Nov 13

10 Tips For Frugal Living

As an OOS (out of state) med student, the thing I least like to think about (other than neuro, which I apparently really hate) is my ever-increasing student loans.

At $50k/year for tuition alone, the only thing that gives me comfort is the fact that if I were to die, my debt goes with me (so I can’t drag down my family). I made sure to check that before I clicked the “accept” button when I got into medical school.

Although cost of living here is dirt cheap (I pay well under $600 for a furnished 2 bedroom apartment, including water/electricity/internet/garbage), things do add up, and most people have turned to the philosophy of, “I’m already in this much debt–what’s another couple thousand dollars?” I’m still trying to hang on to the last threads of my Asian frugality that I had ingrained into me so early on. At present, it is still winning, but I do admit to one bout of retail therapy (in my defense, it’s cold here and I got a jacket, a coat, a dress, and two tank tops for $60. I’d like to think this is a win.).

I definitely do not claim to be amazing with money, but I’ve been somewhat of a miser all my life, and here’s how I got by! (My parents try to help me every now and then, but I rarely ever let them because they’re trying to use their retirement funds to help me.)

1) Keep track of everything you spend.

This sounds kinda terrible, because it makes me feel like a total penny-pincher (which I guess I am ina sense, but it’s for the greater good). It’s like keeping a food journal (which I don’t do, because the amount of food I consume is alarming).

Back in August of 2006, I took my brother’s advice and made a spreadsheet to document all my expenses. I’ve kept at it ever since!

Budgeting Categories

This helps you to keep track of where your money’s going and helps you to see where you could stand to spend a little less on.

Divide the categories into something that works for you!

I probably should have put rent/utilities into a different category, but I lumped it into “Academics” (because I’m really only living out there for school) back in 2006 and what can I say? I’m a creature of habit.

2) Buy things on sale (and only if you really need it).

Up until the age of 20-21, the most expensive piece of clothing/pair of shoes I purchased for myself did not exceed $25. Ross and I were wonderful friends (I made it a point to have the patience to weed through the racks there, because I’ve come across pretty amazing finds–for instance, my $20 junior prom dress, my $12 senior ball dress, my $10 Rampage bikini…). I also make a beeline for the backs of stores because that’s usually where the sales racks are, and finding great deals makes my life a little brighter.

To that end, I’ve been absolutely loving the “manager’s specials” at Kroger. The price markdowns are sometimes pretty ridiculous, considering that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the product, so I’ve definitely been taking advantage of those.

Since I mentioned the whole “til the age of 20” part, I was infected with girl disease in college and actually started taking a liking to buying things sometimes. Usually, I save it for Asia, where I can get way more bang for my buck, but when I can’t and it’s over what I believe to be a reasonable amount to charge, if I still like it in a couple months/years, I’ll go ahead and get it. Unless it’s on sale and not likely to go on sale again in the foreseeable future. :O

Bottom line: Evaluate whether it’s a “want” or a “need.” It’s usually the former. Once in a while, I’ll splurge a little and treat myself to something if I’ve done rather spectacularly on a test or something.

My senior ball dress got multiple uses too (see that rather vibrant blue? that’d be me); I unearthed it again for the NKOH semiformal and for my graduation from UC Davis. <3! In case you can’t tell, I like it a lot.

3) When possible, walk/bike everywhere. If you have to drive, carpool when possible.

This is helpful on a variety of levels. You leave less of a carbon footprint, you don’t have to pay for gas, and you get some exercise/vitamin D (depending on where you live) out of it.I actually had to do this out of necessity because I didn’t have a license until I was 22.5, so I spent the greater bulk of my life walking everywhere because, I kid you not, my brother would charge me for gas money even though he wasn’t the one who had to pay it. When I went to Davis, the walking became biking (and sometimes bus-ing when it was raining too hard/too windy) because it was faster (and so very bike-friendly).

