How to save money by any means possible

July 7, 2009 at 7:22 pm | Posted in life, money, Planning | Leave a comment
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Saving money matters to everyone, especially right now, but as a recent (unemployed) graduate I’d say I’ve taken a particularly involved and ruthless interest in the art of saving.

I have absolutely no income. As I said, I am jobless. I’ve applied to jobs everywhere from banks to Blockbuster to online marketing firms and everything in between. I’ve even taken my chances with the Invisible Fence company…and those people who stock those big red $1 movie rental machine. But alas, I am still unemployed.

Furthermore, my soul yearns for a RTW trip. But even if you couchsurf, volunteer/work, and starve yourself nearly to death, traveling does cost money – especially if you actually want to see and do things once you’ve worked and planned your butt off to get there.

And most treacherously, I have already succumbed to the one thing I promised myself I’d never do — and also one of the best money saving techniques out there — moving home with Mom & Dad. Of course, I have it a lot better off than many. My mom insists on doing my laundry, I have a car to borrow whenever I want without having to worry about insurance and all that annoying stuff about owning a vehicle, I have free wifi and cable, and I have access to a fairly well-stocked fridge. My parents even allowed my boyfriend to live with us for a month – allowing us to share a room and function basically as if we were on our own while still often cooking us dinner or paying for us when the family went out to eat or to places like Cedar Point (thanks again, Dad!)

But still, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m stuck in Cleveland, OH, the armpit of the universe (though slightly more bearable in summer). This is not a sustainable solution but a means to an end that must be supplemented by other means of saving/earning money. And while I’m still figuring these out myself, here are a few of the best options.

Minimize your lifestyle

Entertainment and partying are two big drains on money. Avoid seeing movies in the theater  – wait until they’re at the $1 cinema or out on DVD (you’ve got to love those Red Box rental machines popping up everywhere where you can’t rent the latest releases for just $1!). Activities and events like concerts or bowling are fun and sometimes necessary to blow off a little steam, but you can still save money here. Do a little research to find if there are special discounted days or times for rounds of mini golf or whatever your chosen activity may be. Check your local paper and online sources for free concerts or festivals. Try Cities on the Cheap for an updated list of free or inexpensive deals or goings on in your city. If they don’t have your city, just do a simple Google search and you’re sure to stumble across something similar.

Also, party less. Going out can be prohibitively expensive, even if you’re a foxy lady and can get a lot of your drinks for free. If you must go out, find out the nights for the best specials and keep yourself to a reasonable budgetary limit. While pre-partying can save you some dough, it’s still costly. Though I never go out now that I’m home, even splitting cheap bottles of wine with the boyfriend still added up to extra, pretty unnecessary, costs (and calories!)

Don’t eat out

This may seem obvious, but sometimes you just really want some Indian food and no one in your family likes it, or you’re out running errands and starving and that Wendy’s looks so appetizing and convenient… Through spreadsheets tracking my spending for the past couple months, I’ve discovered that I’ve spent more money on food (and snack runs to the grocery store or at the gas station) than anything else. All those little meals add up quickly. Convince yourself to wait. You might find other cheaper (probably free) opportunities to eat if you do.

Become a scavenger

On the waiting for food front, it goes like this: If you’re at home, your family might decide to eat out and take you along, or your parents will cook something and there will surely be enough for you (and maybe leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow!) If you’re living with roommates, there’s a great chance they’ll cook themselves too much pasta and might just offer some to you too. If you’re living alone or with stingy friends or family, perhaps you could consider becoming a freegan. It might seem a little extreme, but it seems to work for some people, and it could definitely save you some money.

In fact, parts of that freegan lifestyle are extremely key to saving money. If you need something, especially big stuff like furniture or electronics, dumpster diving or searching Craigslist are great ways to find it for free or extremely cheap (even give Ebay or other online marketplaces, like Facebook’s Marketplace or Amazon a try).

Sell, sell, sell

Chances are you have a ton of junk you don’t need anymore. Go through boxes, closets, even scrounge around your parent’s house for stuff they plan to sell at the garage sale they’ll never really have. And remember all those old textbooks you never really read that you didn’t or couldn’t sell back at school? Ka-ching! Selling stuff online is a brilliant idea to snag some cash.

