Of all the insights 2017 shared with me, the cost of living was the most eye-opening. As a recent graduate who lives in a city, I can wholly confirm that budgeting is not an option. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a frustrating or overwhelming experience, either. Below are the top four initial steps I used to became familiar with personal finance:
1. Start with your Needs, Wants, and Savings Goals. After college, the biggest challenge was determining how much money I needed to bucket into these three categories. Eventually, trial and error confirmed that eating out took too much of my paycheck and savings needed be a higher priority. Luckily, monthly monitoring showed the areas that could be reworked, and now I have a plan that is realistic for the new year.
2. Get a budgeting software. For some budgeting softwares there is a one time installation fee, but it’s entirely worth it. Personally, I use You Need a Budget (YNAB), which has me manually input and categorize each purchase in real-time. While it does require the extra step on my part, the program shows how much money I have left for the month in that category. It’s especially great while tracking coffee habits.
3. Know your personal goals. To be efficient in the long-term, have a sense of things you would like to accomplish in the next one or two years. For me, I know that going back to school to complete an MBA is something I need to consider in my budget. Note that personal goals also include fun things like traveling and exploring new hobbies. One of my best friends and I are planning a vacation right now for three years down the road. By starting this early, I only have to contribute $5.00 per week.
4. Always save a little more than you think you should. This will lower your amount of spending money per month, but as someone at work said, your current and future selves both need money. You will be the one providing it.
Once you have a sense of these four pillars, you will see how you use money, and more importantly, how money can work for you. Challenge yourself to trim back in your spending categories, if possible, and then see what you can do with those reallocated dollars.
By adjusting my own habits, I found creativity in the decisions I make almost every day. From learning how to eat three filling meals per day for under $4.00 to creating new outfits from the same closet, I can confidently say that happiness and satisfaction are synonymous with budget.
Extra Resources while Budgeting:
- Free Budget Spreadsheet Templates
- Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap PDF
- Free Online Classes at Harvard
- Programming at your local library