How to Save Money When You Have the Bills of a Grad Student and the Wages of a Drop Out
Being social is expensive. Everyone wants to go out and do something, see something, Instagram something and all that cost money.
With rising debts and lower salaries, it’s hard to stay afloat in the world we live in. We’re faced with FOMO on every social media platform, but we can’t keep up financially. I’ve learned that we have to prioritize some things more than others. Often we can skip a meal out or a wild Friday night for a weekend in Vegas or a music festival in a few months. I call this “micro-saving” because in the world we live, it’s hard to save it all.
So if you’re like me and you want to seem like you have it all together, but you don’t, here are some of the tips I use to get away with being underpaid and overeducated in today’s world.
Food is probably the easiest way to cut back without looking sad. Food can easily break the bank with all these additive $1 for cheese or $0.50 to upgrade. When going through these food tips, it’s important to prioritize what meals are more important and which ones you can do without.
If you can avoid it, don’t eat out. It’s easy when you’re in a rush to grab something from a drive-thru line and spend $7-8 on a meal. Instead, had you spent Sunday night cooking 15 meals (3 times a day, 5 days a week), you could be saving that money for the upcoming weekend trip. No doubt that cooking is time-consuming, but generally it’s worth the sacrifice.
Groceries are not free, but $8 at a grocery store if well spent can go farther than one #1. Spending well leaves me to my next point - skip the organic. Wash your fruits and vegetables if you’re concerned with pesticides, but you’re young and it isn’t worth the extra $2.
Lastly, don’t get fancy with what you buy. You looooove Sara Lee bread - too bad; get the generic brand and get over it. This food is to survive the week and make it to the weekend.
Just Do Dessert
You were invited out by your friends during and you had to say yes. That’s fine, but eat first and just join them for dessert. Or order yourself the cheapest appetizer and eat that. If they are your friends, they won’t be offended. If you have the best of friends, you can order the appetizer to share and someone else will pick it up. You had a fantastic dinner, hanging out with friends, you put food on your plate (sorta), and you spent $0.
Remember, that $10 salad might taste good today, but you’re better off saving it for Coachella/Austin City Limits/other awesome and expensive music festival. The point is to keep adding pennies to the piggy bank without losing on social connections.
Not the Meal
You forgot your delicious generic brand, cheap ham and cheese sandwich at home - you’re starving. When you order the #5, just get the sandwich. You don’t need the extra 400 calories in fries and a drink and you can’t afford the $3. Being thrifty is not always fun, but neither is being short for rent.
More importantly, it means when you do go out, you’ll have those $3 waiting for you at the happy hour event. The good news is that you still have that delicious sandwich waiting for you at home for dinner. No food prepping goes to waste.
Not eating out often or eating a cold sandwich at your desk is a great way to save dollars. Your boss might even notice how diligent you are by staying in and working hard - you could get a promotion! Although that’s not necessarily true, staying in for lunch and dinner could free up some time. No more hassle of finding parking, finding friends to go with, or worrying about your card declining. This means you can read more, work out more, or learn something new instead.
It can also be expensive when you go out for drinks and suddenly happy hour is over but no one is leaving. Drinks, especially the deliciously fruity ones, are going to be costly. It’s important to take advantage of things happening around you, specials, and finding ways around drinking out as often.
If you’re in school there are so many free networking events with free drink tickets. Accept that you’re there for the drinks, get in a few good handshakes too and use the free drink ticket. Here’s the kicker: don’t buy a second drink. These events are great because you get to eat something outside of the bland ham and cheese sandwiches and you get a free beer - don’t miss them.
If you’re not in graduate school, there are always free events happening somewhere. You might have to do some digging around and you probably won’t get a free drink ticket, but you’ll be able to enjoy a free concert or a movie under the stars sponsored by your city.
Sponsored events are another way to get inexpensive drinks. There’s generally a tequila fest, margarita fest, beer fest, or something else happening that can have a ticket price including free samples. If all you need a monthly pick me up, this a great way to get a lot of drinking in on one day.
Happy Hour Only
Your friends have been dying to go out with you, but they don’t like free concerts. You can indulge this once, but make sure it’s at a very inexpensive happy hour place. Don’t end up in the high society bar where their happy hour is still 3X more than a beer should cost and don’t go on non-happy hour hours. Go in with the mental budget (remember to include a tip in your mental budget) and DO NOT go over.
You can still hang out and join them with a beer, but floating the river is going to be way cooler than Joe’s Bar. And when you’re done with your first one, don’t let it go. Hold the bottle so no one is pressuring you to buy the next one.
You thought pregaming was over when you left undergrad, but now your debt is out of control with no significant income to support you. The reason it was a good idea in undergraduate was because you could drink whatever you wanted without paying a huge margin or having to tip. If your goal is to get toasty, just get to your intended level before going out and then when it wears off, you’re done.
Avoiding drinks is the best way to save when you go out, but sometimes cutting back is enough. Even if you can’t afford drinks tonight, there are some other quick tips to help you look cool on a limited budget:
Actively listening to others
Share good stories
Or just focusing on everyone having fun
Alcohol isn’t the only way to stay involved. Listening to others and asking questions helps put the attention on the other people in the group. This a great way to keep the focus off your insecurities and helps other people feel welcomed. Everyone loves talking about themselves and being an active listener will help keep the conversation off your empty drink.
If you’re in a stale group, recount some of your past shenanigans. It’s always a good time when you go down memory lane and rekindle some of the good old days. It can be something from last weekend or last year - just share something fun, funny, exciting, or crazy that happened.
In general, just make sure everyone is having a good time. When everyone else is enjoying themselves, they won’t notice that you said no to those pricey cocktails or they might even buy you a drink because you’re just great fun. People like being around people who make them feel happy and sometimes it can help you score some good drinks. It’s not even gender specific! Guys can be a great company and score some “bro” drinks too.
It all comes down to being able to “micro-save” for the bigger, more anticipated events. These are some ways I have been able to make little cost cuttings without the fear of social networking knowing my financial status. It’s great to have reasonable ways that you can continue to do for a long time. When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a slow process and a lot of discipline. That’s why quick weight loss schemes and intense dieting are likely to fail. Likewise, saving money isn’t going to be done overnight by cutting out every source of happiness. This is intended to help you keep some happy outings, Insta-worthy desserts, and occasional indulgent drink without dipping into the 401K.
From one underpaid, overeducated individual to another, I hope these tips have shed some light on your financial issues.
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