I consider myself on a “college student” budget. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life on this budget and honestly, it’s not too shabby. I eat pretty well (“healthy”) and I almost always buy most of what I want. I’ve been fortunate enough for the last 3 years to be employed by a gym, but I could still afford a membership if I wanted.
How do I do this?
I prioritize food & gym membership to partying, clothes, nails, hair, pedi’s, etc. Don’t get me wrong, those things are all fabulous, but I can cut those either completely out or cut them down to the point they’re cheap.
– I don’t party/go out/bar hop often (once every 3-5 months) and when I do I spend about $15-35 in one night including food/parking/drinks.
+ Instead I go with a friend or two to a group exercise class at a different facility from where I work ($5-15) and we might grab a bite to eat after if we have time/extra money ($5-15). OR if we’re both low on funds; we can go for a run, go to a park, doggy play dates, or just watch a movie, we already have or on Netflix ($7.99/mo) This is how I spend time with my boyfriend too.
– Clothes: I rarely pay full price. Unless I ABSOLUTELY need it. (if my running shoes are completely shot, as in tread gone. I save up the $100-150 over 1-3 months; I believe running shoes are all I pay full price for)
+ Buy only what I need. Sure that cocktail dress is gorgeous and on 10% sale! but I also have ten at home I rarely wear and won’t be wearing the new dress anytime soon.. sure it may not be there in a couple months, but my experience it is and you’ll be able to get it for a better deal. Look for deals…different retailers offer different discounts at different times. Wait. It’s worth it. If you’re buying your 10th pair of yoga pants, you’re fine. Chill. If all ten are ripped, it’s time to bite the bullet. Lulu has nice pants (bad politics), but my Old Navy, VSX, Adidas, Nike, and Fila all hold up just fine for at least $30 less. All of these brands go on regular sales..watch for them!
– Nails, pedis, hair: expensive!
+ Pedis and nails can easily be done at home or more cheaply at a Cos. school (I file/cut my nails/toenails.. and paint my toenails.. thats it). Hair is the same. I also pay my friends my cos. friends to do mine.. we either trade services and/or I pay supplies + $20 & lunch or drink, later. Occasionally, I’d do the same for acupuncture. Massage and acupuncture (and other forms of alt. medicine) are also available at schools in these disciplines. Just realize, these people are students and learning…a mistake can happen and expecting perfection is a bit ridiculous, but give feedback so he/she knows in the future.
As I said before I choose to spend my money on food.
– I budget about $350-400 a month for food for two people. For myself I would spend about $25-50 a week. I could live off quinoa, eggs, milk, cereal, chicken, peanut butter, chocolate, frozen vegetables, seasonal fruit, corn tortillas, ground turkey/beef… Boyfriend on the other hand likes chips, cookies, steak, pork, ribs, quick meals, juice…Those things are expensive and most are a waste. I buy him a certain amount per month, if he wants more he has to buy it. I cook dinner, so I buy what I want to eat/cook.
The only time I buy organic is
A. product only comes organic (Quinoa)
B. on sale or only about 10-30 cents more expensive & a “dirty dozen” food
C. store is out of conventional and only has organic and I’m dead set on a food
D. Milk (it lasts about a month, sometimes I drink a gallon in a week, sometimes it takes 3 weeks to knock it out, it is $2-4 more expensive; but I haven’t once not drank ALL of it before it went bad.)
I’d love to buy more organic produce, but alas I have a spending limit. From a nutritional standpoint conventional and organic is about equal. Factoring in cost, conventional almost always wins.
– I think seafood is gross. I don’t buy it. Therefore I don’t have to worry about “nonfarmed” “environmentally sound” “wild-caught” “dolphin safe” etc. Personal choice here. Boyfriend likes seafood. He gets his own or I buy some weird thing from Trader Joe’s for him, occasionally. Like I said, I don’t eat seafood so I have no clue what to purchase. I feel just peachy without it.
