For me to write about managing personal finances could be seen as ironic (I’m sure my parents and most that know me will agree). After all, I’m the queen of silly splurges like Starbucks Venti Nonfat Americanos (yes, I will drive miles out of my way just for the all holy coffee shop) and celebrity gossip magazines. (Come on! I can’t believe those two broke up! Of course I must read more to determine if I finally have a chance with Ryan Reynolds!)
In spite of my financial shortcomings, here are some great tips that will help young professionals, interns, and college students trying to get started in the real world while managing their personal finances on a limited budget:
Start planning and tracking. Ah, nothing like setting up a good old-fashioned budget for yourself. First order of business: know where your money goes! There are a few nice apps available on your smartphone to monitor finances on the go (I use Mint and Chase), but try writing things down in a designated notebook or creating a nice Excel spreadsheet to get everything organized. Start with specific categories to group your monthly spending – for example: Rent, Beer, Utilities, Student Loans, Food – then allocate a certain amount of money to stay around each month. Think of it like a pie chart and determine if any of the slices seem to be larger or smaller than they should be.
If you’re a serial swiper, click on over to your bank’s website frequently to keep track of cash flow. It’s also a good idea to frequently scan your statement for any fraudulent charges. Scammers start with small purchases to see if you’ve even raised an eyebrow, and then they hit you with a charge that rocks your socks off.
Use cash and give the swiping a rest. Know the feeling of paying with cash and spending it much more cautiously than you would with plastic? When you’ve got crispy Benjamins (or – um – Washingtons) in your wallet, you can actually see where it’s going and how quickly it’s depleting. Think about how many little things you wouldn’t buy if you were paying cash, as well as the benefit of not having to pay off the charge later. Credit and debit cards have their advantages in terms of convenience and reward points, but there’s nothing like seeing the cash leave your hands to help you track your spending. In fact, it’s even been proven you’ll spend more if you use plastic. Plus, cash is quicker at the check out line for those always in a hurry. Seriously, who is that clown ahead of you putting a $1.99 bottle of water on their card? Oh yes, that would be me. Sorry.
Before buying, ask yourself if you really need it. I’m not usually one to feel buyer’s remorse, but I do seem to have amassed a large collection of chick flicks I’ve never watched and eye shadows in shades even Scary Spice wouldn’t wear. Next time you’re shopping and you think you’ve found something you just can’t live without, take a lap around the store, and then revisit the item. You could always bring along your Magic 8-Ball to consult it for a purchase dilemma, but people might think you’re bananas. If you’re pining over a totally awesome garment and it fits just right, ask yourself a few questions before hitting the register. Will you wear it again? Is it a wardrobe staple or will it be in the fashion graveyard in a few months? Would Lady Gaga wear it? If you answered yes to the last question, please seek professional help.
Cut back in small ways and see big rewards. It doesn’t seem too problematic to spend five bucks here and there, but those small purchases truly start to accumulate on your bank statement. I did some math wizardry to figure out how much money I could be saving in the long run if I skipped the Starbucks drive-thru a few times a week. My usual always comes to a grand total of $3.05, and I usually stop for my bit of heaven at least twice weekly. Well, it’s time to give my coffee pot at home some serious love: this adds up to just under $25 a month and – yikes! - $293 annually! Oh, the shopping I could do with that extra money! Of course, it’s okay to have a few things you’re willing to fork over the dough for, but identify a couple disposable items that are burning a hole in your wallet and scale back.
Now that I’m a working young professional, I should really become a financial prodigy and wow all my friends and family with wizardry in managing personal finances. In the meantime, I think I’ll invest all my money in the tech genius who can create an app for me to use when I’m shopping that shouts at me periodically saying, “DON’T BUY THAT YOU FOOL!” Any takers?