If you’re anything like me, setting and sticking to a budget is a daunting and intimidating experience. I remember the first time I had to sit and make a budget before I went to college – I needed to outline my spending and saving goals for my parents, which I resisted and hated… until I learned that it wasn’t to prevent me from spending – it was to be realistic about what I wanted to spend money on versus what I didn’t want to waste money on. It was an eye-opening experience, and one that has helped me tremendously in my adult life. Though I sometimes tend to be a bit holistic about spending (new dress for engagement photos? Sure, I’ll make it work… sort of?), I’m try to be pretty strict about keeping to my personal monthly budget. For me, it’s less about limitation and more about being smart about how and where I actually spend my money. Sound intimidating? It’s actually not! Let me break it down for you.
HOW TO BUDGET YOURSELF IN YOUR TWENTIES WITHOUT GOING COMPLETELY INSANE
- Be realistic about where you spend your money. I’m not a shopper. I’m a service-spender. I can absolutely resist a new pair of shoes that I don’t need, but I’m absolutely willing to throw down a few extra dollars on my hair cut and color. I spend money on my gym membership, my personal care services, and my food. If you’re a service spender, or the total opposite, own it! Don’t put money where you wish you spent it… put it where you actually spend. My advice is to go through your monthly breakdown of expenditures and evaluate where you’re spending the most money. Using a free service like Mint.com (my personal fave!), visualize where your money goes each month, and then realistically see if you can make a change to meet your spending and saving goals.
- Learn to say no, even when it’s uncomfortable. The worst feeling in the world with regards to creating a budget is having to say no to something you want. Despite having dreams of a vegas-splurge weekend, I often have to say no to friends who just want to blow some money on a quick getaway. The answer? I can’t this month, but let’s plan on it in the future. If I want to have three dinners with friends over the next few weeks, I can’t put that money towards a fancy hotel. I would love to stop and grab a coffee every morning on my way to work, but the $4 I spend on my Almond-Milk Latte adds up… $20 per week, $80 per month… that’s my cell phone plan! Saying no definitely isn’t easy, but it keeps the small stuff (or, let’s face it, the big stuff) from adding up and draining funds away from any plans you might have had for the future.
- Save without thinking. Even though it seems like retirement is a lifetime away, creating a savings plan now is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself. One of the best things I discovered I could do in my first two years of work is allocate X amount of my paycheck towards my retirement savings account. My job allows me to pull a certain amount per week and automatically put it in into a 401K. It’s easy enough for me to forget about each week because it doesn’t show in my normal checking direct deposit. Without any effort on my part, I’m putting away money every week to save for later in life. It’s great, knowing that if I really need it, I have a backup fund just filling ever so slightly each week. I also do this with my checking account! Setting up a direct deposit each month to move into my savings account helps me save a little without putting much thought to it. Make it as easy as possible on yourself to save money, and you will.
- Be thoughtful. It seems silly, but thoughtful spending starts with saying “can I buy that organic chicken at whole foods, or can I buy similar organic chicken at Trader Joe’s and save myself five dollars?” Once again, those little bits here and there add up. Figure out where it makes sense to save and where it makes sense to splurge, and act accordingly. Having a game plan can save you serious dough in the long run – and let’s be honest; can you really tell the difference between Silk almond milk and the Trader Joe’s brand, which is ~$3 less? The key is compromise – if there’s something you really can’t live without, then don’t; just cut back elsewhere, and it all evens out.
- Spend on the things you love. My fiancé and I have brunch on the weekends. That’s our thing, that’s what we do. We have OUR Sunday brunch spot, where we enjoy omelets and fresh coffee with real baguette. It’s divine. We also have a few favorite dinner spots where we treat ourselves to delicious, incredible food. It costs more, so we savor it and use it as a special treat when it’s just the two of us. We go to a really nice dinner once a month, and we splurge on a good weekend brunch. These are moments that are important to us… so we make sure we have the funds to enjoy them. Instead of eating out five nights a week, we cook at home and prep our lunches so we can always enjoy a weekend brunch date. It’s making small cuts to enjoy more :)
Of course, everyone creates approaches their budget a little bit differently. What works for us might not work for everyone… so I highly encourage anyone in this situation to sit down with their roommate/partner/Sig.Other and figure out what makes the most sense for them. For us, we just hated dividing everything down the middle and trying to figure out who owed who for dinner/groceries/utilities/etc. Plus, we have common savings goals (honeymoon, anyone?) and know that it’s easier to put it in a common account versus independently saving and dividing.
This is how we’re choosing to do it
1. We’re really clear about what comes out of our joint account, versus what is a personal expense. Groceries, Rent, Utilities… these are shared. J’s monthly video game subscription and my haircuts? separate.
2. Savings goals. We want to go on a really nice honeymoon and, eventually, buy a place. We’re committing to transferring X amount of money from our personal accounts into the joint savings every month. This way, we both contribute to our common goal while keeping our personal spending separate.
3. We’ll monitor and adjust our budget, once we spend a few months jointly living. Instead of staying too rigid in the first few months, we’re committed to watching what we spend and seeing if there are places we need to add or subtract monthly allocation.
Once we conquer the big move-in later this month (post to come!) I’m sure I’ll have plenty of updates on how everything is going! I’d love to hear any tips/advice/suggestions you have! Let me know what does and doesn’t work for you.