One of my favorite books of all time, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, opens with the following quote:
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.”
When I was 14, I got my first part-time job. Since then, I’ve learned a whole lot of things about what to do and NOT to do with money. I’ve gone through phases where I feel super rich and waste an embarrassingly large amount of money on things like books, clothes, and movies, and I’ve gone through phases where I unnecessarily stress myself out over trying to save and feel comfortable in a pool of savings. Finally, after years of mishandling nearly every paycheck put in my hands, I’ve finally seemed to learn a few things about managing my money. Basically I feel like my philosophy on money boils down to this:
Be conscious and spend what you have wisely, but don’t let your comfort or safety lie in the amount of money that you have saved. Live frugally- not out of fear that you won’t have enough, but in the freedom of knowing that your happiness rides on greater things. Give fearlessly- the money will always come when it needs to come.
That being said, here are a few of the tools and tips that I’ve found help me spend my "small green pieces of paper" wisely so that I can give and spend them more wisely in return:
Gas Rewards Cards
So I have this thing called a Hy-Vee FuelSaver Card (Hy-Vee is the largest grocery chain in the Midwest, for those of you not from my little bubble). Basically, when I buy certain foods I earn an amount off on every gallon of gas that I buy at a Casey’s or Hy-Vee Gas Station. That’s right, I literally get free gas for buying the foods I already eat. And Hy-Vee isn’t the only grocery store that offers this; it’s becoming really common! Check with where you buy your groceries to see if they have a similar program.
Learn to Sew
Seriously. A one-time investment to buy a sewing machine or the investment of time to hand stitch allows any beautiful fabric, oversized grandma dress, or strangely pleated thrift store pants to magically become exactly what you want it to be. Sure, it takes a bit of practice and patience, but I have probably saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars by making clothes rather than buying them!
Yes, yes. I know. I’m a little late jumping on the Groupon train. There are so many great deals on things you have to pay for in life anyways, like oil changes (I just got one for $19!) or things just for fun like travel, yoga memberships, and restaurant coupons.
Get a library card
Books, movies, and magazines for free. Say whaaaaaaat?
This site is theeeee best for getting discounted rates for flights, hotels, tours, trains, everything. My absolute favorite part is the “Fareplay” section where you can set the area you want to depart from and travel to, and it will generate the cheapest time and place for you to go. It’s the ultimate wanderlust conqueror. Visit here!
Be willing to suffer a bit of discomfort
There are so many cheap airlines out there that are willing to sell seats on flights for super cheap if you’re willing to give up the normal flight comforts like luggage-sized carry-ons, on-flight snacks, and (to be honest) decent service. Spirit Airlines is one of these options for flights within the U.S., and Wizz Air is a great bottom-line option overseas (I flew with them this past fall across Europe for about $80. Best. Deal. Ever.)
Volunteering is a great way to travel longterm without crazy costs. CNN posted an article that I stumbled across awhile ago, here.
What tips and tricks help you spend more wisely?