I think the age group with the worst money management skills are people in their twenties and early thirties. Besides being financially illiterate, part of what contributes to this is that it’s (hopefully) the first time in your life you’re making real money but you don’t yet have the larger commitments of a house, kids, or big investments. This can lead to the feeling that we have more money than we really do.
Factor in enormous amounts of educational and personal debt and that we tend to live in more urban areas (i.e. higher cost of living), and it leaves you with almost nothing at the end of the month – or worse, with less than you started. I see it around me everyday in my friends and, yes, myself. I know I definitely got the spending gene. Reigning it in is a constant battle.
I’m really not a fan of draconian budgets that only provide for the basics in life because it’s a miserable way to live for a long period of time and it t makes a plan nearly impossible to stick to. It’s like an all-broccoli diet you ditch after a day-and-a-half because it’s too hard. So along with my NMD cohorts and friends, I’ve compiled a list of easy tips to cut your monthly spending and leave you with more to put toward your future (and by “future” I do not mean the new Celine Luggage Tote).
1. Start by realigning your priorities. True necessities are food, rent, utilities, transportation costs, and healthcare. Everything else – cell phones with all the extra options, trips, clothing, eating out, Starbucks, clubbing, the 1,000-channel cable package – is optional, regardless of how you feel about it. Get into that mindset and it will really make a difference when it comes to making tough choices.
2. Pick one or two non-essential things to spend money on but have a reason for them. Maybe you order all those cable channels because it keeps you from going out to the movies every single weekend. Or maybe you and your significant other have a date night out once a week to reconnect. Allow yourself those things but make sure you really are cutting down everywhere else.
3. Pause before you buy. Wait at least 20-30 minutes before making a purchase. If you’re out shopping, put the item on hold and take a lap before returning. If you’re online, bookmark the page and walk away. Do you really need that bag, those shoes, that dress, that gadget? How is adding to your life? Products aren’t sold to us, a lifestyle is. So you’re buying a feeling and an aesthetic, not a thing. What are you hoping to achieve with it?
4. I found a trick that works for me when I’m about to buy something I don’t need: I take the money I would have spent and immediately transfer it into my savings account. If I could really part with that money it should be going into savings, not another pair of shoes.
5. Reduce emotional spending by unsubscribing from all those emails and catalogs you receive from furniture, clothing, travel, beauty product, and accessory stores. Getting emails about what’s just come in or promotions that aren’t really saving you anything just encourage you to spend. You’ll be amazed how much less you think about buying stuff when you’re not constantly bombarded with products.
6. If you’re paying off school debt, look into Upromise.com: a site that takes a percentage of what you spend at thousands of stores and puts it toward college costs. It kills me that I didn’t learn about this sooner. I thought it was only for families with young kids saving for college way in the future. But you can put the money toward high-yield savings accounts or paying off student loans you already have. Plus they have special promotions and sales only members can access. The amount of money you can get back from stores you already shop is insane. I’ve gotten money back from purchases at restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, online purchases, my new computer… everything. And if my friends or family use my link to shop, I get a percentage of their purchases too!
7. Make dinner at home and bring lunch with you to work – you have no idea how much money this saves. If you spend just $10 at lunch and $15 for a take-out dinner (which, let’s be honest, is on the low side), that’s an extra $175 you have each week, or $700 per month.
8. Don’t usually cook? Pinterest, Real Simple, and Allrecipes.com have easy and tasty recipes to try. And of course you can always check our Cooking section for quick recipe ideas. Have no idea where to start? Get friends and family to teach you how to cook simple meals.
9. Entertain at home instead of going out and have people B.T.O. Rotate who hosts each week so the expense is shared. Don’t use it as an excuse to buy super expensive party decorations, favors, drink glasses, etc. Work with what you have and make your own.
10. If you drive, use apps or websites to find the cheapest gas in the area and pay cash.
11. Carpool to work or when you take long drives with friends.
13. See what new plan options are available from your cell provider and where you can make cuts. Chances are you’re using way less data and features than you’re paying for.
14. Clip coupons. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I used to think this was for old ladies and fat suburban soccer moms with bad haircuts. I was even sort of embarrassed to be seen with them. But the savings were so large I quickly got over it. Sites like Coupons.com have coupons you can print out for all sorts of popular brands.
