My Financial Journey + the Budget Routine That Works for Me

The budget routine that works for me

When I was a few months away from graduating from Baylor in 2019, I wrote this post about what I dreamt my life to look like 1-2 years postgrad and how I would budget my not-yet-existent future income to get there. In 2019 I was obsessed with moving to New York City and living with my bff Brandon a lá “Broad City” and/or “Sex and the City” so we could be our best single girl selves together. We all know that plan did not come to fruition thanks to COVID, which of course not only prevented me from moving, but also forced me to rethink what I truly wanted out of life and who I wanted to live near. With all of my family and almost all of my best friends here with me (missing Lo and Jonathan obviously), I feel comfortable and settled (in a good way) in my home. Now that my dream of being a New York City girl disintegrated for good and bad, I’m focused on a new goal of becoming financially stable and free as soon as possible. I’m lucky to have a wonderful job with truly kind people (whoever thought I’d say that about a job ever?) and at the same time, I absolutely do not want to work a day longer than I need to. And while I’ve been a full ass adult for the past four years, I didn’t put a ton of effort into establishing a realistic budget until September of last year. I love watching TikToks of girls showcasing their monthly budget and/or payday routine, so I thought I’d share some financial/job context and my own payment process!

I started saving my money when I was a senior in college and worked for Baylor Athletics Communications—even though I was working there for two years prior—to truly focus on my career and living situation goals. After graduation, I worked for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as a freelance sportswriter covering high school football games every Friday and Saturday night from Fall 2019 til I had to resign due to work conflicts this past season. The newspaper didn’t pay much at all, but I was so lucky to work for an incredible team of men who were kind and encouraging to me every week. My first full-time job out of college paid me around $19k after taxes so I luckily lived at home and wasn’t yet required to pay any of my student loans until I quit that position by December. I started at the Office of the Public Defender in January 2020 as a Legal Clerk and was quickly moved to different sections until I learned and worked in each one of them. That position paid $38k, which was a welcome step up from my previous salary especially as I started paying my minimum monthly payment of $610 for my main two student loans. I never missed a student loan payment and was lucky enough to save much of my remaining monthly income thanks to my parents charging me basically nothing for rent and I didn’t have to contribute often to my meals (unless I went out with friends). I was still working for the Star-Advertiser during the fall and started a part-time Administrative Assistant/Communications Coordinator position with a nonprofit (never again!) where I worked at least 20 hours a month and used that money to pay my student loans. When I was promoted to Community Outreach Court Coordinator at OPD and my salary increased to $51k, I thought I truly made it in life. I was so thrilled to make that much money and I increased my student loan monthly payments to $710 to bring down my balance a little more. Although I should have been contributing to a 401k or IRA since graduation, those didn’t come until far later, so I saved quite a bit while working my full-time job and two part-time jobs. At the end of 2021, I added another part-time job as a paid contributor to SB Nation’s Our Daily Bears site covering Baylor Women’s and Men’s Tennis teams in the spring (which I still do today!). When my partner and I moved in together, I had new bills to pay like rent, a car payment, cable/internet, and regular groceries/food—all of which easily took most of my income as soon as I got paid. I left my COC Coordinator position last August to switch field entirely and move to a private company, which provided me with a far greater salary and benefits so I can hopefully achieve my financial goal of not having to work to live on a quicker timeframe. I’ve also prioritized contributing to my work 401k and a Roth IRA.

Since I started my current job last August, I fully dove into developing a realistic and thorough budget I can track every month. I used to think that a budget had to look like writing down every single time I swiped my debit or credit card and monitoring each expense, and while I attempted that model for a few months in 2021 (and I’m sure it definitely works for other people!), it only created shame and stress for me. Now I prioritize tracking my bills and their due dates and setting an amount of money to spend on essentials every pay period. Before taxes, I contribute 10% of my bi-weekly paychecks to my 401k and my employer matches up to 6% and my health insurance totals $160 every two weeks as well. After taxes (since the beginning of this year), I contribute $250 to my Roth IRA each paycheck so I can max it out at the end of the year. I pay all of my set monthly bills aside from my student loans—that $1,000 (I increased my payment amount when I got my new job) is taken out on the 3rd or 4th of the month—when I get my second paycheck of the month and I note exactly when I paid each item. Because I’ve diligently paid my loans by working up to four jobs at once and increased contributions since I graduated in 2019, I’m on track to pay off my nearly $50k of private student loans in 19 months! Against my dad’s better judgment and advice, I’m obsessed with paying off those loans and put a lot of money toward them whenever I can. When I received a third paycheck in March instead of my usual two, I put an extra payment on my balance to lower the totals even more.

Instead of tracking every item I spend money on, I’ve allowed myself $400 each paycheck to pay for groceries, eating out, gas, money to give to my houseless friends in Sand Island and houseless folks I see around, and home essentials like toilet paper, pet food, etc. Although I sometimes need to add more money to my two week essentials total, I try to stick to that amount as closely as possible by eating almost every weekday lunch at home with groceries purchased throughout the week (I’m hyper fixated on large salads, cottage cheese pizza toast, and tuna sandwiches) and only eating out for a couple of meals on the weekend. I stick to this $400 bi-weekly budget by keeping only that amount in my checking account and paying for nonessentials like clothes, gifts, and other bills on my credit card and/or from savings. I don’t have a set limit of how much money I allow myself to spend on clothes as I almost exclusively shop secondhand at Savers and on Poshmark, but you’ll see in March I purchased a few workwear items at Uniqlo (my absolute favorite place for work pants and cardigans) that added up to quite a large amount. I’ve toned down my shopping purchases that aren’t secondhand by examining if and how they’ll fit in with the rest of my current wardrobe and how often I’ll wear them. Since I started shopping primarily used clothing and accessories last year, my most expensive purchase has been my $50 Uniqlo trousers I wear every week! My partner and I also try to help our houseless friends in our Sand Island pod as much as we can, whether that be through cash, medical supplies, human food, gas money, and dog or cat food. Giving money away and helping others is the most important part of living to me and I would still do so even if I didn’t have as much disposable income. If and when I have money leftover (I’m very lucky and privileged that this happens and that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck), I put it all toward my savings.

I never knew before how important it is to have a budget and to truly stick to it every month. I no longer wonder where my entire paycheck went after a few days and I’m able to track each penny in a budget that works for me and my lifestyle. I’m extraordinarily privileged that I don’t have to worry about paying my bills and that living with my parents for a few years after college set me up to save the way I could. Everyone should be able to thrive no matter what they do or don’t do for work (no one should have to work, period!) and I’m devastated that such is not the case for most people in the world. I’m hoping you all have or will have a budget and/or money process that makes sense for your lives too!