Budgeting for Your Entry-Level Paycheck
The transition from being a dependent to an independent person can be a rough one, especially when you’re staring at paychecks from not-so-lucrative wages. Bills and expenses can seem overwhelming, and the amount left for fun is depressing. Before thinking the end is near, remember that there are ways to prevent financial obligations from hindering your lifestyle and future plans.
One opportunity to cut expenses comes with planning meals ahead of time and visiting the grocery store instead of ordering out. Make foodnetwork.com your friend. Learn to cook amazing meals for yourself and company without paying the 15 percent gratuity. Use coupons and keep an eye on grocery store sales. Adapt meals to what’s affordable and save a bundle. Call the local food bank and see if you qualify for assistance. It’s tough to study or work your hardest on a rumbling stomach. Check with the local department of human services to find out if you qualify for food stamps to help with grocery bills.
Housing expenses will take a huge chunk out of your paycheck. Here are a few ideas to keep bills under control: Consider living with a roommate or two. Splitting the rent and utilities eases the burden on your wallet, and you might make some new friends. Talk to your parents about the possibility of living at home. While some may not want to stay with mom and pop, you can’t argue if it’s free. Evaluate whether you really need those 800 cable channels along with Internet access. Maybe ask neighbors if they want to split a wireless Internet account, or contact service providers and negotiate a deal. See if you qualify for housing at a reduced price. Visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s site, hud.gov, to look for programs in your area. Also check to see if your county or state has a low-income assistance program to help with utilities.
Maintenance costs, insurance and gas can be expensive, and can even contribute to debt. Consider the following: If you’re thinking of buying a car, don’t get it straight from the lot — buy used. The value of some cars falls by as much as 67 percent within two years. Look for certified, pre-owned cars that are about two years old with well-kept records of all upkeep and repairs. Negotiate car insurance and shop around for the best deal. Just don’t skimp on coverage. A major accident with bare-bones insurance could cost a lot more than paying a slightly higher premium. Walk or ride a bike to school or work. If that’s not an option, try using public transportation or carpooling with classmates or co-workers. Some colleges have informal ride-share programs to make it easier. Contribute to a car maintenance and repair fund every month. This will help you stay within budget when you have to pay for maintenance or unscheduled repairs.
Part of dealing with a smaller paycheck is making the most of your dollar. Try these budgeting tips to keep your checkbook in check: Be honest with yourself when estimating how much you make and spend. Glossing over the tough parts isn’t going to make the problem go away. Give yourself a little bit of money to have fun with, but don’t forget to set aside savings that could come in handy down the road. And don’t forget the most important part: track what you spend.