Monday, July 16, 2012

How I Saved Money working at a Pet Store with a $700/mo loan payment

Ok, I know this title is obnoxious, but I wanted it to grab your attention. When I graduated high school I went to undergrad at Purdue University and received lots of academic scholarships which helped with all my tuition, books, and school fees and I worked and used part of my savings to pay for living. When I graduated with my BA I continued on to graduate school for my PhD, knowing there was no way I'd keep from accruing loans, especially at a private grad school. I hated the idea of having debt, but really wanted to pursue my education. So, I only took out loans for my tuition. I used my savings and worked (which was stressful, but sooo worth it) to pay for my living. Now, that meant I had to live quite frugally to stay within my means, but I wasn't as stressed because I knew I didn't have too much of an option. Then I decided to graduate early with my MA. The program wasn't a great fit for me, I wanted my life to go in other directions, and lots of other random reasons. Either way, I left with much less debt than I would have with five years of school instead of two, but more debt than I ever wanted.

When I got home, I began the process of looking for a job. I lived pretty close to Chicago and began there and the surrounding suburbs, but couldn't find anything in my field. So, I finally began to look for any job I could find, knowing my loan payments were coming up quick. I applied everywhere I could in my hometown, but either didn't get called back or was told I was over qualified. Finally, I got hired. It was not my ideal job, nor was it what I imagined I'd be doing with a BA in Behavioral Neuroscience and an MA in Forensic Psychology. I would be working at a local pet store for minimum wage. I realized that it really didn't matter, God had put me there for a reason, and I needed to be thankful for any income at all. It stretched and grew me quite a bit, I knew that with a loan payment of $700 and only making about $900 a month I'd really be pushing it. Luckily, God blessed me with a free place to live during this time which meant that all I needed to pay for was groceries, gas, and my electric. I decided I didn't need anything extra and THIS is how I did that...

1) NO cable or internet, it's annoying, but libraries have internet for free and you can get movies/TV shows for free there. I saved almost $100 a month by cutting those expenses out of my life.
2) My grocery budget was $12 a week when I first started working (I got a raise after 3 months and I moved my budget up to $15 a week) I only shopped at Aldi. I was a little worried because I liked to eat healthy, but had an advantage because as one person I was able to make food go far. I used soy milk instead of milk since it didn't spoil nearly as fast (more expensive for a family who goes through milk quickly),  I planned my meals so nothing go wasted. I bought weekly to make sure I could get fresh things on sale. It worked somehow, and it helped me stay healthy. I was very careful about portion control so that I wasn't eating a lot of food, but still getting enough calories. I didn't snack when I wasn't hungry because I rarely had extra money for snacks. So, all in all it was good in a lot of senses.
3) "Fun Money" was something I pretended didn't exist. I made sure that when I hung out with friends we did free things, I suggested we take walks, play with our pets, do crafts that we had at home, or go to parks, free events and that sort of thing. It worked well, no one really wants to spend money they don't have to, and who wants to get coffee and lunch with everyone they know every time they want to hang out. Doing free things causes you to get out and get creative, everyone appreciates doing something different :)
4) Reuse things! One of the biggest ways I have saved money is reusing sandwich baggies. I know it may sound silly, but in all seriousness, there is no reason not to. Admittedly, a lot of baggies get destroyed depending on their content, but baggies that hold things like chips, pretzels, crackers, or veggies can definitely be reused. I always took some sort of grain with me in my lunch and used the same baggie for that, and I had a veggie baggie, and a sandwich one. I hardly ever buy baggies. I wash them and use them until they seem too old or get ripped or something along those lines. I also reuse plastic bags (like wal-mart/target), foil (sometimes), gift bags, jars, and containers with lids. Keeps from buying all these items which can add up quickly.
5) Save on electricity!!! Easy to do...hang your laundry to dry, use natural light (no lamps/lights during daylight), and unplug EVERYTHING when you aren't using it. When I say everything, I mean it! Since I didn't have cable, I unplugged the TV and DVD player most of the time, only plugged in phone charger when using it, along with toaster, blender, and all other kitchen appliances. If you live in a house with rooms you don't use (we have a second bedroom that's mostly storage right now) unplug everything in there...lamps, clocks, everything. We only plug it in when people visit and stay in that bed. Keep the thermostat temperate. I only turn on the AC when I am like seriously uncomfortable, otherwise I embrace it. Same with the heat, I layer up like crazy, use blankets and open the oven door after I bake to let warmth out. Then when all else fails, use the heat. I also keep all blinds open in the winter to let as much sun in as possible and keep a lot of blinds closed in the summer to keep out the heat when I'm not home or when it's excruciating out (I'm thinking the past week's heat wave).
6) Do things to make extra money for fun. When all else fails, try to find money in surprising places. This time period is when I did a garage sale, sold extra furniture on Craigslist, began my knitting sales, and began survey taking. It may seem like something little, but when you spend less than $50 a month on food, a little bit of money seems like A LOT! I was able to sell a few hundred dollars of knit goods during that time and in less than a year I've made $100 from surveys. I like Synovate, but haven't tried anywhere else. That is like an extra month worth of funds without going to work! Just some suggestions :) I also use swagbucks which doesn't make much money, but without trying I've made about $25 in gift cards so far and I signed up in October. Not as much as the surveys, but I also don't spend time using it. I just use it to search instead of google and if I remember I do the daily poll which takes a total of 5 seconds of my day. This program is great because you can get gift cards which come in handy to buy anything off amazon OR to have some fun money to go to coffee or lunch with friends :)
7)Free Samples. Enough said. I LOVE free samples. They are so easy to get and can help you save a lot of money. I know it sounds silly, but it doesn't take long to sign up and it really can help. I can't even remember the last time I bought shampoo or conditioner because I get so many samples for it. I also get a lot of lotion samples and food. I know it sounds silly, but when you are almost out of cereal a free box of cereal or a free meal bar in the mail is the best!
8) If you tithe, don't stop. I know it is really stressful to pay out money you feel like you don't have, but God blesses your obedience and I think it is well worth it for that alone.

After years of living frugally I am married and we are now able to buy a home, looking into purchasing a new to us car, and paying off my loan quickly. With that being said, it takes time to save up and be frugal and to yield results, but now we are in a great place. We still live frugally, and keep a tight budget for ourselves, but it is so nice to see what God has done with our obedience with his things.

Hope this can help. Let me know what you do to save money!!


  1. We save a lot with coupons, as well as shopping at CVS and doing their Extra Care Bucks program. Also, I recently started doing a grocery comparison chart where I compare prices on our frequently bought items to see which stores are cheaper and then try to rotate weeks/months to get the best price on everything.

    1. I just started doing this! I can't wait to see how it works :) I can already tell it helps because I know exactly how much stuff costs and I know when a sale is really a good deal!