Monday, January 28, 2013

New Grad's Guide to Personal Finance

Since setting a goal to pay off a large student loan this year, we've been more intentional about our budget. There is a popular blog about a guy paying off $90,000 of Harvard loans in less than a year. His strategy was something like this: liquidate trust funds, get 2 roommates off of Craigslist, and bring a flask out when partying instead of buying drinks. He also happened to be single and make $100,000+ a year. Other blogs about couples paying off 6-figure student loans usually describe methods like emptying hefty savings accounts or selling extra real estate and vehicles.

If I had a garage full of Range Rovers, acres of extra land, and my yearly salary was more than my student loan debt, our budget would have a little more wiggle room. As things stand, none of those suggestions work for us.

I ran across this list of money-saving suggestions online, which suggests various ways to cut back. Now assuming you smoke, drink pop, eat out frequently, have cable and a gym membership, these changes will save you $8,800 a year.
Most of the suggestions we've done already:
  • Use CFL lightbulbs (Came with out house. I hate them because they are so dim and have a greenish cast)
  • Program your thermostat to use less energy for heating/cooling when you are asleep or at work
  • Ensure that your home is well-insulated
  • Shop smart: buy out-of-season or end-of-season clothes
  • Grow a garden
  • Make your coffee at home
  • Cook at home (Did you know the average American eats out twice a week?)
  • Stop drinking bottled water
  • Shop at a cheaper grocery store
  • Buy store brand groceries and cleaning supplies
  • Choose an energy efficient air conditioner
  • Get rid of cable and Netflix
  • Cancel your gym membership (you're still supposed to exercise...)
  • Cancel your landline phone
  • Don't smoke
  • Change your own oil
  • Don't drink pop. Their math assumes you were drinking a case each week
  • Use a low flush toilet or sink something in the tank to reduce water usage
  • Unplug unused chargers and appliances
Their remaining suggestions:
  • Use a low flow shower head (save $15/year). The cost of replacing our showerhead for a nice low-flow one would take years to pay off. No thanks.
  • Shop at Goodwill. We haven't bought any clothes so far in 2013. I wear scrubs to work, and lately I just come home and put on sweats. Incredible how working constantly and having no life means not requiring pretty clothes. I feel like I find good deals on clothes by comparison shopping, shopping sales, and using coupons. The key for me is not so much WHERE to shop as HOW OFTEN. The more I shop, the more I spend -- because I keep finding "good deals!"
  • Turn your water heater to 110 degrees and insulate it with a heat blanket (save $90/year). I'm not sure what ours is set at or where to get a heat blanket, but I'll have to look into this.
Other little things we do:
  • Drive a cheap car. Besides having no car payment, insurance is so much more affordable! We have to make payments on Jon's truck, and that makes me angry every month haha.
  • Pack a lunch. For work, for road trips.
  • Online bill pay. Save by not buying stamps and envelopes, and save more by setting up autopay so you don't accidentally get late fees.
  • Buy staples in bulk. I'd like to do more of this with ingredients like flour, oatmeal, etc.
  • Use what you have. Wear out your socks before you buy new ones, eat the cereal on the shelf before you open the next box, cook from the cookbooks you own instead or buying more. (I have a cookbook problem.)
  • Bake your own bread.
  • Buy digital textbooks. Jon saved a few hundred dollars this semester buying digital instead of paper. He loves it because all he carries around for class and homework is his laptop and a Kindle instead of his laptop and a stack of large books.
  • Use craigslist. When we bought our first house we needed to make a number of large purchases relatively quickly. We got our washer and dryer on Craigslist for $350 and our lawn mower for $30. We've also used Craigslist to sell things we don't need, and even got someone to dig up our hedge for free (he kept the bushes and transplanted them.)
Some things I'd like to try:
  • Plant fruit trees. I have a very full Gurney's shopping cart right now and need to narrow things down. I have a Gurney's order on the way, including 2 apple trees (Honeycrisp and Pixie Crunch), a peach tree, blueberries, raspberries, and rhubarb (not a tree). I bought the slightly larger apple trees because I am impatient, and what if Jon graduates and we end up moving before we get apples??
  • Couponing. I'm experimenting -- my goal is to get a free toothbrush! So far I have been saving about 50% at CVS.
  • Learn more about food preservation. This year I am hoping to try canning. I am optimistically thinking jam, salsa/tomato sauce, and applesauce. This endeavor may require me to buy another cookbook ... Wish me luck


  1. I was doing bad at packing lunches for Nate, and he was doing bad at packing them for himself. So now after I grocery shop I swing by his office and drop off the weekly ration of hummus, bread, crackers, lunchmeat, fruit, fruit cups, etc. Then if he only grabs a little or nothing from home in the morning he doesn't "have" to go out to eat.

    I wish you luck with the food preservation.

  2. Anonymous8:58 pm

    You really must look for some used issues of the Tightwad Gazette!


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