At the age of twenty-one years old, I am lucky enough to have a secure, full time job that allows me to live in the beautiful city of Philadelphia, while also attending Temple University full time. Budgeting is an extremely important part of my weekly routine, and it allows me to have some extra fun money on the side as well.
First and foremost, I get paid bi-weekly and on an average paycheck, I take home about $1,000 after taxes. And — I just started to monetize my articles on Medium, so that will give me a small boost in income as well. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more depending on my overtime for the week. I automatically put $700 of that in my savings account, which is what I pay my bills out of. $300 is left over for food, pet care, and my fun money. My boyfriend does the same thing.
The breakdown of my monthly bills looks like this:
$600 for rent & utilities ($1,200 total — but it’s split between me and my partner).
$50 for my phone bill
$350 for my car payment & insurance
$50 minimum payment between both of my credit cards (though I try not to carry a balance).
$20 for monthly subscriptions (Netflix & Spotify)
That leaves about $330 per month in my savings account, and $600 to spend on groceries, cat food, and the occasional night out. If it’s a slower month and I take home a bit less than I normally do at work, I absolutely do not take it out of my savings. It always comes out of my allotted “fun money”.
Credit cards are something that has been extremely important to me since I turned 18 and was able to get one on my own. I know how important a good credit score is to take with you in life. It gives you the opportunity to do so much more — if you can control it. I put everything on my credit cards, but I also have complete control over my finances. I pay off my card every time I get paid, and consistently keep track of my spending.
“Fun” purchases often go on my credit card, like dinners out, or drinks at the bar. But, at the end of each billing cycle, I make sure that I pay both of my credit cards off in full. I firmly believe that this is what gave me the opportunity to take out a car loan at the age of 19, when my car broke down and I couldn’t afford to get it repaired.
If I do have to carry a balance, I never let it sit for more than two months. I check my statement almost every single day to make sure there’s no irregular activity and so I can stay on budget.
It’s very important to me to live as sustainably as possible, create the least amount of waste I can, and do my part to save the planet. People often look at sustainability as an expensive habit — but it actually saves me money in the long run. I no longer purchase tin foil or parchment paper — I use silicone baking sheets instead. I don’t have to purchase napkins or paper towels for my home because we use cloth rags. We don’t use any paper products — cups, cutlery, plates, bowls. Nothing. We have a Brita water pitcher for the fridge — so we don’t buy plastic water bottles. I even found reusable zip lock bags on Amazon for storage. While these items all seem like a fairly big chunk of change in the beginning — they last forever! It cuts down my month-to-month by a little bit, by paying a larger amount up front.
Of course, I slowly collected these items over time instead of buying them all up front, and I definitely see them as a privilege to own.
I absolutely hate food waste. If I buy it, I’m going to eat it at some point. I find it very helpful to sit down and plan out my meals for the week in advance. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. All of it. That way, when I go to the store, I can plan out exactly what I need to buy and ensure that it doesn’t go to waste. I also like to plan out my meals depending what’s on sale for the week in order to maximize my savings.
Like most people, I do find it hard to control my wandering eye when it comes to the snack aisle, but a little bit of extra snackage in the pantry never hurt anyone. I try to limit myself to one or two snacks a week that’ll hold me over, and the occasional Milky Way bar at the self-check out.
Meal prepping for two really helps me stay on budget when it comes to food. I always make meals in large batches for myself and my boyfriend. Ingredient prep is the most convenient for us so we can shake up our flavors during the week. I like to prep two or three cups of (uncooked) rice or quinoa, cut my veggies up & roast them if needed, drain and prepare things like chick peas and black beans, wash any greens, and make a quick meal day-of. This saves us time, and lets us know exactly how much of everything we have left. It also gives us some variety throughout the week for lunch, and gives us some quick options for dinner if we’re on the go.
Dinners are definitely a bigger ordeal. My partner and I both love to eat more than anything — so we try to prep 2 or 3 sit down meals a week. Of course, we plan this around the weekly grocery store sales.
Our weekly grocery bill usually comes out to about $60 a week (or $30 each), or $240 a month split between the two of us.
Eating out is another thing that we do, but not that often. We usually save it for a Saturday night date night and some sort of Asian/Indian take out on Friday’s (a tradition we’ve had since we started dating). This gives us more financial freedom when it comes to doing other things, like concerts, movie and museum trips, or grabbing drinks with friends. We are also both very much home-bodies and like to stay home a lot of the time — or spend more time doing things like hiking (which is free!).
All in all, do I wish I made more money? Of course I do! I think everybody does. But I’m very happy with my life and my finances right now. My small family of three (myself, my partner and our cat, Rusty) is absolutely thriving. Sticking to a budget helps us have a more fulfilling lifestyle — and spend more time having fun with one another. Do I buy myself a $4 coffee every once and a while? Yes, of course. I like to treat myself too. But, it’s important to keep on your own personal financial plan — and you’re the only one that can make that happen.