Adulting is hard. Trust me, I understand. One minute I was a college student; worrying about nothing other than putting gas in my car, food in my body, and buying those new shoes which would go perfectly with the outfit I bought last week and the bag I’ll probably buy the next week. (Well, I also stressed about my grades and underwent my fair share of mental breakdowns.) The next minute I was graduated, paying my own rent, bills, etc. in addition to feeding myself and putting gas in my car. It was a rather sudden transition and I was not at all prepared.
The phrase, “broke college student” does not even begin to explain the financial struggles of a recent college graduate. Unfortunately, no one sympathizes with the broke college graduate. Luckily, I was able to secure myself a full-time, salaried job position. So, I didn’t have to move back home after college; I’m still living by the beach.
As a student, that part-time serving job in a touristy beach town more than supported me and my shopping habits (and the occasional night out where I spent slightly too much at one bar and then left before closing out my tab and getting my card back). As an “adult” (I use that term loosely), the serving job alone did not suffice. So, I began my job search; and lucky for me started my new position less than a month after graduation. Before I knew it, I was transitioning into the lavish 9-5 routine in my new office cubicle. That pretty much sums up the lifestyle of an adult, right?
Currently, I am 22-years-old, living on my own, working a full-time job, and (for the most part) supporting myself. Keep in mind, I’m still figuring out the whole “adulting” thing myself, but I’ll share a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way which helped me begin to establish my financial stability.
Set Aside Money Each Month (aka Saving)
Part of becoming an adult is getting a full-time job. You no longer have a conflicting school schedule and you’re not a student athlete anymore. So, you have more time for a full, 40-hour week schedule. And believe me, you’ll need one.
Those first couple of paychecks may seem like a huge deal compared to the $300 you were making from serving tables a few days per week. However, resist the urge to immediately turn around and spend every penny. One day of shopping and a night out can very easily leave you with $0.64 left in your account and an electric bill due in three days. I’ve been there. So, as hard as it may be at first, DO NOT SPEND YOUR ENTIRE PAYCHECK IN ONE PLACE. There are better ways to spend your money.
Instead, set aside money each month into a savings account or emergency fund. You’ll be able to determine just how much to set aside after creating a budget for yourself (we’ll get into this soon). I transfer slightly less than one paycheck into my savings account each month. After the money is transferred, it’s like I don’t even have it at all. Keeping it in a separate account keeps me from spending it on something that “I just really need.”
Budget & Prioritize
Budgeting involves determining how much money you’ll need each moth for the necessities (this is where prioritizing comes in), how much money you’d like to give yourself for leisurely activities, and how much is left for you to transfer to a separate savings account.
Priorities are rent, bills, gas and car maintenance, groceries, etc. Not your mani/pedi that you get biweekly. I understand that you’ll have to average or estimate most expenses. I think it’s better to give yourself a little wiggle room (overestimate rather than underestimate) just to be safe.
Leisurely activities include your hair and nail appointments, shopping, nights out (dinner or drinks), etc. Remember, the point here is to save money; so be realistic about this. Here, it wouldn’t hurt to underestimate. Maybe only give yourself $100 for nights out and $50 for shopping. Now that you have more important things to pay for, you may not be participating in thirsty Thursday every week anymore.
Any money left over can be transferred to savings. Be prepared to make a few lifestyle adjustments. Like I said, you won’t be going out and partying quite as much as you did while you were still in college. Again, that’s part of becoming an adult.
Eat Out Less
I know it can feel disappointing and slightly (or not so slightly) depressing when you drop almost $200 on one trip to the grocery store. However, eating out frequently is not a financially rewarding alternative. Those fast-food trips add up. Think about it, one trip to Panera for lunch is about $15. I understand that Panera is more expensive than McDonalds, but the point is, those trips will add up. And sit-down dinners can range from $25 to $50 a person (typically).
Instead, spend what you’ve budgeted for groceries, and you’re stocked up on food for the month. I’m guilty of going grocery shopping, waiting until everything I bought is gone, eat out a few times, and then breaking down and going back to the grocery store. I bought food four times this week. I almost could’ve paid for another trip to the grocery store with that. (Don’t worry, I plan on going grocery shopping tomorrow.)
Rewards and Cash-Back
Who doesn’t love hearing those words? Rewards cards are life savers. I have rewards cards for grocery stores (Lowe’s foods, Food Lion, and Bi-Lo), and “leisurely” spending (Starbucks, Panera, and Sephora) and you’d be blown away by the amount of money I save or free items I receive because of these cards. Last week, I got a free coffee from Starbucks as a reward and just today I had my Panera bill cut in half because I had a reward for a free salad.
There are also apps which allow you to receive cash-back just for shopping at stores that you would be spending money at anyway. If you have to spend the money either way, you should at least make the most of it.
I had no idea how much simple necessities like electric, internet, and water actually cost; until I had to pay for them myself. And believe me, that first electric bill was a wakeup call. Internet and cable are a set amount (they don’t vary monthly). I hardly ever use cable. Typically, if I watch tv at all, I’m watching Netflix. So, I save by only paying for internet. There’s a few tips to help cut back your electric and water bill as well:
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room
- Unplug things that aren’t in use (i.e. the toaster or coffee pot)
- Wash your clothes with cold water (it’ll keep you from turning your white clothes pink too if you wash all your clothes together despite the color like I do)
- Take shorter showers
- DON’T use the “heated dry” setting on the dishwasher
- Try not to blast the A/C in the summer or heat in the winter (I keep my thermostat set around 68 degrees during the warmer months and 65 degrees in the winter)
Say “Yes” to Side Jobs
If someone you know asks you to babysit their child or pet; do it. If a friend offers to pay you to drive them to the airport; great idea. A neighbor needs help moving; offer assistance. These little side “gigs” are a great way to earn some extra cash and it will add up. Now you’ve got some extra spending (or saving) money.
Transitioning from a dorm or apartment with four other people to an office cubicle is a major component of adulting. But, supporting yourself is the real challenge. If anyone figures out how to make adult decisions and act slightly more mature, please let me know how you did it. But, for now I’m transitioning into adulthood one step at a time…starting with saving my money until I can do things like take trips to St. John and by nice furniture without stains or holes in it like adults do.