As most of you know, LD and I are not big fans of spending a lot of money. In fact, we have become extremely frugal and only spend about $30 a week on groceries. If we spend much more than that, I start to become very anxious that we won’t be able to afford a house and a wedding in the same year. Yes, we are fairly fresh out of college and plan to have a wedding and buy a house in the same year. How do we do it? Well, here are some of our tricks.
1. Make a budget. This seems to be at the top of all of the money saving tips lists, but I believe it is definitely one of the most important. Making a plan as to where your money is going to go keeps your expectations of what you can afford in check. Be careful to include some money for having fun to avoid going on spending binges.
2. Track your spending. Making a budget does nothing for you unless you keep yourself responsible for where your money is going. There are several free apps for doing this. In college, LD used Mint, which has an online budgeting app and can send you texts about when your accounts are dropping below a certain amount. Mint also has an app that can be used on both Android and iOS. I personally used Easy Envelope Budget Aid, which I believe is now called Goodbudget. This app which is also on Android and iOS uses a multiple “envelope” system, where you fill up each envelope, which signifies a different category of your budget, at the beginning of each month and track your spending as you go. I liked this system because I could fill the envelopes with less than the amount I made in each month.
3. If you spend every penny you receive, hide the money from yourself. Keep some money out of your budget and deposit it directly into a savings account that you don’t allow yourself to look at unless a real emergency arises. I always feel extreme guilt when I have to take money out of savings, so this method works well for me.
4. Coupon. If you know me well, you know I love to coupon. The couponing is how I keep our grocery budget so low. I walk into the store knowing what I am going to get by looking at the circulars in the paper, making a meal plan, and matching what meals we are going to eat by matching the ingredients to what we already have in the house and my coupons. There are several websites that can teach you how to coupon effectively, or my favorite book (for couponing) is The Lazy Couponer.
5. If you are in college, remove one of your indulgences and put that money toward your student loans. Even though you don’t have to pay them yet, interest is still accruing on your loans and interest rates are high. To put it in perspective, LD has some student loans with over 7% interest, whereas mortgage rates are currently around 4.2% and my auto loan is at 1.9%. If LD took out a student loan of $2000 for the first semester of his freshman year at an interest rate of 6%, by the time he graduates 4 years later and starts paying his loans after the 6 month grace period, his $2000 loan could now be at nearly $3500 due to the way the interest compounds. That is only from one semester! Every little bit helps here, so even if it is forgoing your 3 times a week ice cream run (or in my case in college 5 times a week), you could save some serious money by not allowing that amount to continuously compound interest.
6. If you have student loans, pay the minimum on your lower interest rate loans and put extra money into your highest rate loan. Once that one is paid off, work your way down. Once again, there is the student loan snowball effect. The highest interest loan is the one picking up the most speed so if you can get that one paid off, the interest snowballs are moving at a slower average pace.
7. Make a goal that is important to you that you are saving money for. For me, a house is more important than the shirt I am looking at buying but don’t really need. It helps put your purchases in perspective.
8. Don’t use all name brand household cleaners. The internet has several options for making your own cleaners on the cheap. You know my love of vinegar, which can replace many expensive cleaners for a few cents.
9. Always be on the lookout for activities that you can do for free. During the summer, there are often many city festivals going on, parks open, new places to explore. Even during the winter, take time to volunteer for a charity with friends. Some of my favorite family bonding times were from sorting food at the local food shelter. You can also go to the library or a book store and choose a book to read in the store.
10. Ask for practical gifts for your birthday and the holidays. I can’t remember the last time I actually got a gift on my birthday. My family has always been into practical gifts (can’t tell you how excited my mom was to get a trash can one year for the holidays). If there are things that would help you with reaching your goal, ask. Because LD needed another round of braces, my parents have gifted us funds to help pay for them in lieu of a “normal” holiday gift. Remember not everyone is comfortable with gifting money, but if you need a new cell phone, your friends or family might work together to get it for you. If you need a mini fridge or microwave for your dorm, you might be able to convince someone to get you a gift early. Getting the things for gifts that you were going to buy anyway is an excellent way to save money and the person doing the gifting knows that the item will be used. It’s a win-win!