How to Have a Social Life on a Budget
You swear you are barely spending money, but somehow at the end of the month you have nothing to spare and possibly some damage to the credit score.
It seems simple to "cut back," but many people refuse to actually cut out most of their unnecessary spending, not for lack of common sense, but out of fear that their social lives will suffer. Our fear of loneliness means we don't want to be left out, but don't fall for the myth that socializing is "supposed to" cost money. Your finances can take an especially hard hit if your circle of friends include people with higher incomes than you.
These changes to your social life can save you hundreds of dollars from monthly expenses.
A Simple Night Out: Three obvious ways friends of varying ages and genders like to socialize would be to, "grab a drink", "grab a bite", or "see a show". Lets pick the seemingly cheapest of these options, 'grab a drink'. Friend A, lets call him Alan, is on a budget and thinks he is saving money by suggesting "just a drink." Friend B, lets call him Bryan, is not worried about money and is completely unaware that Alan is trying to save money. In addition, Alan didn't mention it because come on, it's completely unrealistic not to be able to afford to "grab a drink" right? Pay attention to the word "grab," it insinuates casual, low key, with cost-saving potential. Bryan suggests "a little hole in the wall" in a "chill" neighborhood. Alan is excited because it sounds like a cheep night, and he gets to see his friend.
Fast forward three hours, and Bryan's "hole in the wall" is a boutique whiskey lounge and the "low key" drink options range from $14-$17 and there is no way Alan can have just one drink if his friend has thrown back three already. So Alan starts the night $30 in the hole and now Alan and Bryan are both hungry, are out on the town surrounded by takeout options raging from $8-$18 and likely need to pay some amount to get home ranging from $3-$25 depending on mode of transport. Before he knows it, Alan's cheep night has turned into at least a $45 night and likely more like a $65 night. Lets say he only finds himself in this situation once or twice a week. That's a minimum of $180 a month and say max of $520. That could cost Alan anywhere from $2100-$6200 a year.
Low Key Nuptial Celebrations: This is likely inevitable. Your friend invites you to a bachelor/ette party. It's a good friend and you can't possibly say no. That would be "so rude". You were hoping to save some money this month but your friends assured you this is a "wicked cheep weekend". (Ok, just your friend from Boston said that). You are immediately stressed by the invite, but you don't even consider not going. You assure yourself you will do it "on the cheep." You book the cheapest airplane ticket you can find ($299), rent the cheapest room you can find ($87/night and you are only paying for one of the nights), and take a Lyft Ride Share from the airport ($15).
You chip in for beer and Pizza ($40) the first night, move on to a dive bar for "cheep" late night drinks ($20), grab a "cheep brunch" at a greasy spoon the next day ($22) and on your last night get some street tacos and beers ($15). Before you know it, you're taking another Lyft Share back the airport ($15) and are back home eating ramen, with over $500 on the credit card and that doesn't even include the upcoming wedding. How many bachelor parties, weddings, showers, elaborate birthday parties, ect do we attend each year? 2, 6, 10? And not all of them are on the cheep. That's anywhere from $1000-$4,000 annually and could of course be much much more.
A Simple night in: You plan a cheep night in, friends coming over to watch a game or movie, or whatever. You think that the night is basically going to be free, but realize you should probably get some pizza or takeout for your friends ($25) and some wine or beer ($20). You spend about $45. If you only do this once a month, that's around $540 a year. Twice a month, that's $1080.
Quick Lunch Out: You have been packing your lunch most of the week, but you are exhausted and you are meeting a friend for lunch out. She requests sushi, you rationalize that lunchtime sushi should be cheep. Your personal total comes to $28. If you eat out like this once a week, runs about $1,300 a year. Twice a week would be over $2600.
Just Coffee: You friend at work suggests you get out of the office for a late morning coffee. You love late morning coffee and you have been staying in, cooking meals, the least you can do is grab a coffee and get some air. You "snag" a latte for $4.50. If you buy coffee out just three times a week, it will run you about $576 a year. Do this once a day, and it will run you over $1300/year.
Adult Birthday Parties: You know how this goes. You are invited to go to dinner to celebrate your friend's birthday. You don't know most of her other friends, but you don't want to be rude and say no. You found her something at a thrift store months ago, it was only $7 but you know she will love it. Birthday present is taken care of, and you write a really nice card. You plan ahead of time to not order allot, you even have some string cheese and wine at your apartment before you go. You get to the dinner, order one drink and a salad, about $18, plus the $7 birthday present, so your total cost that night, $28 with tip, or so you think. You finish your drink and just sip on water as you watch her friends order several more rounds of "tinis" and "ritas'. You are shocked that they are able to pay for multiple rounds of $14 drinks, but whatever. You know what happens next. Yup, your friend heads to the bathroom and all the other well-imbibed guests total the bill, divide by 9 and BOOM, you are struck with a $65 "chip in". Do this once a month, $780 a year.
I just identified $7000-$15,000 a year in social costs…and I was being reasonable. We all know this number could be close to $20k if not more.
You get my point. I also hear you screaming, SO AM I NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE A LIFE!? 'You Are! You Are!' I shout back! BUT, you are not supposed to be able to afford everything the people you hang out with can afford. You are also not supposed to value the same things your friend's value.
That's the problem with middle class culture and spending habits. I haven't even touched on the overpriced apartments we rent, our clothing budgets, and our desire to travel far for "real experiences." I want to enjoy my money and I want you to as well, but I also loath the idea of spending money simply to adhere to social norms I don't actually value. I don't believe one should acquire debt for the sake of friendship. I don't think one should be guilted into a "fiscal norm."
