Yesterday on my way home from work I stopped by the grocery store to pick up something for dinner. I wandered the aisles, grabbing a bit of this and that from the shelves—“I need paper towels, right?” “Mmm, that looks delicious. I deserve a treat!” Unfortunately I found that, when I finally reached the cash register, my ‘this and that’ ended up costing over $20.00! Now, $20 may not seem like that much — it was all stuff that I needed, right?—but, as I’m sure you know, it adds up. (Especially for someone like me, who is a part of the growing pool of unpaid interns entering the job market.)
My unexpectedly pricey trip to the grocery store got me thinking about the cost of living in New York City. The Department of Commerce recently published a study on the “real income”—income adjusted for inflation—of Americans in each state. It will come as no surprise to residents that the local costs for goods and services in Washington DC, Hawaii, and New York cost 18.2, 17.2, and 15.4 % more than the national average, respectively, while residents of Mississippi are actually paying 13.6% less than the national average for those same goods. NPR recently released this interactive chart to help you find out your actual income — or, what your income feels like if you take inflation into account.
Chart created by US Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Given the fact that most of us are paying too much, where can we cut back to save a few bucks? The Simple Dollar, a personal finance blog by Trent Hamm, has a few recommendations. Click here for his full list of tips and tricks!
1. Write a list before you go shopping – and stick to it. One should never go into a store without a strong idea of what one will be buying while in there. Make a careful plan of what you’ll buy before you go, then stick strictly to that list.
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2. Invite friends over instead of going out. Almost every activity at home is less expensive than going out. Invite some friends over and have a cookout or a potluck meal, then play some cards and have a few drinks. Everyone will have fun, the cost will be low, and the others will likely reciprocate not long afterwards.
3. Instead of throwing out some damaged clothing, repair it instead. Simple sewing can be done by anyone – it just takes a few minutes and it saves a lot of money by keeping you from buying new clothes when you don’t really need to.
Image courtesy of christiem/xhc.hu
4. Try cooking! Instead of eating fast food or nuking some prepackaged food when you get home, try making some simple and healthy replacements. An hour’s worth of preparation one weekend can give you your lunches and dinners for the next week.
Image courtesy of the_swedish/xhc.hu
5. Buy appliances or cars based on reliability, not what’s cheapest. It’s worth the time to do a bit of research when you buy a new appliance or car. A reliable, energy efficient washer and dryer might cost you quite a bit now, but if it continually saves you energy and lasts for fifteen years, you’ll save significant money in the long run.
6. Hide your credit cards. Take your credit cards and put them in a safe place in your home, not in your wallet where it’s easy to spend them. If you argue that you need it for “emergencies,” just be sure to keep a small amount of cash in your wallet.
7. When shopping for standard items (clothes, sports equipment, games, etc.), start by shopping used. Quite often, you can find the exact item you want with a bit of clever shopping at used equipment stores, used game stores, consignment shops, and so on.
Image Courtesy of the_swedish/xhc.hu
8. Check out what your local parks and recreation board has to offer. Take advantage of the wonderful parks, free basketball and tennis courts, free disc golf, trails, and lots of other stuff out there waiting to be used—it’s all free! All you have to do is discover it.
Image courtesy of visionsary/xhc.hu
9. Start a garden. Gardening is an inexpensive hobby if you have a yard. Just plant some plants, keep the area weeded, and you’ll have a huge amount of vegetables for you to eat at the end of the season. Delicious!
Image courtesy of MeiTeng/xhc.hu
10. Eat less meat. For the nutritional value, meat is very expensive, especially as compared to vegetables and fruits. Simply change around your regular meal proportions to include more fruits and vegetables and less meats. Not only is this a healthier way to eat (saving on health costs), it’s also less expensive.
Piggy bank image courtesy of asterisco/xhc.hu