As a graduate student, saving money is always a priority. Sure, we get funded positions, a decent stipend, and a free-ride on tuition, but there is a catch. There’s always a catch. As a teaching assistant, I was limited only to the stipend guaranteed in my contract; in other words, I was not allowed to work outside of my contract. That’s right – I was supposed to live, for one year, off a stipend that was slightly more than $ 8000. This meant that it was time to be a lot more tight-fisted than I was used to. This also meant another thing: since most of my money was going towards rent, bills, and food, I couldn’t save as much money as I’d like to pay down future debt.
Ultimately, I came up with some little things you can do daily to both save money and, in some cases, make a little extra cash to soften the blow of a small income and help at least break even in my savings towards paying down debt. The first thing I did was take advantage of sales on basic things like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats. Stores like Kroger, Wal-Mart, and sometimes Meijer are great for 10 for $ 10 sales on basic food items. Use these sales to your advantage, and stock your pantry too! Canned veggies, pasta sauces, pasta, rice, beans…since these food items can stay for a relatively long period of time, you can buy them on sale, stock up, and not worry about spending money on food until your cupboards really are bare.
Another food-related tip: make enough for leftovers. Stretching a meal for 2-3, sometimes four days is a great way to cut down food costs. If you have a slow cooker, this step is even easier (especially if you don’t have time to cook homemade meals everyday).
Your slow cooker can often make enough for at least 2 days worth of meals, excluding breakfast. You’ll find yourself saving a lot more money this way than shopping for simply whatever you want at the grocery store. Another upside is that – by sticking to basics like fruits, veggies, dairy, and bread – you end up eating much healthier than you’d expect. This will also give you some money to save little by little, especially if you cut back on needless/luxury expenses. This means you limit yourself to maybe 1-2 purchases of movies, shoes, CD’s, eating out, etc., per month. In my case, I had to cut out eating out all together, have only bought one CD a month, and usually save up to buy things like new pants, shoes, or clothing every 2-3 months. If you allow for the reduced budgeting in food, and limit your other spending, you’ll also find that, in the long run, you can save some money AND maybe buy some rewarding treats and snacks for yourself that, otherwise, may have broken the bank.
Lastly, this is something I’ve done to bring in a little bit of cash and simply store it away. I started doing online surveys. Not all surveys pay money, but every 3-4 surveys you get will pay anywhere from $ 3-$ 15 for taking the survey. Now, since this is the internet and there is a fear of scams, I ended up limiting myself to four sites that are “for real” companies and panels that have real, physical existences. These sites are SurveySpot, NPDOR Surveys, Ipsos I-say surveys, and eRewards. SurveySpot will accumulate your awards and give you the option of requesting a check or donating your earnings to charity (the charity option is good for those of you who enjoy philanthropic endeavors). SurveySpot also enters you into quarterly drawings for completing surveys. You are notified of new surveys via email as well. NPDOR, Ipsos, and eRewards don’t offer paying surveys, but still offer the sweepstakes entries. eRewards does, however, allow you to accumulate eRewards money to cash in for certificates or other prizes. So far, using SurveySpot, I have saved about $ 200 in the last 6 months.
I highly recommend these methods as a means to save money, cut back on costs, and even make some money to slowly reinforce your savings towards debt. While I haven’t made enough money to pay down all my debt, I have managed to not lose money in my savings account. That was my goal – don’t lose money in my savings account. It was my lifeblood for paying down debt in the future, and I managed to break even (with the $ 200 from SurveySpot). If you make a determined effort to save money, you’ll find it easier to pay down debt in the future.
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