Jump at any opportunity

My boyfriend was leaving for California and needed to sell his car. He wasn’t able to before he left so instead of letting him drop it at a junkyard or selling it to a dealer for just $500, I insisted on selling it for him. So far it’s been a huge hassle, and has cost some money out of my pocket, but since he’ll be getting more than the nothing he’d be getting otherwise, and since I’m jumping through hoops to sell it for him, he’s willing to take only half of whatever I get for it and leave the rest to me. We’ll see how it all unfolds, but considering the lack of other things I have to do with my time, I can afford to go through a few hassles in order to earn what will hopefully be a nice payoff in the end. He’s also left a number of old textbooks at my house (see above section to figure out what I’m doing with those!)

While many people might not have a strange opportunity like mine, there are plenty of other ways to earn some extra money with your spare time. Check out the ETC section of Craigslist and keep an eye on the ads in your paper for opportunities to participate in research studies, focus groups, help with random errands or jobs people need (dog walking, babysitting, helping people move, clean) or even ways to use your own skills to teach others (from computers to languages to tutoring for various school subjects). Just beware of scams, and help out your fellow opportunists by flagging anything that you do find to be as such.

Make use of internet discounts

If there are things or services you must buy, make sure you seek out deals first. Check out sites like FatWallet for tons of coupons and cash back opportunities. If you’re looking for cheap flights or hotels, make sure to check flights like Kayak, Hotwire, and Priceline (only if you’re naming your price! It takes some time and strategy, and obviously some flexibility, but I have been pretty satisfied with the great hotels and slightly cheaper flights I’ve been able to get in the past.)

Broadcast yourself

You can do this old school or new school. Old school: Put up flyers around your area or in neighbor’s mailboxes offering whatever services you have to offer (see above). New school: Do the same, but advertise on Craigslist, social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), or even websites of local newspapers. Start a website or a blog and voice your opinions on things, talk about life as a [insert your own unique trait here], or following a project you’re carrying out or experience you’re exploring in your free time. There are new stories every day about people who get jobs just by showing their expertise, or even talking about their lack of employment, on Twitter or their blog. Even if that doesn’t magically happen to you, maybe you can hire out your site building or writing skills freelance style and bring in some bucks that way.

Keep track

In the end it’s all about results, and measurable results at that. Open Excel, type “[Month] Spending” in the header, and keep a running tab of your results. If you mostly use a debit or credit card to buy things, this will be especially easy to track. Make sure to keep receipts or notes of everything you use cash for. I especially recommend breaking it down by category (Dining Out, Entertainment, Travel, Alcohol, Rent, etc.) to get a better picture of how much you’re spending on what. You may be surprised. Either way, you’ll get an idea of what you really need to focus on improving your saving skills on, and as the months go by you will (hopefully) see your totals decreasing. How great will that feel to see you spent $100 less on food since practicing your new savings habits!

While I admit I haven’t done this myself, it would probably be just as motivating to keep track of your earnings and savings (everything from that wad of cash for watching your neighbor’s dog to that $4 earned by not going to Starbucks). If it adds up to be a pretty sum, considering siphoning that savings amount (or at least part of it) each month into a high interest savings account of some sort and keep it set aside for something you really want, whether it be moving out of the parents house, taking your dream trip to Italy, or starting your own organic farm – whatever floats your boat!


If you follow even half of these recommendations you should start seeing a bit of a rise (or at least less of a drop) in your bank account. The path to saving is a tough one, but I was born stingy (apparently it’s because I’m part Scottish) so hopefully I can serve as a guide and inspiration to all. I’ll let you know how it all goes for me. Good luck and good tidings!


In search of direction

June 26, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Posted in life, Planning | Leave a comment
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I am a girl with no direction, no certainty about her passions, dreams, what she likes or wants to do in her life. In short, I am a girl who needs to figure herself out.

In thinking about this, I am brought to examine myself a bit more closely. When surrounded by good friends, I spend the majority of my time with them. My friends are my life, I love being with them and enjoy my time best when spent hanging out with them. However, I’ve come to realize that when I’m away from friends, I focus on myself, develop skills or hobbies, and overall just get more accomplished. I can think of two really strong examples.

