With an entry-level salary, the holidays can be tight financially. Between buying gifts, the tempting holiday treats advertised in every coffee shop, and trips out of town to see family, it’s hard to keep spending in check. As it stands, my paycheck doesn’t allow for frequent trips to the mall or lavish dinners at luxurious restaurants. I have to scrimp and save, and still sometimes worry that I won’t be financially prepared for the holiday season. As a result, I’ve had to find inventive ways to make better use of my paycheck. I wanted to ensure that I could afford all the travel and gifts coming up, so I’ve been implementing small budgeting changes. Though it’s almost December, it’s still not too late to save a few extra pennies, and make the most of your take-home pay. Here are a few creative ways I’ve been able to find a little extra “wiggle room” in my wallet. Even if you’re starting to budget a little late in the holiday game, you can still implement some of these tricks and save before some last minute holiday shopping.
1. Stop buying expensive beverages daily.
I used to stop and get coffee everyday on my way to work. My daily caffeine was costing me over $50/month. I cut it back to about once a week, but found that I was still spending over $20/month on those weekly stops. I wanted to use that $20-$50 toward holiday gifts, so I’ve made the switch to drinking tea instead, when I get to the office. If I’m feeling fancy and need an extra caffeine boost, I’ll make coffee before I leave my apartment. If you’re bored with your plain coffee, learn to spruce up your morning beverage with these helpful at-home bevs.
2. Eliminate retail therapy.
If I was having a bad week or wasn’t feeling on top of my game, I’d go buy myself a new shirt or a fancy candle. Living in a “treat yo’self” mentality is risky. While we deserve it every once and a while, we can’t make treating ourselves a habit. Instead I’ve found alternative ways to treat myself when I need a pick-me-up. Homemade face masks, bubble baths or trying a new recipe have been some of my go-tos. Rather than spending my money on something that offers only a momentary surge of happiness, I find something that will relax me and improve the quality of my day.
If you do want to check out a few stores this weekend, do so with purpose. Go shopping with the intention of checking someone off your holiday shopping list. Buy a scarf for your mom, or a bottle of wine for your BFF. You’ll satisfy your desire to shop as well as checking something off your to-do list.
3. Buy the Sunday paper.
Another weekly routine that has offered a little more space in my budget is buying the Sunday paper. Why? Coupons. The Sunday paper not only has comics, but it also has coupons and sale fliers. If you take 20 minutes to look at the coupons and find what is on sale at your local grocery store, you’ll be shopping more consciously and doing yourself a favor.
This gives me an opportunity to make healthy choices for my body and budget. Forcing myself to plan out what I’m going to buy makes me plan out my meals. Through planning out my meals, I’ve found myself eating healthier. I’m more apt to choose healthy foods when I plan my grocery shopping trip, rather than cruising down every aisle, grabbing whatever I’m craving at the moment. The last time I went grocery shopping, I saved a little over $23, simply because I took the time to check the sales and the coupons beforehand. That $23 is covering one more gift I need to buy.
4. Review your bank statement.
Another way to see where you might have a little extra room in your budget is to look over your monthly bank statement. If you’re trying to find extra money for December, review November’s bank statement, and decide which expenses can get cut. Whether you still get a paper copy or you have to go online and download the PDF, spend some time looking through. Evaluate your purchases, and take note of your problem areas. I use a print copy, and I set up different categories and highlight them in different colors. That way I can very clearly see how much I’m spending, and where I should be cutting. This is how I figured out exactly how much I was wasting on my morning coffee stops. I highlighted all the “problem” withdrawals and then totaled them, and seeing that number was an eye-opener.
5. Have date night at home.
Whether it be with your significant other or your best friends, choose a more budget friendly get-together. Rather than going out, or having your holiday gathering at a bar, stay in, make the gathering more relaxed, and have a potluck. It’s more beneficial to bond without the huge bar tab and loud music. This way you’re not spending $7 on a drink, or buying appetizers, dinner, and a cab ride home. You can crash on the couch in your yoga pants and laugh about all the work-week drama. You’ll get to truly enjoy each other’s company without worrying about your spending the next morning.
6. Take advantage of work-related discounts.
Not only do some jobs offer significant discounts like gym memberships at a reduced price, or a percentage off your phone bill, but they also might offer discounts on tickets, or at certain stores. If you’re trying to get someone in your family an experiential gift, and want to find them tickets to a show, check to see if your office offers a good deal. Some HR departments send out emails about savings, that often get overlooked. Open those emails!
7. Save your $5s.
This is a new trick I’ve been trying. I was skeptical at first, but I’m starting to see how promising the results can be. Everytime you have a 5 dollar bill, save it. They add up faster than you think. I rarely carry cash, but decided that I was going to try this $5s trick to save some extra cash before using some of my vacation days this winter. Within a month I had $50. Even if you only save four 5 dollar bills each month, that means saving $240 in a year. If you’re considering an unconventional trick for the upcoming month, or for a new year’s resolution, I highly recommend it.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to make the most of your paycheck when you’re making an entry-level income (or even if you’re not and you’d simply like to save a little more money). This way you can still pay all your bills, and have the ability to save or spend a little more on your holiday celebrations without cutting in to your budget.
Samantha is a legal secretary in Vermont trying to put her English degree to good use. She is always writing, reading or rescuing animals (the most recent rescue is a high-fiving Chihuahua named Hambone).
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