This post is going to be a little different. Instead of making a new money rule, I’m going to attempt to help my sister understand her money sitch. She is interning in New York City for a very classy magazine for 10 weeks. The internship is paid, she is living in the dorms of NYU due to the short duration of the internship and works approximately 32 hours a week. New York is not where I’m blogging for New Money Rules, if you haven’t already guessed.
From my conversations from her, she has told me multiple times that paying for meals, transportation and other expenses is hitting her bank account harder than she imagined when she accepted the internship. Of course, thousands of 18 to twentysomethings have a similar plight across the country this summer, with internships being almost a prerequisite to any even entry-level jobs, so I’d imagine tiny violins are getting played to tunes about money woes to parents and siblings across the country as we speak. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t exactly take the road less paved that is designing spreads for an industry that is notoriously critical and fast-paced.I did do data entry and bent out the window for clients on chores that were non-coffee-related, so still somewhat mundane and subject to much criticism.
So here it is. What she earns, what she must spend and then what’s leftover as discretionary income.
$9/hour. Which comes out to more like $6.06/hour, after taxes, or $194 dollars a week.
- Meal plan–NYU dorms require that you have a meal plan in order to live there during the summer. So an inevitable expense of $140 dollars a week. This gets her 8 meals and $30 dining dollars that can be used at CVS, among a few places.
- Rent: $320 per week. The parents are funding this one for the summer. Thx M&D. So really, $0.
- Transportation: $29 dollars per week (at 30-day rate, because that’s what she bought). This is the subway.
= Discretionary Income $25
In her case, discretionary income now also includes the meals she has to pay for outside of her meal plan. So approximately 13, give or take a few snacks. To further limit what she can spend, she is only there for 10 weeks and flew from wayy out of state, so she did not buy a fridge or microwave-two staples that most college kids have the luxury (and the savings!) of having. Because of that, she has to either buy or make in a communal microwave, and she can’t refrigerate any leftovers. This also means that lunch four days out of the week is purchased at a cafeteria or nearby shop.
I know that not everybody, and in fact most people, are not upper-middle-class-sorority-white girls, so I completely understand the “pffft” sounds that might be getting made right now by you who are reading. But the intent of the post is not to criticize the amount of “aid” or privilege some might have, it is to simply look at a financial situation and find out how to make better sense of it so that saving/spending decisions can be better than they were yesterday. Money can be empowering in good way. Not in the way that Kanye West might rap about it, because apparently even he isn’t good at managing it…but only in the way that being an intern in a big city makes you feel. The money you spend or don’t spend is part of a larger purpose of achieving your goals, finding out what you want to do in life. Adulthood is an arm’s length away but you’ve already got a foot in the door. Embrace it.
Back to the expenses…with $25 dollars needing to cover approximately 13 meals and no way to store fresh groceries, she’s going to need to get creative. And probably dip into her savings. But that’s why we are here! Let’s see how she can maximize her small budget. Eating the same thing everyday can be boring, so I’m going to try to come up with a few options. Here’s where I’d like to introduce a theme that might help her balance her mealtime expenses: “Save, Spend, and Invest”. ‘Saving’ is eating food that is as cheap as it gets, mostly microwave, as you might guess. “Spending” is buying the $7 two-scoop Haagen-Daz when you want to treat yourself. ‘Investing’ is making a health-motivated decision in what to make or buy at snack or mealtime. Center it around protein so that it keeps you going and able to make the rest of your balanced (Save vs. Spend) eating decisions.
The goal with this theme is that you make all three of those decisions each day to balance out your spending. That’s one ‘save’, one ‘spend’, one ‘invest’.
“Save” options: breakfast is likely the cheapest meal of the day, and a big opportunity to save. She has access (limited) to a microwave in her dorm in the common area. A great option for brekky if you need to eat on the cheap is oatmeal. And she can use her dining dollars to buy it at CVS or alternatively, buy it on Amazon. Sounds a little funny to do, but with the Prime service, which she can borrow from me or our parents, stuff gets shipped to her building. Buying a 40-count box of quick-cooking oatmeal means the cost is 25 cents per packet. Two packets of oatmeal can usually tide one over even on the hungriest of mornings. She could also pick up one of the canister Quaker rolled-oats and purchase fruit, sugar and/or nuts to go in it at CVS, which would probably not run her more than $12-$15 dollars and could potentially last for several weeks.
