Let’s talk about Summer ‘17. This summer has been the roughest summer ever for me financially. Coming off of a broken engagement, moving in AND out of my parents’ home, and trying to maintain some semblance of normal life, I ended up being more “broke” than I’ve ever been. (Notice I said broke, not poor. That’s another subject for another time.)
This summer, I found myself looking for ways to cut corners and make ends meet. I knew I had to make my teacher’s salary stretch, because I was way too unhealthy emotionally to take on any side gigs. I knew I wouldn’t be up to it, no matter how hard I’d try. So I had to take a hard look at my finances (something I had been avoiding since my split with my ex-fiance) and make some tough choices — but I’m actually glad Summer ‘17 worked out this way. While this was clearly the roughest spot I’ve been since I graduated college, I did learn a great deal about myself and what I could and could NOT live without.
Here’s a list of five things Summer ‘17 taught me were must-haves, and five I can definitely live without:
1. Wi-Fi: This was definitely a non-negotiable for my life. Between graduate coursework and streaming services, I could NOT give up my internet connection. Thankfully, I got in during a great promotional event with AT&T and only pay $30/mo. Winning? I think so.
2. Home Cooking: I truly struggled with whether or not I should list cooking. But then I realized I spent SOOOOOO much money eating out when I lived with my parents. I mean, it was shameful, and Summer ‘17’s budget was NOT going to allow my take-out habits to continue. I actually love cooking, and I rediscovered that love out of necessity — and honestly, I couldn’t be happier.
3. My Roommate: My best friend and I share a two-bedroom apartment. When we made this decision, it was more about living with someone we already knew, and less about financial security. Little did we know, it was a great move financially, too. We LITERALLY split the cost of living in half, which works wonders for both of our budgets. We also get paid on opposite weeks which keeps all our bills paid on time and allow us to actually save money — something neither of us were doing on our own.
4. Renter’s Insurance: Once upon a time, I lived my life on the edge. I didn’t have renter’s insurance, because I was twenty-something who believed she was invincible and all of her belongings were, too. However, when we moved into the complex where we live now, I had the good sense to dish out the money for some basic coverage. Good thing I did, because a fire broke out in the building connected to mine literally three days after I moved in. While nothing happened to my actual building, I definitely felt safer knowing that I was covered if something wild did happen.
5. My Menstrual Cup: Let me take this opportunity to climb up on my soapbox about the amount of money women have to spend just for having two X chromosomes. The average price of tampons is $7/box — that’s $84/year. Yeah…no. I’m much happier paying about $20 bucks upfront for something that can a) effectively handle my menstrual cycle and b) last between two and four years — with proper care of course. Let’s not get crazy here.
Now for the things that were nice to have but not necessities:
1. Fast Food: This directly relates to the home-cooking in the first list. I have an unhealthy relationship with Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks. I would have to have a caramel frap in the morning before work and generally stopped at Chick-Fil-A on my way home. These were the first to go when I had to revise my spending habits. It was not easy, and I do occasionally treat myself to one or the other, but it is by no means a daily stop for me anymore.
2. Bi-Weekly Mani/Pedis: This was by far the hardest thing for me to let go. I love the idea of pampering myself, and mani/pedis are my favorite way to do so. I tried so hard to put this into my budget but it just wouldn’t work and I had to face the facts. I couldn’t have it — so I gritted my teeth and cut it out. I started doing them at home (for a fraction of the cost!). I found that it’s actually more relaxing when I do it at home, and it turns into a whole day of pampering instead of an hour. I may go back to it eventually, but I have learned to live without it for now.
3. Bath and Body Works: Oh, the things I splurged on for no-freaking-reason. I was obsessed with B&BW everything. I mean I had the full sets — body wash, lotion, and body spray — in multiple scents. And I wouldn’t even get them on sale. I was paying full price for soap that smelled exactly like the Caress/Dove/store brand and actually got less product. Needless to say, I’ve traded in my Warm Vanilla Sugar for Dove’s Shea Butter & Warm Vanilla, and I haven’t looked back. Same scent, half the price. Oh and I’m making my own shea butter lotions now too, but again — that’s for another time.
4. High-Speed Data: When I started looking for things I could reduce instead of cut out, completely I went straight to my cell phone bill. When I looked at the itemized charges I realized I was paying an extra $15/mo for high-speed data. There was NO reason I was paying for this when I have Wifi EVERYWHERE I go, and where there isn’t, my regular data suits me just fine.
5. Contact Lenses: Contact lenses are expensive. Period. Point Blank. And when I looked at things I could get rid of until I felt I was in control of my financial life, going back to glasses full-time was an easy financial choice — but it was a tough aesthetic one. Frankly, I felt ugly — like awkward, middle school wave of insecurity ugly. Thankfully, due to a good frame choice and great friends, I got over it. It was not easy, and I still love a good glass-less selfie but I’m glad I don’t feel the need to purchase expensive contacts at this time.
Summer ‘17 has been a tough one, but I’m certainly grateful for the opportunity to learn what I could and could not cut. Although I may go back to some things on the nice-to-have list eventually, I know I can live without them if need be. And that in itself is worth it.
Briana Vereen is a 24-year-old teacher living in Columbia, SC. She loves to read borrowed books, listen to podcasts, and spend time with her family and other broke millennials.
Image via Unsplash