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Saving Money After College

By Julie Fishman

Just like Snoop Dogg, a lot of college grads have their mind on their money and their money on their mind. When you're dealing with rent, utilities, cell phones, cable, and paying for your own beer, it's easy to fall into the dangerous cycle of living paycheck to paycheck

. But while surviving on starting salary is difficult, it’s not impossible. Moreover, there are plenty of ways to make sure you're pocketing a healthy cut of that income at the end of each month. Check out the tips below for some practical money-saving tactics.

1) Budget Like a Bastard

Yes, it’s nerdy. Yes, it’s time-consuming. And yes, creating a monthly budget is a tremendous help in assessing how much money you’ll have at the end of the day. It is shocking to fill out a worksheet that shows you just how your money disappears, but it helps to recognize the reality of your spending if you actually want to start saving. Check out this worksheet or, if you're really feeling frisky, create your own using Microsoft Excel. You can also try Mint.com or Wesabe.com, sites that help you track your bills and credit/debit card spending and make recommendations for how to cut costs.

2) Curb Cab Cravings

Cabs are mad convenient, but unless you are insanely wasted, lost, or late, they are rarely necessary. Taking the subway or bus on a regular basis can save hundreds, even thousands over the course of a year. Even better, commute for free by walking, biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, Segwaying...whatever. Not only will the cash stay in the pocket, but the fat will stay off the ass.

3) Brown Bag It

Remember the cootie-filled days of mommy-made lunch? It’s about time to reconnect with the past and save money for the future. If the average sandwich costs about $6 and drink around $2, that adds up to $8/day, or $40/week. In comparison, 1 1/4lbs of turkey (about $10) and 1/2lb of cheese (about $3.50) should be enough to make five sandwiches. That’s a savings of $26.50/week, or about $1,378/yr, enough to buy that 42” Sony flatscreen TV…if it fits into the budget you so diligently created, of course.

4) 401(k) So At 60 You Can Play

When seated in a cubicle at 20, it’s hard to think about laying on a beach in Cabo at 60. But it’s never too soon to think about planning for retirement. Having money automatically withheld from each paycheck and put into savings or retirement accounts ensures that money is actually put away. Enroll in a 401(k) program, especially if the company will match funds, or establish a Roth or traditional IRA.

5) Don’t Judge the Food by Its Cover

ShopRite’s Flakey Frosties probably taste just as grrrrreat as Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. Kellogg’s version isn’t more expensive because it’s better, it’s more expensive because Kellogg has to pay Tony the Tiger . Save even more by comparison shopping—look at two or more brands of the same food to determine which has the best value. Since different brands package their food in different sizes, look at the unit price (usually ounces) to make comparisons.

6) Solve the Credit Card Conundrum

Paying cash whenever possible will help you avoid the fees associated with overdrafting and late payments. If a credit card is a must (remember that even if you don't use it you will build credit), always pay off the entire balance off in full each month. If you're already in debt, transferring balances to a card with a lower interest rate should help. Transferring a $2,000 balance from an 18% card to an 8.25% card, then paying off the balance at a rate of $50/month would save $730. You could transfer balances to a card with introductory rates of 0, 1 or 2% and pay them off entirely while the rates are low.

7) Defeat the Drinking Dilemma

Nothing exacerbates a hangover like waking up to find a $200 bar receipt buried deep in your pocket. The solution: pregaming. You did it in college to get extra drunk; you can do it now to save cash. Having a drink or two at home before heading out reduces the number of bevvies bought at the bar. Also, beware of wasting money on drinks at restaurants, which are notorious for marking up bottles of wine, often tripling or even quadrupling the price. To feast without the bitter aftertaste of being broke, find a place that’s BYOB by searching on websites like Chowhound or CitySearch.

8) Student ID Can Still Get Stuff for Free

Don’t throw out your college ID or get rid of your school email address just yet. Museums, theaters, and travel agencies are just some of the spots that offer reduced prices for students. Flashing an expired card may be a tad dishonest, but few places really look at it closely, and sticking it to the man every now and then makes it easier to stick to your budget.

9) Get Out of Cell Hell

Too few minutes and the bill will be higher than Cheech and Chong. Too many and you’re just pissing your dollars away for nowt. According to J.D. Power & Associates, the average cell phone customer only uses 64% of the minutes that he pays for. Call customer service and ask them to analyze usage to determine the plan that fits your usage profile the best. Keep in mind that once you start that nine-to-five job, your daytime minutes will decrease significantly. When thinking of switching carriers, do some comparison shopping and analyze special offers warily. Compare plans here.

10) Move Home

It won’t drain the bank account, but will drain the sanity; moving home can be both a blessing and a curse. A dishwasher, fully stocked fridge, free dinner every night – there are definite advantages to moving back in with our parents. But like William Wallace, those living at home often find themselves fighting and screaming (generally minus the face paint) for freedom.

Too many people avoid changing little habits because they think they “wouldn’t save all that much.” But with a little ingenuity, those little habits can add up to some big money. Set a short (a vacation), medium (a new car), and long (paying for grad school) term goal to provide motivation, and watch the money stack grow (or at least not shrink as fast).



Yeah, eating on good cheese and bread and tomatoes always serves one well. And mustard. Maybe some avocado. Plus I think we underestimate the rewards of buying in bulk at costco or using renewable products, like washcloths that you only have to buy one time instead of paper towels, which one has to replace over and over.

Use the your county's library system online (or go) to order the movies you want to your library. Don't rent, netflix, or buy. Get for free from the library! or download, of course...

Books too, course

These are all great ideas to help with budgeting our limited finances, but come on! Some college students, like myself, are used to living on $10,000 - $12,000 a year (without help from parents or loans) while in school. Budgeting requires cutting corners and having ingenuity. I work while in school and I am creative about ways to save money. For example, in the summer I work at my apartment pool taking pool passes to help pay with rent. I also don't eat out, and I buy namebrand clothes from consignment shops in my area. I ride my bike to and from work to save gas, and I also rent movies for free at the local library. I don't have cable either. To me, it is more important to limit myself now while I finish grad school. I am certain that if I can live fairly comfortably on my limited means now - than when I do make $40,000 a year or higher after I graduate, that budgeting will be easier than ever.

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