flickr photo by Dave Dugdale shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

A busy shift often equates to hundreds of dollars in tips for a bartender. Tip money, often left in the form of cash, sometimes feels like a free-flowing income well, easily replenished shift to shift.

I remember so many early mornings walking out of the bar with my feet aching, in liquor splashed clothes and a giant wad of cash in my purse. At least twice a week I would grab a meal after work with my co-workers, and I always took a cab home. Money came and money went and then it came back again. For years the idea of saving my money was no more than a purposeless and fleeting concept– after all, my shifts were abundant and so too were my tips.

I basically lived shift to shift. If I wanted something, I bought it. There was no buyers remorse because nothing I wanted that seemed out of reach.

My perspective changed instantly when I found out I was pregnant with my son. Never so quickly did I hustle to save as much money as I possibly could, in the shortest amount of time possible. In less than six months, I was able to save $11,000 while maintaining my other expenses and working every available shift.

Once I got into the flow of saving, it was actually really fun, and ultimately important. Obviously, you’re not all going to wake up one day to discover you’re pregnant, but the point is life can sometimes be unpredictable. In those times of vulnerability that may lead to financial uncertainty, it’s nice to have a pillow (or in this case a wad of cash) to land on.

Here are Seven Tips to Help you Save your Tips:

1) Transportation:

This was a big one for me. I live in New York City, and it’s all too easy to take a cab to and from work without thinking about it. I used to spend $40 per day on transportation to and from work. This totaled $800 a month. Once I eliminated taxis from my routine, my transportation costs went down to $5.50 per day ($110 per month). That extra cash turned into immediate savings.

If you live in a city, use public transportation whenever possible to commute to work. Not only is it much cheaper, it’s often faster too. If you don’t live in a city with good public transportation then carefully budget out your transportation costs. How much are you spending everyday? How can you lessen those expenses? Perhaps this means finding free parking and/or leaving earlier so you don’t park in a place that you could get ticketed, get stuck in traffic etc.

2) Eating/Drinking out before, during and/or after work:

Before I had my son I rarely went grocery shopping. I ate out or ordered in for almost every meal. While at work I would order delivery, or sometimes something off of our restaurant menu (although I got tired of that food quickly). Fifteen or twenty dollars never seemed like a big deal for lunch or dinner. After work, I was typically ravaged by hunger pains and didn’t give a second thought to grabbing a four or five am breakfast with my co-workers. It always felt so nice to sit down and vent while exchanging customer stories.

I was unnecessarily wasting 30 to 50 dollars every day on food. Once I started planning my meals out in advance and preparing them at home, I saved tons of money.

Here’s how you can do the same: Research recipes online, make grocery lists and buy only what is on your list.

Cook at home (use the internet to find exciting recipes and instructions if you are new to cooking) and make enough food to ration it off for three or more days at a time. By doing this you will be able to grab pre-cooked and packaged meals on your way out the door to work so when you get hungry you have home cooked food to eat.

Lastly, bring snacks to work. A cup of fruit, granola bar or yogurt are all small enough to eat quickly and snacks such as these will do wonders in eliminating your hunger pains and keeping you energized throughout your shift.

3) Keeping Up your Energy:

Working until the wee hours of the morning is not an easy thing to do, especially without caffeine. It is SO easy to run across the street to Starbucks or the local coffee shop once or twice during a shift to grab a latte or large coffee. While these coffee outings seem insignificant on their own, they add up quickly. A daily coffee trip costs the average consumer five dollars. If you are anything like I was, you spending closer to $10 per day on coffee. That’s a lot of money being wasted.

Rather than buying coffee while at work, drink a cup at home before work. If you need more  than one cup to get you through your shift, buy a reusable coffee cup, fill it up at home and take it to go. This way, if you get tired throughout the night you always have access to a caffeine pick-me-up. (And no excuses about it not being hot, or not tasting fresh– you are a bartender, you know how to make things taste good!)

Another great way to re-energize is to take your vitamins every day. Vitamin deficiencies lead to feelings of depression, lethargy and weakened immune systems. Taking a daily multivitamin or a combination (I take vitamin D3, B12 and C everyday) will lead to a natural increase in your overall health, happiness and energy levels.

4) Out of Wallet, Out of Mind

Deposit all but $20 of your cash tips into the bank. When you get cash tips, deposit them as soon as you are possibly able into your bank account. Cash is so easy to spend, but it’s very hard to account for. By depositing all (but $20–we’ll get back to this later) of your cash into your account, you will be able to track where you are spending your money and on what.

I recommend taking a month to just observe your card spending and at the end of the month make a list comparing your necessities versus non-necessities. Chances are, there are a lot of little purchases you can cut out that will ultimately add up to more savings.

5) Have a Separate Account for your Savings:

Don’t keep your savings in a normal checking account you use for your fixed expenses. Doing this makes it confusing to understand what you’re actually saving versus what is already spent.

Create a separate account just for savings where you can watch your money grow. Even better if it’s at a different bank– after all out of sight out of mind.

6) Keep $20 from Each Shift in the Smallest Possible Bills:

When you get home, create four different envelopes, each with a name of your choice. For example: Travel, Eating out, Entertainment, Shopping. Deposit five dollars into each envelope after every shift you work. This will be your play money– to use either weekly, monthly or every so often to spend as you wish. Perhaps you spend your “Eating out” one weekly. While you allow your travel one to build up before digging into it.

If possible, never empty all of the envelopes at the same time. Stagger them out so you never feel like you are broke, or unable to do something you really want to do. By always have access to play money, you will never have an excuse to dig into your savings.

7) Use your Credit Card Tips for Fixed Expenses:

Regardless of whether you are paid your credit card tips on the same night you work, or a week later, use your credit card tips for your fixed expenses (rent, groceries, transportation, electricity etc.) and anything left over direct into your savings account with your cash tips. By doing this you will do a mental allocation each night of how much you are saving, versus what you need to use for bills.

Ultimately, bartenders have it pretty good. Money often comes in abundant spurts, making it easy to spend or save. By getting into a routine of saving, it is amazing how quickly money can pile up. Do you self a favor and get into the flow of saving so you are always financially prepared for life’s journeys.

flickr photo by Dave Dugdale shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Antasha Durbin

Antasha is a seasoned bartender with more than seven years of bartending and hospitality experience. She is also a spiritual writer at, where she writes free, easy-to-digest and highly actionable advice on spirituality, mindfulness and empowered living. You can follow her on Twitter @cajspirituality for daily inspiration.