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Funny Money: Cheap Alternatives to Common Everyday Expenses

a pet goldfishEveryone frets over major purchases and overanalyzes them as if their financial future depends on their choices. But rest assured that when you’ve really screwed things up and you’re sitting there wondering where it all went wrong, it will have been the small, regular questionable decisions that led you to your calamity.

Maybe then you’ll realize that it was the coffee that killed you.

Small, everyday expenses that you make out of habit rather than conscious choices tend to eat away at your budget like bulimic termites. Beverages, eating out for lunch and other low-return creature comforts can sap away extra income, stopping you from saving money, paying down debt and re-purchasing all your childhood toys that your mom sold at a garage sale.

Since He-Man and the Masters of the Universe action figures aren’t going to re-buy themselves at the flea market, it’s best to stop bad spending habits cold and replace them with cheaper habits that will sate the same urges.

Here are my suggestions of cheap addictions to swap out for expensive ones:

Go with water rather than coffee.

Daily trips to Starbucks rob you not only of money, but time. If you’re worried you’ll be sleepy without all that caffeine, just make sure you compulsively drink water rather than coffee. It’s free, has no calories and does not stain your teeth. And if you drink enough of it, water will wake you up just as much as coffee will, because nothing is better at keeping you alert than an overloaded bladder.

Get curbside takeout rather than dining in.

Any chain restaurant worth its oversalted food has created a delightful alternative to dining in, dodging crying children, rude diners and off-key wait staffers’ birthday rhymes. Not to mention paying ridiculous prices for sugary drinks, suffering dessert menu had-sales and having to leave big, fat tips for questionable service.

Curbside takeout saves you the hassle and the extra costs associated with restaurant dining, all while giving you the same food that tastes so much better because you didn’t have to make it. Just pull into one of the parking spaces set aside for your kind, pay at the counter as if you’re ordering fast food, and dash back to the friendly confines of your home to munch on your grub.

Use a swamp cooler rather than air conditioning.

While central air is the preferred method for combatting summer heat, it’s far from the only option. Old-fashioned swamp coolers — though they may be loud, stinky and, well, swampy — work just as well to combat dry heat. Swamp coolers are vastly cheaper, reduce your carbon footprint by reducing electricity, and all that other delightful hippie stuff.

Get a pet goldfish rather than a dog.

Pets you can walk and talk to about your problems? Totally overrated, not to mention expensive!

Goldfish are fantastic not only because they’re so cheap to feed and never need to go to the vet, but because you always know where to find them, they rarely dig through your trash or pee on your carpet, and will never attack the neighbor child and make you vulnerable to a lawsuit. And don’t even get me started on all the way’s they’re superior to cats. Why, after all, do you think it is that cats are always trying to eat goldfish? Because of their marvelous taste? Nonsense, it’s because felines know that goldfish are superior to them so they’re attempting to eliminate the competition.

Published or updated on June 27, 2013

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About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.


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  1. Colin h says:

    Hi Phil – Even the small expenses that people don’t think about count. Important to include everything.

  2. Colin h says:

    Hi Phil – It is important to keep track of all expenses no matter how minor you think they may be. Thanks for reminding us of that – lots of people don’t look at it that way – but it’s important.

    Thanks for the great post


  3. Stefan M says:

    Phil, Agreed on many points. Your a great writer and an easy read. Appreciate the post.


  4. Kat says:

    Fish can be pretty tricky and expensive to take care of if you’re doing it right! Goldfish should actually be in a 10+ gallon tank, which you’ll have to clean on the regular. They can grow to be 10-12″. I used to have fish, and now I have a dog. Maybe I’m nuts, but the fish were way more of a pain for me. Cleaning the tank is a big ordeal, and they are hard to treat when they get sick. The dog certainly will not be cheaper in the cost she accrues over her lifetime, but she’s provided endless therapy, motivation to exercise, hilarious entertainment, and has introduced me to a couple people who have become lifelong friends. Can’t put a price on that. A dog can be a great long-term investment for your health and well-being :) Might even save you some money on your medical bills…

  5. I agree with Mary Anne – the right balance is the basis of good household finances.
    We (people) need to be different – we need to have different habits and needs. If nobody would eat in restaurants, they would go bankrupt and many people will loose a job. This however would not be creative destruction but recession… IMHO good financial management means to be aware of what we spend money on, optimize it and accept it :)

    I like your optimization method to go with water rather than coffee. It is in line with my lifestyle :)

  6. Choosing water instead of coffee is a great idea at 3 in the afternoon … but not such a good idea at 7 in the morning! There’s a “cross-over” effect to the way that giving up my morning cup of coffee would hamper my productivity (although I won’t go so far as to call it an ‘investment.’)

    I think moderation is the key to good personal financial management (as well as generally good overall life management). An occasional take-out dinner, cup of coffee or decision to adopt a pet is great, as long as you’re conscious about how much that choice will cost, and as long as you’re spending in moderation.

  7. Courtney says:

    I don’t think one in a while purchases will kill you, even if it’s a weekly routine. I just bought some sushi from my favorite grocery store (the price has gone up, grrr!!) but it’s worth it for me. $8 every week or two isn’t killing me. I just favor it into my budget and all it well.

  8. Thomas says:

    Many of us forget how little things can make a big difference. I see a lot of people buying coffee every single morning and not just coffee for .89 but the 3-6$ ones. That alone can add money to your pockets. We have a dog and we as a family love her but man she’s a lot of responsibility and expense. Not sure we would want to exchange for a gold fish though.

  9. Simon says:

    Nothing as good as starting the day with hearty laughter! This blog just cracked me up and warmed up my morning, coffee aside! I think its easy to ignore small, repeating expenses, they become a habit and over time we end up spending quite a bunch. Its a hilarious way of reminding people of that, especially this line, “Maybe then you’ll realize that it was the coffee that killed you.” hahaha

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