Can’t afford to travel? Sorry, but that’s not a good excuse. So many millennials “can’t afford” to do certain things, like go on a life-changing trip or make their monthly payments on time, yet they’ll post a picture of their Starbucks venti macchiatos on Instagram or Snapchat every single day. In other words, they aren’t prioritizing their money properly.
I’m currently in the process of booking 2 trips — 1 domestic and 1 international. In return, so I don’t have to be stingy on my trips, I’d prefer to scale back some of my spending while living my everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to turn down doing something with friends, family, or my boyfriend because I want to save money; missing out on a fun time isn’t worth it! Instead, cutting down on some unnecessary day-to-day purchases can oftentimes be forgotten about over time and can save you a ton of money.
So that I don’t have to be concerned about dropping some cash down for a delicious meal in the U.S. city I’ll be visiting in a few months or paying for a life-changing excursion in the international destination I’m heading to, I’m challenging myself to cut down on some costs. However, budgeting can be a huge downer. That’s why I’ve made exceptions to each money-saver. While it’s a good thing to be in control of your spending, don’t let it control your life. You have to live a little.
Are you one of those millennials who “can’t afford” to travel? While you may not be able to control your student loan monthly payments or insurance costs, there are other costs that any millennial can cut down on. No procrastinating; your will power needs to start acting up today.
1. Do your own nails.
I can honestly say I’ve gotten 4 professional manicures in my entire life and 0 pedicures, but I know some people who go in multiple times a month. Gel manicures can be addicting, I’ve heard; though they last longer, they’re pricier than a traditional manicure.
Price of a typical manicure: $20, lasts 1-2 weeks
Gel manicure: $40, lasts about 2-3 weeks
Even though doing your own nails might result in faster chipping than if you were to pay for a gel manicure, you’ll cut down on a lot of money in the long run. To put it in perspective, if you get a gel manicure every 3 weeks for a full year — as many people I know do — you’ll be spending almost $700. That seems absolutely absurd to me.
But… treat yourself with nice polishes.
Rather than paying $20 for a manicure — not to mention a gel manicure — paying half the price for a bottle of decent polish is the way to go. I don’t like to go with overly cheap options because they usually chip more easily, although cheap polish like the ones offered at Primark work in a pinch. A $9 bottle of Essie polish or $8 bottle of Sally Hansen will make you feel like you treated yourself, but since the polish will last you many reapplications, it’s an extremely economical way to go.
2. Cut back on buying coffee.
Typing this causes me pain. I love buying coffee — especially iced coffee — rather than making it myself. I’m not ready to stop buying coffee altogether, but I could definitely afford to cut down on the habit. On average, I probably buy coffee about 3 days a week on my way to work; in the summer, it’s more, and in the winter, it’s less. Considering my Dunkin’ and Starbucks orders both cost about $3, cutting my coffee-purchasing wouldn’t result in huge short-term changes, but it would result in massive long-term results.
3 Dunkin’ or Starbucks coffees a week: $9 per week, $468 annually
1 Dunkin’ or Starbucks coffee a week: $3 per week, $156 annually
The difference: $6 per week, $312 annually
I could buy an extra roundtrip flight if I cut down on buying coffee and instead drink the free Keurig coffee at work.
But… don’t cut it out completely.
As I mentioned above, I’m not going to cut it out completely because I see it as a treat for myself. It’s about balance and improving your spending habits, not depriving yourself of things you enjoy just to save a few bucks.
3. Don’t pay a high rent.
Even though I’m living at home for the summer, when I lived in an apartment right outside the city, I was able to keep my savings account high and could still afford to take 2 domestic vacations in 4 months. And I definitely wasn’t stingy in either location.
Living in the 4th most expensive city in the country, Boston, I understand the concept of high rents too well. While searching for a new apartment or deciding if you want to renew your lease, search around to see if you can get somewhere cheap. You don’t have to live right downtown; most young people don’t, actually; most millennials in Boston live in Allston, Brookline, Somerville, etc. rather than right in Downtown Boston, and most millennials in New York City live in Brooklyn or Queens rather than right in Manhattan. Living in certain areas and having certain amenities may cause rent costs to skyrocket.
As a scenario, I know 2 sets of roommates that live in the same building but have different rents. We’ll call these living situations Apartment A and Apartment B. Both apartments are the same size and layout and include 4 roommates. The girls in Apartment A have a newly renovated kitchen with stainless steel appliances and brand new countertops; each roommate pays $1,200 a month. The girls in Apartment B have an outdated — but perfectly functional — kitchen with no dishwasher; each roommate pays $975 a month. To me, $225 a month extra isn’t worth saving 5 minutes on dishes every day and having a prettier aesthetic. Having an outdated kitchen saves each roommate in Apartment B $2,700 annually. To me, that’s worth rolling up my sleeves and hand-washing some dishes.
But… one thing isn’t worth compromising.
To me, that balance is your commute. Don’t extend your commute an extra half hour each way if it means you can save $100 per month on rent; to me, that’s not worth it. Commuting is soul-sucking. If living a ways away saves you a big chunk of change, that’s worth it, but if somewhere much closer to your office isn’t much more expensive, it’s completely worth it.
