One of the most important pieces of financial advice that I received after graduating college was to learn ways to live below your means. When people finally land a well paying job (or even before that, which is scarier), they tend to go a little overboard with buying all of the things they want simply because they can afford them now. However, this is also why a lot of people end up with a pile of debt! For your first couple of years in the work force, the key is to try and live below your means! You've already had to find ways to live below your means before you landed a job, so it should be simple to continue it after! It's the best way to pay off any loans or debt you accumulated before getting your job, as well as saving up for things in the future!
1. Buy Store Brands
This is one of the simplest ways to live below your means. Unless a name brand grocery item is on sale, making it the same or a cheaper price than a store brand, get over your love of name brand items! A majority of the extra cost you pay for name brands goes to advertising and usually there is not even a real difference in taste or quality! Brand names try to get you to pay more money for their products simply by making you think they are better, when in reality they're not or only slightly better. Even if the savings are small on an individual item, using this strategy every time you shop makes a big difference in the end. I only have a handful of items where I significantly like the name brand better, but everything else I couldn't care less.
2. Avoid Prepared Foods
Grocery stores charge you a lot more for prepared foods just due to the simple fact that most of us are willing to pay for convenience. Not to mention you will be getting a bunch of unhealthy chemicals and preservatives with your pre-made meal. The key is to plan ahead with your meals so you don't run out of time and aren't forced to buy already prepared foods. Make your lunch the night before instead of waiting for the morning, or throw some ingredients in a crock pot before work so dinner is ready when you get home!
3. Buy "Used" Whenever You Can
Especially when it comes to media items, buy "used" instead of "new" online! Half.com is a great site run by eBay that sells used books, movies, and games. There's no need to buy yourself a new movie or book that you're going to use once, then have sit on a shelf. It's even good to buy used furniture too, but I would avoid buying any that has fabric such as mattresses or couches.
4. Skip Going to the Movies
Try to limit yourself to seeing one new movie in the theaters a month! Movie theater prices are ridiculous nowadays and that's not even counting if you get snacks. Instead, wait for the movie to come out on DVD and rent it from a Redbox for $1. iTunes also offers cheap rental prices for digital downloads of new DVD movies! There is no point in paying almost $11 per person to see a movie when you can pay $1 and have as many people as you want watch it with you. Also, if you NEED to see a movie in the theaters because you can't wait, try going to a morning showing as they are usually significantly cheaper.
5. Stop Your Starbucks Addiction
Starbucks is one of the most expensive places to buy coffee...limit going there as much as possible. Try a local coffee shop, Dunkin' Donuts, or even McDonald's coffee instead! If you want to save even more money, start brewing your coffee at home before leaving for work. Also, cut your expensive latte or espresso and get a regular cup of coffee or tea instead. Stop with the fancy morning beverages and you will be shocked at how much money you'll save!
6. Say No to Designer Clothing
I know, I know, now that you have the money, you want to buy the best clothes and fashionable accessories. Well, you can do this, but don't buy designer brand clothing! If you can't live without your brand name clothes, then try shopping at a secondhand clothing store that sells brand names. Otherwise, shop at lower priced clothing stores or even hit up your local good will store. I've found such unique and fashionable clothing at thrift stores! I only have a few designer brand items in my closet, and I actually enjoy wearing my cheaper clothing more! There's no need to buy a $50 T-shirt from "Juicy Couture" when you can get one for $5!
7. Use Your Bike More
It's no secret that gas prices are horrible, not to mention they tend to get higher in the summer. So instead of taking your car everywhere, try using your bike sometimes! If you're not too far outside of town, ride your bike to the store or to your friend's house. Not only will it save you money on gas, but it's a great way to exercise! Plus, you won't have to worry as much about spending money on maintenance or repairs for your car if you're not using it a lot! Just remember to bring a bike lock with you!
8. Leave Your Credit Card at Home
If you are going out shopping with your friends, leave your credit card at home. Only bring what you are willing to spend with you in cash! This way, you can still shop, but not buy things you don't really need. If you find something you want to buy, put it on hold and wait until the end of your shopping trip before purchasing it. This way you can weigh your options and get what you really want the most.
9. Limit Advertisements
It's a sad fact, but advertisements are geared towards always making us feel like we need to buy more things to be happy. So limit the advertisements in your life! Do things like put a stop to all the emails you get every day from stores trying to get you to buy more or record your favorite TV shows so you can fast forward the commercials. The less advertising you see, the better! Just remind yourself that companies just want you to buy and that it won't make you happier to have more things.
10. Stop Your Cable
Out of the 300 channels you are paying for, how many of them do you actually watch? If you find that you're not watching TV enough to be paying such a high amount, then cancel it! Keep your Internet connection and just subscribe to Netflix or Hulu Plus. Each will only run you $7.99 a month for unlimited movies and TV shows, whereas most cable providers run you over $100 a month! Plus, if there is a show you really love to see right when it airs, find a friend who does too and ask if you can join them to watch it. Bribe them with promises of bringing over food!
11. Stop Upgrading Your Technology
This is a tough one because nowadays, everyone feels like they need the newest and greatest gadget on the market. If you already have a computer, tablet, or phone that works perfectly fine, why upgrade it? Really think about how much was really updated and if it's actually essential for you to have. Chances are, it's not. So keep your iPhone 5 even if they come out with 6 and 7. You'll be paying an extra $100 or more just to say you have the newest Apple product. Not worth it.
12. Pack a Lunch
I can't tell you how much money I've saved by doing this! Especially if you work in the city like me, lunch can run you around $10 or more! I save buying lunch for special days now, but the rest I pack something. Even if it's just a yogurt, an apple, and half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! It helps me to see how many calories I'm eating too, and I make sure my food was made in a healthy way. Sure, it may not be as tasty as getting a gourmet deli sandwich, but the money you save will be worth it in the end!
Remember that you will have plenty of time to buy everything you want once you get older and your salary increases. Living below your means (especially while you're young) will only have to be a limited time as long as you follow it! It will help you have extra money to pay off your debts and start a savings that will benefit you as it gets bigger! It's better to feel financially secure than it is to have a bunch of nice things that you are now paying off forever. What ways do you live below your means in order to save some money?