You’re finishing up college or are a recent graduate. You have your first “big girl/boy job” and you’re all on your own. You don’t make minimum wage anymore, but you may not be salaried either. So why is it that you have no left over money at the end of each month? The answer is simple: If you don’t tell your money where to go, you will be left wondering where it went.
Here are five budgeting tips for when the struggle is too real:
1. Cut back on luxuries –
This one may seem simple, but it is often encouraged in our culture. I admit, there are times to “treat yo self”, but for a recent college graduate in debt, those times are few and far between. You might think, “but Jocelyn, you don’t understand, I NEED that pair of shoes”. Or, “I NEED a manicure once a month”. No you don’t. It’s that simple. If there are luxuries that you feel you can’t live without, maybe you should take the time to reflect on why you feel that need. In the mean time, paint your nails at home. Invite your friends over for a spa day. Paint your own nails or paint each others. Do mud masks at home. Take a picture of the shoes and buy them when you have Christmas money, birthday money, or get a bonus at work. I am not knocking treating yourself or taking care of your body, but if these are areas you find yourself overspending, evaluate them and see where you are willing to cut back.
2. Switch out an activity for another
Is there something you do with a significant other or with a friend that you could switch up for a free or less expensive activity? Rather than meeting up for pricey coffee, why don’t you meet at the park instead? Bring a dog and take a walk, or bring a blanket and hang out. Bad weather? Instead of going out for drinks or going shopping, invite your friends over to watch online tutorials on watercolor painting and give it a try. Not feeling artsy fartsy? Invite them over to watch yoga tutorials and give that a try. You get the point.
3. Make cooking at home fun
I am the first person to admit that I spend too much money on food. More often than not, eating out will cost more than buying groceries and eating in. There are exceptions, say, if you grab fast food instead of groceries from Whole Foods. But in general, to eat a well-balanced diet, it costs less to eat at home rather than eating out. Next time your friends suggest going to a hibachi or steak house, suggest grilling out at a house or having a potluck instead. Invite your significant other over to cook a meal together rather than going out to eat. Not sure what to cook? I’ll admit, I sometimes check the websites for delivery meal kits to see the planned meals for the week and then just copy those at home (meal prep blog post coming soon). Either way, there are unlimited recipes at the tip of your fingers begging to be cooked. Plan ahead, buy the groceries, and put that kitchen to use. You will feel better at the end of a meal you’ve worked hard to cook and cooking at home cuts a lot of salt, sugar, and oils/fats out of the meal. Plus, who doesn’t want to brag on their insta-story about being wifey/hubby material?
4. Set goals and save
It doesn’t seem as rewarding to save money when you don’t have a plan for the money you’ve saved. Make a plan, set goals. If you want to own a home by the time you’re 30, setting aside money when you’re 23 makes a lot more sense rather than buying another round of drinks at the bar. Set aside an emergency savings account, for actual emergencies. Do not touch that money unless it is a real emergency. Set up your bank account to auto draft a certain amount of money from your checking account to your savings account twice a month. Get a head start on paying back those student loans while the interest is at its lowest. Does your job offer a 401k? Contribute! Take advantage of company match as well. The money will be put aside before it is direct deposited, and you will never see it nor will you miss it. Don’t buy that designer purse or that authentic basketball jersey when you know you’re only $800 away from a down payment on a car. If you don’t set goals, you won’t be saving for them.
5. Create a spreadsheet
Tell your money where to go at the beginning of each month. This may seem overwhelming for some of you, but if you’re anything like me, you love a good spreadsheet. Google Sheets is my go-to for spreadsheets because it is so easy to access anywhere at any time. If you doubt you will remember to update an online spreadsheet, print one out and hang it on your fridge. Start with the last full month of expenses and create a spreadsheet of where your money went. Do not get discouraged, it can only get better from here. For the upcoming month, fill out a spreadsheet with how you plan to spend the money (your anticipated expenses). As the month goes on, put the actual costs in there as well and compare. This will show you where you spent more than predicted, where you are on tartget, and where you can cut back. There are a few templates already created on Google Sheets that I highly recommend (circled below).
There are plenty of other resources out there as well. What works for me may not work for you. Again, as long as you are telling your money where to go, you will not be wondering where it went.
Everyone’s path to mastering a budget will look different. Becoming disciplined in the art of budgeting at a younger age will greatly influence and benefit the rest of your adult life. Do not be discouraged when starting out. It will take time to find the right budget for you. Some months you will save all of your extra cash. Some months you will decorate your house, buy Christmas presents, or take a vacation. Not every month will look the same, but if you can anticipate these planned expenses, be sure to set savings goals for them. It will be a learning experience to find the right balance between saving and spending, but once you control your budget rather than it controlling you, you will experience freedom like never before.