Budgeting for Impulse Shoppers
If you would've told me years ago that I'd even consider writing a piece about budgeting advice, I would've laughed in your face and told you that was a good joke. I love to spend money. I don't get buyer's remorse ever. You want to go to that concert? I'm in. That playoff game? I'm in.
I justify those concerts and games with the fact that something really epic could happen. Some people could never imagine spending the money to go to the Super Bowl. I couldn't imagine not going. Potentially witnessing your team make history? The memories are worth the money to me. Your favorite artist could surprise the audience with your second favorite artist or it could be their farewell tour and your last chance to see them in concert. Do you want to watch YouTube re-runs and have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or do you want the satisfaction of knowing you were there? I want to know I was there.
So how the heck am I sitting here ready to offer you budgeting advice when I love to spend and spend? Because if I can find a way to make it to the big games I want while finding a way to pay off my student loans, increase my credit score, and build a savings, so can you.
Do Your Research
I did a lot of research on the best ways to pay off your student loans. I found some advice from random bloggers, along with tips from top financial advisors. At the time when I was deep into my research, I was receiving a stipend of $1,000 a month and working part-time at a martini bar. I would get really discouraged because everything I read gave tips beyond my means. I couldn't put down the extra money that many of these advisors were suggesting. The monthly minimums for my student loans alone was roughly $650. Housing was included in my stipend, but I still had a car payment, car insurance, cell phone bill, and other fixed expenses to worry about. There was no extra money to put towards my student loans or savings. I was also accumulating credit card debt due to some financial bumps in the road I hit with my employer. Financial stress was high.
I stumbled upon the Dave Ramsey Snowball Method and decided that I would follow this method as soon I was able. Obviously, in order to pay off significant debt, it helps if you are bringing in more than $1,000 a month. While you're working on that part, you can set yourself up for success in other ways. You have to be realistic about what you can do in your current situation. Don't get yourself down for not being able to put thousands of extra dollars towards your debt when you make hundreds a paycheck. Work with what you have and be patient. Your plan will help you.
The Mint app is singlehandedly the best program I can recommend towards getting control of your finances. You can set up goals, add all of your accounts (bank, credit cards, loans, etc), create budgets, monitor your credit score, and stay on top of your payments. Somehow this app is FREE. It costs nothing to have this virtual financial advisor in your pocket. I immediately set up goals towards paying off my credit cards, loans, and building a savings. With the amounts that I was able to put down when I set them up, those goals were about as long term as it gets. But they were there. I could track my progress and I had a plan.
2. PNC Virtual Wallet
I signed up for an account with PNC when I was a freshman at Slippery Rock. I think you got free pizza or something for signing up and let's be honest, we all love free food. It took me until I was out of college to realize how awesome the Virtual Wallet feature was. I decided that my credit union bank account would be used for long-term savings and my PNC account would be for short-term expenses. The calendar allowed me to see when bills were hitting and how much money I actually had free after the money was removed. You can also set up Savings Goals in both the Reserve and Growth accounts.
3. Checkbook App
It is extremely important to know how much money is in your bank account. I really struggled to keep my paper checkbook updated and I didn't always have it with me, so I'd check my bank account and be surprised with how much money wasn't in there. We've all been there, unless you're super lucky and just have boatloads of money all the time. When I downloaded the Checkbook app, I became much more aware of where my money was at all times because all I had to do was grab my phone and add in my McDonald's purchase. It tells you what your cleared balance is and what your overall balance is. You can set up recurring payments to help you stay on top of what's coming out of your account and save yourself some time inputting expenses. I have my bank accounts and credit cards on here so I can monitor everything and avoid surprises with my finances.
Once I got it stuck in my head that I was going to get a grip on my finances, I was obsessed. I checked my apps daily. I would adjust the amounts I was contributing to my goals in my Mint app just to see how much I would have to put towards a goal to accomplish it faster.
1. Pay off credit card debt
My first step was to get my credit card debt under control. I essentially had to live off of my credit card for two months, so I had acquired quite a bit and interest was not my friend. I switched jobs and made paying off my credit cards my first goal.
2. Put $1,000 in savings
My savings account was pitiful, guys. It's hard to save when you love to spend. But when I looked ahead at everything I wanted to accomplish, I needed a safety net. I would start with $1,000. It's not an overwhelming amount but it does provide you with some wiggle room if anything comes up and it gives you a sense of accomplishment.
3. Pay off your student loans
This one takes some time, a lot of work, and a little luck. When I moved back home, I moved in with my parents. I decided that while I was there, I was going to dump as much money at my loans as I possibly could. After some personal turmoil, I took my savings I had built up for a house (roughly $10,000) and put it towards my loans. At this point, I had committed to living with my parents for the time being. Fast forward to just under a year later. I transferred another $2,000 of my savings to my loans and shifted the savings area of my budget to be all about my student loans. I make my final student loan payment October 15, 2020. That's just over 6 years since I graduated! This would've been nearly impossible without the help from my parents. Between helping me with initial payments and letting me live at home to cut costs, they're the MVPs of this accomplishment.
Stay focused but don't be afraid to treat yourself. You have to allow yourself to live life and have fun or you will drive yourself mad. There will always be a new debt waiting for you. Make a budget and live within your means. We don't exist to just pay bills so don't forget to live while chasing your financial goals. Go out with your friends, buy that pair of shoes you can't stop dreaming about, or go to the game. It will be okay. You can find a balance between having fun and being financially smart.
Spend responsibly, friends!
Until next time,