7 Things to Do After College Besides Work

Numerous college students have a trajectory in mind for navigating life after college. For some, getting a job is their top goal. But, are there other things to do after college besides work?

Beyond looking for a traditional entry-level job, there are alternative choices for new grads—including internships, volunteering, grad school, spending time abroad, or serving in Americorps.

Naturally, the options available will differ depending on each person’s situation, as not all alternatives to work come with a paycheck attached.

Here’s a look at these seven things to do after college besides work.

1. Pursuing Internships

One popular alternative to working right after college is finding an internship. Generally, internships are temporary work opportunities, which are sometimes, but not always, paid.

Internships may give recent grads a chance to build up hands-on experience in a field or industry they believe they’re interested in working in full time. For some people, it could help determine whether the reality of working in a given sector meets their expectations.

Whatever grads learn during an internship, having on-the-job experience (even for those who opt to pursue a different career path) could make a job seeker stand out afterwards. Internships can help beef up a resume, especially for recent grads who don’t have much formal job experience.

A potential perk of internships is the chance to further grow your professional network—building relationships with more experienced workers in a particular department or job. Some interns may even be able to turn their short-term internship roles into a full-time position at the same company.

Starting out in an internship can be a great way for graduates to enter the workforce, “road testing” a specific job role or company.

2. Serving with AmeriCorps

Some graduates want to spend their time after college contributing to the greater good of American society. One possible option here is the Americorps program—supported by the US Federal Government.

So, what exactly is Americorps? Americorps is a national service program dedicated to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. There are three main programs that graduates can join in AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps Vista.

There’s a wide variety of options in AmeriCorps, when it comes to how you can serve. Graduates can work in emergency management, help fight poverty, or work in a classroom.

However graduates decide to serve through AmeriCorps, it may provide them with a rewarding professional experience and insights into a potential career.

Practically, Americorps members may also qualify for benefits such as student loan deferment, a living allowance, education awards (upon finishing their service), and skills training.

It may sound a bit dramatic, but AmeriCorps’ slogan is “Be the greater good.” Giving back to society could be a powerful way to spend some time after graduating—supporting organizations in need, while also establishing new professional connections.

3. Attending Grad School

When entering the workforce, graduates may encounter job postings with detailed employment requirements.

Some jobs require just a Bachelor’s degree, while others require a Master’s–think, for instance, of being a lawyer or medical doctor. Depending on their field of study and career goals, some students may opt to go right to graduate school after receiving their undergraduate degrees.

The number of jobs that expect graduate degrees is increasing in the US. Graduates might want to research their desired career fields and see if it’s common for people in these roles to need a master’s or terminal degree.

Some students may wish to take a break in between undergrad and grad school, while others find it easier to go straight through. This choice will vary from student to student, depending on the energy they have to continue school as well as their financial ability to attend graduate school.

Graduate school will be a commitment of time, energy and money. So, it’s advisable that students feel confident that a graduate degree is necessary for the line of work they’d like to end up in before they apply or enroll.

4. Volunteering for a Cause

Volunteering could be a great way for graduates to gain some extra skills before applying for a full-time job. Doing volunteer work may help graduates polish some essential soft skills, like interpersonal communication, interacting with clients or service recipients, and time management.

Another potential benefit to volunteering is the ability to network and forge new connections outside of college. The people-to-people connections made while volunteering could lead to mentorship and job offers.

Volunteering is something graduates can do after college besides work, while still fleshing out their resume or skills.

New grads may want to volunteer at an institution or organization that syncs with their values or, perhaps, pursue opportunities in sectors of the economy where they’d like to work later on (i.e., at a hospital).

On top of all these potential plus sides, volunteering just feels good. It makes people feel happier. And, after all of the stress that accompanies finishing up college, volunteering afterward could be the perfect way to recharge.

5. Serving Abroad

Similar to the last option, volunteering abroad can be attractive to some graduates. It may help grads gain similar skills they’d learn volunteering here at home, while also giving them the opportunity to learn how to interact with people from different cultures, try to learn a new language, and see new perspectives on solving problems.

