I’ve realized that I’m, without a doubt, the frugal friend. I didn’t mean for it to happen, I just woke up one day and realized I was the penny-pinching one in the group. It took a while for me to notice, because I honestly feel like I live a full, happy life despite being very economical. How economical? I spend $315/month on rent, including utilities, and about $25/week on food. To be fair, I live in a fairly inexpensive city (Montreal) but I have plenty of friends with incomes similar to (or lower than) mine who spend a lot more than I do. Here’s what I’ve learned about shrinking your expenses without shrinking your happiness:
1. A good apartment is about quality of life, not reputation.
When comparing my budget to my friends’ budgets, I’ve realized that I definitely save the most on rent. While I understand that living in an expensive city means that, to a certain extent, this isn’t possible for some, I think there’s a lot to be said for choosing not to live in the hottest neighborhood in order to save money. I share my apartment with roommates (who are great), and live in a neighborhood that isn’t considered “hip” at all. When I started looking for a place, I really wanted an exposed brick wall, the true sign of being a cool city girl. But the cost for that iconic wall was at least an extra $150/month, and the apartment had smaller, darker rooms. So, I went with a beautiful apartment in the not-cool-sounding neighborhood, and I couldn’t be happier. Being a bit farther from downtown means I commute 30 minutes by public transportation. I used to live in a bachelor apartment downtown. It was $200 more every month, and I was there for three years. That means I spent three years paying $7,200 more than if I’d lived in my current place for those three years.
2. Make your go-to rituals with your friends cheap.
This might be my favorite way to save. Many of us have friends we go to museums with, others we like to go shopping with, and the adventurous friend who drags us to a new club every weekend. Ever since I moved out of my parents’ place, I’ve taken to creating traditions that are cheaper to maintain. We go to free or cheap museum exhibits, attend ALL the free festivals, have brunch at each other’s places, etc. I honestly enjoy potlucks and home-cooked meals as much as eating out at a restaurant. On top of spending an awesome evening with friends, I get to find out that they’re great cooks, and I have leftovers for my lunches. Win, win, win. This doesn’t mean we never go out, but it isn’t the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind anymore.
3. Shop around and plan ahead when you’re trying to find the right apartment for your budget.
In Québec, leases usually end on July 1, which means now is the time to start looking around if you’re planning on moving. It may seem early, but there are several steps to finding an incredible deal:
Use your network
Personally, I find those needy “I’m looking for a place, please help me” Facebook posts annoying, but reaching out to people specifically and strategically might actually help. Let your friends and family who live in the city (or know people who do) know that you’re looking for a good deal. This is how you get the steals that are never advertised.
Use online resources
I like to explore university listings (not just for my own school, either), as well as sites like Craigslist or Kijiji. This allows you to view multiple places quickly, and it will give you an idea of which areas belong in which price brackets.
Hit the pavement
This is especially useful if you want to live in walking distance of your workplace. A couple months before leases typically end, start walking around in the area you’d like to move to. You just might strike gold and find a spot the owner who is too lazy to advertise their apartment by any means other than a sign in the window. And if you’re right there, you might be able to score a visit right away.
Check for proximity, and be realistic
I have so many friends who have boasted about finding a place “15 minutes from work,” only to complain, three months later, that it takes them half an hour to get there. My secret? Google maps. Seriously. Search for your would-be address and figure out how long it will realistically take you to get to work, go to the grocery store, etc. Map the route to your favorite bars, restaurants, and museums. Be honest with yourself. There is no point pretending the listing is two minutes away from a subway station when it’s closer to ten minutes away.
Be open minded
You might have a set of requirements or a preconceived notion of where your apartment needs to be, but expand your horizons. In my case, I was surprised to find that getting from a neighborhood so far from my school only takes 30 minutes. I’m glad I didn’t reject my neighborhood before I’d looked into it.
Be picky when you need to be
This might seem contradictory but we all remember the apartments we almost went for early on. (Apartment with the all carpeted basement, I’m talking about you.) The earlier you start, the more places you can visit and reject before landing on your future home. Yes, this all requires a lot of time, but once you’ve found a good apartment that fits your budget, not having to move on a yearly basis will save you time, stress, and money.
4. Stop paying so much attention to sales.
I try to be particularly cautious about email newsletters from my favorite stores. Hearing about weekly deals might be a great idea, but not if you find yourself shopping more because you’re constantly tempted by those glossy pictures. When I get flash sale emails from home furnishing stores, it’s just unnecessary temptation. Checking out flyers from your local grocery store and planning out your week’s meals is well worth it. But subscribing to online catalogs that just convince you to buy clothes you don’t need isn’t.
My personal sin? I spent $100 within three months on tea items because I had to get that free 50 grams of tea before my points with the store reset. Sure, I like tea, but that decision was anything but logical. Having points that expire and encourage you to “buy now” just forces you to spend impulsively.
5. I prefer to keep my credit limit low.
I’ve got a $500 monthly limit on my card, and I can always afford to pay it off in full at the end of the month. This (to a certain extent) limits my expenses, and I’ve been building a solid credit score for a while now. This is good news for future loans I might want to take out, and the bank has offered to increase my line of credit several times. I’ve consistently turned down the offer to raise my credit limit. Keeping the limit low guarantees that I will pay my bill in full each month. Also, my credit card gives me 1% cash back for all my expenses, which is kind of like having a points card for ALL THE THINGS.
6. My personal “frugal friend” rule: if your gym membership costs you more than $5/visit, that’s too much.
How much does your membership cost per month? How often do you go to the gym every month? Divide A by B and, if the result is over $5, you’d probably be better served with one-off classes or working out at home. There are so many great workout apps now, there is no reason to waste money on a gym membership, unless you really take advantage of it. If you work out at home, you get to shower in your own shower, avoid the “It’s cold outside, I don’t want to go out” excuse, and you can still push yourself pretty hard.
7. Find a side job you like, even while you’re in school.
Even if you feel like you don’t have free time, chances are you still have some downtime to hang out with friends, exercise or catch up on Game of Thrones. If you can spend one evening a week at a side job you like, it’ll still give you a break from studying or working, but will also keep your account cozy. My advice is to think out-of-the-box when trying to turn hobbies into a money-making activity. For example, if you make coveted crafts, maybe you can start selling them. If you have experience with a sport or a specific skill, you might be able to coach others. You’ll get paid for doing what you love, and might enjoy other perks, like free use of the facilities, or a discount on supplies. Check out community centers, fitness clubs, and art studios for postings, and if you’re in school, look out for tutor postings.
These seven things have helped me be more financially conscious, and implementing these changes into my lifestyle means I’m saving quite a bit more than I once was. In my opinion, the money you make is yours, and spending it purposefully will lead to a better financial future.
Chloé is a 23-year-old, full-time student, works two part-time jobs she loves, and just opened her first investment account.
Image via Unsplash