I also question the depth of our friendships, if they require so much spending. So many of these costly events don't actually leave me feeling close and intimately connected to my friends. We often set out to fulfill our basic human need for social interaction and closeness, and instead are left feeling disconnected, not wealthy enough, and in debt.
Let me tell you a few examples of what I have said 'No Thank You' to recently:
1. No, I can't be in your wedding or attend your bachelorette ($300-$2500)
2. No I can't make your Birthday dinner ($50-$80)
3. No, I wont be able to meet you in NYC that weekend ($120-$800)
4. No, I can't meet for lunch ($12-$30)
5. No, I can't attend your fundraiser gala ($75-$600)
Let me tell you a few examples of what I have offered to do:
1.Would you like to stay with me when you are in town and catch up? ($Free)
2.Would you like to meet for a late morning hike? ($Free)
3.Can I take you to lunch for your birthday? ($35)
4.I have to do some grocery shopping, want to come along, we can tackle your list too? ($Free- Already in budget)
5.Would you like to cook together/Brew Beer and split the cost? ($Free- Already in Budget)
6.I already donate online to causes I really care about, but would be happy to share your fundraiser info with my friends ($Free)
7.Want to come watch a movie/eat popcorn/drink wine at my house? ($0-$12)
8.Want to meet at the gym and catch up on the treadmills? ($Free)
And before you tell me that those ideas are boring/silly/unrealistic, I am here to tell you that I have done every single one of them, and most of them a million times… but only with my REAL FRIENDS. And I promise you I have REAL friends. The kinds of friends that I don't have to get dressed up to see, the kinds of friends that I can cry in front of, or share my deepest darkest shit, and the kinds of friends who have tried on pants, at Cosco ,while I created a makeshift dressing room out of beach towels and tried not to pee my pants out of laughter. My cup runneth over with REAL FRIENDS.
There is nothing that makes a human feel closer to another human, than tackling the humanity of "just being" together. We can stop believing that the only way to find value in an experience is to pay for it. We can stop spending the money that we don't have and start spending time on the real friendships that we do have.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, is a Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
The world of travel is not the same as it was two years ago. From the surge in "revenge travel" to the TikTok-inspired itineraries that make the most random destinations suddenly the most popular, there's so much about traveling that's out of your control.
What you can control — to some extent — is how much you pay for it.
According to CNBC, “Between dining out and taking trips, Americans are now spending an average of $765 more a month compared with last year when much of the country was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the MassMutual Consumer Spending & Saving Index … Young adults, in particular, are determined to make up for lost time. Millennials and Gen Z, who reported feeling the financial impact from the rise in reopenings and social gatherings, said they are shelling out $1,016 more a month, on average, than they did during the summer of 2020. MassMutual polled 1,000 U.S. adults from July 21 to 28.”
While some are okay with making up for lost time by gleefully spending all their money, not everyone has the desire to blow up their budgets on trips. Yet, the allure of travel still calls. Thus, the appeal of travel hacking.
Travel hacking has been around as long as credit card rewards have. But during the pandemic, travel hacking gurus found unprecedented fame on TikTok and Instagram. With time to learn about the points and miles community, suddenly people were planning for future travel using tips and tricks gleaned from experts sharing their knowledge on social media.
Though it might sound complex, anyone with a fair credit score can enter the travel hacking game. Here’s how:
What Is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is using reward points and miles from airlines, hotels, and credit cards towards free or heavily discounted travel. This ranges from opening a number of credit cards for the reward bonuses, optimizing your normal spending in order to max out your points per shopping category, and leveraging loyalty and status for awesome perks.
To a lot of people, the term “travel hacking” can sound shady. The “hacking” scares people off. Is it illegal? Is it a scam? Can you get punished for opening too many cards? Will you ruin your credit score? The answer to all of these concerns is no.
There’s no hidden trick to travel hacking. It’s not a game of risk or cheating, it’s a game of research and planning.
Travel Hacking 101
Most commonly, travel hacking hinges on the points you can get from certain travel credit cards. Credit cards aren’t merely a way to manage cash flow. Many offer rewards programs that give you points for each purpose. These points can then be repurposed to pay for part or all of a trip.
Different networks have different systems, but most can be transferred to a range of partners. Top credit cards are with Chase, Amex, Citi, and Capital One. Simply accumulate points on your credit card, then you have the option to transfer those points to airlines, hotels, and more — for free.
When learning travel hacking, The best tip is to go backward. Don’t just open popular cards with high bonuses. Identify where you want to go, then find out what actions to take. Which airlines travel there? Which cards’ points can be transferred to that airline? Where do you want to stay? Which hotels can you book with points? Once you’ve planned out your dream vacation, see how many points you need. Then strategize for the best way to nab them.
Choose which cards are right for you, then start stockpiling those points towards free travel.
One way to quickly amass points is to take advantage of sign-up bonuses. Many credit cards use sign-up bonuses to entice users. And if you play smart, just one or two sign-up bonuses can account for one entire flight cost. However, there’s one catch: you must meet a minimum spend requirement to qualify for the bonus.
The best way to approach this is to funnel all of your regular expenses through those credit cards to chip away at the minimum spending. Pro tip: open your card right before you need to make a lot of purchases. The holidays are a good time to open a card so the cost of festivities ends up working for you.
And remember: it’s key to always pay off your monthly credit card balance before the due date! The benefits of those points are useless if you go into debt to accrue them.
And here’s a hack for you newbie travel hackers out there — be sure to manage your money and keep track of how much you’re spending for that bonus with the MeetCleo app.
MeetCleo is the personal finance tool that’s actually fun to use. Taking control of your money while “earning” free travel using your credit cards? Finances have never been more fun.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!