In my early 20s, I was a complete financial moron. I was the poster child for how you should not use your student loan money and credit cards.
So far I’ve paid back $19K on my credit cards, and I’m down to $0 (YESSSSSS!!). Plus, I’m also chipping away at my student loan debt. You will find some tips below that are helping me in my debt-free journey.
1. Raid the Work Cupboard – If you work in an office like me, people are always leaving their coffee cups, plastic containers, and travel mugs behind. Be sure you ask your colleagues before you grab, but that coffee mug that’s been sitting there for 2 years? Pretty sure no one is coming back for it.
2. Free Sample Websites – Check out this website. It is my most favorite website for real free stuff. I’ve gotten free clothing, free food, and even money! Be sure you check daily because the items there tend to go quickly.
3. Return what you don’t use – My boyfriend was sweet enough to go grocery shopping for us a couple of weeks ago, but he came back with some pretty awful canned soup (and no receipt). Instead of letting the soup sit in the cupboard forever, I returned it to our local grocery store for store credit. Even if you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to ask about their return policy!
4. Do not toss the paper ads in your mailbox! – It will take you a minute to glance over the junk stuffed in your mailbox but it’s not always junk! I’ve gotten coupons for $6.99 haircuts (score!!), and even free sandwich coupons from a local store opening nearby.
5. Utilize your good credit score – Almost always pay your bills on time? You should have a pretty decent credit score. Google search “credit card balance offers” online to find current offers (be sure the website is legit/you’ve heard of the card before). It usually costs about 3% or 5% of the balance, but if you are paying off credit cards with a high APR or even a smaller student loan with interest, it is worth it in the long run to pay the fee and get 0% interest, usually for 12-24 months! The only thing you have to watch is when your 0% APR offer expires — and make sure you are agreeing to manageable payments. This method inspired me to pay off my student loan quicker because I knew I only had so much time before I was charged interest.
6. Watch the weekly sale flyers for items you eat a lot – I eat A LOT of eggs. Lucky for me, Walgreens has a sale on eggs every 3 weeks or so and I can get my egg fix at $1.29 a dozen! This is a good way to train yourself to keep an eye on things you buy a lot and to be sure you are getting the best price.
7. Reward Points – Twice a year I have to attend national conferences for my job. Every time I book a flight, I attach my Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards number in order to accumulate points. It’s free, and since my company pays for my flights I get to accumulate points for no cost. This year I wanted to visit a friend in another city so I picked an off-season weekend to fly, and I only had to pay $10 in taxes for that flight! When airfare goes on sale, the points required for that flight lower too! Spirit Airlines also has a promotional offer if you sign up for their credit card. You get enough points for a free flight, and you can sign up to take surveys to earn points towards flights!
8. Dumpster Dive – This tip isn’t for everyone as some people get squeamish over trashed items but hear me out. I live in an apartment complex and people moving out will notoriously leave old bookcases, box TVs, and even clothes NEXT TO the dumpster. Recently, I got a blanket and a used dog bed (that I washed in very hot water with lots of soap) for free!
9. Sell the stuff that you do not use – this may seem like a no-brainer to some but rather than tossing your old clothes, why not sell them on eBay? Also, those old textbooks? Try selling them on Amazon.
10. Date night? Check Groupon – This may ALSO seem like a no brainer, but check Groupon for a deal on dining out (don’t forget to tip at the value of the Groupon if you receive good service).
11. Do not throw away any food – Is your bread about to go bad? Freeze it! Bananas look brown? Freeze them! Is your lettuce about to go soft? Make it into a salad tonight! If you are squeamish about eating frozen bread, just use it in a recipe or make it into breadcrumbs.
12. Got a late fee? Call your company! – My student loans are all automated to deduct from my bank account when they’re due. This sucks sometimes because I have a 4-day window in which they could take the money out. This past month, one of my lenders took their payment out 2 days before I had planned! It caused my checking account to go into the negative. I called my bank, explained what happened, and they gladly reversed the fee. The same thing happened with my cell phone. I accidently turned off the Wi-Fi and started eating up data like crazy, which caused me to go into overage data. I called them and they were able to reverse the charge for me. The trick is to be super nice/polite in your request and to not make a habit out of making those requests.
13. Buy giant tubs of non-perishable items – I have a giant tub of oatmeal in my cupboard. I don’t eat it too often, but I know it’s there if I’m ever exceptionally stretched between paychecks. And it doesn’t ever go bad.
14. Tell your friends you are scaling back – Be honest! Tell them you are trying to pay off X, Y, Z, and chances are they are too! This way they are more understanding if you decline an expensive dinner or don’t accept an invitation to go out for drinks. Also, my friends know I’m starting over (I broke up with an ex-fiancé a few years back) and pretty much forfeited all of my furniture, so if they’re getting rid of something, they know to ask me if I want it.
15. Start a clothing swap or a “free to a good home” area at work/with your friends – There is a table at work where people leave things they no longer want. I personally left a half-eaten birthday cake I didn’t enjoy (it was literally gone in an hour) and a couple of shirts I didn’t want. I’ve gotten some cool office supplies and leftover office-party food myself. All free. Also, my friends and I routinely give each other clothes we no longer want.
16. Create a bill pay calendar – I printed out a bill pay calendar so I may write down when I get paid and when my bills are due each month. I keep this separate from my regular calendar and folded in my purse so I can grab it quickly. This method has helped me never forget a bill and to leave enough money in my checking to cover upcoming bills. This also helps me see the reality of my financial situation, and I tell myself “no” if I want to buy something I really shouldn’t. I also know when I will have extra money to throw at my debt as I calculate how much extra I will have left over after paying bills.
17. Do it yourself – I clean the inside and outside of my own car, trim my dogs’ nails, dye my hair myself, and even paint my own toe nails. I do not pay for something that I can do myself.
18. Cheap art– I print out cool art I find online and put it in frames I bought at a discount or that I already own. When I travel, I purchase post cards from local artists and frame those for cute, small and unique artwork.
19. Someone asks what you want for an occasion? Tell them what you need! – My family and I often do this for holidays and birthdays, and I’ve adopted this with my boyfriend as well. Instead of someone giving a gift that can possibly go unused, I tell my loved ones what I can use. For example, this year I noticed I needed shoes. I asked my parents for a gift card for new shoes. Even if what’s given is only a small amount, I can wait for a sale and add some of my own money. (If you know they aren’t working with a lot of money, ask for something low-cost.)
How do you get your frugal juices flowing?
Sarah Wakely is a newly engaged and reformed spend thrift from the Midwest. With her fiance and two rescue pups, she scours the internet and thinks outside the box when it comes to saving money. She has paid off her credit card debt and engaged in a full-on battle with her student loans.