How to Budget with Hardly a Budget
“Money doesn’t grow on trees, which is so unfortunate because if it did, I feel like more people would take an interest in the environment.”
Unfortunately, the topic of money can be very stressful especially as a young college graduate starting out at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but sometimes at the top of the debt profile.
When I was in high school, I worked every single summer as a lifeguard at our town’s local pool. I worked weekends at my dad’s veterinarian clinic and many school nights you could find me babysitting kiddos until the wee hours of the morning. Then, in college, I worked three part-time jobs on campus and was also a full-time student. I paid for most of my college schooling, my car, my spending money, etc. I was extremely independent when it came to my finances for the most part. Of course, I am not trying to brag whatsoever! But, I do think I have a slightly different perspective and approach when it comes to the value of a dollar and also how to stretch it to the fullest.
After graduating last May, moving to Maryland, moving to DC, working on the Hill, working in a coffee shop, and then recently shipping up to Boston to work at a bio-pharmaceutical company, I feel that I have acquired quite a few tricks to save money, to make side money, and also to spend your money wisely! I hope these tips bring a little more calm to your mind and your wallet especially as we all try to enjoy the summertime festivities so soon!
Tip #1: Budget, Baby!
Budget. Budget. Budget! You have to learn to budget. One of the key adult tools that I think college leaves us in the dark is for budgeting. We all took the basic Finance 101 class, but did anyone read the textbook or learn a darn thing? I didn’t.
When I graduated, I had to learn how to budget on my own. I couldn’t afford to just spend blindly and throw caution to the wind when it came to my wallet. As any other millennial child would do, I found an app and the app changed my life. The app I use is called Buddy. Buddy is a virtual piggy bank where you put your pay stubs, investments, expenses, and savings into. It is an incredible tool to help you monitor your spending habits each month and creates an accountability aspect between yourself and your cash.
Every time I buy something or every time I get paid, I put the receipt into the app. At first, I would forget or would allow myself to ‘cheat’ meaning that if I bought a three dollar coffee, I wouldn't track it. Track it. Be honest and accountable with yourself and your finances. I promise that finding an app or creating your own budget on Google sheets is a great way that at the beginning of the month, you can sit down, figure out how much you will make that month, what you are responsible to pay, how much fun money you can realistically spend, and how much savings you want to acquire over the next thirty days! It is really easy to just blindly swipe your card throughout the month, but if you make it a habit to track every purchase into the app, you will become much more conscious of where your hard-earned cash is really going!
Tip #2: Use the right cards to reap the right rewards
This is another something that no business class ever covered. There are major advantages and disadvantages to different credit cards. Find the one that works best for you! If you are a young, college grad like me, I found that the Discover It Card had the best perks for someone with my spending habits. I get money back each month for using my credit card and paying it off on time. I get a huge bonus of cash back at the end of every calendar year, and paying off your credit card each month helps you build your credit score.
For me, the Discover It card (not sponsored whatsoever! lol) just really made sense for someone like me who wasn’t going to be spending huge amounts of money, they had a very easy enrollment process whereas some cards make you have a minimum amount of savings or you have to use your card so many times each month, etc. My credit card had no fees, limits, minimums, etc. and that works best for my lifestyle.
Find the right credit card that works for your budget and bank account. Don’t just use the one that your bank gives you, which has no rewards, cashback, or perks attached to it! There are too many better options out there where you can be easily earning free cash back on purchases you were already going to make in the first place!
Tip #3: Coupons, Groupon, Discounts, oh my!
Groupon is another amazing app that has tons of coupons attached to local restaurants, shops, events, etc. in your area! It is completely free to use and has also allowed me to try new things or pamper myself while on a budget!
For example, two weeks ago I really wanted to get my nails done. But your girl is trying to save and nails are not EXACTLY a priority in my life. However, I wanted to treat myself, so I went on Groupon and found a 50% coupon for a nail salon down the street from my apartment! Boom! I saved $25 on a manicure by clicking a button on a free app!
Another great coupon app is IBotta. IBotta is an app where you can scan any receipt you receive from certain stores and you gain cash back! Once again, you were gonna spend the money anyway, so why not make some of that cash back!
Overall, it is just so important to do your research and find those deals! I hardly ever just make a big purchase or buy something that is a gift for myself without checking online for discount codes or checking my apps for deals near me. It takes maybe 2 extra minutes, but can save you $20+ down the line easily!
Tip #4: Buy second hand
If you know me… you know I LOVE Goodwill! I have been known to get lost within the racks of the heavenly wonder one too many times! I am a huge environmental junky, so on top of just loving to rock weird dad sweaters, I also adore reusing and reducing my environmental impact!
Another huge tip I have for you to create a more money savvy environment, try to never buy first hand as much as possible! When I moved to Boston, I bought my bed off of Facebook Marketplace for $100. This included the bed frame, mattress, and pillows. I had to purchase some sheets and a blanket and I was good to go! Beds can go for $600+ online or in the store, and I was able to reuse something that was really large instead of allowing it to just be tossed into the garbage eventually.
