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Financial Fitness: Tips and Tricks to budget friendly living

To save money the first step is to make a budget.

Living with a tight budget is a lifestyle most college graduates know too well.  At least for me, it seemed like the only way to get by.

When I moved back home to Miami from Chicago where I went to college, I told myself that it was only a temporary situation. It was just some time “in between”, in between finishing school and getting a steady job. I’ve always prided myself on being independent. In college, I worked multiple jobs at a time to cover all of my personal expenses. I thought things might get easier when I graduated but I quickly found out that most jobs involved freelance projects or were part-time and work was definitely not stable.

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Six months soon became a year, and a year somehow became four, but I’m proud to say I’m finally moving out of my mom’s house, you know that “in between” place. My mom like many other Hispanic moms isn’t in any rush to see me go and will welcome me back in a heartbeat if that’s ever the case but with patience, commitment and most of all strategic budgeting I’m ready to take the leap.

I know budget woes can loom over your head in a nasty way but if you apply some of these suggestions you’ll start feeling confident about your bank account in no time. Here are some simple yet helpful tips and tricks  you can use to ease the stress of  handling your bills and finances:

Make Your Budget and Stick to it 

First, you need to create your budget. List all your monthly expenses, everything from rent to

To save money the first step is to make a budget.

Making a budget can help you get started on your efforts to save money. It’s the first step to figuring out how much you can afford to spend on the different areas of your life.

your weekend outings. Then prioritize your expenses. See what you can do without. For example, do you really need to buy a latte every morning or can you make coffee at home?

Now that you traced where all your money is disappearing to, commit to sticking to your budget. Avoid the temptation of going out if you can’t afford it or making purchases you know can wait. Think of it as a nutrition plan for life. Fitness coaches say don’t diet, eat healthy and often say that eating clean and exercising regularly is a way of life. So, eat healthy and you’ll see results, but remember you can treat yourself to a cheat meal once in a while, maybe about once a week.

Saving money is an important part of budgeting.

Having a savings account is very important. It can help you out in times of financial scarcity. Even if you can only save $20 a week. I highly recommend doing so.

Start Saving 

As a current freelancer, having a savings account has saved me many times. Include a savings plan in your budget. Check with your bank for any incentives. I am enrolled in Wells Fargo’s Way to Save. Every time I use my card, $1 from that purchase gets transferred to my savings. That can be an extra $5 a week you add to your savings without even thinking about it. It doesn’t sound like much, but every little bit counts. Instead of spending your tax refund, deposit it to your savings account. Some of my friends have told me they save $20 a week, that’s $1,040 saved by the end of the year. Not bad!

Pay Down Those Credit Cards

Oh, credit cards! They’re the devil disguised in plastic. The trick to paying credit cards down is to pay more money to the credit cards with higher interest rates and at least the minimum to credit cards with lower interest rates. The idea is if you’re sending $50 a month to your credit card with the highest interest rate and paying $25 a month of the balance of the other cards, when you pay off the first card, you’ll be able to send $75 a month to the other card. Also, remember that paying the minimum every month is better than not paying at all. It’ll take longer to bring the balance down, but at least your credit score will improve.

Plan Ahead

You created your budget, but you still feel like you’re playing catch up.

Paying down credit cards will help you lead a financially responsible life.

Pay down credit cards with higher interest rates first.

Avoid being surprised by your bills, credit card or otherwise. If you know your pay frequency and the average dollar amount of your paycheck, designate what you will pay with each paycheck. Prioritize based on due dates. If you have some fun money left over, you can withdraw that and carry it as cash to avoid over spending or over drafting on your bank account later. Paycheckcity.com is also a great site to help estimate what your next paycheck will look like.

Make Rather Than Buy

One of the biggest budget killers is eating out. If you live alone, it might be easier to eat out because food can go bad if you don’t use it right away. You don’t need to eat out for every meal. I find it cheaper to go grocery shopping, make breakfast at home, and meal prep my lunch and dinners. I treat myself and go out to lunch on Friday. The weekends vary, but at least I feel confident that I didn’t blow my money on lunch all week. When I was in college, I drank Starbucks almost every day. McDonald’s coffee cost $1. I wasn’t ready to give up my coffee, so I made the switch. It doesn’t have to be McDonald’s, the point is if you’re not ready to give something up, find the most cost efficient way to have it.

If you want coffee you can make it at home.

Find creative ways to have your cake and eat it too! Living a budget-friendly life doesn’t mean you can’t have what you want out of life, it just means you have to find the most financially efficient way to do it.

Stay Informed and Organized

Look up Suzy Orman, she has different books for different financial needs. But if she’s not your cup of tea, there’s countless other finance and budgeting experts who have also penned books. You can also subscribe to blogs that will keep you informed. Learnvest.com can help you manage your finances, but they also email you blogs related to finances, budgeting, and savings. Keep track of your spending and create goals, it’ll help keep the excitement of saving alive.

Take control over your finances. Try these tips, make it a habit, and you’ll be financially savvy and fit in no time. Remember it takes patience, commitment and strategic budgeting.

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Joanna DeJesus graduated with a B.A in Television – Writing/Producing from Columbia College of Chicago. Born in New York, but raised in Miami, Joanna is half Nicaraguan and half "Nuyorican". She's a freelancer in the TV/film industry and has worked on the series Burn Notice, Ride Along 2, and other independent features.

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