Tips for Living on a Budget

Living on one’s own can be a challenge for new homeowners or apartment-dwellers who are on a budget—especially if they’re also first-timers or have little experience handling their own finances. But even if you’re not pinching pennies or living paycheck to paycheck, learning how to set and stick to a realistic budget is a skill that every person should be familiar with. Not only does being more proactive about your finances help to ease stress, but it also might open your eyes to all the ways you’ve actually been throwing away your money just by not managing your spending habits.

The first thing you’ll want to do is to settle on a budget that works for you—one that accurately reflects your lifestyle. If you’re living on your own in a high-demand, booming downtown area with a high cost of living, your budget will probably look a lot different than someone who shares rent with three other people in a small town. Whatever the case, set a budget that realistically matches your daily financial needs. Consider factors like rent, gas, food, and the prices of entertainment in your free time.

It’ll be important to track what you spend to make sure you’re sticking with your budget, so try keeping a simple spreadsheet of all of your major expenses. Better yet, consider downloading a money management app that can help do the work for you. There are plenty of apps on the market that can track your account activity as you spend, and even categorize what you spend into areas such as food, gas, and entertainment.

After determining your budget and deciding how to track it, it’s time for the hard part—incorporating money-conscious spending habits into your daily life. One thing you can do to prevent spending more than you have to is to search for coupons before going out. You’d be surprised how many restaurants, retail stores, and other places you regularly shop give discounts and coupons just for visiting their site online. In many cases, there’s no need to even print them out—just screenshot the barcode on your phone and pull it up at the register.

Accounting for the major and inevitable expense of life is one thing—but there are actually many things we spend money on without thinking much about or planning on altogether. (When’s the last time you set aside funds for a broken leg? A car accident or major repair?) Make sure you factor in the not-so-obvious expenses so that if you are faced with an unfortunate event, you won’t be scrambling to pay for them. Things like unforeseen medical bills, car or home repairs, and pet expenses are all things to consider.

It’s also a good idea to save a “rainy day fund” for special occasions. Planning and budgeting is hard work, and it takes dedication and time—but not everything in life needs a strict, by-the-book plan. Set aside a small amount of money for a weekend trip, spur-of-the-moment vacation, or just a day or night to treat yourself and splurge a bit. You deserve it.

Another way you can cut your expenses down is to plan ahead for one of the biggest ways we spend money—food. If a friend or relative is constantly bombarding your social media feed with meal prep pictures, you’ve probably heard of (and are sick of) meal prepping. But preparing your meals and laying them out in advance every week actually saves you a ton of money and is a great way to limit the temptation of unplanned and costly trips out to eat. Try buying your food in bulk and finding new weekly recipes that your wallet—and tummy—will thank you for.

Budgeting doesn’t have to be a boring, painful, or even difficult task. There are plenty of options out there to help you plan, track, and meet your goals for managing your expenses. You may surprise yourself with just how much you’re able to save once you start!

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