Many small steps that lead to a big result

Saving $20K as a 20 Something

by Alyssa Kagel

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"Life would be a lot easier if I made just a little bit more money," Sarah announced, slurping her mocha frappachino. "It's expensive living in a city. So many bills!" I sipped my tea quietly, staring down into the mug and hoping my friend wouldn't expect me to chime in.

The truth is, I've managed to save almost $30K during the two years since landing my first job out of college. I've got zero credit card debt, and I've nearly paid off all my student loans. And no, I don't sell my soul to a big investment firm. I work for a small environmental nonprofit.

We all have to do things like eat, drink, and choose a place to live. These essentials can add up if you're not careful. Follow my tips, and you'll save in no time.


I've got this friend, let's call him Ron, who's constantly worried about money. He can't rationalize spending large amounts on single items like dressers, so his room is empty of furniture. When I asked Ron how much he typically spends on food each day, he told me he tries to spend under $25, not counting his occasional going-out-to-dinner-splurges. You'd be surprised by how much money can be, ahem…, eaten up by take out and restaurant faire.

How to Save:

  • Invest in cereal. There's your five-minute breakfast.
  • Start packing your lunch and buying healthy snacks.
  • Start cooking dinner. If you don't know how to cook, learn.
  • Sometimes nothing beats a lavish meal out. But also consider hosting a potluck, cooking dinner for friends, or meeting for dessert or tea rather than a full meal.
  • When you want to eat out, try meeting friends for lunch rather than dinner.

If you used to eat out at all meals, when you begin eating in for most, you'd save approximately $6500 per year.


You need hydration, yes, but Pepsi and mochachino? I don't think so.

How to save:

Wean yourself off all that junk, and stick to nothing but water. You'll save money, unneeded calories and bad-for-your-teeth sugars all in one blow. Buy a Brita filter and change it every two and a half months. Splurge only occasionally.

If you used to spend a couple bucks a day on drinks, when you switched to a Brita and a few splurges only, you'll save approximately $500 a year.

Related: Easy Ways to Cut Coffee Costs

Ahem, You Meant the Other Drinking?

Especially if you're a young person, going out to the bars is a big part of socializing and a big money sink.

How to save:

  • Invite friends over and drink your first couple at your house. When you're ready, go to the bar and slowly nurse that $6 beer. (Editor's reminder: Use a designated driver when appropriate.)
  • Limit yourself to two nights of boozing it up, max, per week.
  • Instead of going out two weekend nights in a row, go out one weekday for happy hour (read: cheap specials) and one weekend night.

If you used to go out three times a week buying three drinks each night; and you instead go out twice a week, once at a happy hour where you buy three drinks, and once at a bar where you drink two drinks at home and buy one at the bar, you'd save approximately: $3150 a year.


Less money doesn't equal less fun. Besides the bar and dinner scene, here are a few more ideas:

  • Go to the museum on the free day.
  • Visit a nature spot.
  • Scour listings for free music or book signings.
  • Go to a matinee or rent a movie.
  • Buy rush or half price tickets to shows. Many cities have half price ticket vendors the day of the show.

Your savings per year will range anywhere from $500 to $1000.

Getting from Here to There

It's a shame (not only for your bank account, but for the environment, too) that public transportation is not more readily available outside the city. If you live in a city, take advantage.

How to save:

  • Ditch your car if you can. Ditch the insurance payments, upkeep, and gas costs along with it.
  • Walk. You're exercising this New Year, right? Well, keep it up.
  • A taxi should be your last option. Rely on the bus or the subway if you can (but never sacrifice safety for savings).

If you lose the car and rely on public transportation, you'll save approximately $4000 a year.

Sheltering Yourself

There's a lot to consider when choosing where to live, especially the first time out on your own. And, no, you don't have to live in a shack to save money.

How to save:

  • Find a roommate or two. Choose the most private room in the house (preferably with your own bathroom) even if it's smaller than the other rooms. Unless you enjoy loud music or phone conversations that are not your own, you'll be happy you're removed from the "action" of the house.
  • Opt for a smaller place in the heart of town over a larger place that's more isolated. What are you going to do with more square footage, anyway?

If you used to live alone, but move in with at least one roommate, you'll save approximately $4000.

All of that may seem simple, but it adds up. It adds up to around twenty thousand dollars, to be exact. Even if you can't ditch your car, follow everything else and you'll save almost $15,000 per year.

Next year, I plan to stash away another ten thousand. I'll pay off all my student loans. I just got back from a trip to Argentina, and I'm thinking about Ireland in the fall. What will you do?

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