I have been wanting to write this post for a long time now but to be honest, money isn’t something that I like to talk about, for a few reasons. First of all, I have everything that I need. When I talk about setting a budget or living on one income, I never want it to seem like I am complaining or wishing for more. God has provided for every need that I have and I am so thankful for that! Secondly, everyone has a different definition of a “budget”. So I never want to offend anyone with money-talk because I have more than enough for me and my family and I am truly so lucky. With that being said, I do think that trying to budget as a recent graduate, young adult or just a person in general, is something we need to talk about because we can ALL relate. I am no expert by any stretch, but I can definitely share the things that I have learned while being married to a student.
Before I start, it is important that you know a little more about me so that you can get an idea of where we are financially and where we hope to be in the future.
I am a 24-year old Copywriter. I have a degree from Mississippi State in Communication and Public Relations. I am working in my first full-time job post-college. I graduated in May of 2017. This means I earn an entry-level salary, which I love and am thankful for, but just know I am not like rolling in dough from some freak first job or anything.
I got married to a smart, kind and handsome medical school student in July of 2018. This means student loans and only one income to provide for two people. If you aren’t familiar with this career path, it takes 4 years before you make a dime. After those 4 years you start making a decent income while in residency. It will take about 8 years total for Hunter to be out and working on his own with a real, doctor-sized salary.
I moved to Greenville, SC from Nashville, TN in January of 2018. I didn’t know anyone or have any huge connections to land my first job. But God provided and I found an awesome company where I get to work with really creative and talented people. I love what I do!
Tips and What Works For Us
Save on Groceries
One way that we save SO MUCH MONEY every week is by shopping at discounted grocery stores. Lidl and ALDI have been a huge help. I didn’t realize this at first, but I was spending around $120 on groceries at Publix a week. I was mind blown when I sacrificed some of my favorite name-brands to shop at Lidl and I only spend about $75 on groceries a week now. There are some really specific items that these stores won’t have, but go to two stores if you have to. It will be worth it in the long run. If you don’t have a Lidl or ALDI, Wal-Mart groceries are usually cheaper than Kroger and Publix. And just a general rule of thumb, stop buying the name brands! For some reason this was so hard for me, but go for the off-brand when you can and you’ll be surprised what it does it your overall grocery bill.
This should be a no-brainer, but it really is so easy to want to swing through Chik-Fil-A during your lunch break or to eat out with coworkers. I promise that if you will commit to packing leftovers for lunch every day, you will consistently saved $20-$30 a week on fast food.
Get a SAMS or COSTCO Card
This helps so much! I can save some serious cash by buying items I get regularly in bulk at SAMS. You might think, “What would I possibly buy in bulk?” I use it for granola bars, cases of water, protein shakes, tortilla chips, peanut butter, tampons, rice, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, or really anything that doesn’t expire quickly or that you can freeze easily. You will be wasting money over time if you buy these things at your grocery store. When you are a member of SAMS or COSTCO, their gas is also cheaper than regular gas stations. So the membership fee (I think it is $45 for SAMS and $55 for COSTCO a year) will help a lot if you are utilizing it monthly.
Create a Second Income
The best way to live on one income is to NOT LIVE ON ONE INCOME. Make second income. Mind = blown. Guys I am not gonna lie. I work my ass off. I have an 8-5 job, but I am also a freelance writer. If you aren’t familiar with creative fields, freelance means that a company you are not employed for full-time can hire you for a one-off job or on a contract basis, aka you work for yourself and pitch yourself to companies for jobs. So I use UpWork, ZipRecruiter and Indeed to find freelance writing gigs. This brings in extra money for me, but it is hard work and a lot to keep up with. I tried waiting tables for a brief period of time but having the flexibility to do work from home was crucial for me. But you might think differently!
In addition to my full-time job and my freelance gigs, I am a Senior Manager with Beautycounter. Beautycounter is a safer beauty company based in Santa Monica, CA and we work to get safer products into the hands of everyone. We advocate for better beauty and give our clients resources and education so that they can make good choices when purchasing personal care products. I am so intrigued by the beauty industry and the safer beauty movement. My mom had cancer and it affected the way my family and I view health. I make better choices now and I want to educate others and help them do the same. I don’t work with Beautycounter for the money, but the fact that my Beautycounter biz alone has grown to be enough each month to pay our rent makes it even better.
I’d like to take this opportunity say this: If you are passionate about something, DO IT. If you are worried about being “that girl” (whatever that even means) just remember that the person whose opinion you are scared of doesn’t pay your bills, take your vacations, feed your family or treat you to dinner. Just food for thought. Maybe you want to be a fitness trainer, a beauty consultant, a makeup artist, a stand up comedian, a bartender, a freakin’ circus clown, whatever it is, DO IT. It is either one day or day one, sis. Go get ‘em.