15. Find out who manufactures your favorite products and go to that company’s website – almost all of them have coupons and specials pages. Stores like Target also have online printable coupons for their stores only and of course, local papers have tons of coupons in their Sunday editions.
16. Don’t become one of those insane reality TV coupon people and hoard stuff you don’t need. Make sure you don’t clip a coupon that requires you to buy 2, 3, or 4 of something when all you need is one because in the end you’re just spending more money.
17. Don’t run all over town trying to find the absolute best return on a coupon because the time and money you spent getting there is probably worth way more than the extra $1.50 you saved.
18. If you like to go to the movies and you or a friend has a Costco membership, buy your movie tickets there. They have generic movie tickets for $8 each (you have to buy them in pairs) that are accepted at most theaters, which can mean big savings with movie tickets now topping $12 a pop.
19. See if the stores you shop at regularly have store cards or loyalty programs. These give you discounts or rewards over time, especially at places like grocery stores. I save an average of $15-$20 a week with my grocery store card. Just make sure it’s not a store credit card – they are the biggest scam in the world!
20. Have a store credit card? Close it. You’re not saving any money. Whatever you’re getting in private sales and promos, you’re paying back and then some in interest. And speaking of interest – the rates are some of the highest anywhere. Take it from a former retail employee. It’s a scam.
21. Make presents. I’m sure homemade presents conjure up an image of macaroni picture frames, but you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to make an attractive present for less money. There are tons of options. At Christmas, I make cookies for acquaintances and extended family members and put them in cute tins you can find at Target for $2 each. For Easter I dye eggs and buy bulk candy for $1-$3 a bag and put it in a small 99-cent basket from Michael’s or A.C. Moore. I put together a scrap book for a friend’s wedding with pictures I had of the couple through the years. For a hostess gift, I put our Olive Oil Dip in a $2 dressing bottle and wrap it in a ribbon. Homemade gifts also have the added touch of being personal.
Groceries and Household Items
22. This may be a little harder for city-dwellers, but try to shop at bulk and bargain stores to save on food, household, and personal care items. The largest markup on products is at small corner bodegas and drugstores. Try to find a Target, Costco, BJ’s, Walmart, etc. for personal and household items and a larger grocery store for food.
23. Make a list and stick to it! When you go to these stores, it’s easy to get distracted and add on a ton of stuff you didn’t intend to buy. Go to the grocery store once a week. Go to stores like Target once or twice a month.
24. Buy non-perishable items in bulk. Tampons, toothpaste, cotton balls, make-up applicators, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, razors, vitamins, face wash, and ponytail holders either never go bad or have an extremely long time until they expire. Unless it’s an emergency, add them to your Target list and stock up when they’re on sale. Some foods also keep for a really long time (6 months or more) so when you find a good price, buy a bunch and stick it in your pantry.
25. You can also stock up on these items on websites like Amazon, where the site and its vendors sell large quantities for a reduced price (if you have the room to store it). Bonus: you don’t have to leave the house!
26. Since I’m usually only cooking for one or two people I would always get annoyed when I’d see a great sale on something like five pounds of chicken or three loaves of whole wheat bread – until someone suggested that I could use part of it right away, then package and freeze the rest. So make room beside the ice cubes and vodka!
27. Buy generic. Probably more than 90% of the generic products you see on the shelves are the same exact product as the name brand stuff. Some of my favorite generic brands are Target’s Up & Up, Stop & Shop’s generic products, and Walgreen’s generic OTC medications. Granted, occasionally there’s a marked difference (I can think of a very unfortunate poorly constructed tampon experience), so this is one of those trial-and-error situations. Try samples ahead of time if possible.
28. Have clothes you bought but only wore once or pieces that still have tags? C’mon, we all do. Sell them on eBay or find a thrift store that will pay cash for them. Just don’t use it as a license to replace them with something new!
29. Are you a label whore? Skip the consignment shop and go to eBay. It’s a great source for new, like-new, or vintage designer pieces at deep discounts. And ever since they added the “Make an offer” option, I’ve gotten crazy discounts on brand new items from the current season’s line.
31. Shop your closet. It may feel like you have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear, but most of that is because you’ve been using those pieces to make the same outfits. Have friends come over and suggest outfits for different events.
32. Check style blogs and sites like Pinterest for new ideas on how to wear clothes and repurpose pieces. Maybe even go to websites of stores you like and figure out how to recreate the looks with pieces you already have.
