When you’re starting your first job, it can be difficult to learn how to budget your money. From new clothes to high-tech gadgets, there’s a lot competing for your hard-earned cash.
Here are four tips to help you separate your wants from your needs and set yourself up for financial success.
1. Set a Budget
- Start with your fixed monthly bills, including your rent, car payment, student loan, renter’s and car insurance, utilities, phone, Internet, and credit card payments.
- Add up your variable monthly expenses, including groceries, clothing, haircuts, entertainment, and gifts. These are the areas where you can cut back on spending if you need to. Use our Household Cash Flow Tracker to help you account for and add up all of your expenses.
- Subtract all your monthly expenses from your take-home pay to determine your discretionary income, and then decide how much of this you want to save every month. If the total amount doesn’t allow you to save as much as you’d like, review your variable expenses to see where you can cut back.
- Once you’ve set a monthly savings goal, include that amount in your budget for fixed monthly bills and consider setting up an automatic transfer into your savings account. This will help you avoid tapping into your savings for impulse buys.
2. Plan for Emergencies
Setting up a saving fund from the start will give you the resources you’ll need to make a major purchase down the line. It will also help you weather unexpected financial storms.
A layoff, a car accident, or a broken cell phone can disrupt your income and push your expenses over your budget. Putting extra money away during good times can help you avoid using credit cards and going into debt when things get rough.
Eventually, you want to save the equivalent of three to six months’ of living expenses. Once you’ve successfully met this goal, do your best to forget the money exists. Consider moving it to an account not linked to checking. Keeping it separate makes it harder to transfer money for unnecessary purchases with the push of a button.
3. Limit Your Debt
While using — and paying off — a credit card regularly can help you build credit, it’s smart to avoid making any purchases you can’t pay for right away. If you already have high-interest credit card debt, put a large portion of the money you’ve budgeted for savings toward your outstanding balances. It’s always important to have an emergency fund in place, but paying off high-interest debt is also a high priority.
The grace period before you’re required to start paying back student loans is a good time to cut credit card debt or save as much as you can. If you budget your money from the beginning, you won’t feel a drain on your paycheck when the bills start coming in.
4. Save for Retirement
If your company offers a 401(k) retirement savings plan, sign up as soon as possible. If not, a Roth or Traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) might be a good fit for you. The earlier you start saving, the longer your investments will grow and the more money you’ll potentially make over the years. Contributions come out of your paycheck, but if you delay enrollment and get used to your full pay, it may be harder to reallocate money into your retirement fund later. If you can’t contribute a lot in the beginning, start small: consider a 1 percent contribution or the minimum to get your employer’s best matching contribution, and then reassess your budget regularly to make sure you are putting away as much money for the future as you can. For instance, every time you get a raise, funnel a portion of your increase into your retirement fund.
No matter how careful you are, your finances can get off track from time to time. But if you create a budget you can stick to — and readjust as things change — you’ll develop smart financial habits that will serve you well for years to come.