My blog can be a small source of income. Let me be clear, I don’t share things that I haven’t tried or that I don’t love. I hope you can see that on my page! I do make a small percentage when you shop from my page and use my links. Sometimes when I share discount codes with you, I can get product credit or a small commission. But that is not why I do this! If it was, you’d see my out here promoting teeth whitening trays and tummy wraps because lawwwd knows they tryna get on everyone’s feeds. I turn down paid opportunities ALL THE TIME because your trust is important to me and I only want to share authentic and real stuff that I truly use and love. Just so you know ;)
Truthfully, working more than 1 job is challenging. I get home around 6 and want to go to the gym. I get home from the gym around 7:15 and then I usually cook dinner while Hunter studies. By the time dinner is ready its like 8:15 and I am BEAT. Once I relax a little and eat dinner, it is 9 and all I want to do is shower and get in bed. But that is usually when the work starts. Whether it is a blog that needs to be written, a freelance job I need to start on, or a client who needs help with their Beautycounter order, it has to happen after 9pm. But I really don’t mind. You and I do hard things because we have goals! I am putting in the work now so that our family can reap the benefits of Hunter’s career in the future. So if you are in the same boat, or even if you aren’t, I would encourage you to stop complaining about only having one income or wanting to make more money, and start putting yourself out there and taking some chances. The money won’t make itself until you make yourself. Gosh I should be a motivational speaker.
Use a Credit Card
Hunter and I will use a credit card for large purchases like plane tickets, gas and rent so that we make cash back at the end of the year. I would suggest trying to build your credit and earn $ back by doing the same thing. Any time we use the card, we pay it back immediately so that we never spend more than we have.
So here’s the tea. I very rarely buy things at full-price. I used to be the queen of labels and brand names. I wanted the newest best thing in the store and I am so glad that I have out grown that trait. Don’t get me wrong, a good splurge is warranted at times and you’ll totally see me with a few designer pieces, but now that I understand the true value of a dollar I am much more frugal when it comes to purchasing fun things like clothes, shoes and accessories. I use Retail Me Not, Groupon and Honey to find deals. I keep my eye on sales and wait until items are marked down to buy them. Some of my favorite inexpensive online clothing retailers are Shein, Forever 21 and Romwe.
I never shop for anything brand name without first checking stores like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Home Goods and Nordstrom Rack. You’ll feel so accomplished when you find a $100 Free People top for $25. These stores can be hit or miss, but give it a shot! Extremely discounted stores like Bargain Hunt and Dirt Cheap are good options if you don’t mind digging. Tbh, I kinda don’t like to dig, but I’ve found some awesome Target Hearth + Hand kitchenware and Universal Thread shoes at these stores! Poshmark is another great way to save money. I get it chick, you want a new pair of Ray Bans before spring break. Try Poshmark and see if you can get them for a discount! Pssst, here’s a pair.
A lot of the pieces in our first apartment are hand-me-downs. Our couch, chairs and living room table came from family members who had old pieces they wanted to replace. We are so thankful that they helped us get these big ticket items! I think it is SO TEMPTING to get really exciting about your first place and want to deck it out perfectly with brand new pieces, and the fact is: it is just that, your first place. It doesn’t have to be perfect! Money will come and with that, so will the Anthro bedding you want and the Pottery Barn couch you drool over.
If you don’t have family willing to part with anything, try checking on Facebook Marketplace or Offer Up. You can find some steals if you are willing to tidy up a gently-used piece. And it gives you more money to style the rest of your place!
Plan Out Your Weeks and Months
This might seem obvious but it helps me and Hunter a lot since we generally are pretty social. If we know that we are going out with friends on Saturday and are going to need to buy dinner and drinks for ourselves, then we will plan for that early in the week. I might try to spend a little less on groceries to make up the difference. We budget for entertainment, so we could definitely go out with our friends without making these adjustments, but it is nice to know ahead of time.
I was in several weddings this year and last that required plane tickets and dresses, the whole nine. I loved getting to be a part of these but they certainly take a toll on the bank account. I had to plan ahead for months to be able to work it out AND my sweet precious parents chipped in a some plane miles over the course of the 8 weddings I’ve been in! Thanks Mom and Dad :)
Split with Friends
Any time you can Uber with a group, do it. If you are traveling to a wedding and have to pay for a hotel, see if another couple wants to split a room with you. If you need to purchase a gift for a birthday, ask a friend if they want to go in on a gift with you. Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, these are all things you can have several devices on one account. Split with your bestie and save that extra $5 a month for something else. Chances are, they are in the same boat as you and are looking for ways to be smart with their money too. This could also go for vacations or really anything that you could do with a group! It may afford you more opportunities when you can split costs several ways.
