A Post-Grad Guide to Managing Money
Being alive is expensive.
It’s something you never really think about when you’re growing up because someone else is usually always paying for you. I didn’t even realize it when I was in college, because although I was paying for rent, utilities, groceries, gas, etc., I wasn’t yet aware of all of the hidden expenses that come along with being a person. That changed pretty quickly once I graduated and got my first adult job.
Gone were the days that I could just waltz into the campus clinic and get a free checkup and some $10 cold medicine. Now, even with health insurance, it’s at least a $20 co-pay to have someone look down your throat and be like, “Yep, you’re sick!” and then you have to go set fire to more money to get the medicine. Is your vision anything less than a perfect 20/20? Then have fun paying $70 a month for contacts, unless you want to just gouge your eyes out, which is what I’ve contemplated a few times.
Oh, and did you know that it costs money to get your tags renewed?! I didn’t. I got pulled over for having expired tags a couple of months ago and I told the officer I didn’t know they were expired because they hadn’t sent my new ones in the mail yet. I didn’t realize my parents had just been sending me my tags after they went and renewed them back home. Oops. Combine all of that with cell phone bills and car insurance and you’re looking at what feels like an extra million dollars a month. It’s terrifying, but it’s life. It just takes some adjustment.
Changing my spending habits was difficult at first, mostly because I was used to having more freedom with the money that was leftover after the bills were paid. And by freedom, I mean I could go drop $50 at Forever 21 every other week and not think twice about it. That definitely doesn’t happen as often now. It’s been two years since I’ve been a drone in the workforce, and while I won’t claim to be anything close to a financial adviser, there are a few things that I’ve picked up on along the way despite going through a few rough patches.
1. Keep track of your expenses each month. I have a little bit of a leg up here because I worked at a bank for three years, but most ~millennials~ don’t bother balancing their checkbooks – they just check their online banking every couple of days and pray that they still have money in their account. I started keeping an Excel spreadsheet a few years ago that documents how much I spend each month and what I spend it on. For example, I generally spend $1,000 on bills, which includes rent, utilities, cable/internet, Spotify Premium (hey, it’s important); $400 on food, including groceries and going out to dinner; $150 on gas; $300 on miscellaneous, which is a fancy term for alcohol and concert tickets; and I tell myself I have no budget for clothes or anything else but I usually always end up spending $50-$100 on these treat yo’self items. The best way to start this process is by starting clean at the beginning of the month and spending the way you normally would, and when the month is over, go back and break everything down. Then add up each category to see what your total month’s spend is. If you’re spending more than you’re earning in a month, then you’ll know how much to cut out the next month.
2. Know what to cut out. There are plenty of things that you can do to save money – you just probably aren’t going to like any of them. Obviously, the first things to go should be anything that isn’t vital to your life: clothes, makeup, video games, what have you. After that is where it starts to get tricky. Personally, my biggest problem is spending unnecessary money on food. Even if I go grocery shopping and drop $100 for the week, I’m still tempted by food that I’ve convinced myself I can’t replicate at home. The best advice I can give is to save eating out for time with friends instead of cutting it out altogether, because let’s be real – that’s not going to happen. Just try to avoid going and picking up food for lunch that you’re just going to sit in your office and eat by yourself. It’ll make going out that much more enjoyable, too.
3. Open a savings account and make a deposit from each paycheck. It can be an amount as low as $25. As long as you’re making a conscious effort to keep some money back, it will help you out in the long run and help you get in the habit of saving. It’s basically like finding a $20 bill that you forgot you left in your coat pocket, only way better.
4. Get a credit card with a low limit. I know most people would advise against this, but you’re going to need to establish credit at some point anyway, and it’s never a bad idea to have something to fall back on in case of an emergency – and trust me, they will happen. This is coming from the girl who got two flat tires in one month, holla. Sometimes you think you have a nice little safety net built up in savings and it still won’t be enough, and as depressing as that sounds, it’s not the end of the world. Get a low interest credit card with a $300-$500 limit so that your minimum payment each month will be low, and express caution when using it or save it completely for emergencies. It really does feel like free money – speaking from experience here – but it’s absolutely not, so swipe wisely.
5. Learn when to say no. One of the hardest parts of being in a city like Nashville is the constant temptation to go out and do things. There’s always a show to see, a new restaurant to try, a new brewery popping up. If you’re struggling or just attempting to save up, don’t feel embarrassed to turn your friends down if they want you to go out when you know you’ll spend a bunch of money. It’s hard at first, but there’s nothing wrong with being honest, especially if your friends are in the same boat as you with their job and place in life. It happens to everyone at some point.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are going to be times when you’ve only got $5 to last you between pay periods and you have to try and stretch it as far as you can go, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. I’ve been there more than I’d like to admit lately, but if you have a support system that is willing to help you out (parents, friends, etc.), utilize them. There’s a difference between begging for money and swallowing your pride, in my opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’re just having a hard time and need a hand. If you go this route, though, always offer to pay people back. They probably won’t let you, but the gesture makes a huge difference.
Just take a deep breath, find your chill and go forth into adulthood with a brave face and the willpower to say no to those impulse buys that haunt your dreams. It will all be okay. I mean, if you think about it, money isn’t even real anyway.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]