Somewhat Embarrassing Things I’ve Done to Save Money

Using a long-expired college ID for museum discounts
Not so bad, until a volunteer asked a series of friendly questions that made me feel like she was on to me: “Oh, you go to such-and-such college? Are you visiting for the day? How did you get down to the city? Oh, that’s very interesting.”

Being a hair model/guinea pig
I got a free haircut from a stylist from Montana who had come to the big city to learn from the hair gods. I felt very in-the-know and they treated me wonderfully. I walked out with my freshly cut hair right into the Meatpacking District and felt like a million bucks.

Returning moldy blackberries to Whole Foods
Thankfully, purchases at Whole Foods come with a free helping of entitlement. I took my receipt to customer service and said that my $5 half pint of blackberries grew white fluffy mold before I could eat them. If we’re paying a premium for the best produce, it’s reasonable to expect it shouldn’t go bad immediately. Channeling a crotchety (but polite) old lady is encouraged. 

Yoga couponing
The Yoga Passbook offers free passes to tons of yoga studios for $80 a year. It’s wonderful, except: I’m always terrified of being turned away or having my pass shamefully rejected, so I panic and over-research before visiting a new studio, obsessively going over the schedule, calling in advance to make sure there is room in the class, and reading Yelp reviews to make sure I don’t do something embarrassing. I also try to plan my outfits and not to dress rich (ha, like I own any Lululemon anyway!) so I look like a poor, thankful student who is happy to practice yoga. Also, I don’t feel ashamed when I go to some giant studio that lets celebrities go for free. My most awful experience involved being in a two-person class taught by the owner at a studio that was clearly going out of business and begrudgingly accepted my pass.

Asking a friend to recalculate the restaurant split
Is it really so bad to ask your friend to throw in an extra few dollars to cover that extra cappuccino or diet Coke? I didn’t realize this was embarrassing until a friend told me I had no shame. I have mainly discontinued this practice in favor of parallel ordering, (going with the flow and ordering an appetizer if everyone else is!), which is much easier than feeling cheated after subsidizing someone’s steak when I just had spaghetti marinara.

Returning a spaghetti squash that cost $5 to Western Beef
This seemed like a lot of money at the time. I carried the receipt in my bag for a few days before going back and half-heartedly presenting them the receipt and explaining that when I cut it open it was moldy inside. They just kind of shrugged and didn’t do anything. Whole Foods it is not.

Foregoing a cab in obvious cab-necessary situations
Like going to a job interview in the rain (got the job, despite rain boots in hand). Or a job interview directly after emerging from a subway’s 100-degree heat (didn’t get the job, blame copious sweat). Or multiple evenings spent waiting on subway platforms at 3 a.m.

$25 for wine, dessert, and tapas for two at a wine bar
We walked in, and were the only people in the place. A man who I think was the owner was on his laptop by the bar, probably brooding over his failing business. Everything was a hassle. The server didn’t know how to redeem the deal. There were random restrictions and up-charges. I found a hair in my food. The place went out of business a few months later. I don’t buy restaurant deals anymore.

Participating in a summer reading program, for kids
While picking up books on hold at my local library last year, I saw a sign for a summer reading program geared towards kids: “Read away your fines.” When I got to the front of the line, I jokingly asked, “There’s no way an adult could do that, right?” To my surprise, the librarian created an account for me and set me with a reading goal. My fines are gone.


Sarah Sluis lives on the Lower East Side and writes, often about movies. She is excellent at saving pennies.  


21 Comments / Post A Comment

jane lane (#281)

Is there some age at which people start thinking that the polite thing to do is to split checks evenly? My friends are very exact about paying only for what each of us ordered, unless our meals actually did cost the same.

Slutface (#53)

@jane lane No because there’s always that one friend that takes advantage of this and orders 4 glasses of wine, her own appetizer, salad, entree and dessert while everyone else has one drink and their meal. This person is usually short $10 too.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@jane lane Yes. The age at with even an extra $20 is worth not having to do complex math at the table.

aetataureate (#1,310)

I’m embarrassed for people who freely admit they can’t add up their own tabs. Yikes.

shannowhamo (#845)

@aetataureate Uh some people are bad at math (especially if they’ve been drinking)…not embarassing at all.

Robin (#1,320)

@jane lane It depends on the quality of friends. Yes, if your meals come within $5 (or whatever) of each other, just split the damn thing equally. It all comes out in the wash. It’s pretty insulting (and embarrassing) to have somebody make a stink over a matter of a few bucks.