Though it can be beneficial to the volunteers, volunteering abroad isn’t always as ethical as it seems. And, not all volunteering opportunities always benefit the local community.

It could take research to find organizations that are doing ethically responsible work abroad. One key thing to look for is organizations that put the locals first and have them directly involved in the work.

6. Taking a Gap Year

According to the Gap Year Association , a gap year is “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”

While a gap year is generally taken after high school or after college, one common purpose of the gap year is to take the time to learn more about oneself and the world at large—which can be beneficial after graduating from college and trying to figure out what to do next.

Not only might a gap year help grads build insights into what they’d like to do with their later careers, it may also help them home in on a greater purpose in life or build connections that could lead to future job opportunities.

Graduates might want to spend a gap year doing a variety of activities—including:

•   trying out seasonal jobs
•   volunteering
•   interning
•   teaching or tutoring
•   traveling

A gap year can be whatever the graduate thinks will be most beneficial for them.

7. Traveling Before Working

Going on a trip after graduation is a popular choice for graduates that can afford to travel after college. Traveling can be expensive, so graduates may want to budget in advance (if they want to have this experience post-graduation.

On top of just being really fun, travel can have beneficial impacts for an individual’s stress levels and mental health. Research from Cornell University published in 2014 suggests that the anticipation of planning a trip might have the potential to increase happiness.

Traveling after graduation is a convenient time to start ticking locations off that bucket list, because graduates won’t be held back by a limited vacation time. Going abroad before working can give students more time and flexibility to travel as much as they’d like (and can afford to!).

With proper research, graduates can find more affordable ways to travel—such as a multi-country rail pass, etc. It doesn’t have to be all luxury all the time. Budget travel is possible especially when making conscious decisions, like staying in hostels and using public transportation.

If graduates are determined to travel before working, they can accomplish this by saving money and budgeting well.

Navigating Post Graduation Decisions

Whether a recent grad opt to start their careers off right away or to pursue one of the above-mentioned things to do after college besides work, student loans are something that millions of university students have taken out.

After graduating (or if you’ve dropped below half-time enrollment or left school), the reality of paying back student loans sets in. The exact moment that grads will have to begin paying off their student loans will vary by the type of loan.

For federal loans, there are a couple of different times that repayment begins. Students who took out a Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, or Federal Family Education Loan, will all have a six month grace period before they’re required to make payments. Students who took out a Perkins loan will have a nine month grace period.

When it comes to the PLUS loan, it depends on the type of student that’s taken one out. Undergraduates will be required to start repayment as soon as the loan is paid out. Graduate and professional students with PLUS loans will be on automatic deferment while they’re in school and up to six months after graduating.

Some graduates opt to refinance their student loans. What does that mean? Well, refinancing student loans is when a lender pays off the existing loan with another loan that has a new interest rate. Refinancing can potentially lower monthly loan repayments or reduce the amount spent on interest over the life of the loan.

Both US federal and private student loans can be refinanced, but when federal student loans are refinanced by a private lender, the borrower forfeits guaranteed federal benefits—including loan forgiveness, deferment and forbearance, and income-driven repayment options.

Refinancing student loans may reduce money paid to interest. For graduates who have secured well-paying jobs and have improved their credit score since taking out their student loan, refinancing could come with a competitive interest rate and different repayment terms.

Graduating from college means officially entering the realm of adulthood, but that transition can take many forms. There are various financial tips that recent graduates may opt to look into.

Thinking about refinancing your student loans? With SoFi, you could get prequalified in just two minutes.

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Source: sofi.com

Early Retirement Extreme: Can You Really Retire in 5 Years?

How long do you need to work to retire? Fifty years? Forty?

According to Jacob Lund Fisker, you may be able to retire in just five years.

One of the early popularizers of the modern FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early), Fisker published his book “Early Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial Independence” (sometimes shortened to ERE) back in 2007. Some adherents have since used its practices to retire young. The concept has plenty going for it, but like all things extreme, it remains a fringe movement.

Before you start preparing for your early retirement, make sure you understand not just the math, but the more nuanced personal finance notions behind financial independence.

Early Retirement Extreme: The Concept

Although Fisker has since said he regrets using the term “early retirement extreme,” his ideas do strike most people as extreme.

