How I Teetotaled My Way into a Life Hack

I don’t drink alcohol. At all. Ever. In fact, I don’t even know what the stuff tastes like. There are a great many reasons I made that choice, none of which are especially relevant here. I will just say, for the record, that I don’t judge anybody for drinking. It’s just not my thing. You do you, and I’ll… do me?

Anyway. This isn’t really a post about booze. It’s about strategic thinking, about finding your own personal life hack.

How many times have you told yourself “I wish I could do X, but I don’t have the money?” If you’re a grad student like me, it’s probably your catchphrase. And—unless you’re independently wealthy (or dependently wealthy, as in, dependent on family money)—you really don’t have the money. ESPECIALLY if, like me, you’re a grad student in the UC system.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the things I wish I had the money for… specifically, the things that would help me be a better scholar. The two things I really want right now are:

  1. A pseudo-transcriptionist: as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not a note taker. I’m a highlighter. When I have boundless free time, though, I like to type out, verbatim, everything I highlighted in a book or article, so I have that information readily available to me at all times. It makes more sense to me than my notes ever would, and makes it a lot easier to find quotes when I’m writing. But who has the time to transcribe everything they highlight after reading? I want to hire somebody to do that for me. Preferably an undergrad who could really use the money.
  2. A filing cabinet engineer: about a year ago I finally bit the bullet and bought myself some filing cabinets. I dreamt up an organizational system and drafted an action plan… and promptly did nothing. I’m always telling myself “you just need to label and record five files a night. You’ll be done in a couple months!” But it isn’t happening. Not even close. Pre-grad school I got paid to do this for a friend of the family, so I know it’s a thing. I also know, based on my own experience, that what would take me months to do would probably take a college student under 20 hours. I would love to pass this off to a broke undergrad, and the sooner the better. Right now I have to sort through piles and piles of articles to find the things I need. It’s dumb, and I know there is a student out there desperate for the work. I know it, because I was that person.

I bet you have a wish list too. Maybe you want to pay a housekeeper to drop by every other week (and by pay, I mean a decent wage, that will actually make it into his or her pocket… don’t exploit people) to drop by every other week. Maybe you want to take a photography class, or get a couple sessions with a personal trainer. Maybe you just want to go on a weekend trip… one weekend spent NOT being a grad student/professor/parent/whatever.

THAT’s where the booze comes in. According to this MSN Money article, the average American spends 1% of their income on giggle juice. Per 24/7 Wall Street, “In 2009, the average American household spent $435 on beer, wine, hard liquor, and mixed drinks.” That’s a decent chunk of change.

So here’s my thought: at the beginning of the year (or, in my case, the academic year), why not set aside that money—so as not to risk spending it elsewhere—and use it to get the items on your wish list? I could easily get my files organized for less than $400, because I already did a good bit of organizational work. I don’t drink alcohol, and—for me—that’s something to be proud of. Why not reward myself for it? It’s not going to get me my fantasy transcriptionist, but hey, I’m getting my files organized! I’m halfway there!

You might be thinking “NO FREAKIN’ WAY I’M GIVING UP MY APPLETINIS!” Chill. You don’t have to. You just have to identify something injurious/wasteful that you aren’t doing, or that you are doing and can quit. Here are a few suggestions (some of them courtesy of 24/7 Wall Street, others courtesy of the squishy thing between my ears) :

  • The average smoker spends $380/year on cigarettes.
  • I’m not cool enough to know how much money pot and similarly illicit drugs costs, but I’m sure somebody is… perhaps that somebody is you?
  • How much do you pay/might you pay for Cable TV?
  • The average household spends over $2,500 on takeout food, restaurant food, vending machines, etc.
  • Do you have a gym membership you never use? How much money are you losing there?
  • Most of us kiss a significant amount of money goodbye every month on subscriptions we aren’t using. I’d estimate I’ve spent a good $150 on Netflix this past year, even though I haven’t been watching TV or movies at all. Maybe you have an aspirational subscription to The New Yorker? Or maybe you need to just stop reading Cosmo already.

You see what I mean? Choose a habit or expense that you either (a) won’t miss, or (b) would be the better for dropping, and drop it! Use that money on your life hack.

Your turn: what pit do you throw your hard earned cash into, and what do you wish you were doing with it?

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

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