1. Appreciate what you have already.
There is always that moment — usually when you are moving, and having to put all of your earthly belongings into just a few manageable boxes — where you realize just how much crap you have managed to accumulate. We’re all little Pig-Pens, walking around with our cloud of dust, except for instead of little black lines, we’re surrounded by a bunch of clothes we never wear. So instead of running to the store to pick up another beige blazer to add a new, robust dynamic to your already-solid beige blazer collection, why not do something more constructive, like shopping your closet? Forcing yourself to reimagine the things you already own allows you to realize just how unnecessary many of your purchases actually are.
2. Do your budgeting first, the rest after.
If you don’t put away a little bit of your money off the top, before you start doing the rest of your budgeting and spending, you’re never going to actually save it. You’re just going to pretend that the extra 200 in your checking is going to magically make it to the end of the month, and keep that lie alive until the moment you see a new end table that makes you feel better for all the times you were picked last for kickball as a child. Then you’re going to spend that money, and berate yourself for the next few days over how you can’t actually save any money.
If you work it out with your bank, you can often make it so that money goes straight into your savings account, and you never actually have to deal with it. It’s probably better that way, honestly.
3. Make cuts where you can, even at the expense of pride.
If you need to move back with your parents for a while, do it. If you need to start taking the bus because car insurance, gas, and the mere fact that you actually own something as expensive as a car are no longer feasible, do it. If you have to make cuts in things that used to be totally affordable, do it. And do it with no shame. Because there is nothing more embarrassing than having to live a life on credit because you can’t actually afford to keep up your not-even-that-impressive appearances.
4. Plan ahead for nights out.
Once you decide what your budget is for the night out, stick with it. Take it out in cash and, if you need to, write a little note in permanent marker that says “Hi. Don’t give me more alcohol than this many” with a hand holding up however many fingers, and tape it to your shirt. Just make sure that you have limits to what you can spend, even when you’re white girl wasted, and everything is taken care of. Plan ahead for the money you’ll need for the ride home, in case public transport is closed or you don’t know the best way to get back on your own. It’s always better safe than sorry.
5. Don’t be afraid to say no.
Once you get over the stigma of saying “No, friend with a more lucrative job than me, I cannot afford to join you in your Sunday tradition of paying 40 dollars to dress up in business casual and eat eggs benedict with elaborate alcoholic drinks. Enjoy brunch without me.” life becomes just that much easier.
6. Replace as much as possible with DIY.
There are so many ways to make breakfasts and coffee drinks and snacks and all of the things we are tempted to spend needless money on once out of the house. There is no reason to be shelling out five dollars every single time we have a craving. Look at this, you can make your own iced mocha with COFFEE ICE CUBES. I am licking my computer screen right now. How did we live before Pinterest and adorable food blogs run by photogenic housewives and the desire to bring the vegan frittata to the masses?
Who cares? We have them now, so stop paying ten dollars every time you want coffee and a muffin.
7. Time is dimes.
When it comes to how you are using your money — and we’re always using it, our bills rattling off behind our heads even as we sit silently on the couches we have to pay for — it’s always best to weigh out what matters. Plan ahead for a car when you have important places to get to and not a lot of time in between them, so you’re not stuck scrambling for a bus or trying to hail a taxi. Take the time to figure out your vacation itinerary so you don’t end up paying more for a bad restaurant or subpar lodging just because you’re too tired to look. Pay the extra few bucks to get some people to help you on your moving day so that you don’t get stuck wading in a pool of your own tears at the bottom of the stairs when you realize you have to move an entire futon by yourself. It’s good to save money, but sometimes it’s good to save your sanity.
8. Be honest with what you have.
If you are not making that much money right now, admit it. Be open with your friends when they ask you to do stuff, work with your family on how they can help you get your bills paid on time, and talk to your banker about the best ways you can handle all the debt you might be looking at. Sweeping your problems under the proverbial rug only sends increasingly threatening letters to your apartment, until you’re getting papers thrown at you by a process server in front of your significant other’s family while out to dinner. Take it from me — someone who used to owe the city of DC about six trillion dollars in unpaid parking tickets — ignoring that stuff is the worst way to go about it.
9. Learn to bargain hunt.
Look around for those deals. Use those coupon codes. Compare prices online. Don’t settle for “kind of expensive, but I want it, so whatever.” Pay your future self by being effectively cheap, and you may even wind up getting your own TLC show about how good you are at finding low-cost brand-name tank tops.
10. Treat yourself once in a while.
What is all of this for, if not to reap the rewards of your frugality? If you have something you really really want, make a plan to get it. Write out your budget, and see where you can make cuts. Look at your receipts, and see where you are hemorrhaging money like inbred French royalty. Work out a smart way to get the special thing you want, and treat yourself with it in a reasonable amount of time. Because nothing takes the sting off of not buying things for a long amount of time quite like buying something. It’s a good feeling, and if you’ve worked to do it the smart way, nothing is more rewarding.