11 July, 2011


Being on starting the journey to work place freedom means money is tight. I did the opposite of what almost every blog I read said and did not plan too long-term before I left my full time job. In an ideal situation, the decision to go independent would come enough in advance to allow you to save for months (ideally up to 9 months from what I've read) of living expenses.

I didn't do that. I am a fairly frugal gal anyway, I don't really have a vice (except books ;-)). I sensed the time was coming to move into working for myself,. and so had created a base budget. Some people will tell you this is what you need to live on - period. But like a restricting diet that leaves you eating lettuce and radishes, you are bound to cheat, and eventually, blow your budget.

I started with the bare minimum I needed to make to cover my set bills: student loans, car and old credit card debt. Rent and utilities are negotiable, because it is possible to move somewhere cheaper, get a roommate, work to conserve energy, etc. I moved home, which might not be a possibility for everyone, but is for me because my parents are amazing.

Don't forget to add it things like groceries and gas. I collected these for a few months prior to see how much I needed to get by. I enjoy eating well -- no TV dinners and ramen for this girl -- and so kept those relatively the same as they had been, realizing I had the flexibility to cut back on food or ride my bike more if I needed to downsize the gas line.

Then I deviated greatly from the old wisdom - I added in fun money. I take out $60 a week and split that between being able to eat out and my other expenses envelope - that includes runs to Costco, or the movies, or birthday gifts, essentially any expense not covered above, meaning it is outside my set budget.

Now, I don't use my debit card except for gas. I don't use my credit card at all. But by building into my budget fun money I also don't have to worry about splurging and blowing my overly restrictive budget.

So I took all that - set bills, rent + utilities, the basics like food and gas, add in fun funds and then divided that total by four. That is how much I need to bring in a week to survive.

I also included health insurance and savings into my plan. I refuse to live on savings, and if the last year has taught me anything - the unexpected will always come when you don't have any savings (hello credit card debt!), so as much as you can, stop living from your savings account immediately and get on income again

To make it work, you need to cut down on your spending. You do not need Starbucks every day, you do not need new shoes (or books!), it is possible to shave off a lot of funds a month by cutting out additional spending. You will be amazed to discover how much you do not "need" and how much you can do without spending money.

Ultimately, as Jason points out, make a plan. You will never be able to save money or get out of debt if there is not a plan. I have a countdown in the back of my binder and cross off my car and credit card payments every month.  Keep it simple, don't have twenty categories when seven will do. Don't spend any money that has not been delegated to that expense. Old wisdom for getting out of debt and being able to save money - save more than you spend!

If you cannot control your spending, give your credit cards to a friend and go to the envelope system. When I was trying to get out of debt in DC and was on a (even more) bare bones budget I did this. It is a super easy way to control your funds and see where your money goes. When you only have $10 for the rest of the week, that daily latte looks a  lot less "necessary."

Any money tips you've found that works?

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