Over the past year, my boyfriend, David (who will become a series regular here on Blog Story Short) & I have started seriously talking about buying an apartment. New York City prices are sky high and we know that saving for the down payment for a decent sized place in any of our favorite neighborhoods is going to be a huge challenge. Though saving is never easy, it’s been particularly difficult since I began working freelance, first as an Office PA (Production Assistant) and now as a Writers PA. Between David’s job as a producer in post production and my wacky television hours, we wanted to find ways to do a better job of saving money without feeling like we couldn’t treat ourselves during the tiny windows of free time we do have. When we finally sat down and reviewed our spending habits, we were shocked to realize that there were some pretty easy ways we could have saved a lot of cash with minimal sacrifice. In the list below, I’ve put together the five easiest ways we’ve been able to cut back our spending over the last year.
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1. Brew Your Own Coffee
How much money do you spend each week at your favorite coffee shop? When David and I started reviewing our credit card statements, we were horrified to discover that I’d spent $60 in just one month by buying cup after cup of coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner. It was easy to do, as $2 here and there doesn’t seem like much, but it really adds up over the course of a year. Coffee makers are relatively inexpensive and a reliable one can be purchased online for around $30. A pound of ground coffee can be purchased for anywhere from $6 to $12 depending on the brand and can yield up to 32 cups of coffee. Even including the purchase of a coffee pot, if you purchased an $8 bag of ground coffee each month, you’d still only spend $120 a year on your morning brew. That’s an annual savings of $600 (or as I look at it, the top of the toilet tank in our future Manhattan apartment).
A few weekends ago, David and I invited our close friends out to dinner. We each ordered a glass of wine with our meal and when the bill came we noticed the drinks cost us nearly as much as our food. On the way home we stopped at the liquor store to compare and saw the same bottle of wine on sale for the price of a glass at the restaurant. Soon we’re planning on having dinner together again, but this time we’ve chosen a place that is strictly BYOB. Just imagine how much money you can save by paying 1/4 of the price to enjoy drinks with friends. Where we spent $48 last weekend on wine, we’ve managed to plan ahead and cut that down to just $12 without having to compromise on the experience. Just by planning ahead with coffee and booze alone, you’ll save so much cash.
3. Never Pay Full Price
I must admit, living in New York City has made me a bit of a snob when it comes to fashion. However, my paying-my-dues paycheck is certainly not large enough for luxury brand prices. The good news is that I never have to pay full price for designer clothing because sooner or later everything goes on sale. (And I do mean everything.) Stores like Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus carry premium brands and offer Friends & Family sales at least twice a year, during which almost everything is a minimum of 25% off. The sales tend to happen in the Spring and again in the Fall, so if you plan ahead you can build your wardrobe and your savings at the same time. If you’re ready to take it a step further, sites like Ebates and TopCashBack offer cash back on purchases made through almost every online store; all you have to do is click the link to Bloomingdale’s through one of these sites during the Friends & Family promo and by stacking the deals, you’re saving more than 1/4 of the retail price.
4. Pay With Credit
Money isn’t the only form of currency worth saving. I will dive deeper into this concept in future posts, as it’s one of my favorite hobbies, but for now, keep in mind that major credit cards from nearly every bank offer rewards points on all of your purchases and some even have bonuses for special categories. If travel is one of your savings goals, credits card points are a no-brainer because you can extract an enormous amount of value out you points by redeeming them as airline miles. If cash back is what you’re after, there are dozens of credit card options offering as much as 5% cash back on day to day purchases. If you’re able to pay your balance in full each month so as not to pay accumulate interest, use your credit card for each purchase you make and watch your rewards add up. Some of my favorite point redemptions include two $100 Amazon gift cards, two flights to Ireland, flights for myself and my friend, Dorothy, to see a concert in Milwaukee and a free flight to visit David’s family in San Diego.
A few years ago, I was living in an apartment that was less than a mile away from my job. Even though I could take the subway, I chose to walk every day during the months when the weather was manageable. A monthly Metrocard in New York City costs $117 and I realized that taking the subway didn’t even really save me any time on my commute. I could either wait five minutes for the train, spend ten minutes riding the train and then walk from the subway stop to work or I could spend 20 minutes walking to my office. Not only did walking save me over $500 in just one summer, but it added an extra 40 minutes a day of physical activity to my routine. I realize not everyone lives in a city or is able to walk to work, but even in the suburbs or rural areas, gas is expensive so if you destination is too far to walk, try to carpool with friends. If your neighbor needs to visit the same local stores as you, try to sync up your schedules so you can share a ride and save money on gas.
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These are just five of the things I’ve incorporated into my lifestyle to try to save for the future. Not every strategy is going to work for everyone, but I hope that some of these ideas get you thinking about how you can plan ahead for your own goals. Please comment below with your own tips so I can try them out as well!