Per special request a series of posts will deal with practical budgeting. I’m not claiming my way is the right way, or the best way, for you to deal with your money. I’m simply offering the Broke Millennial budgeting system.
Other children of the 90s might remember the glorious time when clogs were fashionable for everyone, not just Dutch milkmaids, and before crocs existed. In 1996 clogs were quite the trend at St. Michael’s Catholic school in Gastonia, North Carolina. Every time I would see all the trendy 8th graders (aka the oldest girls in school) wearing those comfortable clogs my saddle shoes would feel so restrictive. My second grade self became determined to own a pair of clogs.
(Yeah, I was rocking those before Cole Hann made them trendy. This version is available at Payless!)
My mother, an always practical woman, knew that I would outgrow those clogs or the fashion would end within minutes of buying them for me. Instead of giving into my incessant pleading she made a one-sided deal with me. I could have the clogs, if I bought them with my own money. Luckily, I was still sitting pretty on some money from my Krispy Kreme donut sales and had recently started to branch out into the cat-sitting business.
Armed with $15, I headed to the local Payless and made the first big purchase of my life. I loved my $13.85 navy clogs with cork bottoms and I wore them proudly, every day for two weeks. Then St. Michaels banned clogs because they somehow clashed with our school uniform. Regardless, it remains a pivotal financial and budgeting milestone for me.
(My $15 did actually buy a full pair.)
Few things seem to bother people more than dealing with a budget. Who enjoys them you ask? Let’s call them accountants, accountants and me.
If it weren’t for my intense aversion to non-financial math and the horror stories about tax season, accounting probably would have been my calling. More than once my first roommate would walk into the apartment and find me gleeful pounding away on a TI-83 calculator and furiously writing numbers in my money notebook. The number crunching always proved, yes, I was still quite poor. Even so, I enjoyed knowing just how much money I did, or more realistically didn’t, have to spend.
A plethora of systems exist to help people deal with their money. Previously, I’ve discussed the envelope system of budgeting and explained where I made budget cuts when I first moved to New York (spoiler alert: it was food). Today, I don’t particularly endorse either but they fit at the time.
My goal of budgeting is simple: spend less than I make. For the sake of this post, I claim to earn $2,300 a month after taxes (this is a fictional number).
For those readers who remember my financial origin story it should come as no surprise that my budget focuses on saving. Future posts will discuss the importance of saving at least a little bit every paycheck, putting money aside for retirement and dealing with student loans and other forms of debt.
Before you can start saving, or paying off debt, you have to be able to survive your day-to-day expenses. As a 23-year-old living in New York City with no dependents, my expenses will vary drastically from people with children, joint-incomes, still living at home and various other factors. Please keep that in mind when reading my outline.
There are two types of budgets I focus on, weekly and monthly. I’m not neurotic enough to crunch numbers daily, but I have an idea each week how much I’ll need. If I’m traveling, going out for a friend’s birthday, entertaining visitors or a myriad of other situations, I mentally prepare to scale back expenses the week prior or after.
My weekly budget mostly deals with how much I can afford to spend on food and entertainment. Each month I budget $300 for food, because it only costs about $50 each week for my groceries and I add extra for dinners or drinks with friends.
My set monthly expenses are:
- Transportation (NYCpublic transit) – $112 monthly pass
- Laundry – $21
- Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap, toilet paper, etc) – around $10
- Utilities (heat and electricity) – ranges from $30-$55 because my roommate and I don’t use AC in the summer and we only have lights on in rooms we’re using.
- Hulu Plus – $7.99 (We cut cable and went with a Roku streaming media player instead.)
- Phone bill – $70
- Food – $300
- Rent – $950
For a grand total of $1455.99, more than 50% of my monthly earnings.
(I highly recommend cutting cable and switching to a Roku device to save a few bucks.)
Working under the assumption that I earn $2,300 a month I then have $844.01 each month to allocate towards other expenses and savings. Realistically, each month brings a new hidden expense that aren’t factored into the monthly budget. For example, needing items dry cleaned, buying birthday or holiday presents, taking trips to visit friends or entertaining guests.
For those of you interested in starting to budget your money I encourage you to take the first step by writing down all your monthly expenses and subtracting it from your monthly earned income (after taxes). Once you have an understanding just how much money you actually have after expenses it becomes easier to know where to allocate your funds be it savings, paying off debt or a shopping spree.
Stayed tuned for future posts about how this millennial deals with budgets. During the interim, follow the journey on Twitter @BrokeMillennial or subscribe for emails about new posts. Feel free to email feedback or topic requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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