During my year in New Jersey (which is actually how this blog got started), I didn’t have a car, so I got by with the Rutgers buses (free for everyone, courtesy of the undergrads!) and good friends. Being in med school was honestly the first time I’d ever really had to regularly drive to and from school and it’s a weird feeling. I miss walking, but I love my living situation too much to move. I would totally bike, but as I discovered, I am not hardcore enough to take on mountains, and, come winter, this would basically spell death for me. I’ve remedied this by just not going to class anymore (just kidding; I don’t go, but that’s not the reason I started skipping class).

4) Cook your own food and eat out less (or not at all).

Food is kinda one of the things I look forward to every day, but maybe you’re not so obsessed. :X Going out to eat gets pretty expensive, and even if it’s fast food (which is pretty terrible for you anyway), that adds up quickly. I’ve been out to a restaurant twice since my parents left back in early August–once because Luke was visiting on his drive back to Indiana and the second time was for a friend’s birthday.

I started taking pictures of the food I ate in college because my mom was also worried that I was starving. Cooking is definitely a valuable skill to have!

When I cook my own food, I get to see what’s going into it, season it exactly as I want it, etc. It invariably ends up much healthier than anything I could buy ready-made. I usually cook in bulk on the weekends, so I’ll have enough food to feed me throughout the week.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of time/money I’ve saved over the years just by bringing my own food with me wherever I go. (This is partially to save money and also to save the people around me, because I get super cranky when I’m hungry.) Plus, you learn to make awesome food. Win-win.

Last year, I made an exception to the whole not-going-out-to-eat for Soupervan because they’re awesome, but in essence, I was donating a meal every time I bought one from them, so it was definitely for a good cause.

5) Potlucks!

These are kinda awesome and a good alternative to going out to eat, assuming that you have friends who can make edible substances without burning the house down. In most cases, making the food yourself is a lot cheaper, and you invariably end up with leftovers so everyone can go home happy. πŸ˜€ I’m a firm believer that food is an event and that you don’t actually have to go out and do things/spend money to have fun. As long as you’re in good company, you’re good to go.

6) If you’re located in a college town or something like it, there are free food opportunities everywhere. Everywhere.
Club meetings and guest speakers. Enough said.

But in case more needs to be said, if you happen to be around when the event is ending and they still have leftovers, they usually throw them out, so you can ask nicely and basically end up with enough food for a week. This has happened to me at least 5-6 times this year, and with pretty amazing food (platters of seasoned chicken, meatballs, gourmet salads, packed box lunches of sandwiches/chips/cookies/pasta salad), not gonna lie. My church also feeds me really amazing food.

I got 2 giant bowls of this awesome salad and 2 platters of meat from a single event back when I was in NJ. I also wrote a proposal to get the school to buy us dinner to “promote the camaraderie and foster good relations for our class.”

7) Have a roommate (or roommate[s]).

While I’m actually not presently abiding by this one, I did share a room with one of my closest friends for 3 out of the 4 years that we were at Davis (senior year, we shared a wall). Assuming you get along (which is precisely why I didn’t look for one this year), you get awesome company, and you can split rent/bills/groceries. (You also don’t have to be the one to clean everything each and every time…) We had a tradeoff where I’d wash all the dishes in exchange for cooked food (I was in class all the time 😑 ).

During our senior year, aside from there being a 4-way split between everything, we also quadrupled our closets because we were all the same size. (That, my friends, is freaking awesome. <3 )

The SIMs version of us. We had a lot of fun together.

My argument for not having a roommate this year basically stemmed from my unease that we might not get along, and I did not want to even have to fathom the possibility of not wanting to go home because I didn’t want to deal with my roommate/housemate.

With that said, my downstairs neighbor is basically like my roommate of sorts. We share garbage with one of my friends so that each of us only has to pay once every 3 months (thus saving us each an extra $14/month ;). I’m being a sneaky bum and not asking him for garbage money ever though, because he feeds me on such a regular basis and gives me so many awesome things. I hope he doesn’t find out, or he will likely insist on paying. 😑 hushhush.

8) Trade skills for meals/monies.

