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The stereotypical college student is constantly low on cash and on the prowl for free food. Unfortunately for me, I let this stereotype affect how I viewed my own financial situation in college. I had student loans that covered tuition and housing, and I had some part-time campus jobs. I always assumed that I didn't earn enough to bother saving any, and so I didn't really keep track of my spending either.
After a few months of working in the "real" world after graduation, I sat down and really tracked my spending for the first time. Earning a salary seems like a good reason to increase your lifestyle after college, but I found that with student loans to pay off, and added expenses like car and health insurance, I was going to have to be very frugal with my new salary.
My first move was to track my spending, to see where I was going overboard, and where it would be easiest to cut costs and lower my expenses.
Cell phone bill
After I graduated, my parents had me start paying my share of the cell phone bill. The $65 bill took a big chunk out of my savings each month. I realized that while it appeared that having a data plan is "normal," I really didn't use mine enough to justify paying an extra $35/month for it. So, I downgraded my cellphone plan, for an instant savings of $35 each month.
I was shocked by my own spending when I started tracking my grocery expenses. I had the attitude that food was necessary and that I didn't eat much, so I must have pretty low spending on groceries. Not the case! I had a big issue with buying lots of vegetables that I never ended up cooking, or buying fancy juices to try that I didn't even like. My grocery budget was the easiest place to cut costs, since there was so much waste built into it!
I found that figuring out the items I would truly eat and shopping more frequently (a couple of times a week) worked well for me. If I knew I could go back to the store soon, I didn't try to stock up on food that would go bad by the end of the week. I stopped buying items that I wasn't going to cook that day or the next.
I moved from a small town to a big city after I graduated from college. It would have been easy to go for a one-bedroom apartment and live in style. I could "afford" it, but it wouldn't help me pay off my loans or save any money. Instead, I opted to rent in a shared house, for less rent than I had been paying in the small town!
My main strategies for tackling my spending problem were to first, track my costs, and second, to consider whether there was another option than the "normal" one. Everyone I worked with used their new salaries to buy expensive new smart phones, and rent snazzy one-bedroom apartments. It seemed like I should be doing that too. When I really evaluated what I wanted though, I made choices that were better for my life and my budget.