– Occasionally, I can find a good deal on grassfed beef. I’ll buy it then and only then. Otherwise, normal ol’ corn fed, hormoned up beef with work just fine. I typically buy 80/20 beef from Trader Joe’s ($3.50ish/lb). Sometimes I need a leaner beef, but typically 80/20 and pouring out the excess fat is totally fine. Usually if I need leaner beef, I go for ground turkey which runs about $4/lb for 96/4. Leaner than that and I have to add fat via oil (plus then its about $5-6/lb). I buy a roast if it’s on sale, steak if it’s on sale, but those are two things we typically do with out.
– I stretch my meats with beans in most recipes. Beans are super cheap less than $1 per can. While they aren’t a complete protein..I’m eating meat or rice/quinoa with them so we’re covered. I also create more filling meals for my boyfriend by giving him extra servings of the “fillers” (quinoa, beans, rice, veggies).
– I buy protein powder and mix my own protein shakes. I like Optimum Nutrition. The taste is good enough, it mixes well, and the vanilla is a neutral base. It usually costs $25-30 for 30 servings. I just add whatever I want fruit wise, spinach maybe, and I’m pretty content. I also buy protein bars..which add up. But, boyfriend and I sometimes are too rushed with work to eat real food. I have saved money elsewhere to accommodate this. Occasionally, I will make my own protein bars/bread/muffins.
– Chicken, Chicken, Chicken. Again.. I typically buy conventional. While I realize this is not environmentally conscious, I have to out way the cost vs. our caloric intake needs. Chicken is leaner and less costly than beef or pork.
– Pork goes on sale about once a month. I enjoy my sodium-laden, greasy, chorizo if it is on sale. I can’t eat much, but I can make some really good chicken & chorizo pasta. Otherwise I buy tenderlion and chops..on sale. I freeze and save for later.
– Eggs are easily one of the cheapest forms of protein. After months of eggs for breakfast the smell of them makes me want to barf. I buy them for boyfriend and for recipes and to occasionally convince myself I want them, but then I feed them to The BellahGator.
– Nuts and nut butters are an okay source of protein, but with their higher fat content are a great source of calories. I buy Krema Nut Factory or Trader Joe’s brand sodium-free PB. (both natural and only peanuts). Krema is about 50 cents more, but much much tastier. I’ve tried just about every brand, those are my favorite factoring in ingredients & cost. Nut butters are about the only thing I get up on my high horse about. Palm Oil is a NO! It is highly destructive to the environment: many natural nut butters use it AND those cost around the same if not more! Also it’s freaking peanut butter.. not peanut-palm-sugar-corn-salt butter. If I’m paying $3-4 for it either way, I’m obviously going to get the one that wasn’t cut with cheap ingredients. Palm oil is also found in other products, but again it is very, very easy to avoid.
– I recently started buying sprouted grain bread. I prefer it. But the loafs are smaller and more expensive. I can make it last two weeks on my own. Boyfriend will murder a whole loaf in a day or 2. I get him regular whole wheat bread for that reason. (if you haven’t notice with Boyfriend, my goal is to just get calories into him.. his intake is well above 3500 to maintain. if we ate purely “clean & organic” I’d go broke, calories are calories at this point).
– I like corn tortillas. Boyfriend hates them. He gets regular flour ones. Usually whatever is cheapest. This is a main source of carbs for me.
– Whole grain pasta..cheap. Whole wheat rice.. super cheap. Quiona.. a little pricer but under $4/lb. We primarily eat quinoa and pasta. I buy ramen, and I’m not ashamed. It’s cheap and we eat it with 2-3 meals in a week.
