Whether it's venturing into the world of work or higher education (or maybe both), having a realistic idea of what your financial situation is can help you balance what you really want to do, while also remaining within the boundaries of your budget! At this age, you have access to all of the following options:
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What do you care most about? Spending time with family, travel, cultural experiences? Your budget should reflect that. Your first step is to figure out what you want your budget to give you the freedom to do. It's how you get to enjoy the things you are most passionate about. Starting with this perspective first and foremost will keep you motivated to stick to your budget!
Write down your answers to these questions:
Take an honest look at your spending
Track every expense for an entire month, keep every receipt! Then break your spending down into different categories (food, gas, debt etc.). You will often find that what you say is most important to you may not be reflected in what you purchase.
Find your budgeting tool
You have a multitude of tools available to help you track your spending and form your budget. We have a tremendous free budgeting tool here at Canopy Credit Union called Track Every $. Track Every $ allows you to link all of your financial accounts (including those from other financial institutions) to see the overall "big picture" of your finances. Your spending can be automatically categorized based on your budget and you can keep track of your financial goals, all in one place.
If you prefer a more tangible way to keep track of your budget using an excel spreadsheet or pen and paper works as well. Personal finance is personal for a reason, use what budgeting tool works best for you.
Let's make a budget
Many people wrongly assume that setting a budget is about limiting your lifestyle, but the opposite is true. Creating a budget allows you to be free from the confusion that comes from spending money without a plan.
Break down your budget into categories, rent, utilities, gas, loan payments, entertainment fund etc. Your budget should include any regular monthly expenses you have.
ACTION: Set aside some money, ideally two months' worth of bills in a separate account that is specifically for emergencies. This money should NOT be accessible when the opportunity for vacations, technology or other luxuries show up.
Give every dollar a job
Every dollar of your income needs to go toward something. You can save yourself a tremendous amount of stress if you determine ahead of time where all your money is going. When you put together your budget, determine not only what you will be spending on your monthly bills, but how much money will be put toward each of your goals, your emergency fund, your entertainment, etc.
ACTION: Look at your total monthly income. Record every monthly expense and designate the money necessary. Look at annual or bi-annual expenses (i.e.: insurance) divide these total annual expenses by 12 and add that number to the monthly budget. Divide the rest between goals, savings, and spending.
Make it automatic
Take advantage of automatic payment options. It's very easy and convenient to have all of your bills automatically debited from your checking account. At Canopy Credit Union, we offer a free bill pay option that can mail checks on your behalf to particular individuals. Your bills are already expensive enough, don't add to them by missing a payment.
There you have it, now it's up to you to set your priorities, honestly track your spending and set your monthly budget. If you need help or assistance with this process, meet with one of our Certified Financial Coaches for free!
Find more life hacks in our "Adulting" blog!
If you're attending college this year (whether new or returning), you're eligible for one of our two scholarships, including the Matthew Stiltz Scholarship.
The only requirement is that you're a Canopy Credit Union member in good standing. If you're not already a member, now's a great time to open an account!
*Canopy Credit Union employees, board members, and their family members are not eligible to enter.
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