Dollars and Sense: How to Effectively Manage Your Money When You Have None

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Going out into the real world with a college degree taught me one really big life lesson: your bank account does not magically change. It still looks just as pathetic as when you were juggling school with a minimum wage part-timer. The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just not right away. Here are some quick tips to help you manage that sad bank account like the “adults” we all are…(there may be a time where I stop using the word “adult” like a funny joke. Maybe not. Stay tuned.)

#1. Write out a budget. Stick to it.

There are so many free tools available to make this easy. From apps like Minted to websites dedicated to what should be standard percentages of your income to specific categories like rent or groceries. I used these as a basis to start my own basic budget. I created an Excel sheet with incomes, expenditures, and savings goals that are standard for me each month. Based on that information I was able to see what was left over for the fun things in life. To prevent over-spending, I stayed away from using my debit card for these purchases and instead gave myself a cash allowance. Like I said, “adult” is clearly used loosely in my world. But seriously, try the cash thing. It works. You can physically see in front of you what you have as extra-spending money to buy that new lipstick you’ve been eyeing or grab the Iced Carmel Macchiato (boring, but addicting none the less). When the cash is gone then your fun spending is done for the week or month depending how you set it up, and your grown-up finances are still in tact. No late fees this month.

#2. Pack your lunch.

I am embarrassed to admit the percentage of my income went to eating out in 2014. There are people who spend their careers studying the psychology of our purchases. They can explain it better than me. But basically we don’t give second thought to anything under $20, especially for items like food. We rationalize it because food is a necessity and it makes us feel so good. There is no winning. $10 a day for lunch turns into $200+ a month on a normal work schedule. Do you want Panera today or do you want that super cute pair of pumps you’ve been eyeing in the shop window, Taalor?! Priorities, girl.

#3. You’re paying for Netflix. Cut out the movie packages or eliminate cable/satellite altogether for awhile.

$10 versus $100+ a month. For me at first this was a huge struggle. But it is a compromise that I am willing to deal with, and at this point, compromise is the financial game right now. You’re already paying for Netflix anyways. Take the time to catch up on the Grey’s Anatomy you are 2 seasons behind (cough, cough) or try something that you missed the first season of when it aired and never got around to watching. At this point, I am not convinced I will ever go back to paying companies A LOT of money for television. Or at least not for a while.

#4. Look at the label. The store brand has the same exact main ingredients as the name brand.

Cut the costs at Target, and go for the store brand. 9 times out of 10 the ingredients list is a mirror image, and it is a great way to cut costs at the register. Cheaper is not always the better option. Vodka is my splurge. But things like vitamins or shaving cream? More money for those shoes.

#5. Find a roommate for just a bit longer.

After living with four other girls in college, I wanted nothing more than to get out on my own and have my own space. But cutting the living costs in half is a huge consideration. Plus, living alone is a sad lonely place. Instead, there are many places you can find where you and your roommate can have not only your own bedroom (duh) but also, your own bathroom. Because the cost is cut in half, it gives you more buying power to find something big enough for everyone to live comfortably. This sounds like a no-brainer, but the last house I lived in had 3 bedrooms, 5 girls, and 1 bathroom. I will just let that sink in.

#6. Spend your money on experiences rather than material items.

The rest of my tips have been ways to save money. But this last one is a tip to feel satisfaction in where your money is being spent. I hate that feeling where you look back and think I made X amount of dollars and have nothing to show for it, uh, revisit #2 and my 2014 spending habits. When we look back we realize the things we remember are the moments, not the things. Although a strong case could be made for those cute pumps.

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