Back in the days of being the emergency accompanist for the music department, I used to play piano for all sorts of auditions/juries/recitals/performances. However, since most of these were usually for fellow music majors/friends, I’d feel kinda guilty for charging them. The solution? Everyone has to eat, and I loved food, so they’d pay me in meals!

Rachel and Jaclyn basically cooked dinner for me whenever I wanted, and I got taken out to dinner, given all sorts of gift certificates, rides to places when biking/walking couldn’t cut it, etc. There were gigs where I would actually charge money (those were pretty awesome too, not gonna lie). I also wanted to learn horseback-riding, but was too poor/cheap to pay for lessons, so I worked at the equestrian center in exchange for lessons.

In addition, I taught piano, worked at the music library, took surveys, and participated as a research subject in a bunch of different studies (works especially well if you go to a super research-oriented school) to supplement my livelihood.

This was one of my unpaid research subject experiences. We’re seeing how much I need to pee after standing in warm water for 45 minutes. (<3 and miss you, EXB!)

9) Don’t drink (alcohol).

This may be harder for some…but at $5-10+ a drink, I’m pretty sure I save a crapload of money by just not consuming alcohol. I never found any appeal in the whole partying scene because I highly dislike being in large groups (especially when they’re mostly strangers), and watching drunk people is only entertaining for a very short period of time. I’d much rather spend the time hanging out with several of my closest friends, but to each their own.

I guess if you really did still want to drink and you happened to be female (I doubt this would work well for a guy), you could try to employ the nice face discount or get people to buy drinks for you. That goes against my moral code and would, in essence, be a complete waste on me because I’m fairly certain that I have an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency, so drinking alcohol tends to make me feel really horrible anyway.

(I also only ever order water at restaurants, because other drinks add up too.)

10) Be nice.

You’d be surprised how far that can take you. According to Adam, if people in West Virginia like you, they’ll feed you. I’ve been getting all kinds of awesome food everywhere (mainly through him, the school, my friends, and my church), so it’s nice to know I’m not hated. πŸ˜› I like making food and bringing it to share with friends (during the times where I actually show up because class is mandatory that day), and they reciprocate because we’re all foodies.

My church seems to think I’m rather awesome because I can sing/play piano–I may start playing for church service soon so I’ll feel like less of a freeloader. (They say that since I’m just one single person and a med student to boot, I don’t need to contribute to the potluck and just my company’s enough. <3 But I’d still like to help out somehow.) I will, however, probably always be indebted to my neighbor though because try as I might, I cannot top all the things he does for me. ._. But anyway.

Church Potluck
When you’re a decent human being and friendly/nice to people, they’ll tend to like you and want to help you more. True facts. :O (That’s how I ended up living rent-free for several months at the cat shelter. <3 I miss it there a lot.)

Permanent link to this article: http://www.fairyburger.com/frugal-living/



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  1. sarah

    Great tips!!! So glad to see young people being smart about money and “making it” on less. I love how responsible you are! I’m a terrible budgeter! You’ve inspired me to watch the money better.

    1. Farrah

      Thank you! :] I hope they help! I’m trying really hard to graduate with as little debt as possible. The rather ambitious hope is that I’ll be able to pay off my loans within 5 years of getting out of residency, but we’ll see how realistic that is when I finally enter the real world!

  2. Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl

    Keeping track of everything you spend is HUGE. You do not fully realize what you are “wasting” money on until you do that!
    Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl recently posted…WIAW: October 29, 2014 (Recent Eats)My Profile

    1. Farrah

      Definitely! It made me realize how much I was spending on going out to eat, so I learned to cook, and now my total food/grocery expenses rarely exceed $100/month, even if I’m “splurging.” Makes me feel slightly better about being in so much student debt! 😑

  3. Tiffany Khyla

    I’m always looking for ways to save money. I can’t wait to start utilizing some of these tips! I really need to start cooking more!
    Tiffany Khyla recently posted…7 of My Book Boyfriends.My Profile

    1. Farrah

      I hope they help! :] The cooking one is definitely a biggie–it’s so expensive to go out to eat!

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