“Spend” options: A cheaper “spend” option would be something like a bagel + cream cheese. Dunkin’ donuts sells bagels for approximately $2.10, and other bagel houses might run you around $2.50. Add on your schmear and there’s about a $1 premium. Though this guy might come after you. Coffee tends to be relatively cheap at bagel shops, too, so this might be a nice pair for your “spend”. You’ll probably weigh in at around $3.50, which isn’t bad. I am a carb-addicted female, so I could eat bagels at any hour of the day, for any meal. While “grabbing a bagel with the gals” isn’t sexy, it sure as heck is cheap.
“Invest” options: Picking up something from a cold-shelf will be the theme here. If you don’t have to have people prepare your food for you, it tends to be much cheaper. I am pretty sure NYC has approximately 9 CVS/Walgreens/Duane Reade/Rite Aid/Safeways per square block. And they all have food. This makes it easy, with a little planning, to duck in on your way to work and grab something. What you grab is key here, and here is my recommended list for investing in your future hungry self:
-sausage sticks-hummus + chips
It may seem funny to eat crackers and cheese for breakfast, but the fat/protein makeup can make a great meal or get you through to the next one. Nuts aren’t always cheap, but if you buy a big bag from somewhere where the price isn’t marked way up and some ziploc bags, your snacks are on point for what, a week? two?
This brings me to snacktime. Snacks are a beautiful thing. They can be great for your budget because they allow you to 1) make more budget and health conscious mealtime decisions because you aren’t starving, and 2) they are typically inexpensive because you aren’t paying for labor, taxes and the freshiest of fresh ingredients that go into dining a la cafe for breakfast. By incorporating snacks into your day (if it works for you–some people are just born and bred meat + potatoes people), you will likely decrease your overall food spending. If you don’t have to pay for a steak and fish meal because you’re absolutely famished, you can typically go for cheaper, sometimes more fun options at restaurants. By eating something ahead of time, these decisions become easier and you’re full at the end of the day. CNN says so.
He was probably hangry…http://giphy.com/gifs/wOkyANLix6yQ0
Onward, ho, Lunch!
“Save” options: I don’t know about you, but I am not above a good old PB&something. A PB and something is peanut butter, bread, and something (hopefully non-perishable so that you can keep it in your fridgeless room). Examples of these sandwich-related somethings:
-Spreadable cheeses (like laughing cow). Surprisingly, PB goes well with this kind of thing. It’s blog-approved, so we’re good on that one. Packs of 8 run at about $3.49 normally, so tops maybe you’ll spend $6-7.
-Jelly/jam. When you’re at the diner on the weekend, who’s to say you can’t snag a few from the trays on your table. Else, you can buy on several different sites. The most delicious option I found was straight from the Beyonce of the jam/jelly world: Smuckers. You can buy 200 for $26.00. That’s 13 cents per container of jam.
-Nuts and/or dried fruit. Just try it. May run you a little higher, but a great option if you chose to work that into your overall snack and grocery budget. Biggest upside here is that can be stored in your room!
-Sliced fresh fruit. PB+strawberry? Thinly-sliced apples are always a hit. PB+banana? You’d be advised to check out Epicurious’ Elvis-themed recipe here. Apples, pears and bananas are going to be relatively cheaper than strawberries. Top pricetag I’ve seen is about $1.70. That’s not bad.
-Honey=so.freaking.good. And non-perishable! If you buy generic you can pick it up on the cheap–typically less than $5
-Nutella, the snack world’s darling of this decade. Also non-perishable. A jar of this shouldn’t run you more than $5-7 dollars.
The possibilities are endless.
Make in the AM before you leave for work or pick up what you need on your way. Store PB or nonperishable items at your desk, if possible. If that’s not possible, CVS and Walgreens can be your new best friend. Keep a set of silverware in your purse (or desk as well) and you’re ready to assemble whenever you have time.
“Spend” options: A great option for using your “spend” for the day is when you’re really pushed for time. Whether you just didn’t get out of the house that morning or had no time to pick up the ingredients for your lunch sammy on the way to work to make your “save” lunch, “spend” lunches are a great way to get in both a 15-20 minute walk, and get a meal in the process. If you work somewhere where there is a cafeteria, the food there is not usually uber-cheap, but still is not as expensive as fast-casual choices like Chipotle, Panera, or Noodles and Company (etc.). So cafeteria’s are not a terrible option. From my experience, dishes that you don’t have to wait in line to get served up are often cheaper. Soup is typically a very economical cafeteria option. Grab as many packets of crackers as you can and hold your head high while going to pay. If you do eat out, here are a few tips that can help to reduce the price at the register:
-Drink water. It’s as simple as that. You’ll save anywhere from $2 to $5 per meal if you eliminate specialty drinks and soda
-Watchout for “up-charges”. Lots of places charge-up for things like “gluten-free bread”, adding cheese or bacon to your “whatever”, and choosing premium protein options (like fish or beef for chicken, adding or doubling meat) can save you a few dollars every meal. Premium sides to meals are another place where they can get you–example: I know of approximately 2 establishments in my lifetime where they don’t charge for sweet-potato fries
-Skip the ‘swaps’. Swapping one item in a dish for another is not always the same price. Make sure before you pay that you are not going to get charged for it.
-Join their rewards programs, signup for newsletters, and download apps. Many places will give you freebies every nth time you visit, give free meals for signing up, and provide exclusive deals for app-users. If you are curious as to whether they have a program and how to signup, just google the place and try to find their website. There’s usually a huge push there for visitors (to their site) to give an email or download an app.
-Look for lunch specials. Lunch is where restaurants can make lots of money, fast. They can serve smaller portions at lower prices, appealing to more people. Don’t avoid a restaurant because you know their dinner is pricey and assume lunch is, too.
“Invest” options: Again with the protein. Here would be where you go grab something like egg/chicken/tuna salad from a deli on your way to work (and store safely in the fridge) and use some of your (bodega-bought) crackers to dip yourself some lovely protein-rich meat. You could mirror what I suggested for the “invest” options for breakfast, at lunch. That lovely Chobani and granola will still be there at noon. Run down the street and grab it so that it fuels your afternoon much better than this.
Dinner. The sexiest and (can be) spendiest meal of the day.
“Save” options: Dinner is the most expensive meal if you are eating out. That’s just how things are. If you want to save money, eat dinner at home. If my sister eats dinner at home, it will need to be something she can make in a microwave, assemble in her room and even then, it must not need lots of utensils if it’s going to be feasible for her.
So here we are with our “save” options:
-Canned tuna/canned chicken. Grab yourself a fistful of mayo packets next time you’re at a deli and you can eat this stuff right out of the can, but it’s arguably better with buttery crackers. For less than $2 you’ve got a high-protein meal that you don’t need a bowl to eat it with.
-The microwave family of foods is not limited to mac and cheese: Follow my pick 2 below and eat dirt cheap food that does not in fact taste that way.
Pick one of these:
Now add one of these combinations that don’t need to be refrigerated:
olive oil+ balsamic vinegar+salt+pepper
olive oil+red pepper flakes+balsamic vinegar
The hope here is that you can buy a bottle of olive oil, butter, soy, and/or sriracha and then have shakers of salt and pepper on hand. Let me know if you think of others!
“Spend” options: Maybe 7:30 PM has arrived and you’re having a stare-down with the sriracha bottle for who is going to cook dinner…some insults are exchanged…and you find yourself out on the street walking to your favorite, oh, I don’t know, specialty grilled cheese place? Basically the same tenets apply here as I described in the lunch section…the point is to cut out extras that you might not be aware of. I could go on about this, but the point is to make good choices on your spending all throughout the day so you have zero guilt when you do choose to “spend”…for whichever meal you decide.
“Invest” options: You still want to save money by eating in, but can’t do potato with pepperoni and fake cheese another night? A few ideas for you:
-Plan to cook (perhaps regularly) or order food with a friend. My sister has the option to reserve ahead of time a small, functional kitchen for a set amount of time. Since you don’t want to have leftovers and nowhere to store them, buy ingredients for a meal that specifically can be cooked in a kitchen that’s not restaurant-grade. I’d suggest one-pot or sheet pan-type dinners that you can just dump and cook. No broiling or mixing required. go for the fast or one-pot meals that don’t require any prep beforehand or a ton of cleanup after. Everyone needs their Blair/Serena time.
I’m a die-hard Food Network website fan. Here’s just one of their lists of great one-pot, comfy meals that can be prepared in kitchen with a burner and a stove:
So then..I guess that’s all I have to say. This post is sufficiently long, so I must bid you adieu sweet baby sister. Go forth and save on meals!
#millennials #personalfinance #nyc #intern #twentysomething #money