His underlying premise: the average person in the developed world can retire in just a few years if they follow a few simple concepts: slash your spending to supercharge your savings rate, and invest that savings to create passive income.

Spend Less, Save More

Plenty of people think of themselves as “frugal.” But Fisker operates on a different level, living on only $7,000 per year.

He never eats out at restaurants, lives in a very inexpensive home, and splits the expenses evenly with his wife. Additionally, he grows some of his own food using a home garden, makes some of his own furniture, and scores free stuff from resources like Freecycle.

Fisker recommends other ways of cutting down costs, like borrowing Kindle books and audiobooks from a digital library rather than buying them on Amazon, and learning how to take advantage of “loss leaders” at grocery stores.

None of these concepts are earth-shattering; many college students apply a number of these methods to save money. Fisker just suggests extending that hyper-frugality a little longer.

By living cheaply and saving as much money as possible, you can retire much faster. It comes at the problem from both angles: you build wealth faster, and you require less replacement income to live on in retirement.

Invest for Passive Income

Saving money is all well and good, but the real magic happens when you invest that money to compound or generate passive income for you. With enough passive income from your investments, you no longer need to work full-time in order to pay your bills. It’s called financial independence (or financial freedom): you can cover your living expenses without a day job.

For example, I’m a real estate investor. I live on a fraction of my income, and save and invest the rest. Some of that savings goes into buying rental properties, which generate ongoing rental income for me each month. With enough rental income, I no longer need a day job — I can go travel the world with my family. (Which I do, spending 10 months of the year overseas.)

Pro tip: If you’ve been thinking about investing in real estate, you can purchase turnkey properties through Roofstock. You can also invest in real estate indirectly through platforms like Fundrise or Groundfloor.

The Math Behind Retiring Early

The concept is simple enough: build passive income streams from your savings, replace your day job. But how does the math look? Can you really retire in five or 10 years?

The short answer: you can, but it takes a (very) high savings rate. And a higher income certainly helps.

But before breaking down the math of early retirement, you need a few foundational concepts.

From Nest Egg to Passive Income

Most people start their retirement planning by asking the wrong question. They ask, “How much money do I need to retire?” when they should ask, “How much passive income do I need in retirement?” From there, you can estimate how much money you need to retire. But it starts with your target retirement income.

Retirees typically withdraw a certain percentage of their nest egg each year to cover their living expenses. They base that percentage on what’s called a safe withdrawal rate, which varies based on how long they need their nest egg to last. If you retire at 75 and only expect to live another 10 to 15 years, you can pull out money much faster than if you retire at 40 and hope to live another 50 years.

Many retirees follow the “4% rule,” taking a withdrawal rate of 4% of their nest egg each year. Historical returns on bonds and the stock market suggest that a withdrawal rate of 4% should leave your nest egg intact for at least 30 years.

Knowing your future withdrawal rate enables you to calculate how much you need to save for retirement. At a 4% withdrawal rate, you need 25 times your target annual retirement income as a nest egg (4% x 25 = 100%). So, if you wanted $40,000 per year in retirement income, you’d need $1,000,000 as a target nest egg.

Wrinkles and a Wrinkly Example

First of all, note that we can ignore Social Security income, since we’re talking about retiring young.

Now come two wrinkles. First, early retirees need their money to last longer than 30 years. Financial planner Michael Kitces demonstrates that a 3.5% withdrawal rate should theoretically leave your nest egg intact forever. That means early retirees can use a 3.5% withdrawal rate for their planning, regardless of how young they plan to retire. Which, in turn, means you can multiply your target retirement income by around 28.6 to reach a target nest egg. For a $40,000 retirement income, that comes to a nest egg of $1,142,857.

The second wrinkle is that withdrawal rates assume you invested all your nest egg in paper assets (stocks and bonds). If you invest in assets like rental properties, they generate ongoing passive income without having to sell off any assets. Plus you can leverage other people’s money to buy them.

Which means you can cheat on the withdrawal rate — if you develop the skills necessary to invest in real estate.

