The young adult's guide to starting a budget - great for college students looking to begin budgeting or recent graduates wanting to get their finances together.

During college my conversations with my friend surrounded around clubs, classes, and internships. Since graduation our conversations have drastically shifted to student loans, finances, saving to move out on our own, and careers.

There is so much pressure to “get your life together” after graduating. Figuring out your finances, taxes, career plans, and a dozen other things that you feel you should know by now but you never actually learned in college. (What were all those years for anyway?)

No matter if you’re still in school or if you graduated years ago, it’s never too early or too late to get started on a budget. But, how do you do it?

One of the first things I did after graduating was analyze my income and create a budget and savings plan.

I’m not a financial advisor, I don’t have any professional training in this.. but I have done a lot of research and a lot of math, and I have found what works best for my future goals and plans. I’ve been able to calculate, through the steps below, what I need to do with the money I am currently making to pay all of my expenses and save for my future.

Here are 5 simple ways you can begin to get your life together financially by starting a budget!

1. Analyze your income

Frankly, you can’t figure out what you should be spending or what you can save without knowing what you’re making. What are you making each week? Month? Year? If you have a job with regular/predictable hours, you should know this like the back of your hand.

If your job/income is a bit more unpredictable try to come up with an average amount that you make each month, better to guess low and have money left over than guess high and go over budget!

2. Take a look at your expenses

We’re all at different points in our lives so we all have different expenses, take a moment to write down and track all the different regular expenses you have. This can be anything from rent or your phone bill to a Netflix subscription or the fact that you maybe get your nails done every 3 weeks like clockwork. Any sort of re-occurring for sure expense.

Car payment? Disneyland annual pass? Spotify account? Tuition? Insurance? Student loan payments? Write it down.

The easiest way that I have found to total up all of my recurring expenses is by using this recurring expenses calculator that I made! It’s a simple tool where you input all of your expenses and it totals them up and divides them out (that’s the next step, below) in a clear and easy to understand way to help you budget.

Interested in using the expenses calculator?

Download it for free here:

3. Divide your expenses

Total up how much your expenses cost you in 1 month. Now, how often do you get paid? Divide your expenses into amount taken out by paycheck.

Let’s say, for the sake of solid round numbers, that I make $2,000 every month, and get paid weekly. Let’s say my total monthly expenses are $400. So let’s take $400, divide it by 4 (weeks in a month) and that equals $100 in expenses per pay check. If you’re making $2,000 a month that’s $500 a paycheck, which means you would want to set aside $100 per paycheck to meet your monthly expenses.

Looking at your expenses as $100 each week instead of $400 each month is a good way to decrease budget anxiety and make it easier to set aside money and save.

TIP: After looking at your income and your expenses, are you spending more than you’re making? If so, it’s time to really dig deep into your expenses and see what you can cut out or cut back. Yes, I’m talking about that Netflix subscription…

4. Save for a rainy day

6 months of expenses saved in an emergency fund, just in case. Stuff happens – cars break down, pets get sick, people get injured, employees get fired… life is unpredictable that way. An emergency fund is a great way to be able to take care of unexpected expenses without derailing your finances.

Looking at it, 6 months of expenses can be an intimidating number depending on where you are in life. For me, only 1 month post-graduation, it is totally unrealistic to save 6 months of my expense costs like that. Instead, I have a goal to have 6 months of my expenses saved up by this time next year.

To reach that goal, I have my bank set up to automatically take a small amount of money out each paycheck and put that money in a savings account. I did the math, and with these automatic transfers I’ll be able to reach my savings goal in a year.

RELATED: Listen to this episode of my podcast, The Quarter Life Crisis Club Podcast, on managing your finances as a young adult:

5. Set goals, then meet them

When you’re jumping into the “real world” it can be hard to look at all of your expenses and still have enough left over to do things you want like save for a house, save for a vacation, or whatever you want to save for in your future.

Lay out your savings goals – what do you want to do, how much do you need, and when do you want to meet them by?

I currently have 4 savings goals. First, I want to save a certain amount of money so that my boyfriend and I can move out and hopefully get a house soon, my goal time frame for this is by July 2019. Second, my car is fairly old and has a lot of miles on it. While it’s getting me around just fine right now, I want to be prepared with a down payment ready for a future car when this one inevitably fails me. Finally, I have two “fun” savings goals: in September I’m going on a vacation and I don’t want to be stressed about spending money on food or entertainment while I’m there so I set myself a budget for that time and am working toward saving for it, and I am planning on seeing a musical that my sister and I have been talking about going to see together for about 10 years now and is finally coming nearby so we promised to see it together.

Taking a look at all of these goals, the amounts I want to meet and the dates I want to meet them by, I do a similar thing that I am doing for my emergency fund and divide the goals up by paycheck to take some money out each paycheck to cover the long term costs.

What have you done to get your finances in check? What are you struggling with?



The Young Adult’s Guide to Starting a Budget
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3 thoughts on “The Young Adult’s Guide to Starting a Budget

  • June 28, 2018 at 10:01 am

    I have been notorious for not being the best with my money, however recently, I have been trying to learn my way with budgeting, so this post was great!

  • July 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    Dani, thank you so much for this in-depth post! You shared with me things I really needed to know, and I am so grateful for the info you share with others!

    Ashley | The Honey Scoop

  • July 22, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    I’m just about to go into my first of three years of college and I have been really stressed about my financial position. This has given me some really good ideas and has helped calm my nerves. Thank you so much for your useful tips!


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