For a middle class white-collar worker, a $50/week spending budget is pretty tough to pull off. I'm one of those Millennials that happened to land a great job that I love, but with that happiness comes a price tag of over $100,000 in student loan debt.
While it's fine to live paycheck to paycheck right now, what about daycare when my husband and I want to have a kid, or what about saving for retirement? These used to be normal goals for people relatively new to the workforce without eating rice and beans every night, but this isn't the reality of our generation.
Rest assured though, I'm not here to tell you what to spend your money on, because trust me I get it, Millennials like us are already feeling pretty beaten down when it comes to our finances. So, here's a list of tips to help you mentally shed the economic class you belong to and spend like you're broke.
1. Give Yourself An Allowance
Make a rule to only spend a set amount of money each week on all of the "extras," like drinks with friends, clothes, coffee breaks, etc. Mine is $50 per week. This is super low for most people, so pick a number that works for you. My "payday" is Friday. I usually blow through most of it on the weekend, but during the week it's easier to scrape by.
2. Dream About All Of Your $$$'s!
Add up all of your fixed expenses, plus your allowance, and then subtract that from your monthly paycheck after taxes and social security and all of that crap is taken out. Using my figures ($3,140 - $3,706 = $566), I know that if I stick to my budget, I'll have $566 left over each month! That means in one year I would have $6,792! I could pay off an entire student loan group with that!
3. Fake Debt
In the event that you go over your weekly allowance, and trust me you will, think of the overage amount as "fake debt" that you owe back to yourself. If your weekly allowance is $50, and you accidentally spent $80 that week... you now owe yourself $30. To pay back this $30, you have to underspend. I recommend spreading the payback over a few weeks to make sure it's doable.
4. Track Your Spending
I've tried using apps -- like Mint -- to do this, but in my experience, the fact that they take the work out of it almost makes them counterproductive. To keep myself actively participating, I enter every purchase on a note in my phone. I'm currently over by $247... because the first couple weeks of trying this was REALLY hard for me, but I've been slowly paying it off each week.
5. Know Your Grocery Item Number
I grocery shop once a week for my two-person family and our budget for food is $100 per week. I finally realized that if I stick to the right "item number," I won't blow my budget when I get to the cash register. My item number is 22 -- which means I can only put 22 things in my cart. You can find out what your grocery item number should be by looking at your receipt. At the bottom you'll see "Number of Items." This is the amount of "things" that you bought, whether it's a bag of apples or a bar of soap. If the money total on your receipt looks good to you, then it's a good item number.
6. Know Your "Too Much To Buy Now" Amount
Mine is $30. Since my weekly allowance is $50, if I want to buy something that's over $30, I now know that I can't and I have to wait. For example, let's say I really want to buy a new teapot, but it's $40. I have to wait on the purchase and underspend by $10 on my allowance for two weeks which would give me an extra $20 so that by week three when my allowance starts fresh on Friday I would have $70 -- enough to buy that teapot and still have cash left over to get me through the week.
One of the reasons sticking to a program like this is so hard for Millennials like us is because of the way we grew up. A lot of us had the typical Boomer parents that spent like it was going out of style and pushed their kids to reach for the stars. We're in this awkward situation as middle class adults where we're bypassing our parents for financial guidance and wishing our grandparents were still alive to pass down tips from the Great Depression. I will, of course, continue to encourage legislators to address the student loan issue and hope for a better economy, but that's not going to help any of us get ahead in the short-term. So, in the meantime, you'll find me walking to work, bringing my lunch, and obsessively tracking every cent to see if I can't achieve a goal or two in my lifetime.