Many college students are graduating this month. If that includes you, congrats! You may be excited about this next chapter and starting your career. Let me offer a few tips on setting your finances up for success and key ways to save money while also building wealth.
One of the best things you can do for your finances is to grow that buffer between what you earn and what you spend. That ‘gap’ money can be used to help you tackle big goals like becoming debt free, having a stash saved for a dream house, or investing in your retirement. It’s harder when you’re out on your own, but it’s still doable with some planning.
Here are several key areas of your budget you want to master so that you can grow that gap while living on your own:
By far, rent is typically your biggest expense. The median rent for a one bedroom in the United States is $947 (if you live in a pricey city like New York City or San Francisco you’re looking at closer to $2,395 -$3,400). Thus, as you are evaluating job offers, consider the location against the pay they are offering. The pay might look good on paper, but depending on where you live it may not go as far as you think.
Here are a few more tips on how to save on rent:
- Get a roommate: Splitting costs two or three ways can be a practical way to lower expenses. Plus you may meet some really great people who are fun to live with!
- Check your network for deals: While you definitely still want to check rental sites to hunt, don’t overlook your network of friends and family. You may be able to score a great deal on a spot before it even hits the market.
Food is a necessity, but paying an arm and a leg for it is not. According to the USDA, groceries and food are around $250 per month on average for one person.
Some ways you can keep your food bill affordable include:
- Meal-plan: Sometime during the weekend, plan out what you want to eat for the next week. That’ll help you when you shop since you’ll have a list of ingredients you’ll need. It’s also helpful to then prep all of your meals for the week on Sunday night so you have more time during the week to relax and not worry about cooking when you get home from work.
- Shop seasonal: With warmer weather means, fresh produce is popping up everywhere. Check to see what’s in season, you may be able to snag some great deals when there’s an abundant supply.
- Farmer’s Market: Local produce and small businesses offer fresh, healthy, and smaller packaged alternatives to the average store. This can cut down on waste and spoilage.
- Stock up on sales: If you see a deal on staples that you love and eat, take advantage of those sales. Meats can be cut into smaller portions and frozen as well as certain produce.
If you feel like you need to keep an eye on your spending (especially with eating out!), you can set up and use Mint. This is a great way to set a spending goal, track your finances and help stick with your plan.
If you live in a big city, public transportation can save you a ton of money compared to owning a car. However, if you do own a car, there are ways you can lower expenses.
- Carpool: Once you get acclimated to your new town and job, see if there’s a way you can join or start a carpool to work. It can help you offset some of your expenses.
- Shop around for the best gas prices: Using apps like GasBuddy can help you find which stations around you have the lowest prices, saving you money each month.
- Hunt for insurance: You may be surprised at how much you can save by simply shopping around. A few years ago we switched insurance and were able to cut our bill in half!
Even the most disciplined person needs some fun time. Make sure you include some entertainment and fun in your budget. Here are some ways you can live well without spending a fortune:
- Skip the cable/satellite subscription: Usually a pricey option, you’re better off finding a deal either through alternatives like SlingTV, Netflix, or Hulu.
- The Great Outdoors: Warmer weather brings opportunities for free entertainment. Beaches, hiking, or check local parks that might offer concerts or themed events.
- Shop around for your smartphone plan: There are plenty of options out there besides the big companies when it comes to smartphones. I’ve been able to lower my smartphone bill significantly to $45 for two lines through Republic Wireless. Options like Republic can give you the service you want without the big price tag.
Automate Your Savings
Once you’ve established your spending plan, you can make things much easier by automating your finances. Set up bill pay through your bank and schedule those transfers into savings and investments. Not only does that help you stay on track for your big goals, but it’ll save you a ton of time each month.
For us, having most of our finances automated means we just need to check in once a week for about 5 minutes or so. Using an app like Mint makes it a cinch and you can also keep tabs on your progress with your goals as well.
Thoughts on Saving Money
These tips have helped us. I hope they give you a boost as well. How about you – what’s the big financial goal you’re working towards? How are you saving up for it?
Elle Martinez (198 Posts)
Elle helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second.