Continuing the example, say you want $40,000 per year in retirement income and aim for half to come from paper assets and the other half from rental properties. To collect $20,000 in income from paper assets at a 3.5% withdrawal rate, you need $571,429 in stocks and bonds.

Rentals are harder to calculate and require some assumptions. Say you’re buying properties at an 8% cap rate, which means an 8% annual yield if you buy in cash. For a $100,000 property, that means you’d pocket $8,000 per year after non-mortgage expenses. But you instead finance 80% of the purchase price, borrowing $80,000 at, let’s say, 5% interest for 30 years.

That drops your investment from $100,000 to $20,000, and drops your annual net income to $2,846 after your mortgage payments. That means you’d need to buy around seven of those properties to generate $20,000 in annual net rental income. In this example, seven of these properties come to $140,000 in down payments.

Your total combined savings target for both your paper assets and your down payments then comes to $711,429 ($571,429 + $140,000), in order to generate $40,000 in annual passive income.

How Much You Need to Save to Retire in 5 Years

Let’s say you’ve decided how much income you want in retirement, and run the numbers to calculate a target nest egg. You want to reach it in five years, then storm out of your workplace and retire.

For the next five years, you invest all your savings in an index fund that mimics the S&P 500. The S&P 500 has returned an average historical return of around 10% since its inception in the 1920s, so we’ll use that to calculate your future returns between now and retirement.

Here’s what you’d have to save and invest each month in order to reach the following target nest eggs in five years:

$500,000: $6,457 per month

$1 million: $12,914 per month

$1.5 million: $19,371 per month

$2 million: $25,827 per month

$3 million: $38,741 per month

So, could you retire in five years? You’d have to earn a pretty penny, and invest the bulk of it, but it’s theoretically possible.

How Much You Need to Save to Retire in 10 or 15 Years

Although still a challenge, it’s more feasible to retire in 10 or 15 years.

Here are the same numbers, with all the same assumptions, to retire in 10 years:

$500,000: $2,441 per month

$1 million: $4,882 per month

$1.5 million: $7,323 per month

$2 million: $9,763 per month

$3 million: $14,645 per month

If you give yourself 15 years, the numbers get even more feasible, although waiting 15 years starts to feel pretty remote to most of us. Here’s how much you’d need to save and invest each month to retire in 15 years:

$500,000: $1,206 per month

$1 million: $2,413 per month

$1.5 million: $3,619 per month

$2 million: $4,825 per month

$3 million: $7,238 per month

Financial Independence vs. Retiring Early

Financial independence means being able to cover your living expenses with passive income from investments (read: work optional). Retiring early means quitting your job and no longer working.

Responsible adults need to be financially independent in order to retire, but they don’t need to retire just because they reach financial independence. Because let’s be honest, as much fun as sitting on a beach sipping margaritas is, it gets boring after a week or two. Most of us don’t actually want to retire at 30 and never work again — we want the freedom to do work we love, even if it doesn’t pay well.

So, don’t get hung up on the “retiring young” component of the FIRE movement. Instead, focus on boosting your savings rate, investing to build your net worth quickly, reducing dependence on your job, and using your financial heft to help you design your perfect life. In other words, use FIRE tactics to help you with lifestyle design.

People love to criticize the FIRE movement for promoting laziness and encouraging young people to quit the workforce. In truth, the FIRE movement uses the “retire early” angle as a marketing gimmick, because everyone can intuit what that means. Most people don’t know exactly what “financial independence” or “lifestyle design” mean, so they make poor rallying cries.

But they’re where the meat of the FIRE movement lie.

Controversies and Criticisms of Extreme Early Retirement

Retiring young comes with real risks and downsides. Here are a few of the most common critiques of the concepts underlying the FIRE movement and early retirement in particular, along with my take on them.

Sacrifice, Delayed Gratification, and Low Quality of Life

Most middle-class people don’t want to live on $7,000 per year, and wonder why anyone would. They don’t want to sacrifice anything from their current quality of life.

Fisker addresses this issue at length in his book, which outlines not only the math behind his retirement strategy, but also the philosophy. In addition to extreme savings, Fisker recommends that a simpler lifestyle can create greater happiness. Forcing yourself to leave consumerism behind can help you learn how to be happy without constantly spending money.