– I’m obsessed with sweet potatoes. I’d eat them 3-5 times a week as my starchy carb, but Boyfriend is not to fond. Regular idaho or reds are okay.. I’ll cook those occasionally. They’re all cheap and a great way to increase caloric/carb intake. particularly if you avoid gluten (we don’t)
– I’ll add corn to recipes too. I could careless if it’s GMO-free (my own research here, GMO isn’t as bad as some would like you to believe, also corn is OK to eat, despite what Paleo says)
– In season fruit and vegetables taste best and is much, much cheaper. So buy it then, enjoy it and move on. I’m serious. Somethings will freeze well (berries, peppers, grapes; come to mind first). If you plan on eating veggies raw, no freezing. Grapes taste good out of freezer. Berries and bananas will make better smoothies slightly thawed. Prep and freeze veggies for easier meals.
– frozen vegetables are my preference. I buy a bunch on sale and that’s the only time we get crazy variety beyond broccoli, carrots, and asparagus. I buy fresh bell peppers, jalapenos, and spinach.. occasionally I buy mushrooms.
– Organic Milk. I explained this earlier.
– Cheese. store brand. usually on sale; it goes on sale about once a month I stock up in my freezer and usually I buy enough for a couple months. Otherwise I just buy what I need for that week or two, I was short.
– yogurt for Boyfriend. Yogurt is vile and yucky. I buy greek yogurt for him. usually whatever costs $1. He gets 2-10 per week, depending on how much I have to spend left over.
– Butter. I buy real butter. Not margarine. Yes it has more calories, saturated fat.. but no hydrogenated oils/trans fat and is just tastier. It’s worth the $1 or so extra! We just make it last!
– Juice: boyfriend loves juice. I like water and milk, just fine. I buy him a gallon or two for a week…he gets whatever I feel like buying which is usually whatever costs $2.
– Chips/Candy/Cookies: I prefer to bake my cookies, I only very, very rarely buy cookies.. maybe once or twice a year!. Candy: I like gummies and chocolate. I buy dove dark chocolate, usually, and gum drops from Trader Joes (food dye allergy). In a month I spend about $10-15 on those things. Boyfriend likes chips..I don’t. He gets whatever is on sale that he likes, if I have extra money.
Spices, seasonings, flour, that stuff
– I am that person that uses whole wheat flour for everything. Occasionally I’ll add flaxmeal (bought on sale) or ground oats (thank you magic bullet). I bought regular flour for the first time in years to make cupcakes for my boss’s birthday. Store brand.
– I buy cheaper seasonings (without dyes). I’m not cooking gourmet. I don’t have a refined pallet. The cheapies are just fine. Trader Joe’s and Asian markets are good places to get more “exotic” spices cheaper. Or store brand.
– I have truvia.. I use it because I bought it, but regular sugar is okie-dokie with me. I buy store brand.
**This stuff I just buy as needed. It’s rarely on sale when I run out. If I need it, I buy it. This usually means I make cuts elsewhere. Typically in my “extras” funds (i.e. I don’t go out to eat twice in a week, just once)
How did/would you cover a gym membership?
– I figured out the max I’d want to spend (which is something like $40-50/month).
– I call around, look at different gyms… figure out what meets my needs the best for the price. (Sure, planet fitness is $10/mo but I need freeweights; other box gym maybe $20/month but is so busy I can’t workout; other box gym is spacious enough, but dirty.. you get the idea.) Figure out what you need and how much you are willing to pay.
– If your budget is tight.. what can you cut to make it work? Do you eat out multiple times in the week? The average meal $5-15, cut out one a week.. That saves you $20-45 a month! Now of course, you’ll have groceries to buy, but that’s still cheaper. Do you drink heavily on the weekend and run up $40+ tab? Cut out 1-3 drinks. Go out every other weekend.
– Paying for a gym membership is simply about priorities for MOST people. If you want a gym membership and can not afford one; look into the YMCA /YWCA or community centers. They offer discounted and even free memberships to those in need. Check with your insurance company or employer to see if they’ll cover all or part of your membership or if there are facilities that offer discounts for you.
– You don’t need a gym membership to workout, I just find it’s a good “break” from home and work–time away. It is great “me” time.
How do all of you save money and still “live healthy”?