Budget tips to help you live within your means
We belong to a nation of consumers and living frugally is typically not celebrated. But living within your means helps set you up for success later in life. It’s the first step toward financial freedom and, eventually, a happy retirement. So, what exactly does it mean to “live within your means”? Simply that you spend less money than you make every month. For many people, that’s easier said than done: rent, insurance, food, and electric leave them maxed out without anything left over for savings or fun.
We’re here to tell you that you can set a budget, no matter how much money you make. Here are some super helpful budgeting tips.
Know how much you make
The first step in living within your means? Know what your means are. Many young people today work “the gig economy”, meaning they have several different jobs and income ebbs and flows. That can make budgeting difficult. Even many people who have a solid fulltime job don’t actually know what they make. Your annual salary or gross monthly income won’t cut it when it comes to budgeting; you have to know what you actually bring home in each paycheck.
Whether you’re freelance or hold down a corporate career, start by writing down the minimum amount of money you might actually make in any 30-day period. That is the number you should base your monthly budget on.
Track your expenses
If you want to live within your means, you have to track your money and where it’s going. In the past, that involved writing down every single purchase you made, but today budgeting apps make it super simple. Whether you’re keeping a hand-written list or tracking expenses online, you’ll want to start by noting all of your fixed monthly bills: rent or mortgage, electric, loan payments, etc.
Anything that you spend outside of those fixed bills is considered a “discretionary” expense. Things like clothing, entertainment, and takeout fall into this category.
Spend less money than you bring in
Bottom line? If you want to live within your means, you have to spend less money than you bring in. Those fixed bills we talked about a minute ago have to get paid every month, no questions asked. Most people make enough money to cover their living expenses, so it’s the discretionary spending that becomes a problem.
If you don’t already have one, create a simple budget to keep your spending in check. Set a fixed amount of money to spend on the “extras” every month, and stick to it. Can’t stick to your own limits? Try using cash instead of relying on credit cards–many people find that visually seeing how much money they have left really helps to curb spending.
Get a side hustle
If you find yourself unable to cover even the minimum expenses on your monthly income, or you simply want a little more spending money, consider getting a side gig. Today’s economy is full of side hustles that almost anyone can do in their spare time. There are dozens of gigs you can work from the comfort of your home (like freelance writing, bill keeping, or social media management) and others where you can get out and meet people (like being a rideshare driver or delivering food). Most allow you to work on your own hours and, often, to set your own rates.
The key is to make sure you’re making more money than you’re spending! If that means getting a second job to make ends meet, well… there’s no shame in that game.
Understand want vs. need
When it comes to spending, understanding the difference between a want and a need can help keep you on track. Unfortunately, this is where many people go off the rails. It’s easy to justify a “want” as a “need” with a little crafty reasoning. For example, sushi with your work buddies? Well, you have to eat, so that’s a “need”, right? Not quite. At the most basic level, the only things you really need are enough food and water to keep you alive, shelter, and medical care. Of course, that’s not very exciting. Work a little “fun” money into your budget so you don’t go crazy . . . as long as it’s within your means.
Bottom line? With a little smart planning, it’s entirely possible to stick to a budget and still enjoy life.