splurge on something, plan it first!
8. Budget, budget, budget
I was never really one to budget, but after encouragement from several folks, I knew I had to do it. It’s a very useful skill. There are actually a lot of websites that will do the work for you if you’re not great with numbers. Simply plug in your expenses and income, and see where your problem areas are and what you have to work with. Mint.com has been recommended to me multiple times.
9. Know you are not alone
You may feel like you are isolated when it comes to having financial problems. But the truth is, it’s about as common as fruit flies on a strawberry shortcake. You get it. Work together with your friends to come up with ways to save. Look for discounts that include “Buy 1 get 1” meals, drinks, clothes, whatever. Then, you can make an event about of doing something and saving at the same time. Tell each other you won’t spend money for 4 days and check up on each other. It’s like having a work-out body, but your wallet will get fatter.
These are by no means fix-all solutions, but they can be helpful. Putting a few or more of these practices into play can give you a little more breathing room to assess your financial situation.
If you have your own financial tips, leave me a comment below. Always happy to add to the list!