Reuse, reduce, and buy second hand. Goodwill is just one example! Facebook marketplace, the apps LetGo or Poshmark, Stitch Fix, etc. there are so many choices out there to buy second hand and the savings are wild! From furniture to clothes to bags to shoes, everything but my grocery hauls, I try to purchase second hand and it has made the world of a difference to my wallet.
Tip #5: Create your own side hustle
This is one of my favorite tips because I did it! I am doing it now;)
Create a side hustle, but make sure it is something you love! A lot of the time I see people saying online, “You can make $20 an hour working as a customer service employee on the weekends,” or “Teach English online and make $10 an hour every Saturday.” Now, if you want to be a customer service employee or if you want to teach English online then do it!
But, if you are like me and don’t wanna be answering people’s problematic emails on a Saturday morning, then maybe try my advice;)
Make a side hustle on something you love. When I already work a 9-5 job Monday-Friday, I don’t want to then come home and work a job that I hate just to put a few extra bucks in the bank. Create a second source of income from a passion of yours.
If you love working out, look into becoming a certified trainer. If you love to write, check out online platforms that hire freelance writers. Even if you love dogs, become a dog walker on the weekends!
For me, I created an e-book based on my experience of overcoming anorexia, disorderly eating, and body insecurities. It is now a form of residual income for myself, however, the more important factor, I never once felt like I was working while I was creating. I could say the same about my blog of my Instagram. I love doing it! So, the money becomes a bonus and not a stressful focal point of my side hustle.
“Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.”
Find a second form of income that is based on something you love. You will be way more likely to stick to it, work hard at it, and achieve the income you desire if you are happy along the way!
Tip #6: Differentiating between a ‘Want’ and a ‘Need’
Now, this one is hard. I LOVE shopping. I really do, especially at my friend Goodwill;)
However, part of being a young adult is learning self-discipline.
When I graduated college, I had to begin to really prioritize, not only my finances but for the sake of this blog post, we will only touch on that!
I had to be self-aware and trust myself enough to differentiate between things I wanted, things I needed, and things I wanted and could afford right now. You have to be smart with your cash. Sure, we all want to get our hair, nails, and tan done. We all want to get that new teeth whitening kit or go to Coachella. We all want to buy avocado toast every single day until the day we die. However, we HAVE to pay for our rent. We have to pay our student loans and we have to pay our car payment.
You have to begin to understand that especially right out of college, you will probably be making the least amount of money you will ever make. So, your lifestyle, unfortunately, has to match that right now. This doesn’t have to be depressing though! Find free events for you and your friends to go to. Check out my homemade self-care guide to make homemade spa products or make most of your meals at home with the avocados you got on sale!
You just have to be financially smart and be honest with yourself when you are trying to decide on purchases. There are wants and needs. You can always buy your wants later once you work really hard and get a raise or keep an eye on them for when they go on sale! But, you cannot neglect your needs, so be upfront and honest with yourself and with your wallet.
Tip #7: Tiny savings add up quickly!
This one is so underrated! Tiny savings make the biggest piggy banks.
When I was in college, I used to go to Starbucks at least three times a week to do homework. It became a sort of a ritual that my friends and I had especially on the weekends.
Then I look back at those months spent in school and realize that I was spending around $50 a month at Starbucks. On what you may ask? Black coffee.
You heard me. Black coffee. I love black coffee and that is pretty much the only way I drink it other than with a little bit of almond milk. However, I was spending my hard earned cash on a drink I could make at home for a fraction of the price!
My point here is not that you should never do fun things with your friends or completely become a hermit at home with you and your savings, but those tiny savings are important.
Every time I swiped my card, I thought, “Oh, it’s only three dollars. Whatever.” Not whatever. We tend to write off small purchases like they don’t matter when it comes to our finances. We think through large purchases much more, however, as you can see, small purchases add up!
So, make it a habit to try to cut back where you can! It may seem so much easier to buy that $6 Uber ride home instead of walking the 20-minute walk, but think about it every time you were faced with that decision you chose to walk? That’s a lot of savings! Try to make small changes and cut back where you can, so then, you can enjoy more on splurges, friend events, dinners, vacations, etc., and not be like me paying way too much money out of habit for black coffee.
Tip #8: Do not compare budgets
My final tip for you and your new financially savvy mind is to not compare and to not get discouraged. This goes for life in general, but when it comes to finances it’s so important to walk your own walk and beat your own drum the best way you can!
I have a lot of friends who make a lot more money than I do. I also have a lot of friends with a whole lot more debt than I have. None of that matters. What matters is my finances, my budget, my financial goals, and my savings/expenses. If you are constantly comparing yourself and your wallets to others you’re going to get either very jealous or very discouraged or both.
You have your own wallet, your own payments, your own savings. That’s it. Don’t let the comparison, stress, or worry about your finances rob you from your day-to-day happiness. I think the worst thing that people can do when it comes to their finances is stress, but refuse to make a plan. Make a budget. Make a plan of action. Put the words into practice. Focus on your own bank account. And just don’t sweat it too much! I promise if you work hard, make small changes, and overall become more self-aware when you swipe that card, I promise you that you will be much savvier when it comes to the green stuff in your bank account.