8 Tips for Creating a Budget that Sticks

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Living on your own for the first time is an exciting way to assert your independence. Moving out for good (or even temporarily) is a big step, but there’s no doubt that it can be costly. Don’t worry! If you commit to some monthly planning for cost-effective spending, there’s no reason you can’t have fun — without going broke. Here are some things to think about as you navigate the costs of independent living.

1. Rent and Utilities: These are the biggies

If you’re living on your own, chances are you’re paying your own rent and utilities. It’s the ultimate sign of independence, but it’s also a huge responsibility that must top your priority list. Budget for your rent and utilities from your monthly income right away. If you have roommates, sit down and figure out a system for making sure these bills are paid on time and distributed fairly.

2. Debt: Erase what you owe

Debt isn’t a pleasant topic, but if you have it, you’ve got to deal with it. Look at the amount of your debt (credit card, student loans, personal loans) and budget a generous amount of money toward paying it down each month. Stretch yourself by cutting out other spending to get your debt under control. And check out those interest rates! Some are higher than others, so you should target the bills with the most aggressive rates first. In the end, erasing your debt (and hopefully starting to save for the future) will be your reward.

3. Groceries: Keep it simple

Three words: MAKE A LIST. When it comes to grocery shopping, go in prepared and on a full stomach. Shopping while hungry (or hangry!) can convince you that you need one of everything. Make a list of the necessities and choose practical and healthy foods that can be repurposed for multiple meals like beans, whole wheat pasta, frozen vegetables, and rotisserie chicken. Instead of going to the first grocery store you come across, do some research to find the store near you with the best prices. Plan to spend 30 minutes each week searching ads and coupons for deals while you make your shopping list. Buy generic. And look for a farmers’ market near you and occasionally splurge on locally sourced produce.

4. Transportation: Paying less to get there

Whether it’s gas money, a bus pass, or tickets for the train, you’ve got to get around somehow. Set aside cash for gas and a little something extra to save for car maintenance. Try the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest gas near you. If it’s available at your office, sign up for a commuter spending account. Monthly public transportation passes will save you money in the long run. And don’t forget your own two wheels — use your bike to get around town when you can.

5. Clothes Shopping: Go thrifty

Paying retail is overrated. Next time you want to spruce up your wardrobe, consider the nearest thrift store or outlet mall. Fashion is cyclical, and trends are always going in and out. Be smart about bargain hunting — you can look awesome and still have money to pay the rent. Another great way to add more style on the cheap is to mix up your accessories.

6. Cutting Loose: Recreation with a plan

A fun night out can get costly if you don’t plan in advance. Set aside a reasonable amount of money for a typical night out with friends. Savings: Start or end the evening with a drink at home to cut down on the bar tab. Going to a restaurant? Plan to pay with cash so you won’t be tempted to get a pricey meal. Consider a club without a cover charge or simply budget for the extra expense and make it up elsewhere. And don’t forget that a fun night can be had at home: game night, movie night, or cooking dinner with friends.

7. Special Occasions: Celebrate sensibly

Don’t be caught unprepared when someone’s special day rolls around. First, keep a calendar with birthdays, weddings, graduations, and other special occasions you celebrate. Second, decide how much you want to spend on gifts and outings in advance and start saving. Save up a little money each week (put a dollar in an envelope every day or save your change) so you don’t find yourself shoveling out mounds of cash all at once, then eating ramen for a week afterwards. Consider setting a price limit on holiday gift exchanges, doing a capped-price Secret Santa, or offering a homemade meal or treat or your own services as gifts.

8. Healthy Living: Staying fit on a dime

Local recreation centers are usually equipped with a gym, which you can use for a small fee. Check out Planet Fitness, which offers $10 memberships and no contract. If a membership is too expensive, pull on your sneakers and go for a run or join a pickup basketball game in the nearest park. Try stadium exercises at the local college or high school or try a free Zumba or other cardio videos on YouTube in your living room. You could also buy an inexpensive yoga mat and use a free fitness application like Nike Training Club on your phone.

Venturing out on your own for the first time almost always means tightening your budget, but it’s also a major milestone and signals your first steps toward true adulthood. Learning to make and keep a budget will set you up for success for the rest of your life.

Originally published on May 18, 2016.

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