My Take: The average person approaches every financial decision — from buying houses and cars to creating their budget — with the question, “What’s the most I can afford to spend?”

It’s the wrong question.

Instead ask, “What’s the least I can spend and still be happy?” Do you really need that giant SUV, that large suburban house? Does every adult in your household need their own car?

My wife and I no longer have a car at all. Or a housing payment, for that matter, as we found a way to house hack. We walk, bike, or Uber everywhere — and chose our city and home specifically to make that feasible.

You can frame budgeting and spending less as “sacrifice” or “minimalist” if you want. I don’t. I enjoy learning how to cook gourmet meals at home, enjoy using my own legs to get around rather than munching doughnuts behind the wheel of a car.

It’s all in your perspective. From my perspective, I live a fun, adventurous life making fast progress toward financial independence.

Health Insurance Is Expensive Without Employer Coverage

How can you possibly pay for health insurance without employer coverage?

Actually, many Americans get health care coverage without employer-sponsored insurance. But it does represent an additional expense for some early retirees.

When it comes to health insurance, Fisker recommends a high-deductible HSA-compatible plan to cover expensive medical emergencies. He also suggests maxing out contributions to an HSA until the account covers the high deductible on the plan.

My Take: Worst case scenario, you simply budget for health care as a living expense in retirement.

But you have plenty of other options as well. My wife and I live overseas, where health care costs less and we’ve never experienced lower quality care than we had in the U.S.

Or don’t stop working — just switch to a career you love that, ideally, includes health insurance. You can also look for a low-stress part-time job that offers health benefits.

Children Also Cost Money

It costs money to raise a child.

A study by the USDA estimated the average cost to raise a child at $284,570, factoring in inflation. That figure does not include college costs.

Critics contend that the FIRE movement ignores children, and early retirement is only attainable for people without kids.

My Take: First of all, children are an investment, not an expense. And I mean that not just figuratively, but also financially. My children are my insurance against superannuation: if I run out of money in retirement, my children can take me in or otherwise help with my care.

Fisker suggests keeping the costs of raising a child down by not giving them an allowance, encouraging them to save whatever money they get as gifts, buying children’s clothes at thrift stores, and encouraging them to go to a state school instead of an expensive private university. I don’t think you have to do any of that.

Nearly one-third of the cost of raising a child comes from larger housing. But you can avoid paying for housing through house hacking.

I have a child and hope to have a second, and still plan to reach financial independence within five years of when I started taking it seriously.

As for college education, there are many creative ways to help your kids pay for college. None of which require bankrupting yourself.

Only Single/Married/Rich/Educated/Privileged People Can Retire Early

The details don’t matter. The argument simply goes, “That other type of person might be able to retire early, but I can’t because I don’t have the advantages that they have.”

Single people say only married couples can achieve FIRE because they can share expenses. Married couples say only single people can achieve FIRE because they don’t have to worry about a spendthrift spouse. Which one is right? Neither, of course.

Everyone says, “Only people who earn more money than I do can achieve FIRE.” This pattern emerges no matter how much money they actually earn, because as they earn more, they simply spend more, in the never-ending cycle of lifestyle inflation.

And so it goes.

My Take: The average person stays average because they continue spending nearly every dollar they earn. They justify their lack of savings by saying, “I can’t save any more money, because I don’t earn enough. If I earned more, of course I’d save more!” Then when they get a raise, they immediately start spending more.

If you put all your considerable will into retiring young, you’ll find a way to do it. Most people don’t want it enough to do so, so they dismiss the entire concept as impossible.

It’s quite possible — but it does require tradeoffs that you may not be willing to make. Fisker lives on $7,000 a year, after all.

Final Word

Extreme early retirement makes for a sexy concept, but it’s all sizzle and little steak.

The real meat lies in more nuanced and mature concepts like lifestyle design. Learn how to live a happy, meaningful, fulfilling life without spending as much money. Save and invest more of your earnings to build wealth and passive income faster. Find work that you love, regardless of the paycheck.

