A Single Girl's Tips for Budgeting
Sometimes it's hard to be a single girl living on one income. Budgeting is not always an easy thing to do, especially in today's economy. I do not have all of the answers, but I do have a few tips that I picked up the hard way.
I started teaching in 1999 in the middle of the school year. I was so excited to have my first job, but what I wasn't told was that I would get half of the salary quoted to me (because I started teaching in January), only it would be split up over 9 months instead of 6 months (because of summer). This made my first 9 paychecks about $1200 a month less than what I had budgeted for. My loan payments started at this time, I had to move to a new city by myself, and I was in dire straits. I began giving plasma for cash at a blood bank just to pay for gas. I put everything I bought onto my credit card so that I could pay my rent. I racked up over $15,000 in credit card debt in just one short year. I had saved no money, I had no extra money, and I had no idea how to fix it.
Once I started making a normal paycheck, I was in hog heaven. But rather than getting myself out of debt, I increased my standard of living. For many years, I lived paycheck to paycheck, paying the minimum payment on my credit cards, and saving nothing. I lived with the notion that someday I would get married and my salary would become the "supplemental salary" that would be used to get me out of debt. Some medical bills, some car repairs, and some other large purchases later, I was further in debt and with no way to save myself.
Now, many years later, I am almost completely credit card debt-free, and I've figured out a few ways to budget and save to keep myself from getting into that kind of financial trouble again. I by no means have all of the answers, but I do have a few tips that you can try to help yourself save a few dollars here and there.
1. Pay Extra on Your Regular Bills. Each month, I pay the same bills: electricity, cable, cell phone/internet, my car payment, my credit card payments, car insurance, and rent. I pay the same amount on my car payment, rent, and car insurance. I usually pay the minimum payments on the credit cards because I don't use them very often and there are small balances on each. The electricity, cable, and cell phone bills are variable, however. My electricity bill can range anywhere from $50 (spring and fall in Texas, so about two months total during the year) to $350 (summertime in Texas...enough said). So I pay $200 a month no matter what. I budgeted for this, and I send TXU a check for $200. This has caused me to build up a credit of over $475. When the summer months hit and the temperatures soar to 110+ degrees, I will not have to pay extra on my electricity bill to make up for it. And if I need an extra $50 or $100 some month for something (like car registration, for example), I pay only $150 or $100, and I'm not scrimping on anything. I do the same thing with my cell phone, by paying $20 extra each month than what is stated on the bill. If I ever need extra money some month, I can pay very little or nothing at all on my cell phone bill and use that extra cash for what I need.
2. Be patient to save. Using your regular bills as a savings account isn't the answer to everything, though. You definitely need to save, save, save. Part of this is being patient. Do you want to get a big screen TV? Do you want to have Lasik surgery? Then you need to save for them. I buy into Dave Ramsey's philosophy of waiting and saving. I am not able to live completely on cash like he suggests, but I have implemented some of his strategies, namely, the envelope strategy. I have five envelopes. One is labeled "entertainment." Each month, I take $200 out of my paycheck in cash and put it in this envelope. This is the money I have to go out to eat on, to see movies with, and to be entertained with. If I spend it all, I don't get to go out with my friends. I pay cash for everything related to entertainment. My other envelopes are "medical" (to offset the horrible health insurance that I have now that the health care plan is in effect), "hair" (to get my hair cut and colored once every three months), "mission trip" (so I can visit India and other places), and "miscellaneous" (for that big screen TV and Lasik surgery). I put extra cash in these envelopes...$50 here, $20 there, $1 occasionally. Eventually I will have enough saved to get what I want, but I have to be patient.
3. Eat Leftovers. If you have an aversion to leftovers, get over it. Make casseroles. Eat the same thing for a week. Don't throw food away. You'll be amazed at how much extra money you find if you don't "grab something on the way home" every day. Each month, I make two casseroles. The average cost of each is about $15 for ingredients. So with $30, I eat lunch for 25 days. I separate the casseroles into single-sized portions, foil them (spray the foil with cooking spray first), freeze them, and take it each day to work. Does it get boring? Yes. Does it save money? Yes. Breakfast: cereal. Dinner: salad and a sandwich. I wait until the weekends to eat out. Again...patience.
4. Babysit. Yes, it sounds childish, and yes, it may have been 10+ years since you've babysat anyone's children. But here's a fact: parents feel more secure leaving their children with adults than with teenagers. You will be able to find babysitting jobs in the evenings and on the weekends, and it will be extra cash that you can put into your envelopes. I built up a client base by working in the nursery at church. They automatically do a background check, the parents get to know you because they see your face each Sunday, and they begin to trust you because they see firsthand that you know what you're doing. And word-of-mouth helps, too. Babysit for one of your married girlfriends...have her tell her married girlfriends...soon you'll have to turn down babysitting jobs because there are too many. An extra $20 or $30 or $50 here and there for playing with kids for a few hours is worth it.
5. Save Small. I am a teacher in Texas, so a portion of my check goes into TRS (Teacher Retirement System of Texas) instead of social security. Of course, a portion goes to taxes and to medicare and to health insurance, etc. In order to save some money that I won't miss because I don't see it in the first place, I set up some small savings accounts. One is a money-market account that I can write checks on if I absolutely have to. This is for emergencies only. I put $25 a month into it. The second is a Roth IRA. Again, I won't touch it for many many years, so I don't even look at the balance or do anything with it except file the statements into my filing cabinet. Again, $25 a month. Lastly, I set up with my bank a "save as you go" account. Every time I use my debit card, $1 goes into a savings account. This equals out to about $20 a month...not a lot, but it'll be enough for me to get new tires for my car when that time comes, and I won't have to put it on a credit card.
These few little budget tips won't make you rich. They won't solve all of your problems or cancel out all of your financial woes. But maybe they will help you feel a tiny bit more secure. They do that for me...