33. If you or a friend have some creativity and sewing ability, hack up what you’ve already got and turn it into something new. You can be sure no one else is wearing it.
34. Shop smart. Of course, you are going to need to buy new clothes at some point. So only shop once a season and go with a list. Shop sales and bring any insider promos you may have received from stores. Shop sales and stock up on basics when they’re at a good price.
35. Shop on the cusp of seasons. Stores do a lot of markdowns and big sales before a new season’s merchandise comes in. In most regions, the weather is in between a lot of the year so you can wear what’s on sale for a while longer, then save it for next year. Having worked in retail, I know exactly when each season’s new merchandise will come in and can pinpoint to the week when items will go on sale. And if one store is having a sale, soon they all will. I never pay full retail price for anything.
36. A new trend in members-only discount sites are “experience” and travel sites like LivingSocial, SniqueAway, and JetSetter. Sign up by giving them your name and email address and you’ll receive regular emails about discounted rates. Just do your research to make sure it’s actually a better deal than what you’d pay booking on your own and read all of the fine print. A lot of the specials have blackout dates on holidays or weekends.
37. Avoid baggage fees by packing everything in a carry-on for a short trip. You can bring a tote or purse and a decent-sized bag on board for free. Look up the dimensions for a carry-on on your airline’s website ahead of time and don’t overstuff.
38. Additionally, fees for overweight baggage can be $50 and up (each way!), so find out what the weight limits are and weigh your bag at home. I’m serious – put it on your bathroom scale.
39. Save up and take one big vacation a year. It’ll probably cost less than all those little trips you take for three or four days. Plus you’ll get to really experience the place. If you’re going just to booze, club, sleep on a beach all day, and repeat, just don’t go. You can do that at or close to home for about a tenth of the cost.
40. Research your destination and find out when the off-season is. Consider going then to save a ton on hotels and airfare. Just make sure the sites you want to see are still open during those months.
41. If you’re traveling within the United States, use Bing travel predictor to track flights and fare histories. It can help you determine the cheapest time to buy. Usually tickets are cheapest about 6-8 weeks out from your travel date.
42. Take the stand-by option. Most flights are overbooked these days so if your airline asks for volunteers to take the next flight and your plans are flexible, do it! It usually means upgrades, travel vouchers, and bonus miles. Just make sure there is a confirmed flight leaving next and that you’ll be a guaranteed priority passenger. You might even want to wait until the second or third time they ask for volunteers, as they usually up the ante. I once was waiting for a flight that went from $200 to $500 worth of credit toward your next flight.
43. For discounted designer home pieces, try One King’s Lane. They have a range of designer pieces at deep discounts (though some of it’s still quite expensive).
44. I’ll say it ’til the day I die: Ikea. The temple of Swedish interior design bargains. If you need bigger, more expensive pieces like beds and couches you probably don’t want to go the used route, so this is a less expensive option.
45. The best way to decorate is to scour flea markets, garage sales, and second-hand stores to find unique pieces. You can find some of the greatest stuff here and it’s usually dirt cheap. Be crafty and think of ways to reupholster, repaint, and repurpose pieces for your place. Check our Home section for ideas and see our Shopping section for upcoming entries on how to successfully shop flea markets.
46. I also think Nate Berkus has tons of great ideas for repurposing flea market finds. Pinterest is also full of DIY project ideas at varying levels of difficulty. There are literally millions of blogs and websites dedicated to DIY projects anyone can do. And it’s nice to know you have a unique piece you helped create.
Makeup and Beauty Products
47. Addicted to beauty products like I am? Find them for less at beauty supply stores like Sally’s, Harmon’s (Face Values in some areas), and Target. If you like high-end products, open a rewards card at Sephora to take advantage of the points for free samples.
48. Again, Amazon and eBay are a great unexpected resource for less expensive beauty products – just make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller.
49. If a friend of yours is a stylist and has their license, have them do your hair or go with you to the beauty supply store. I save hundreds a year on colorings and get a much nicer, gentler, more customized result.
50. Make a salon appointment on a workshop day. Allure and New York Magazine have lists of super high-end salons that offer major discounts (we’re talking like 80% off) if you agree to get your hair done by a junior stylist during one of the salon’s classes. Often times these are stylists with years of experience just learning a new trademark technique for that particular salon while a master watches their every move.