The more the average person earns, the more they want to earn. There’s no such thing as enough money — people climb onto the hedonic treadmill and run ever faster, exhausting themselves chasing more-more-more. A bigger house. A flashier car. Trendy clothes. A second home. Ever more status symbols to show the world how successful you are and how great your life is.

But when you start looking at your life holistically, through the lens of FIRE and lifestyle design, your perspective shifts. The more wealth and passive income I accumulate, the less I need to earn. And the more free I feel to spend my waking hours doing, well, whatever I want.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth

“Mr. Beaver, I am finally starting to earn real money in my medical practice but don’t know the first thing about investing. I need concrete advice on handling money, building wealth, but don’t want to become a slave to money.

“I have met with financial advisers, but lack a grasp of the terms they use and, frankly, am afraid of looking stupid, so I don’t ask them to explain. Do you know of a book that is meant for people like me, who need a basic education in personal finance, but that has a ‘human’ touch as well? Thanks, Karl.”

I just finished reading the answer to what Karl is searching for.  It’s Your Total Wealth: The Heart and Soul of Financial Literacy, by former university business professors Lyle Sussman, Ph.D. and David Dubofsky, Ph.D., CFA.

For anyone starting out in life, Your Total Wealth is the ideal read. It is the most unique and accessible financial advice resource I’ve ever seen and goes well beyond how to make money.

The authors give us a window into what “total wealth” means, how to achieve it, and demonstrate that it is much more than mere numbers. Total wealth is greater than the “stuff” we own or the balance in an investment account.

I wish that I had this book years ago, or as I tell my friends, “When I had hair.”

Applying Financial Definitions to the Real World – An Emotional Annuity

Your Total Wealth has a feature that I’ve never seen before. Pages on the left provide definitions, such as, Margin, Short Selling, Dollar Cost Averaging, Leverage – terms that most people do not understand, with examples. Pages on the right give readers a life lesson connected to the term just defined.  Here’s an example from the book:

Annuity: A financial annuity is a predictable payment stream, such as a retirement annuity offered by insurance companies, designed to pay for as long as you live.

The Life Lesson: An emotional annuity is a predictable, human bond of caring, commitment and concern. It says, “I’m here for you.” The next time you see an elderly couple walking down the street with smiles on their faces, holding hands, you are witnessing an emotional annuity payment.

When adult children take care of aging parents, those children are making an emotional annuity payment.

Your Total Wealth is filled with insights like that, financial terms and life lessons that get you thinking about living a richer life.

The Search for Monetary Wealth Has Its Own Costs

I asked the authors to discuss some of the things people do in the pursuit of financial wealth that lead to disappointment and failure in life.

Sussman: Failure to understand the cost of obsessively focusing on monetary wealth.

Consequences: Think of the Midas touch parable. If you are consumed by making money and greed, realize the cost you’ll pay. You lose family, self-esteem, happiness. These things often become unintended consequences of acquiring financial wealth.

Yes, we need money to live comfortably, but studies show that when our basic needs are met, more income does not mean greater happiness. I have met millionaires who admit missing something despite their great monetary wealth.

Dubofsky: Failure to be happy in your job and constantly chasing higher-paying jobs.

Consequences: You will pray for Fridays and hate Mondays! People with total wealth understand they must actively earn money in a way that does not result in losing the things they enjoy, friends and family.  If you are madly working just to pay one bill, another will be due later in life. 

It is the one that asks, “Did you achieve a balance between acquiring financial wealth and personal fulfilment? Did you wake up every day happy to go to work”?

It is the fortunate person who realizes early in life what results from being dedicated to income alone. They have the wisdom to look into the future, when they are older. And they ask, “What will be my legacy?”  

Sussman: Using credit for the wrong purposes. Borrowing money to go on an expensive vacation. Buying something unnecessary that you can’t afford.

Consequences: You will forgo future financial security. Borrowing money for a house is a sound use of credit, but not for an unaffordable vacation.  Leasing a car is fine – but don’t go overboard and lease something well beyond your means just to look successful. There are lots of “successful” people in bankruptcy court.

After reading the book, I can see it has a lot of sound advice that can help many types of people. Your Total Wealth is about living and how to use money to improve our lives and the people we care about. Giving a copy to young, new clients, would be a great way for a financial adviser to begin a professional relationship.

