As young adults, most of us are learning to live "responsibly," financially and otherwise, for the very first time. Finding ways to balance a budget is hard, especially if you're anything like me and have no idea what the heck you're doing. I recently quit my full-time job to go back to school, and have had to learn to live within a much more conservative budget than what I was used to when I had a steady income. I think I'm doing a really good job living within my means (I eat every meal at home and I haven't taken a taxi in six months), but I still find myself asking, week after week, where the heck did all my money go? Sound familiar? Apparently, it's not one big mistake, but rather a whole lot of little ones that are sabotaging your budget, according to Money Rates columnist Dan Rafter.
Financial specialist and author of Rich Mom, Poor Mom, Kimberly Palmer explains in a phone interview with Bustle exactly how we're misspending our money, and offers solutions on how to do it better. Her most important piece advice? "Learn to limit yourself."
Here are ten ways you're sabotaging your budget and some advice on how to fix the problem, according to Palmer and other experts.
1. Not Knowing What Your Budget Is
According to Palmer, actually knowing what your budget is, and sticking to it, is the only way to make it work. Be cognizant of how much you’re bringing home, and what your expenses actually are (including the boring ones, like electricity). Be realistic about how much you spend on necessary things (groceries, laundry, transportation) and incidentals (manicures, nights out, your gym membership), and ration your earnings accordingly.
2. Not Tracking Your Spending
The best way to keep a budget? Plan ahead. The best way to do this is with an app, like Mint, says Palmer. “You need to know where your money is going, and how much you can spend in each category each month.” Mint, and other similar apps, will track your habits and let you know when you’re overspending.
3. Overspending On Groceries
According to Palmer, eating meals at home instead of out is an easy way to save money, as long as you’re shopping smart. Has anyone else ever gotten through the checkout line at Whole Foods and had their eyes bug out when the cashier told them their final amount? Or gotten to the end of the week and realized that half of the food they bought expired and thought, "what a waste"? Buy what you can in bulk, from somewhere like Costco, and only go to fancy designer grocery stores when it’s absolutely necessary (which, honestly, it probably never is). Trader Joe’s is also a great, inexpensive option for produce and easy, prepackaged meals.
No matter where you're shopping, go to the grocery store with a list, and stick to it, so you don’t impulse buy half of the frozen treats aisle once you get to the store. Plan out your weekly menu ahead of time to make sure everything you buy gets used. And don’t ever shop on an empty stomach — when you're hungry, you will inevitably make some weird, unnecessary purchases.
4. Overspending On Beauty Products
I know, I know, beauty products are fun. But there are certain things you can do to make your beauty routine budget friendly. Try out the drugstore alternatives for some of your favorite designer items, or try a beauty subscription service to get a monthly delivery of high-end products. For haircuts/color, manicures and other spa services, schedule appointments through daily deal sites — with so many options out there, there is no reason you should ever be paying full price.
5. Drinking Fancy Coffee
I recently went to get coffee with a friend of mine whose venti-iced-mocha-something cost nine dollars. I was shocked, to say the very least. Invest in a coffee maker and a chic to-go cup, and brew your morning beverage at home. If you absolutely have to, limit yourself to one over-the-top drink per week (I know it’s hard; they’re delicious.) Your wallet will thank you.
6. Opening A Tab
Anyone who has ever had to return to a bar the morning after a night out to pick up their credit card knows this to be true: opening a tab is dangerous. When you’re drinking, it’s easy to get caught up and order “A round of shots for the entire bar!” Just don't do it.
7. Using A Credit Card
Having a credit card, especially for the first time, can sometimes feel like you’re spending free money. Unfortunately, that is definitely not the case. According to Palmer, people buy things on credit cards that they think they need and then spend months or years paying them off because they aren’t living within their means. Use cash instead, to make sure you aren’t spending money you don’t have.
8. Not Insuring Properly
Insurance isn’t exactly the most glamorous thing to dedicate a portion of your paycheck to, but it’s absolutely necessary. According to Palmer, you need to make sure you’re enrolled for the proper health insurance— as annoying as it is to have to pay a monthly deductible, you’ll thank yourself if ever you’re faced with hospital bills.
Another less obvious, but equally important, kind of insurance? Renters Insurance. Skipping on this can cost you so much money if something were ever to happen to your apartment (as in, the cost of replacing everything you own in the case of a fire or flood) and is absolutely worth it, says Palmer.
9. Justifying Unnecessary Spending
We’ve all been there: you’ve had a bad week, and want to do something to make yourself feel better. A lot of us (myself, included) try to do this by going out to a fancy dinner, buying a new outfit, or getting a massage. Spending $100 to cheer yourself up is silly, especially when there are so many ways to do it for free, says Palmer. Find things that make you happy that don’t cost anything — going on a run, reading a book, spending time with friends — and substitute them for the more expensive alternatives.
10. Not Learning From Your Mistakes
The good news? Everyone makes budgeting mistakes. (Excuse me while I breathe a huge sigh of relief as I learn that I'm not the only one who has overcharged on her credit card.) "Everyone makes mistakes, like, say, traveling more than your can afford," says Palmer. "The important thing is that you learn from them."
Budgeting, like anything else, is a skill that has to be learned. Not every month will be perfect, but the more aware you are of the mistakes you're making, the easier it is to be a little better the next month. In a year, you may be surprised how much you've saved.
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