Five Steps for the Hustlin’ Babe’s Budget
Written by Sara Bliss
A couple of months ago, I was listening to an economics podcast when one of the speakers jolted my perception of personal finance. Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck said: “I think [the wage gap] is underrated in terms of importance. We’re in a capitalist society. Money is power.” We’ve all heard some version of this before, but she surprised me by then mentioning the #MeToo movement. She explained how the unification of these women finally coming forward was in large part due to their financial stability—they weren’t afraid of losing their jobs, their income or their livelihood by coming forward to expose their current or former employers. They had enough lined up outside of one particular gig or contract to keep them afloat, regardless of the outcome.
That’s when it clicked. Money isn’t just power—it’s freedom. Female financial stability is the golden ticket to empowerment, allowing us to speak our truths without dreading what may happen as a result. Unfortunately, many employers don’t offer a living wage, which can (and often does) lead to exploitation. It’s up to those fortunate enough to make a decent living to take control of their personal finances, so that when the time comes, we can be ready to speak up on behalf of those who can’t; to lift up those who are living paycheck to paycheck and give their voices a platform.
I am one of these women; a woman with a responsibility to speak for inclusion and diversity and acceptance and equality on behalf of those who cannot. Although I consider myself budget-minded, I can’t take all the credit. My “financial hygiene” can be fully attributed to my dad. He always made sure I knew the value of hard work, supporting myself and my passions and knowing when to spend versus when to save my earnings. I’ve held a job since I was old enough to have a worker’s permit and set up my first savings account with my allowance when I was 10 years old. Between his guidance and my own accounting education, I’m here to share my personal tips and tricks for taking control of your own budget.
(A little context may be helpful: I am a single homeowner in America, employed full-time, with no dependents aside from a furry roommate.)
1. Taxes are non-negotiable
In response to asking, “Do I have to?” you may have heard, “All you have to do is die and pay taxes.” Let’s make that our starting point. Taxes can be complicated and the laws change constantly, so it’s challenging to stay up-to-date on what’s expected of you come filing time. One thing that remains the same is a step you can take when filling out your W4 (the form you complete right when you’re hired somewhere new). It asks how many allowances you’d like to claim, and most people select “0” or “1”—but I’m here to advocate for the “2.” Although a fat check from the IRS may be exciting each spring, you’re giving the government an interest-free loan all year until collecting what is rightfully yours come refund season. When you claim two allowances on your W4, the government withholds less, you get to keep more of each paycheck and you’ll simply break even when the time comes to file.
2. Set yourself up for success
Now that your paycheck has a little extra padding, we need to set you up with a no-fuss space where you can keep track of your recurring bills as well as any other expenditures. Many people have found success with free budgeting apps such as YNAB (You Need a Budget), Mint or Pocket Guard, but I’m a fan of my trusty spreadsheet. It's nothing fancy, but it's transformed my financial stability. I'm aware of every single penny I have to my name, which bills are coming up, and how much I have to spend on miscellaneous expenses. This works whether you’re on a regular paycheck schedule, crushing it in the gig economy or work several side jobs to get by.
If you have an irregular income, here’s my advice: go back through your bank statements and determine the range of what you typically earn in a two-week period. Operate from the lowest end of this range to stay conservative with your planning and spending—you always want to assume you’ll have less than more in any given pay period.
3. Take the guesswork out of it
Your bills are now smartly logged in your preferred budgeting method, so it’s time to figure out the best way to pay for them. My first piece of advice? Set as many bills to autopay as you possibly can. This eliminates any chance of forgetting to pay Verizon and having your 4G shut off, but it also allows you to know exactly when certain bills will be paid each and every month. Consistency is crucial to make budgeting as hands-off as possible. Larger responsibilities, like my mortgage, have to be taken directly out of my checking account. But smaller bills, like Netflix, can be linked to a credit card. I recommend putting every single purchase on your credit card and paying it off a few times a week. Automatically paying off big, recurring expenses each month with plastic ensures you’re building a strong credit rating and potentially earning kickback rewards with one fell swoop. My card of choice is the Southwest Airlines by Chase credit option, which means most of the flights I take are free, courtesy of the tons of points I rack up on that card.
4. Strategically use your plastic
Speaking of branded credit cards: I know you shop at Target. Everyone and their cousin shops at Target. So, you've got two pieces of homework: enroll for a Target REDCard to save 5% off each time you shop in-store or online, and create an account with their Cartwheel coupon program. After making your weekly list, cross-check the Cartwheel app to see which of your items are on sale, or if you can switch brands (just this once!) to save a little dough. You can use the Target app while you're perusing the aisles and scan any barcode to see if there’s a corresponding Cartwheel coupon in real time—so there's no excuse.
5. Shop smarter, not harder
For all other purchases, I follow the golden trifecta of shopping advice: want versus need, stock versus hoard and generic versus branded. I approach every item or service the same way. I ask myself: Do I want this, or need this? Be brutally honest with yourself, here. If money is tight, as much as I want to replace my Cocokind TUMERIC Spot Treatment, I will survive without it. Do I have enough of this at home? BOGOs and sales are seductive jerks. They make you think you need 16 toothbrushes because you’d be a fool to pass up such a good deal. Congratulations! You’ve just purchased dental hygiene for the next eight years, when you could have used that money to buy yourself lunch instead. If you have enough of something to get you through to your next paycheck, you have enough. Is there a generic version of this? Modern advertising has created a society dependent on brand-name goods. Break the mold by replacing a couple of items each shopping trip with its generic, off-brand counterpart. I bet the only difference you notice is how much less you end up paying at the register.
None of this is to say I’ve never hit bumps in the road. We all do. I went through a rough patch of personal finance after graduating from high school as I was trying to navigate the transition from full-time student to full-time employee, but these tips had a lot to do with how I slowly pulled myself back up that cliff. I’ve found so many people approach budgeting as a chore; something that’s annoying, difficult or straight-up not worth their time. But financial stability is one of the most radical gifts you could ever give yourself.
In a generation that believes in thriving instead of merely surviving, I have to believe ensuring security for yourself and your future belongs on any self-care checklist, too.
Sara works as a full-time admissions counselor at Flagler College in St. Augustine. She also runs a wellness Instagram to connect with other foodies. When she’s not in the kitchen, you can find her at the gym, reading a book, planning her next trip, or re-watching Game of Thrones episodes with her boyfriend and her dog.