Budgeting in Your 20s: Do It All Without Feeling the Pinch
As a millennial, it can be extremely difficult to get on the right foot financially, especially with all those “nuisances” we have to deal with – student loans, car payments, rent…
We often feel conflicted between living the best lives we can live and being overwhelmed by the amount of debt and “adulting” that we have to deal with every day.
Saving for our future can seem impossible. There are so many immediate things that call for our attention, but postponing savings can land us further in debt in the future. It’s like having an iPhone without a phone case – you’re living life on the edge.
In that light, I want to share how I personally became a powerhouse with my finances. I strongly believe that you shouldn’t defer wealth because of debt. Having a strategic plan to contribute to both will vastly benefit you down the road.
I was formerly a corporate millennial with a 401(k). I learned quickly to always, always, always contribute to that 401(k). Why? It’s simple: companies today pay you to contribute to your retirement plan through “matching.” For instance, Company A matched my contributions up to six of my salary. As such, it made sense to contribute six percent. It was free money if I stayed with the company for three years. That was my first investment in myself.
Then I needed to think about the “what ifs” – what if my car broke down? What if I lost my job? What if my entire apartment was destroyed? You know, something catastrophic that I would need some liquid funds for in order to put the fire out. I decided to put aside $400 each month. My goal was to save $10,000 each year, including bonus, tax refunds, and monthly savings. My monthly savings of $400 was about 13 percent of my monthly income at the time.
At the same time, I’d leased a brand-new car, gotten a new apartment, owned a few store credit cards, and had student loans.
So I had debt, believe me! I was making it rain in debt payments.
This is when I got serious with a budget. I stopped spending my money before I received it (in other words, I stopped charging things to my credit card). And I used my good credit as leverage – I leased my car for only $250 a month, which came with two years of free maintenance. I automated my student loan payments because I didn’t want to ever be behind on those.
My budget was my lifeline during my early 20s. It helped me monitor my income and my debt, especially because shopping was my kryptonite. I put myself on a strict $100 budget. After all, I didn’t want to be nickel and dimed by credit card payments every month. As such, I only charged what I could pay off in a month.
Then, I learned the 50-30-20 ratio. This meant that 50 percent of my income should go to living expenses, 30 percent to wants (including debt payoff), and 20 percent to savings and investing. That was the golden ratio in securing my financial freedom.
Good money management skills are more about discipline than they are about actual income. It’s a game of cash flow — what’s coming in, what’s going out, and at what frequency. Having a specific financial goal helps, as well. It’s all about prioritizing what’s important to you at each moment in your life. So why not give it a go? Happy saving, frugal friends!