4. Bring — don’t buy — your lunch.
I did the math when I was living on my own. If I bought a sandwich every weekday from Tatte, a fantastic bakery and café near my work, I’d be spending over $50 a week on lunch (before taxes). But when I made my own sandwiches at home, I was — on average — spending around $16 a week, with a ton of meat, cheese, and bread left over!
Bagged lunch for the week: 1lb of Boar’s Head turkey meat: $9, 1 package of whole wheat wraps: $3, 1/2 lb provolone cheese: $4. $16 total. (I’m excluding the vegetables — spinach, tomatoes, etc. — I’d add in because I normally use them in my dinners and they otherwise would have gone bad in my fridge if I didn’t use them.)
$34 per week in savings makes a huge difference; it’s the equivalent to over $1700 a year!
I know that most people don’t get lunch out every day, so to be more realistic… If you cut out one restaurant-bought, average-priced sandwich or salad a week, you’ll save about $500 a year that you can put toward travel.
But… don’t be a stick in the mud.
If your coworkers are grabbing lunch, don’t restrict yourself to your brownbag lunch. Leave it in the office fridge for tomorrow and tag along! I’ll say this multiple times throughout this post: don’t let budgeting have a negative impact on your life. Don’t miss out on a fun time to save a few bucks. If it becomes a common ritual, you might want to take a raincheck, but from time to time, splurge on that $10 sandwich.
5. Recreate your favorite restaurant meals at home.
If you’re in a relationship or going on dates frequently, you might be used to hitting up restaurants several times a week. As mentioned above, depending on restaurants is one of the most expensive habits people can get themselves into, especially living in a city, where temptation is everywhere. If I’m really craving a certain meal, I might stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the ingredients; what I’d pay for the ingredients to cook the meal at home is a fraction of the cost I’d pay at a restaurant, and I’d probably get 2-3 meals out of it!
But… don’t deprive yourself.
There are certain things I’m pretty good at cooking — stirfry, pasta, sheet meals, etc. — but there are some things I just can’t master. Especially pad thai. I’ve tried making pad thai 3 times before and I just can’t get it right. It’s a lot of work for something that tastes pretty subpar. To me, when I’m really craving pad thai, it’s worth going to a restaurant.
6. Don’t renew your gym membership.
Once fall comes around and I’m in my new apartment, I’m going to start looking into a gym membership. I’m not too hasty about this though. While it’s warm, I want to take advantage of working out outside; not only will I save some money, I’ll get fresh air and sun. If you rely on the gym primarily for cardio, take your workouts outside during the warm months. If you go to Planet Fitness and pay $10 a month, you’re not exactly breaking the bank. However, if you’re going to gyms that cost $75 a month — which is common in an expensive city like Boston or New York — you’ll notice some huge savings. If you normally pay $75 per month for a gym membership, you would save $375 if you move your workouts outside from May through October.
As I mentioned in a previous post — 15 Free Things to Do in Boston — a lot of free workout classes pop up all around Boston on a daily basis; the same is absolutely true about other cities. If you hate paying for your gym membership but feel the most motivated when in a class setting, check out free workout classes in your city.
But… renew it if you really love it.
If you’re one of those insane people who actually loves to work out and you can’t get by without your 6:30 barre class, keep the membership. Don’t compromise something that brings you joy. However, if you’re paying an absurd amount of money for a designer gym — like SoulCycle or Equinox — you will save a lot by switching gyms.
Equinox membership price in Boston: $200 per month (not including the $300 initiation fee), $2,400 for 12 months
Membership price of a more affordable gym: $75 per month, $900 for 12 months
That’s right, instead of paying $2,400 annually for the Equinox, you can pay $900 for a gym that offers classes, but doesn’t quite have all the glitz and glam. Saving $1,500 is worth sacrificing the eucalyptus towels and occasional celebrity sighting.
7. Check your online banking regularly.
Checking your bank account at a weekly or biweekly rate is a smart way to check in on your savings. I believe most banks offer it nowadays, since it’s so convenient and user-friendly. It’s good for keeping an eye on how much you spent at the bar on Saturday night (when you weren’t exactly sober when you closed your tab, so have no recollection of how much you spent) or how your spending compares with your direct deposit paychecks.
But… don’t let it run your life.
I check my bank statement once a week, mostly to make sure nothing fraudulent is going on. Some bloggers and financial planners recommend keeping a money diary. While this is a good idea in theory — and might be beneficial to people who really need to cut their spending fast — I don’t go by it. Why? Because if I did, I would drive myself crazy. Sometimes, I want a coffee from Starbucks or a cute dress that’s on sale. If I logged in every single dollar, I would beat myself up after every purchase that wasn’t completely necessary. This isn’t a healthy way to live. Nobody’s perfect. Budgeting is about improving your spending habits, not letting money run your whole life. Just as people say with dieting, it’s a lifestyle choice, not a cut-cold-turkey deal.
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