RocketSurgeon (#747)

Back in my broke undergrad days, I bought a pair of black pants from the Gap. The clubby kind. They was my attempt to fit in at a city school after growing up in the country. I didn’t even know “black pants” were a thing before going there.

Anyway, I was bashful about how tight they were, but had them hemmed anyway, maybe wore them out once, and then decided I couldn’t afford the ~$70 for pants I felt awkward in. I folded them neatly with the cuffs to the inside and returned them. The salesgirl never asked me whether they were unworn/unaltered, otherwise I may have spooked. I did feel like a cheap-ass, but at least I was less of a broke-ass having successfully gotten my money back.

shannowhamo (#845)

@RocketSurgeon That is next level that you returned them after altering them, I’m impressed! One time in college I had to wear fancy clothes for a mock trial thing and hello, I wore horrible grungy college clothes all the time. SO I went to buy “nice” clothes (from Old Navy!) and was given a coupon for $25 off my next purchase. This was before they started doing the thing where the coupon doesn’t work until a few weeks in the future, to lure you back in. In this case I was able to return the items, find the same items on the shelf (they won’t restock the returned items right away, to foil you) and re-bought them with the coupon. AND then wore them and THEN returned them.

Megano! (#124)

@RocketSurgeon I’ve never returned anything altered, but I have definitely returned stuff I’ve worn before.

OK. I am a shameless poor, then, because I also did the “read away your fines” thing last summer! Yay! At NYPL, right? The librarian didn’t even blink an eye, and just wiped my fines away. (I mean, I could have read off my fines in a day or two, considering, but still, it was nice.)

Most of my fines accrue because of the $3/ day charge for overdue DVDs. It adds up fast.

I really hope they do it again this summer!

nf (#949)

When I was “on a leave of absence” from college I kept using my ID to get on buses for like a year until a driver eventually noticed it was expired and confiscated it. That was pretty awful.

Megano! (#124)

@nf They never check here on the Greyhound so Imma keep getting student price. Also my student discount card for the TTC doesn’t expire until November, so I am definitely milking that until the last possible second too.

AnnieNilsson (#406)

Right after college I worked as a nanny in Zurich. One day I went to the zoo (by myself) and tried to use my student ID from the school I had just graduated from. The man in the booth was disgusted with me. He said, “What is this? There is no date on it at all. How am I to believe you when you say you are a student if there is no date on your student card? Are you supposed to just use it forever and ever and I am supposed to believe you? Are they really so stupid in America as to print student cards with no dates on them??” etc etc

It was almost kind of entertaining how angry it made him. The price difference between the student and the regular ticket was like 2 CHF (about $2.) I paid it and he was still shaking his head when I walked into the zoo. Never in his life!

Marzipan (#1,194)

@AnnieNilsson My student ID doesn’t have a date on it, either. Apparently we are that stupid! Or our colleges are smart and WANT us to reap the benefits of student discounts into the future. However, I am never able to use it because I never go places that offer a student discount, which I feel like says something about me and how I spend my time, but I’m not sure what.

theotherginger (#1,304)

@Marzipan I know! I still AM a student (the grad kind) and we have no expiry dates so sometimes I get questioning looks. And I’m like, it’s me, I swear, here’s my ISIC.

professionalmess (#1,478)

Am I the only person who just asks the server to bring separate checks? Do places in New York not do that or something?

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@professionalmess I was out to dinner last night with a group of like, 18? 20? I don’t actually know the exact head count, but our bill (including tip) was over $350. They weren’t about to do separate checks for all of us, especially since there were appetizers and pitchers involved. I might ask for separate checks if I’m out with just one friend, but a lot of my restaurant meals are either solo (so no problem) or a mob situation where we just have to figure it out.

hopelessshade (#580)

I will forever use student cards at museums and feel vaguely guilty about it because, hello, I work in museums and I know how badly they could use the extra dough. But on the other hand, I work in museums and I know how badly *I* could use the extra dough.

Kate (#1,408)

I loved this post because I have done basically all of these things except for reading away my fines — and that’s just because Toronto hasn’t (to my knowledge) gotten on that particular bandwagon yet.

I’ve already discussed the shameful things I’ve done to save money here before! In short: bowling alley. boozing up my drink in the bathroom. caught red handed. etc etc.

the lesson i learned here was always to drink in the parking lot before you go in. i mean, what was i even thinking.

I have definitely returned a ($14) box of Sir Richard’s condoms to Whole Foods because the box said “extra large” and they were totally regular sized condoms. Whole Foods guy was like, “well, I think *all* condoms are inadequate, hur hur.”

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