As a 24-year-old, after graduating from a master's program, I am struggling to figure out how to use responsibly while juggling multiple financial obligations. (Photo: sUs_angel, Getty Images / iStockphoto)
When my brother and I were young, we separated out all the money we made in two Skippy peanut butter for savings and expenses. The system worked for a while.
24 years old, after graduating from a master's degree, I wish things were that simple. I struggle to figure out how to use responsibly while juggling multiple financial obligations.
It's a bit of an understatement, actually. Every time I open my bank app, I have to breathe deeply. It makes me anxious to check the damage from the previous weeks. When I finally see, it results in a painful sigh.
After working continuously through high school and college, usually taking on at least two jobs per summer, it has been different – and stressful – to not really have money in the bank at primary school. Adds the challenge: I couldn't work during grad school. As a result, I have had to ask my parents for help with rent and sometimes other expenses as well.
- Age: 24.
- Higher Education: MS in Journalism, Class 2019
- Residence: New York City.
- Economic Challenges: Although my spending is fairly normal for a millennial girl in New York City, it has been impossible to cover them all. Especially without a job for 10 months of the year while I pack up grad school. I've had to lean on my parents for financial support, especially with the cost of renting New York.
- Economic weaknesses: Chipotle, few nails done, Marshalls.
- Biggest expense issue I suspect: Food.
I was hoping that a professional could help me find an adult version of the "peanut butter jar" budgeting method. So I did a two week experiment with Autumn Campbell, a financial planner.
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Harvest at Planning Center, Inc. Like me, she is a millennial and has faced challenges similar to the ones I face now: education expenses, social expenses, etc.
I went into the experience of knowing that my career is in transition and that recently completing school has made their own set of financial uncertainties – and that's fine. But it makes this experience with a financial advisor both important and frustrating. The coming months will hopefully bring more stability to my life, along with a new set of challenges, I'm sure.
Through two over-phone sessions and a couple of weeks of financial reflection, I found out that I didn't do it. I have to give up things I really loved to save money. This realization helps me get past my financial anxiety and help me make productive cuts.
The sessions lasted for about an hour. We discussed my background, shared the screen to look at my credit card assignment, and addressed goals for the week.
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Increased one: Mindset
Much to my surprise, my daily spending habits were not my biggest concern, according to my first session Autumn – but how little time I spent tracking my spending.
Because I felt anxious and guilty about my daily spreads, I avoided checking my credit card assignment as much as I could. I had no idea how much money I actually spent.
Most of my spending could be rationalized, Autumn said. But I could tolerate spending less on snacks or coffee. And once in the trip to Urban Outfitters sales stand was probably not a necessity either.
- Check your credit card statement weekly.
- Understand why you are spending. Is it by necessity, convenience or pleasure?
It's all about conscious spending, Autumn said. The more conscious you are about what you use and why, the less you will use, probably.
Session Two: A Hard Look
In the week following the first session, I tried to be more aware of how I spent my money and cut down on my biggest expense – convenience food. Then I skipped lunch on Tuesday.
I wanted oatmeal from the mini cafe. I sobbed.
And that happened a few other times during the week. I ran out of coffee at home and stopped at the coffee shop next door on my way to work. I had oatmeal sometimes. I had a friend's birthday drinks and couldn't show up empty-handed. I had oatmeal again.
And somewhere in there, I really felt like I had to spend money on bottled water instead of just filling my bottle.
A quick look at the end of the week on my credit card assignment and a small math showed that I could save around $ 60 just by planning ahead and buying food and coffee at the grocery store instead. If I was able to keep it up for a year, the savings would be in the thousands. It's a month's rent – or two.
Here's the thing: I didn't like spending the $ 60 – it was just the pocket change I got out of the habit. The money I liked spending: around $ 100 on social activities. Things like bowling and a brunch and dinner out with friends.
When we went over my credit card assignment again, Autumn said social spending was fine – she suggested budgeting with social outings so saving money doesn't deprive you of the things you like most.
However, the rest of my expenses I could probably cut back. "Some of these things, like snacks, I think you can have a real impact on a daily basis," she said.
- Consciousness changes behavior. We make better decisions if something is not a habit.
- Habits that already exist may change. I did not buy breakfast, lunch, coffee or snacks in week three.
Next Step: How to Budget
For me, the next step is to budget, Autumn told me that I had reviewed my spending during session two.
Anything that does not arouse joy should come from my budget. Bye with the extra coffee and mini mart snacks – pretty sure my bank account, not to mention my waist, will thank me for it.
I was more concerned about social activities. It didn't seem as easy to cut out as my small daily expenses.
"So what I've done personally and I've seen done, we're saving for that cost in our budget," Autumn said.
Autumn tips for cutting social costs:
- Eat on weekends.
- Have a drink instead of several if you drink.
- Set a monthly amount for social spending. Whatever amount seems appropriate for you. Break it down every day, so if it's $ 300 a month it's about $ 10 a day. Think about what you are willing to give for a social life.
Budgeting and cutting expenses, Autumn said, is about finding a midfield.
"It's not how cheap I can be," she said. "But it asks" what things can I cut that can't change my lifestyle and happiness so much? "
Little changes can make a big difference in our actions and how we feel. They can even raise money anxiety.
Follow Morgan Hines on Twitter: @MorganEmHines .
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