Food, our second most necessary substance, comes in a clear first when discussing financial traps. From one person who says he is "constantly eating, so a bite here and there adds up" to the folks whose nibbles were a bit more specific, comments about food were ubiquitous. Here were some of the most common issues as well as related tips:
"Food delivery is always a huge drain, especially because of the minimum charges."
Tip? When ordering in, include at least one dish that has a decent shelf life and can be stretched into 1-2 more meals to spread out the cost (think, vegetable fried rice).
"Fresh produce can be really pricey in the city"
Tip? Luckily the fruit stands on the street are pretty legit and significantly less expensive.
"Going out to dinner, hands down. Being a foodie and dating another foodie, it's a really difficult thing to avoid and I never seem to account for it in my budget."
Tip? There's always cooking in, but let's save that for winter. While it's still nice out, take advantage of deal sites like Groupon or Gilt City. Restaurant.com certificates are also hidden gems. Taking 2 minutes to do a quick internet search prior to heading out can do wonders for your budget.
"Working in midtown there are so many overpriced food places and if I don't get around to food shopping (which I never do) it's like $20 a day or more for lunch and breakfast. Plus, I have pressure to go out to eat a lot at lunch from all the girls I hang out with at work because it's a very social industry."
Tip? Obviously, this could all be avoided by food shopping for the week and working 1-2 lunch outings into your budget. (Ex. A greek yogurt at your average corner store is TWICE as expensive as the same yogurt from the grocery store.)
Coming in a close second is the ever-intoxicating pastime of imbibing cocktails. While one person admits he "hasn't found a way to deal with the drinking expense yet," I've got an idea or two:
"Going out. As an impulsive and social extravert with a high tolerance for alcohol, I love going out and will sometimes hit up 3-4 bars or clubs in a single night. It's all fun and games until I wake up the next morning and have to hold my breath as I check my bank account."
Tip? Have friends over for once. Even if you don't stay at your apartment all night, it's nice to have a pre-game-meets-semi-adult-party. Grab some beers & inexpensive appetizers from Trader Joes and enough ingredients for 1 specialty cocktail (see these easy recipes) and you'll WOW your guests. Your friends will all get a few good quality drinks for free, and your hospitality should then be repaid by your grateful guests throughout the evening with a drink here or a cab ride there. Win-win.
"Alcohol is my financial killer. I like having a drink every evening before bed."
Tip? Find a solid bottle of $8 wine and always have it on hand. My personal favorite is St. Nicholas - Pinot Noir.
"Happy Hour! I really enjoy happy hour - it's a more relaxing way to take advantage of the city and it breaks up the work week nicely."
Tip? Have a few go-to happy hour spots that boast $4-$5 drinks. They're out there, you just have to look.
3) TAKING CABS
To the question "what's your sneakiest expense?" one person responded bluntly, "100% percent cabs."
"When I go out, I go out full-force. This means fancy cocktails and buying friends drinks and when 3A.M. hits, an obligatory $30 cab from wherever I've ended up home"
Tip? Walk when and where you can. Not only is it free, but it's the perfect way to enjoy the city when the weather is mild, plus it's the best exercise possible. Otherwise, use the subway or bus at least on your way OUT for the evening."
"I work in fashion and in Soho. Needless to say, it's very difficult to pass all the boutiques and stores without making a purchase at least once a week."
Tip? Never pay full price, especially if you don't have the salary to do so. All high-end stores have a sale rack or seasonal sale. Plus, smaller-known boutiques and thrift shops carry items that are just as cute and much more affordable, you just have to be willing to spend some time sifting around.
"Online shopping is definitely the biggest financial drainer for me. It's really tough sometimes to remind myself I'm poor and shouldn't be buying yet another pair of shoes."
Tip? Remove yourself from all fashion list-serves and especially impulse-buy sites like RueLaLa. If you don't get it in your e-mail every morning, you'll become less and less likely to remember to visit the site each day.
*Also, my favorite fashion tip ever came unintentionally from my boyfriend. When discussing shopping habits one day, he shared with me that he always buys something the day he has to wear it. While this last-minute shopping trick has "typical male fashion" written all over it (in both senses of the phrase), he notes that it is a great way to shop because he always buys something he knows he'll wear. Compared to how most of us ladies purchase a whole suitcase of items at once only to later see 1-2 pieces never get worn, this is a pretty good method.
As it happens, staying out until 4 A.M. often leads to the usage of performance-enhancing drugs.
"When I really lay it all down on paper, party drugs can run me anywhere from $60-$200 a weekend, depending on what I'm doing and who I'm with. I guess I've never really thought about how much that amounts to."
Tip: ...Just say no?