*Disclaimer—this is not directly travel-related, but if you try hard enough, you can see the connection. In other words, I had nowhere else to put it. Enjoy.
"Budget” used to be a cringe-worthy concept for me. It reminded me of my lack of self-control and unhinged spending habits, vulnerable to every Urban Outfitters sale and Starbucks breakfast menu.
As a Millennial, when I'm not Snapchatting or eating avocado toast, I'm probably spending my money on useless stuff like VSCO filters and cat T-shirts. It's safe to say our generation could use a little help with budgeting. But, also wholly Millennial, I want it to be fast, easy, painless and efficient.
For some reason, money is a sensitive, hot-button topic for a lot of people—but it shouldn’t be. Maybe if we had more candid conversations about our finances, there would be fewer people buried under mountains of debt. I want to make it clear before I launch into this that the way I choose to spend my money is entirely up to me, much like the way you choose to spend yours is up to you.
I merely wish to show you a tool that can help you make the most of your income and stretch your dollar a little further (unless you work for Goldman Sachs or some other investment bank and don't have to worry about this; in which case, VenMo me @katie-gatti).
For the sake of full transparency, my newfound eyelash extension habit is what prompted me to get myself on a real, no-BS budget once and for all. I knew that, with the amount of money coming in (#InternSalary), I’d have to be intentional and conscious about how I was spending my limited expendable income.
I grew up in a house where money was micromanaged to the cent, so it’s bizarre that I spend with such an “ignorance is bliss” mindset. My mom used to catalog every single expenditure in this massive spreadsheet she called “the SS” (short for spreadsheet, but I always found it offensively humorous that SS was also the name of the secret Nazi police since we’d joke my mom was the receipt Nazi).
No joke, the woman had years’ worth of purchases catalogued in there, and the receipts for every single one of them filed in her office in our basement. To this day, I could ask her to find me, say, a Kroger receipt from the second week in October 2012 and she could walk downstairs and, within 10 minutes, emerge with the receipt in question. (I wonder why I'm so Type-A?)
Anyway, money seems to be the one area of my life where my obsessive-compulsive tendencies have yet to pervade—and I definitely didn’t want to pick up the old Excel workbook habit.
I have, however, found an easier and more convenient way to track, customize and set boundaries for spending habits, incentivized in part by the obscenely high credit card bill I received after my first month in Dallas. This spending black hole on my Discover statement is what I now affectionately refer to as the ‘Fast Food Free-for-All 2017’ stage of my summer.
The app/website is called Mint, and it’s from Intuit (the makers of TurboTax) so it’s safe and legitimate (famous last words, I know, but we’re all in this data cloud together!).
I’ve been using Mint for all of July and it’s amazing to me how, just by capping my spending in customized categories, I think twice—and sometimes three times—before making a purchase. I am SO much more conscientious about what I’m spending my money on, because I have to watch this tiny green bar climb closer to the top with every swipe.
Before I launched into the tips, I want to mention that the Mint app is not as useful to me as the Mint website. I prefer setting my budgets and reclassifying transactions on desktop, then checking on the go using the app.
Here are some tips I’ve found that work best with Mint:
Connect your checking account, savings account and credit card(s).
Mint automatically pulls in your transaction and balance data. Then, it uses that data to cross-reference your spending with the budgets you’ve set for yourself. This is an inevitable first step, but it's pretty easy if you have a major bank or credit card. More on budgets now…
Customize, customize, customize.
I should mention that I did have one failed attempt at becoming a Mint budgeter last summer (after Dallas Fast Food Free-for-All 2016). My theory as to why I failed is that I didn’t customize the budget for my lifestyle.
I kept the standard categories it generates for you, and allowed my transactions to be siphoned in automatically (some incorrectly). The great thing about Mint is that it allows you to reclassify a transaction’s category, but if you don’t use that feature, your budgets won’t be accurate.
For example, I went to a bar called Public School the other night for Happy Hour appetizers and a drink. My Mint transaction classified the “Public School” charge as “Tuition” (LOL), and was just floating around in my budgets ecosystem, unclaimed. When I noticed the transaction was categorized incorrectly, I changed it to “Food and Dining > Restaurants.”
You can get really specific. For example, I have three “Food and Dining” categories since I spend a lot of my money in that arena. I have “Restaurants,” “Fast Food,” “Groceries” and “Bars and Alcohol.” I’ve found that the more specific you make your categories, the more likely you are to stick to them. Here’s a screen grab of my current budget categories, to give you an idea of just how customized they are:
Once you determine how much you want to spend in each category, Mint adds it up and tells you your total budget for the month (and how close you are to it, as the month progresses). I like this feature because it keeps my credit card bills around the same price.
On the mobile version, a tiny line moves along each bar to show you how far into the month you are—and you can pat yourself on the back when your spending is "under" for that point of the month.
Pick a dollar amount and stick to it—but allow some rollover.
Remember those AT&T commercials back in the day with all those tiny orange clocks that represented rollover minutes? Heck, remember minutes? That was so 2009.
Some of your budgets will likely work the same way. For me, I set a $75 clothing budget each month—but I’m anticipating I won’t use it all the time, because I won’t always need new clothes. I set this budget to “roll over” so, each month, anything left unspent in that $75 will tack on to next month’s clothing budget.
If I go three months without buying any clothes, that means I’ll have $225 to go on a baby shopping spree (and not feel bad about it, because I’ve budgeted that money aside already).
This brings me to my next point—prioritization.
Prioritize your spending habits.
I know this probably should’ve gone first, but I’m all about effective flow in my writing and this just seemed like an apropos segue.
For me, keeping my clothing spending under $75 a month is extremely doable. I barely ever shop for clothes—I just don’t care that much, for whatever reason.
But did you see my eyelash budget? I set aside a whopping $100/month to subsidize that completely unnecessary trend! That’s as much as I spend on groceries! (Exclamation points!!!)
The point is, you should spend your money in a way that makes you happy. If you’re a HUGE foodie and couldn't care less about manicures and makeup, then dump that extra $100 into your restaurant budget. If you’re super into your SoulCycle grind and hate eating out, you probably don’t need $120/month in Restaurant money and can spend it on (four) SoulCycle classes instead. Seriously, how do y’all afford that?
OH, and what do you know… it’s time for an equally appropriate segue!
While I’d love to get highlights every month and biweekly pedicures, I know there are other things that are going to come up that need to be budgeted for. For example, my lovely parents got me a new car last year and I’m obsessive about keeping it perfect. I get it washed and vacuumed every two weeks, so I budgeted in that $26 monthly charge.
I also know that I run out of things like shampoo and face wash from time to time, so it’d be nice to have some money set aside for “Personal Care” items. There are smaller ticket items, like these, that crop up and need to be paid for too, so don’t ignore your other routine spending.
It’s also important to budget for things like Uber (if you use it) because that’s a sneaky charge that can add up quickly if you use it enough for short haul trips. Even though your $10/ride trip from your house to downtown may not seem like much at the time, if you’re doing that round-trip twice a weekend every week, that’s $160 in Uber charges for the month (or, in KG language, a mani/pedi).
Y'all, the struggle is real, I know. Being realistic? Making sacrifices? Not eating Fuzzy's Tacos for lunch every day? UNSUBSCRIBE!!
But, as un-fun as it is, sometimes taking steps like this make it a little easier to exercise a sense of control over the (small amount of) money we have as Millennials (unless you're one of those tech startup tycoon Millennials, in which case, please see my VenMo username above).
Happy spending, friends, and more importantly—happy saving!
Travel hacks and must-sees from a broke frequent flyer.