Room for the “wants” and “needs”

February 2, 2009 — by Brian Kim
bkim_0

Junior Brian Kim

Surviving on a budget can be a relief and burden at the same time. Sure, the freedom of having money on hand without parental consent has its perks, but the responsibility of keeping my account balance from bouncing back can get tricky at times. From what I’ve heard, others go as far as freezing their credit cards in a cup of water as a method of self-restraint from impulse purchases. Hopefully, that’s an extremity to which I won’t have to resort.

With monthly allowances of $150, I cover gas, lunches, phone bills and miscellaneous necessities. On top of those, however, there are also other expenditures my parents would consider “wants” rather than “needs,” including clothing, books, movies, etc. Thus, the amount I would be able to spend is capped, and during most months, I’m not always able to buy both the things I want and the things I need. Now, I’m not suggesting that people stop eating lunches in order to save some cash. Instead, there are alternate avenues one can pursue in order to make room for both the “wants” and the “needs.”

Less room for more cash

The basis of money issues comes from lack of self-control in the midst of impulse purchases. With a couple of tweaks to how you handle money, the amount of money spent can easily be diminished. For starters, I generally never keep cash in my pocket because of the size of my wallet. Acclaimed for being the thinnest wallet in the world, the Koyono Slimmy has only three pockets: one for a couple of dollar bills, one for credit cards and one for business cards, limiting what I can carry around. First to be eliminated due to space on the list is cash due to how tempting using dollar bills can be, since there isn’t a risk of my balance bouncing back as with my debit card or constant parental monitoring of my purchases. With a little training from a minimal wallet, however, withdrawing cash is the least of my concerns unless I am heading to a place that doesn’t accept Visa.

Shortcuts to everyday spending

While I spend money on movies, drink breaks and clothes, the problem is that there aren’t always easy ways to tackle all of these with a short balance. Thankfully, most restaurants and cafes often carry stamp cards so that my tenth or so purchase is free. As far as clothing goes, the best sales, in my experience, happen online. I’m not big on apparel, but when there’s a good deal on clothes, I make my purchases months ahead at a time in bulk to save on shipping and tax.

In most cases, the things that you have your eye on are cheaper somewhere else. It’s just a matter of where you look. I’ll admit that watching out for sales online isn’t the most exciting, but I usually find specials through online deal aggregators, such as dealnews.com and slickdeals.net. I find these to be extremely useful in avoiding retail prices on goods ranging from apparel to electronics. I bet there are only a handful of people in this school that knew there was a 30 percent cash-back sale on all purchases from eBay only three months ago; all it takes is a matter of knowing where to look.

Discounts are always the hardest to find on movies. I’ve come to fully believe that Blockbuster is overpriced and that theaters have raised ticket prices too high. One alternative to Blockbuster rentals is that red box on the side of Safeway’s and Lucky’s. They look a little suspicious next to the lottery machines, but they keep up on new releases and only cost a buck. As for theaters, the best solution I’ve encountered is buying bulk tickets at Costco. It’s not the most conventional method, but it’s the cheapest I’ve seen so far, running at about five tickets for $40.

Gift cards without boundaries

After the holidays, I notice that I usually end up with a stack of gift cards to stores at which I wouldn’t normally shop. Thanks to cardavenue.com, gift card recipients can buy, sell and trade their unwanted store credits with others. Buying gift cards for cheaper than they are actually worth may sound untrustworthy, but, rest assured, the process is painless. A perk to this service, called Cardassure, guarantees participants with the promised amount of money written in the description. While there are services like cardavenue.com on eBay, there always seems to be a better deal when buying an iTunes gift card for half its actual worth.

While the “wants” aren’t always going to be easy to buy on a budget revolving around the “needs,” remember that there’s usually a backdoor to retail prices, no matter what you’re looking to purchase. It may sound like a lot of work, but it beats staying at home with an empty wallet.

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