My Journey... So Far: Part 2 - Saving + Budgeting

Developing positive saving and budgeting skills will have a major impact on your financial journey. These tips will help you handle life’s necessities and give you the freedom to enjoy life without constant worry of how to afford it.

When I was 10 and living in Flagstaff,

my mother – a seemingly Florence Nightingale-type who can seamlessly switch on her inner Iliza Shlesinger – opened my first bank account at a local credit union, but it never really seemed like my account until I turned 18. Sure, it had my name on it, but that was only because it was required for depositing the child support checks we received after my parents’ divorce. I never actually considered that money mine. To be fair, it really wasn’t. That money was for things like school supplies, groceries and childcare. It is never wasted on me how lucky I am in having a mom that only dipped into these funds when it was a necessity, setting the rest aside for a down payment on my first car years down the road.

Throughout the first eight years of my credit union account, I can only remember two major withdrawals

– a couple hundred dollars each for a class trip to perform with my high school show choir in California’s Disneyland (yep, I was a total gleek) and an iPod Shuffle to help drown out the never-ending verses of ‘99 Bottles’ during the 6-hour bus ride. Beyond that, it was a bit like a tug-of-war trying to convince the woman to let me take cash out.

We debated the merit of each purchase I wanted to make – of which very little merit existed because I was a teenage girl consumed with buying Twilight merch (yep, I was also a twihard). These debates rage on to this day except they’re now a debate between me, myself and I as a way to learn how to save money and keep myself from blowing my entire paycheck on Dutch Bros and a towering stack of books.

Now that I’m older

– a mostly functional 31-year-old – I realize that although my mom wouldn’t be considered a financially-minded person, the pediatric ER nurse taught me the most important skills in money management and life when I was just a kid: Think critically + remember that life is meant to be lived, not saved away for a time when it’s too late to enjoy it. This is what that process looks like in my brain:

1. I see it, i like it, i want it...

I ask myself if I need it.

2. don't need it?

I ask myself if I’m simply looking for instant gratification and if I’ll be happy about this decision tomorrow.

2. don't need it, but still want it?

As long as my bills are paid, and my saving goals are on track, I get it.

What I wish someone had told me earlier:
You can’t take your money to the grave. Being mindful and setting priorities for saving and spending is crucial, but you also have to enjoy life while you’re living it. If your friends invite you on a spontaneous snowy weekend trip to Flagstaff, go. If you want to ask that girl out to dinner and a movie, do it. Don’t let the fear of spending money prevent you from experiencing what it means to be alive.

Both saving and spending have to come with a purpose, a goal that can help you visualize the importance of the act.

For my mom, those years of saving were all for the goal of being able to gift me a down payment for my first car. In doing so, she also gave me the freedom to be independent. With that independence came a price, so I got a job to pay it.

When I first ventured into the workforce, I was making minimum wage at $5.85/hour and only working part-time, but I had a little cash burning in my pocket and a 25% discount on clothes and shoes. Working in a long since closed department store in Arrowhead Mall taught me that your money will disappear if you don’t think critically and figure out how to budget. My goal was to not live with my parents forever, but there was no way I could afford to move out if I didn’t start saving. After a few months of seeing my savings account stay at pennies, I sat down with my pay stubs and bank statements and did the math.

1. How much did I make per month?

  • I never worked less than 17 hours, and I made $5.85/hour. When trying to figure out a monthly budget, always estimate off the lower figures. It’ll never hurt to end up with extra money at the end of the month, but overestimating your pay can lead to a false sense of security.
  • 17 hours/week x $5.85/hour = $99.45/week (Let’s round up to $100/week for this.)
  • $100/week x 4 weeks = $400 per month

2. How much did I owe monthly to bills, and just where was my money going?

  • I paid $260/month to my parents for my car and auto insurance.
  • My bank statement told the tale of all the late night trips to Taco Bell, $30 here to books, $50 there to shoes, $20 to who-knows-what at Target. Reviewing where I spent my money was painfully eye-opening.

3. How much could I afford to spend + save?

  • If I made $400/month and my car and insurance totaled $260/month, I would have $140 to work with.
  • $400/month - $260 to bills = $140
  • I split that $140 in half and used $70 each month on fun things like going to a movie, buying a new outfit, and dinner with friends.
  • Every other dollar I earned, I deposited to my savings account.
You probably already guessed, but I didn’t stay at that job for long.

Not only did I get tired of cleaning up fitting rooms that people somehow constantly mistook for carpeted bathrooms (can you say super gross health hazard?!), it became clear that no matter how hard I worked, the pay wouldn’t get better.

What I wish someone had told me earlier:
If your job doesn’t value you, don’t stick around for longer than you have to.

I moved on to a chocolate shop for a couple years, then a bookstore/café (even working both jobs at the same time for a while), applying the same budgeting technique at both and growing my savings bit by bit. Finally, I ended up full-time at a credit union, and that’s where financial education walked up and slapped me in my face with the reality of all the things I didn’t even know that I didn’t know.

Developing positive savings habits and coming up with a budget don’t actually happen naturally. They’re learned skills that aren’t actually that hard to learn. Check out MoneyEdu for a free and easy-to-use budgeting tool, because no one really knows how to use Excel. Use program code “MYSUNEDU” to register.

June 10, 2021

Published by SunWest Credit Union

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