Spending and Saving in New York City: Part One

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Editor's Note: While CF normally focuses more on practical fashion advice, we love to switch it up. So when Noel suggested documenting her first year at college away from her parents, spending and saving in one of the US' most expensive cities, I thought it would be an interesting topic to read about!

Every other week, Noel will be talking about her adventures navigating the NYC sample sale world, adjusting to life without total financial support from her parents, and learning where to spend and save to support her love of fashion while staying within budget! Keep reading to hear her story - it's a unique perspective that I think we can all gain insight from.

Columbia University

The week before I moved into my dorm at Columbia University, my parents and I had a talk about expenses for college -- a conversation I was determined to put off until the very last moment because I knew my mother and father would start bickering over the level of my financial responsibility. After all, when you're an 18-year-old college student with a penchant for Chanel bags, Alexander McQueen frocks, and Kérastase hair products, you start to seriously consider sacrificing chai tea latte runs for a new pair of shoes.

My mother believes that I should have an extremely comfortable college lifestyle because she doesn't want me to "go without" like she did for most of her life, while my father is convinced that I must start living on rations to prepare for my potential future low-paying job in magazine publishing. As they debated all night over my financial responsibilities as an adult and as a college student, I realized that no matter what, I have to budget. I have to save my receipts and make sure I'm saving more money than I'm spending.

After all, I'm going to college in New York City -- the city of daily sample sales, novelty dessert bars, (yum, Momofuku!), and Broadway shows. Luckily, being a Columbia student grants me special privileges, such as free admission to the Museum of Modern Art, discount Broadway show tickets, and half-price movie ticket vouchers. Satisfaction is only spending $6.50 on a movie ticket at Lincoln Square to watch The September Issue.

I've also discovered the joys of finding free food on campus (I like challenges, after all). Sure, I have a fixed meal plan and plenty of dining dollars, but it is a quintessential college experience to mooch free food from club meetings (whether or not you're interested in joining the club) and to pack chocolate chip muffins into Tupperware containers in the dining hall.

Typical college student mooching aside, I have written myself a series of rules that have aided me in budgeting as a freshman in college and in New York City. Some of these rules are:

  1. Rack up the points on your store rewards cards. CVS, Duane Reade, Sephora, Petco, and many eateries offer you discounts or freebies once you spend a certain amount of money. For example, I've already spent about $30 on cough drops from Duane Reade in these past two weeks because I've been deathly sick (no, not swine flu) -- that's 30 points on my card. Additionally, I always purchase my makeup from Sephora, and I've earned hundreds of points for free samples this way.
  2. Look for deals on manicures and pedicures. Even though plenty of people say you can do your own nails and cut out the expenses at nail salons, I'm terrible at doing my own nails and I am willing to invest a few more dollars for a quality polish. I use Lifebooker to look for deals on mani-pedis in New York City -- sometimes for less than $10!
  3. Eat out once every two weeks. At home, my family eats out almost every other day, but I've had a relatively easy time adjusting to college dining hall food! You can't go wrong with grilled chicken and salad. However, New York City is tempting with its vast array of places for fooding. While I am willing to snack out occasionally, I can save $100 every month by choosing to grab food on campus instead of at a restaurant.
  4. Shop at sample sales whenever you can. I love Opening Ceremony and Henri Bendel and I admit that I've made a few purchases from these stores here and there, but I'd rather take advantage of buying my clothes and accessories on sale these days. Sure, they're still splurges, but I've attained $600 Bill Blass jackets for $100 and $500 Sonia Rykiel sandals for $200 by purchasing off-retail. New York Magazine's The Cut blog and Fashionista post daily sample sales that are worth checking out for even deeper discounts.
  5. Look closely at campus bulletin boards to find deals on dorm appliances, furniture, and textbooks! My roommate bought a chemistry textbook for about $200 at the bookstore, only to discover that an upperclassman was selling the same book for half the price on her way back to the dorm. Columbia also hosts a "green sale" every year, where students can purchase used refrigerators and other knickknacks from other student for as little as $30.
  6. Be willing to travel a bit farther for cheaper groceries -- it adds up. Even though my campus neighborhood is close to Whole Foods and a variety of gourmet grocery stores (and a delicious farmers market!), the university offers a free shuttle to Fairway Market, a much cheaper grocery store. I'm still lamenting over the fact that fresh fruit in New York City is much more expensive than fresh fruit in California.

So, while I'm hoping that Mint.com will stop sending me alerts about my dwindling bank account, I'm going to improve my spending habits before I reach the breaking point of Confessions of a Shopaholic.

I hope you enjoy figuring out the logistics of balancing work with play (and balancing my checking account) in the next few weeks with me!

What are some ways that you save money and budget in college?