Money, money, money. The root of all evil. Necessary. Nice to have. Time is. There’s a lot to be said about money. Like religion, politics, and sex, it can be a strange or touchy thing to talk about. But today we get to talk about it. I’ve waited to do any posts on finances because it’s one of the areas in which it feels like I have the least help to offer, but today that’s the point.
For most emerging adults, the trick is saving enough for the future while still being able to afford necessities and maybe a few niceties. I’ve read a few books (several of which are listed on my Resources page), a lot of articles, and even helped host an event on tips and advice for saving, spending, and investing. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered the same problem with these sources. Most of them offer great advice for people with a full-time (often career-track) job, who have money to invest and places to cut extra spending.
But frankly, that doesn’t apply to a lot of emerging adults. Many of us are already spending close to our minimum, only working part-time or not making enough to invest, or are trying so hard to save for things like an apartment that regular financial advice feels five steps ahead and completely unhelpful for the moment.
Right now I’m trying really, really hard to save so that one day in the hopefully-not-too-distant future I can actually afford to pay rent. No less than 75% of my weekly paycheck goes directly into my savings account, and the more I made that week, the more gets saved. Of course, there’s necessary spending: gas, some food, toiletries, and the like. I also count gifts as a necessary expenditure, even if I may set a stricter budget for purchasing them. Luckily my parents are being incredibly awesome and letting me live with them for free, which means I don’t currently have to pay for rent, utilities, or most of my food.
However, I can be prone to taking the strict budget too far and sacrificing having a life. While that can be effective, it’s not good for my mood or mental health, so I’m trying not to cut out all unnecessary spending, but rather limit it to affordable things with friends. (Note: This means a pizza and a $3 movie at Walmart, not big trips or buying a bunch of stuff I don’t need.)
These are the best tips I’ve learned so far:
- Carefully track how much you’re earning, spending, and saving. For me, that means at the end of each day I input all of my financial changes into a Google spreadsheet*, and at the end of the month I total how much I’ve earned, spent, saved, net changes, as well as if I owe anyone or they owe me. To top that off, I have an Excel graph that tracks how much I’ve earned, spent, used for gas, and my gross total from month to month. This is what I’ve found most useful, but it can be a pain, and there are apps and programs that can help if you don’t want to do it all manually.
- Have a goal for how much you want to save. Ideally, you’d know the exact amount you want to have, but I only have a rough guess so instead I set a goal for how much I want to save per month.
- If your parents are still paying any of your expenses, find out how much they cost. I sat down several months ago and had a conversation with my mom asking about how much I cost in insurances, phone bill, and food so that when I’m on my own I’m not as caught off guard by the additional expenses.
- Treat yo self — but not too often. The other day, I splurged and bought a sweater. It wasn’t a necessity, but I absolutely loved it, and I used the money I had been planning on spending on eating out that day to pay for it. It’s alright to go for small splurges, but don’t let them get out of control or your saving will get siderailed.
- Credit cards are helpful for building a credit score but BE CAREFUL. I have a credit card so that I can build my credit history and score (since it’s often a checkpoint when renting), but only use it to pay for gas. Don’t spend money you don’t have, and pay that thing off in full every month.
- It’s okay to say no because you can’t afford something. If something you don’t need doesn’t fit in your budget or the spending rules you want to keep, it’s okay to say no. If other people don’t understand that, they might not have your best interest in mind. I’ve had to say no to multiple trips I really wanted to take because I just couldn’t afford them, and it sucks, but it means further down the road I’ll have more freedom.
I realize this was long, and it’s in no way totally comprehensive. But I hope that it was helpful, especially for those of us that are semi-independent and used to questioning whether we can afford pizza. Down the road I’d love to offer more advice and resources for setting up a good financial situation, so keep an eye out for that. If you have questions or tips on what helps you manage money best, I’d love to hear them — comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!
*If any of y’all want to see the Google sheet I use (with all of my personal data removed of course, there are just some example numbers), swing over to my Contact page and I’d be happy to share the doc.