As you graduate high school, you are told you have been given the tools you need to succeed in life. You have taken four years of English classes, Science classes, History / Social Studies classes, Math classes, etc. You were also given the chance to take extracurricular classes, like Chorus and Band, or Art and Photography, and even additional Gym classes if you are so inclined. For the life of me I cannot remember being offered a class (in high school or college for that matter) on things that would truly matter when I was out in the big bad world without the guidance of my parents, or teachers, coaches, or role models. Some of us are lucky and our parents have helped to guide us when we have needed the help, but the decisions we make are ours to make. If you make a bad one it could seriously hurt your future in more ways than one.
Should I take the job offer that increased my income by $10,000 a year, but the company has a bad reputation? Should I buy the car that will increase my car payment? Can I afford a more expensive car? And if I can, how do I do it? Will my dad go with me to help me through the process? How exactly does a credit card work? Should I move back in with my parents to save money after college? What is credit?
These are some of the questions that I pondered after I graduated college and ventured into the unknown that is adulthood.
It’s so exciting though, isn’t it? Graduating school; getting that first full-time job; renting your first apartment. And then the unknowns start to creep in. I have to buy my own health insurance? Car insurance, how do I know what I need? I have to pay for sewage? Gas? Electric? Internet and TV is how much? Even as a bundle? How am I supposed to pay for all of this with my student loans looming over my head on an entry level salary?
The answer is much simpler than I believed it was when I first moved out of my parents’ house, after a year living at home after college. Trial and error. If you can’t pay your car payment because you felt like going on a shopping spree, guess you better return everything. The world is not as forgiving as “accidently” using that credit card your parents let you use in high school. Not making payments can seriously hurt your credit; a bad credit score can prevent you from making big life decisions in the future, like buying a car, purchasing a house, and even opening credit cards.
Trial and error. Error is how you are going to learn, but you still have to think with your brain and use common sense. Missing one car payment so you can keep all the clothes and shoes you bought on your shopping spree? Bad idea. Chances are the fee for missing any payment is at least $25, and then the next month you owe twice as much money (two months’ worth of payments) AND the late fee.
So unless you want to eat Ramen every day for lunch and dinner, I highly recommend you make yourself a budget. Don’t be late on your payments. Don’t buy what you don’t need, especially if you have priorities to pay for first, like your electricity for example. Companies will turn of your utilities if you’re not paying them. You need to prioritize your needs first, your wants can come later.
The best thing I ever did for myself is come up with a budget. Below I will walk through how I created a budget for myself, which I still follow to this day. In the case you don’t want to create your own, there are apps you can use as well (like PocketGuard, HomeBudget, Wally). However, I like having my own, and I update it at least once a week to make sure I am on track and not overspending.
Creating Your Budget
One of the biggest things I regret not doing when I first went out on my own, was creating a budget. I just kind of crossed my fingers and hoped I didn’t overdraw my account before the next payday. When I did get close to overdrawing, I would move money from my savings to my checking to make sure I didn’t overdraw, but would deplete my savings because I was over spending. By the time I was almost 27 years old and had maxed out my credit cards, thinking no biggie I’ll just pay them off. Wrong.
So I had to come up with a plan. I needed to pay more than the minimums on my cards to pay them off and put money into my savings account (rainy day fund), so the extra money would have to come out my spending budget.
I created a new excel spreadsheet, and labeled each tab: Monthly Minimum Payments, Payday Overview, Accounts Overview, and a tab for each credit card. I also included one for my student loans and car payments as well.
1. Monthly Minimum Payments. On the first tab (which I named Monthly Minimum Payments), I made a list of everything that I needed to make payments on monthly, like my car payment, car insurance, rent, renter’s insurance, credit cards, utilities, etc.
– For each payment, I included the minimum payment for each, the payment due date, and if I had a reoccurring payment set up (automatic payments). This helped me know which I needed to physically pay myself.
– Then I totaled up the minimum payments to show what I was expected to pay each month, at a minimum. For example, it looked something like this:
– Below the total, I multiplied the number in A14 by six, which equals $7,026. This is an example of how much money I would need to have in my savings if something happened, like say I lost my job; some experts have said to save for six months of unemployment. So the money in my savings account would need to cover my bills for at least six months. AKA, my rainy day fund.
2. The next step was to create tabs for Payday Overview, Accounts Overview, each credit card, my car payment, and any other monthly payments. The goal here is to create a separate tab for each account money is owed to keep track of the account; the Accounts Overview tab shows the total owed overall.
3. Payday Overview. This is to create a budget for each payday. This needs to be created based on what your company’s payday cycle is. For me, my company pays us every two weeks, so my budget is based off of every 14 days and initially looks something like this (the payday being the first day of each time frame):– Do this for each pay period throughout the year.
– Begin filling in the cells. In the second column in each box include the name of the account that had a payment within the time period, how much was due, and the date it was due (leaving the first column empty). I also have a savings option for those of you in the position to do so. Eventually it would look something like this:
Once you have paid that bill for the month, I put an “X” in the most left column. Including the “X” when you pay a bill just helps keep track of what you have and haven’t paid so it’s easier to keep track of your expenses.
4. Accounts Overview. In line “1” include the headings Account, Payment Date, Minimum Due, and Owe.
– Then below each, add in each of the accounts where you owe money (like your credit cards and student loans). It will look something like this.
– By using the “SUM” tool you can add up the “Owe” column to see what your debt looks like.
5. Accounts Tabs. Once you have the three main tabs set up, you can set up each of your accounts tabs by using the same format. Be sure you also rename each tab with the account name as well.
– Then you can start filling in the account information.
– In the column to the right of owe, I usually put in the payment confirmation number as well so I have it in the case I need it. Every month I add a row to keep track of all the payments and how much I owe.
I have used this exact budget for the past five years and it has worked like a charm. It keeps me organized on what payments are due and when. I have a perfect payment history because of this system. It may not be for everyone, but it helped me pay down my cards and stay on a payoff plan.
Regardless of how you do you it, create a budget or money management plan.