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Auntie Anna's guide to adulting pt 5: budgeting and careers

Aug. 10, 2018
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It’s been a while since the last installment in this column was released. After our talk on building relationships, it’s safe to say that we’re good to begin actual adulting tasks like budgeting, time management, and securing jobs and internships. Whether you’ve decided to go to college or not, it’s ideal to think about the future and how you’ll be able to support yourself financially. Being in control of your money and time is crucial.

When I first moved out to attend college, I was given a large amount of money for the first few months of expenses, all in cash. The first “adulting” task I had on my agenda was getting a saving account and a debit card. Back in my home country, we mostly dealt with cash, so I’d never really used a credit or debit card before. If you’re considering getting a card, I highly suggest it! I chose a debit card, because I didn’t want to spend money I didn’t already have. (However, collecting credits by using a credit card will be beneficial for you in the future, too.)

Benefits of a card:

  • It’s easy to track your spending, because everything is logged onto an app. (I used the Bank of America app.) The exact amounts spent are automatically recorded.
  • You can always see exactly how much money you have with a few clicks.
  • Carrying around a card is so much simpler than cash. 
  • It’s safer to use a card when you’re trying to make a large purchase.
  • You can always withdraw money for cash-only places and the subway.
  • You can split money with friends using an app like Paypal or Venmo, both of which can be connected to your bank account.

Budgeting

There are different ways to save money and budget your spending. To be honest, I don’t recall having read any books or articles on budgeting (although I’ve read a few to research for this article). Coming from a Southeast Asian family, my mom raised us to spend money logically. Her mantra: only buy things you need. Everything else is a privilege. I eventually came to realize that drawing a line between what I want and what I need really makes a difference in how I spend my money. 

I’m not here to judge anyone on how they spend their money, especially if they earned it through hard work. But because I’m mostly supported by my parents at this age, I think it’s great to think carefully before I spend their hard-earned money. 

You might think that it’s easier said than done, but after a few tries, you’ll realize that it’s easier to say no to buying things than you once thought! I’m going to save you the trouble of reading about tips like writing down everything you bought or setting aside money for different uses. If you truly wanted to buy something, you would cast all that aside and spend the money anyway. The trick is to train yourself to consume less, to realize that you don’t need everything stores are telling you that you need. (Advertising is pretty deceiving, as we all know.)

Money 101

  • Always spend less than what you have. This might sound like a no-brainer, but this is the most important tool to saving. If your monthly expense is $500, tell yourself that you have $400 to spend. If you don’t trust yourself enough with a saving account, tell your mom or dad to keep the $100 for you. If you just naturally put yourself in a situation like that, you’ll adapt. 
  • Think about everything you’re buying. Sometimes I have this habit of buying random things that, upon getting home, I question why I purchased. Maybe it cost $10, so I overlooked its lack of necessity. But these purchases add up over time. Every little thing matters when you’re budgeting. Believe it or not, it’s fine to compare an item’s prices between three grocery stores and buy from the best one. It might not be the most convenient idea, but you have to trade one thing for another. For me, sometimes I would rather walk a bit more to get something cheaper. 
  • The most important question: Why am I buying this? Don’t get me wrong, I also buy things just because I like them. I’ve spent money on oil paint to try it out because it was on sale. I didn’t need it, but I figured it would add to my life as an experience. If you’re buying something you don’t need, try to at least make it an experience. Before you put something into your cart, ask yourself, what is this thing for?
  • Buy multi-purpose items, and recycle things. I always stumble upon all these things that I can recycle. Jam jars are pretty—use them to store your coffee spoons. Those tin bean cans will be clean enough after three washes to use to grow a plant or store dry food. When you’re buying food, check for items with containers that look nice and reusable so you can use them!
  • Buy just enough of what you need. A few months ago I watched a Netflix documentary on living a minimalist lifestyle. It dawned on me that having too much only makes me more stressed. Having a stocked fridge never makes me feel better. I’m constantly worried about food going bad. If you live near a grocery store and aren’t super busy, take regular trips there instead and try to not overstock your living space. I understand that buying things in bulk can be cheaper, but remember to only buy in bulk if you regularly use or consume a certain item.
  • Buy things you need when they’re on sale. I think everybody (myself included) is a sucker for sales. It’s great, I admit. But it isn’t so great when you’re just buying extra things thinking you’re saving some bucks. If you’re looking for carrots, buy the pack that’s on sale. If you’re not looking for carrots, don’t just buy them because they’re on sale. 
  • Treat things you want to spend money on as a privilege, not a daily reward. Eating out, going shopping, watching a movie in the cinema, concert tickets, a new set of headphones—these are things that, in budgeting, must be treated as privileges. Once a week, you can spend money on something you absolutely don’t need. Having fun and experiencing life is important, so find ways to do so without spending so much money! Free concerts, going to a gallery instead of a museum once in a while, going to the beach, having a picnic at the park, thrifting, window-shopping, and watching a movie at home are all great, inexpensive activities. Depending on where you live, try googling free events and activities. Take public transport there instead of an Uber!

SAVINGS

The key to saving is having a reason for it. You won’t just spend less if there’s no motivation behind it. Why are you saving? Are you looking to travel, buy an apartment, get a dog, or buy your mom something nice? Even if it’s not a long-term motivation like saving for a house or a car, saving to travel in a year or two can be enough of a motivation. 

TIME MANAGEMENT

Like budgeting, managing time is about your mentality. I rank the things that are important to me and spend my time accordingly. If work is more important to you than school, and you would rather be gaining experience than taught knowledge, go to school part-time and work the rest. If you want to get a degree and are less concerned about work for now, spend effort on school and complete internships in the summertime. The first step to managing your time is knowing what you have to and want to do. Make a list, if it helps.

Have a brief plan of what you’re doing tomorrow. Sometimes it works for people to plan their whole week, but this doesn’t do it for me. I note important, solid things for the week, but my daily tasks are planned the night before. This allows flexibility—I don’t feel pressured to do anything. 

Try to never put tasks back-to-back. Allow time in between so that you don’t suffocate yourself or overwork. This will eventually wear you out and make you work less effectively. 

JOBS AND INTERNSHIPS

Back to knowing what your priorities are—knowing whether you want experiences or extra cash. I’m specifically targeting people who are in school, who don’t have the time to build a long-term career. Websites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor constantly list open part-time positions. Another option is internships. Some websites that were helpful for me were internships.com, Glassdoor, and Indeed. You can search for the field you want and apply some filters to narrow the results. Often, it’s not hard to get in touch with companies, and all you need is a resume or portfolio.

Asking around and going on social media are also good ways of finding internships. Build a profile for yourself on LinkedIn, start or update your portfolio, and save it as a PDF. While you’re looking, you can still be preparing. Your interests, activities, and experiences with volunteering or organizing events will be incredibly helpful when you’re being interviewed for a job or internship.

Cover image by Rockie Nolan.