In seventh grade I moved to Cleveland, OH. I hated it. My first year, I made few friends and virtually never ventured out of the house to do things with people unless it was a school project. While there was a lot of misery in this time, I did also accomplish a lot. I learned basic HTML. I built a couple websites and got pretty good at site layout and (what would now be very basic) graphic design. PaintShop Pro was a close friend. I did a lot of writing, reading, and probably a lot of other things that I now can’t remember. However, with the end of seventh grade I made friends and soon “got a life.” I kept up with many of my interests, but in time they fell more and more by the wayside, and most interests or hobbies I picked up after then didn’t last as long and were never as strongly pursued with much dedication. Learning guitar, restyling old clothes (“fashion”), discovering new music (“A&R”), were just a few hobbies/interests that only made it so far but never received enough passion or dedication from my busy-with-a-social-life self.

Fast forward to the summer after my freshman year. College was full of fun new experiences and incredible friends. Back home in Cleveland, I still hung out with approximately one of my old high school friends. This left lots of “me” time. I worked full-time at a paid internship in the advertising department of a local newspaper. I took two summer classes. And I started learning Italian, read a ton of books, and lost all my freshman fifteen and then some. I ate healthy, always walked for a half hour on my lunch breaks, did at least an hour on the treadmill almost every night (while reading or studying Italian or microeconomics, of course!), and often played basketball or even ran (yes ran!) around my neighborhood (I don’t do running, FYI).

Fast forward again and it is almost July, almost two months since I’ve graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. Advertising…not a field in high demand right now, not to mention one I was never sure I wanted to enter in the first place anyway. I have various half-though-through plans banging around in my brain, but no certainty. None at all. About anything.

I have a degree. I have a (thank goodness) place to stay with my parents. I have a Swedish boyfriend who leaves for California in one week, whom I will see for one week more in California, and who will then return to Sweden, with another chance to be with each other again TBD. And it feels like it all lies on me. On what I choose.

I know the “logical” thing, the thing most people would tell me to do, would be to start working. Find jobs or internships, try them, figure out what you like and don’t like. The thing is, especially now, even finding a job or internship, let alone getting it, is bordering on impossible. And I’m just really not sure if the typical 9-5 office job world is really right for me. Yes, I know I must sound so Gen Y right now, but I really want to do something I like, something I’m passionate about. And I want to see the world. I don’t want to hate my life or regret wasting my early years of independence. I want to live, and I want to enjoy it.

So I keep coming back to travel. These next six months I will be all on my own again. Living in Cleveland without any “friend-ly” distractions. That’s six months to work and save. Six months to reflect and research. Yes, I can still use that time to research jobs and evaluate myself, to learn new things and new skills and to further my own personal development. I can work on my Spanish, maybe take a course in graphic design or writing or whatever I discover to be a good investment in myself. And I can plan. Plan a trip. A trip around the world, for anywhere from 6 months to a year.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that this is how I could really discover myself: my interests, my passions, my skills, my faults, my strengths, my true thoughts and feelings. It would be the challenge of a lifetime, depending on myself, being totally independent. I would be forced to be more confident, more responsible and self-reliant, more outgoing. I would be forced to develop my abilities in language and communication, as well as my organization skills. It wouldn’t be all flat-out travel either. I’ll volunteer, maybe in my research even find a real working or internship position. Or even work on a farm or in a hostel. I’ll meet all kinds of people, make connections, learn even more about diversity and cultural and intercultural relations. Who knows, maybe I will meet a future boss or business partner along the way.

Maybe I will discover my next step in life or my true passion or calling. Maybe I will just come back with a lot of new stories and experiences and even more to sort through and figure out. But I would be alright with that. At least I would know that I did it. That I went after what I wanted and dreamed of, that I pulled it all off. And I know that I would come back happy with my decision and full of a joy and a self-confidence that I always come back from traveling with. I’ll have done something real, and I can’t imagine that, after the build-up I will have to go through to get there, I wouldn’t appreciate every second of the experience to the fullest extent.

I think I’ve convinced myself, though the teaching in Spain (Ibiza, I believe) still calls at me with its “I’m more logical!” argument—not to mention I’m sure my dad would much rather me choose that option and in the end it would probably look better on a traditional resume. I’m still confused and conflicted. But if I sit and listen to myself, deep down, I know which I really desire. I still have some time, so I guess it still rests at: we’ll see.

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