Attorney at Law, Author of “You and the Law”

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California’s Kern County District Attorney’s Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, “You and the Law.” Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. “I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift.” 

Source: kiplinger.com

How to Create a Flexible Grocery List to Save Money

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Welcome back to the collaboration between Mint and Brewing Happiness. I’m Haley, the girl behind Brewing Happiness – a blog about celebrating the small healthy choices we make in our lives, complete with recipes for everybody!  I’m here to give you tips on living a healthy, happy life on a budget.

Today I am going to share with you my strategy for creating a flexible grocery store list that will allow you to make the most of the sales happening in your local market. I often find that the problem with having a strict grocery list is that you miss out on what’s fresh or on sale. Oppositely, when you only buy what’s on sale you end up with a bunch of miscellaneous items that don’t go together. My method will help solve both of those problems, while making meals that won’t break the bank.

This method will help you plan out your week so you aren’t stuck with boring work lunches or scrambling to make dinner for your family. The proportions for the actual grocery list will need to be tailored depending on how many people you are feeding. The idea is to take the concept and mold it to your needs and lifestyle.

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

#1 Have three options for breakfast – buy the one with the best price.

Go to the grocery store with three possibilities in mind – perhaps eggs, yogurt and granola, and oatmeal – and buy the one that is cheapest. Maybe your favorite granola is having a sale that week – buy that – or maybe oatmeal is more cost effective because it will last you longer. I find it is easiest to choose when I have three options and narrow it down, rather than going with no plan at all.

#2 Pick a theme.

Perhaps you are craving Mexican or Indian or Mediterranean food that week – let that choice guide your shopping. This will create parameters to help guide you, as to avoid coming home with food items you don’t need or won’t go together.

#3 Loosely structure a grocery list.

The example below will help you understand this point further, but the general idea is to create a list full of “generics” that can be tailored to your theme and sale prices. This may look like: 1 grain, 1 protein, 3 vegetables, 2 herbs, etc. (See example list below.)

#4 Consider versatility.

When selecting food, especially produce, choose foods that can be used for more than one meal, or foods that you like to eat both raw and cooked. This will provide more meal options for you as well as help save you money.

#5 Don’t forget the essentials.

Always add oils, spices, flour, herbs, and lemon to your grocery list. These things can help diversify your meals by creating marinades or dressings. They can also be customized based on the theme or what is on sale.

To illustrate just how easy this can be,  I’ve provided an example grocery list along with three meal possibilities you could make!


Grocery List

Theme: Mexican

Breakfast choices: eggs, yogurt and granola, or oatmeal

  • 1 grain
    • rice, brown rice, quinoa, etc.
  • 2 proteins
    • chicken, steak, chickpeas, eggs, etc.
  • 1 green
    • spinach, romaine, swiss chard, kale, etc.
  • 3-4 vegetables
    • red onion, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc.
  • 1 cheese
    • cotijia, goat cheese, Mexican cheese, etc.
  • 1 carb
    • tortillas, flatbread, potatoes, etc.
  • 1 fruit
    • bananas, berries, apples, grapes, etc.
  • 2 herbs
    • cilantro, mint, parsley, etc.
  • 3 lemons

Example Meals:

  • Salad with greens, chopped raw vegetables, protein, herbs, cheese, and olive oil and lemon for dressing. Served with fruit on the side.
  • Wrap with greens, cooked vegetables, protein, cheese and herbs. Served with fruit on the side.
  • Roasted sheet pan meal with vegetables and protein, topped with herbs, cheese, and lemon juice.
  • Grain bowl with protein, greens, cooked or raw vegetables, herbs, lemon and olive oil for dressing.
  • Frittata with eggs, vegetables, greens, cheese, and herbs baked.

I hope you try out this flexible grocery list concept – it will save some money, while inspiring some new work lunches or family dinners!

Follow along!


Over the next few months I’ll be covering a variety of ways to be healthy on a budget. Keep an eye out for those and head over to Brewing Happiness for healthy recipe inspiration in the meantime!

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Source: mint.intuit.com