I'm a gamer and environmentalist in my late twenties. I have set up a budget for myself and want to share my tips with you.
Lets Talk Money
Let's face it—when it comes to living in today's world, it can be rough just to pay the bills anymore. Inflation has taken quite a toll on the modern world, and living paycheck-to-paycheck is becoming more common than it used to be. You open up a credit account through a card company to help cover expenses just to have them pile you with debt via lofty interest rates. Before you know it, you're drowning in debt with no hope to surface any time soon. It's a rather grim scenario.
It doesn't have to be that way, however. In fact, there are quite a few things that can be done to help set you up on the fast track to recovery with just a few changes on your end.
The Horrible "B" Word
Budgets. Oh, I feel you cringing in your seat as I write this out. Budgeting is that horrible thing that will bore you to tears or make you rip your hair out just trying to get all your expenses organized.
Before you start rolling your eyes and throw that mouse cursor towards the back button, hear me out. Budgeting does not have to be a headache. In fact, it's way more simple than what it used to be with all the fun software and apps that are out there these days. I've been using some of this software myself. With student loans, credit cards, and a car payment over my head, I needed a way to organize my finances while making them accessible wherever I go (i.e I need an app).
Here are some of my top choices when it comes to budgeting apps (and they're all free to use, of course!)
Wally isn't one I've personally used, but I've seen the ratings. Some nice things about Wally are its aesthetics and ease of use. You can take pictures of receipts to keep track of expenses, the app tracks your location to provide more details about your shopping habits, and it all stays organized in an easy-to-use budget journal. Wally is available for both Android and iOS
Level Money is another budgeting app that will help you keep with your budget by letting you know how much money you have left to spend in particular categories. Say you allocate $20 tp coffee every month—if you have only spent $10, you'll receive an alert every so often telling you that you have $10 still free for coffee. You can choose to either save that $10 or get yourself another few coffees before the month is done. You can find LevelMoney on both Android and iOS
Mint is my personal favorite and is the one I use all the time. Mint is a program made by Intuit, the same people who brought you TurboTax and QuickBooks, so you know your data rests in good hands when you use this app. Mint makes things relatively easy to get started—you link your bank account(s), any accounts you have debt through (i.e student loans, credit cards, car loans), and all of your bills for the month, and Mint does the rest. You'll get comprehensive charts on your spending habits, advice on how to reach budget goals, and even suggestions on how to bring some of your bills down. This program is accessible online and through Android and iOS.
Now It's Time to Get Real
Alright, you have your budget set up. Great! Now it's time to get critical about your spending habits. I've caught myself in the past buying too many coffees at the drive-through, and when I looked through my monthly expenses, I realized that I had spent almost $300 on convenience coffee. Yikes! That could've paid off one of my credit card bills if I had been paying attention.
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I'm not saying that you can never enjoy eating out or getting that morning cup-of-coffee, but I am saying you should really take a solid look at things that can give you a little more leeway if you cut back on them. Instead of going to Starbucks every morning, I get up a little earlier and I make my own coffee. Seven dollars from Walmart once a month or so is way better than the $300 I had quoted earlier, right?
Also, it's a good idea to get friendly with coupons. The cost of groceries isn't getting any lower, but sometimes you can make a huge dent in that bill with coupons and apps that reward you for purchasing and sharing your shopping receipts. Two of the more popular shopping apps are Ibotta and Checkout 51. Use them to get 50 cents here or there when you buy specific products, and after you hit the $20 mark, you can have that money deposited into your PayPal account.
A word of warning though: It's easy to fall into this trap where you're spending more money than you have to because you think you're saving money. If you get 50 cents off of a name brand paper towel, but the off-brand is a whole dollar cheaper, then you should go with the off-brand for bigger savings. Remember, this is about saving the smart way, so you should really consider the costs before going for it. Also, keep in mind that the savings aren't applied at check-out, so only buy things that you want and then see if any of those products appear on that app after the fact.
Set Up a Savings Account
There used to be an old rule when my parents were my age that said you should save about ten percent of your paycheck and put it into your savings account. I don't think it's something that a lot of people know about now, and when I ask someone if they have a savings account, they look at me like I'm from outer space. In all honesty, having a savings account should be on your to-do list to get your money back in shape.
"But I feel bad saving money when I have debt I need to pay off!" I can hear you say. Why should you feel bad about saving your own money? Yes, you should pay at least your minimums on your credit cards and your loans, but that doesn't mean you have to give every single penny that you earn over to the debt companies. You should save a little, even if it's not ten percent, of your paycheck for yourself. What happens when your car breaks down and you don't have the funds to pay it? Will you take out yet another loan to stack on top of your mountain of debt? No! You'll have savings that you can draw from instead and prevent yourself from piling on the problem.
It's always been my thought that debt companies want you to feel guilty about saving your own money because you have debt accounts with them. Not having money is why you ended up getting stuck with them in the first place. Having money in your savings account is like a line of defense for when life throws you curveballs. It's better to pay from your own money than from debt companies' high-interest pockets, isn't it?
Good money management is a constant process. I mean constant. You'll never stop looking at your budget or expenses if you want to keep on top of them. Getting a good handle on your "hard expenses" (expenses you can't get away from, i.e bills, rent, gas, car payments) is a good way to find out what leverage you have to play with. A lot of people will tell you that if you're poor, you can't have fun. That's not true at all. You can and should have fun, but understand where your expenses lie and base your fun activities off of that.
It's also important to note that when you're considering taking out another loan, let's say for a car, you should figure out if the monthly lease on this car is going to leave you with enough breathing room to live off of. I almost made this mistake once with the new car that I had purchased, but luckily because it was saving me so much money on gas I was able to manage my expenses without too much hassle (No joke my old car was a gas hog).
I know most of this stuff seems like common sense, or at least it should come off that way but the sad reality is that until you are faced with these mistakes, you won't get a good idea of how important it is to stay on top of your money. When you pay back your debt, your credit score will be better which means more options will be available to you when you make bigger life purchases.
So get that budget in order and slice off those extra expenses. You're going to hit potholes on your way to healthy money management, but you'll be better prepared for them when you have more money to work with.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.