Eat Out Carefully
Honestly this one has been so hard for me because I LOVE to go out to eat. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but I love going to hole-in-the-wall mexican places, ordering pizza, getting salads from the Zaxby’s on our road, stopping for milkshakes, etc. But eating out reallllly eats into the budget (pun intended). When we are planning to eat out with friends we will look at the menu beforehand and see what the pricing looks like. If the entrees are affordable, no biggie, we will eat out and be happy as clams. If the place looks more pricey, we may eat snacks at home before we go and then eat salads or apps to cut the bill a little. We could easily spend the money on dinner, but then it would take away from money we want to use for other things that are more important to us like traveling and date nights.
Give What You Can
We still tithe every Sunday and we each sponsor a child through Compassion International. This adds an extra $125 to our monthly budget. We could use that money to be less worried about eating out or extra spending, but we really feel like this tithing an important part of worship and we want to give back some of what God has blessed us with. I would encourage you to set money aside each month for something like this. We are so fortunate to live in country where we can hustle and create jobs and make money, so we should appreciate that by donating to a church or charity, or just helping out a friend who might need it. Whether that be $5 or $500, try to do some good with what you have.
So I’ve told you what works for us and some of my hacks but how do we keep track of everything? Honestly, not as good as we should! I have been using Mint to set goals for my spending and it sends me notifications when I hit certain amounts. I am already at 80% of our dining out budget for all of February. That trip to NYC realllly did me in! Yikes! But since I have the app, I can see where my money is going and how much I have left to spend on those things.
I have not used the Every Dollar App by Dave Ramsey but I plan to start. You guys recommended it highly so I will DEFINITELY be checking it out!
If you haven’t made a budget and need a template, this one from the Budget Fanatic is really helpful.
Q & A
Y’all asked some really good questions on Instagram so I am going to do my best to answer the most FAQ here for you. I hope this helps. I am no pro, so take everything with a grain (or several) of salt.
Q. How do you budget for the extras? Like going out to eat and saving?
We save whatever is left over at the end of each month, which is usually a couple hundred bucks. As far as eating out, we work that into the budget each month. We shoot for $100 of dining out and $100 of entertainment each month. Things like lunch after church, concerts, date nights, happy hours and going to movies fall into this category. $100 for dining out usually ends up being like 2 nice dinners out or 3 average dinners.
Q. Apps? How do you track your budgeting?
I share more about this above!
Q. How much of a budget do you set aside for food? And does that include eating out?
We spend around $80-100 a week at the grocery store. This is hard because Hunter eats SO MUCH FOOD, but like I shared above, we were spending so much more at nicer grocery stores, so just lower your standards a lil’ bit and you can save major $$. So that breaks down to around $375-$400 a month on groceries. That does not include the $100 “eating out” money we allot for dining out.
Q. Do you talk about the budget monthly or weekly?
Weekly and monthly because each week is so different with traveling and expenses for Hunter’s school and my blog.
Q. Do you have “spending money”?
Yes. I use my “spending money” on things I want like a new item to share on my blog or my Orange Theory monthly membership. For Hunter, he loves to just save his spending money, ha. Typical dude. I think it is important to give yourself spending money because otherwise you’ll go crazy. I will say, my Orange Theory package was a gift from my parents. I wouldn’t recommend boutique fitness if you are on a tight budget. The gym I was using before (I still use it and have my membership, I only do OTF twice a week) is only $10 a month. That is much more doable.
Q. How do you split things up when paying bills?
I am forgetful, I’ll admit, so I put all of our bills (except rent) on auto-draft. I like knowing that I won’t accidentally miss one and have a late fee. I just make sure that there is always enough money on my card to pay the sum of all the bills. When I say bills I mean like gas, cable, electricity and subscriptions.
Q. What is the best way to start saving?
I am not your person for this. But I can tell you what we do. I get paid on the 1st and the 15th. Whatever is left in my account on the day my check goes in (with the exception of the check amount) I roll to savings. So say my account has $430 on it and I get paid $1000.00. I’ll roll the $430 into my savings and use the $1000 for the next two weeks. UNLESS I know that I will be traveling, have a big expense coming up or something like that. That is why the planning ahead thing comes in handy. So before I left for NYC I didn’t roll money into savings. When I get paid this week, I will put money into savings because we have a chill next few weeks. It all depends on where you are and what you are doing.
Q. How do you pay for Hunter’s school?
Good question. I don’t! His tuition is paid with student loans. We will work to repay those as soon as he has an income.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is: if you are reading this, you’re probably just fine. I imagine you’ve got a fancy iPhone in your hand or you’re on a computer at your job or school. All of those things mean you’re doing something right. The amount of money you make doesn’t make you happy or make you successful. What you do with it and who you share it with does. So don’t get caught up in the numbers, your happiness isn’t there. Find something you love to do and the rest will follow. Trust me, I did it! Do you think anyone thought I could support two people as a writer? I’ll let you answer that for yourself. Pursue your passions, not your paycheck.