Let me start off by saying that budgeting does not come naturally to me. Many people may go through their whole lives and don’t see the value in a $250-$400 pair of shoes. I am not one of those people. I love nice things and if I had unlimited resources, would buy lots of nothing but the best. I routinely would walk into the grocery store (Whole Foods, a.k.a. “Whole PayCheck” of course) and load up my cart, barely looking at the price of things. A $5.99 box of organic spinach, two $14.99/lb steaks, a $3.99 dark chocolate, cherry-chili candy bar and various other overpriced goodies later, I would arrive at the register and be stunned how expensive food is. I thought $150+ per grocery store visit was normal. Invariably, as payday approached, I would ask myself, “where on earth does all my money go?”. That is, until I had to start saving and planning for my MBA.
Inspired by bloggers like NodebtMBA, NoMoreHarvardDebt, 30BucksAWeek, I started to understand how to save money and live off a REAL budget. I had about a third of my paycheck automatically routed into a brokerage account per pay period and began really paying attention to prices. No longer do I go shopping when I am bored, go grocery shopping on a whim or go out for expensive dinners or a night of ordering 3 glasses of $12 wine. Now I ask about drink specials, I push for pot-luck style dinners at home with my friends, I plan out what I will eat all week long and allocate between $50-$75 in groceries a week, I shop at a food co-op for produce and the local grocer for less expensive meats. I even recently got hired for a part-time job tutoring.
The most important lesson I have learned in the past six weeks of my new, budgeted life – if the extra cost doesn’t bring you extra happiness, it isn’t worth buying. Will I stay on this ultra tight budge forever? Probably not, but I am sure that I will learn many valuable lessons along the way that will impact my spending habits for the better and for the rest of my life.
Here are some of the ways I am stretching every dollar:
1. Baking my own bread. At $0.59/loaf it is literally 90% cheaper than the $4.99 loaves of sprouted grain-whatever I would buy at WholeFoods. I have also experimented with Pita Bread, Baguettes and making my own Pasta dough. All have been wonderfully tasty and high quality and so much better than things that are designed to sit on a shelf for a week.
2. I don’t buy my lunch or breakfast at work…ever. There is a lot of planning involved in this. If I have to work later than expected, I better have enough food to hold me over in my office.
3. Join or shop at a Food Co-op. I am so crazy happy about this co-op I found. I get double the amount of organic spinach that I would previously buy from WholeFoods for about 40% of the price. It is really amazing.
4. Ask about drink specials. This one is kind of common sense. I don’t go out as often anymore but when I do, I always ask what kind of specials are happening. I won’t go to the extent that NoMoreHarvardDebt did and bring my own flask to bars…although it is tempting.
5. Don’t shop when you are bored. Do something constructive, like start a blog.
6. Get a flexible part-time job. I have an extra 5-10 hours a week and at $23+/hr – tutoring really fits the bill. When I was an undergrad, I bar-tended and waited tables and that was a great way to make a lot of extra cash in a short amount of time. This can translate into an extra $100+ of saving per week. That is $5,200 per year. If you start planning early (like 2 years), this could end up being $10,400 + interest.
7. Don’t waste food and don’t turn down a free meal. I have started making my own chicken stock. At the end you are left with great chicken stock, very tender chicken (can be used for chicken taco night), smushy carrots, smushy onions and smushy celery. The first couple times I did this, I tossed the carrots, onions and celery. Now I save them, freeze them and add them when I make butternut squash soup – yum!
Does anyone out there have other budgeting tips I haven’t mentioned? What works for you?
MBAGirlJourney offers the perspective of a highly thoughtful young professional woman who hopes to land a seat at a top ten MBA program for the Class of 2016. She has two goals: to gain acceptance to at least two of the top ten business schools and to finance her MBA without taking on heavy debt. She blogs at MBAGirlJourney. Previous posts on Poets&Quants: