Student loans can be scary. Very scary. Some days it feels like a carrying around a backpack filled with 200 pounds of rocks and no place to dump them.
But it doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom. You may feel like you’re drowning in debt, but believe it or not, you can still enjoy life as a young professional.
Here’s a simple guide to saving a few dollars, so you can make new friends without breaking the bank. Remember, those pesky student loans don’t have to be an anchor!
1. Give couponing a chance. Really. Coupons are all the rage, which means you can now participate without feeling like you’re 21 on your way to 65.
If you haven’t seen the TLC show “Extreme Couponing,” check it out for a few pointers. Scan through your local newspaper for deals, too.
While it definitely takes time and dedication, once you’ve got the hang of it you could save some significant dough each month. You might even turn couponing into a small gathering with friends to make it more enjoyable.
2. Get rid of your cable TV. The average cable bill costs between $50 and $100 each month. Even if you’re splitting the bill with a roommate or spouse, it still adds to your monthly bills – and that can be a real drain on the paycheck.
Companies like Hulu, Netflix and now YouTube make streaming TV and movies cheap and easy. After all, most of the major networks post TV shows in its entirety shortly after their broadcast.
3. Brown bag your lunch. Going out for lunch everyday can easily cost $10 to $20 – or more. If you brown bag it, you could save an average of $200 a month, and that can easily go towards your student loan payment.
Plus, making your own lunch tends to be healthier.
4. Motivate yourself with a rewards programs. Whether you frequent a coffee shop, clothing store or grocery store, ask the customer service reps about their rewards programs. Usually they are free to sign up and can offer some sweet deals even if it’s just a small discount towards your next purchase.
For example, if you like chocolate – and who doesn’t?! – sign up for the Godiva rewards program and receive a free chocolate every month!
5. Ditch the car. If it’s feasible, sell your car. It might sound outrageous and radical, but if you live in a city or close to reliable public transportation, you’ll save on high gas prices, monthly insurance and yearly maintenance costs.
This could be a dramatic change but one well worth it in the long run. And this shift, too, could help you live a healthier lifestyle.
6. Find bargains at your local library. Often times your local library will offer a variety of free programs and events that are worth checking out – you might even run into some new friends who share your interests.
Or you can find the latest best-selling novel and enjoy it for free, a perk may of us forget about once we’ve left college. You may have to wait a few weeks for the book, but that’s well worth a savings of $15 or so.
7. Volunteer. Sometimes the best ways to attend an event or festival is to volunteer – and it usually means you get in for free.
Check out local non-profits or businesses in your area to see what programs they host. This is also a good way to give back to your community and help someone in need.
8. Try upscale resale shopping. There is nothing to be embarrassed about if you shop at consignment stores. In fact, it’s become quite trendy.
Thrift stores are the cheapest places to buy clothes, but sometimes they can be limited in their selection. Try substituting just a portion of your retail shopping for thrift shopping and see how much you save. Or look for a local high-end consignment store and you might be surprised at the bargains.
9. Ask for company reimbursements. If you belong to a gym or professional career-related organization outside of your employment, check in with your human resources department to see whether they’ll reimburse for a membership fee.
And if you use a mobile phone for work, ask whether your company will pay part of your bill.
10. Grow your own food. This may not be for everyone, but if you have the space, it could be worthwhile – and even fun – to consider growing your own food. Not only will it reduce your grocery expenses, but the nutritional value and taste is better than store-bought produce.
If you enjoy being outside, gardening might also be a relaxing way to spend your weekend.
11. Take a coupon vacation. Just because your student loans are weighing you down doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and go on vacation now and again. Living Social, Groupon, Google Offers, TravelZoo and many other companies have made vacationing, taking classes and dining out into relatively affordable and fun experiences.
If you aren’t already signed up for these couponing websites, it’s free and worth a few extra emails in your inbox. Who doesn’t want to go kayaking or enjoy a delicious meal for half the price? If you don’t want to sift through those daily emails, check out Yipit , which does the dirty work for you.
Jennifer DePaul is a tax reporter for The Bond Buyer. She is based in Washington, D.C. and hails from New Hampshire.