Spreading your wings and leaving the comfortable, carefree life you’re used to in your parents home is a natural rite of passage towards adulthood. It’s a long and arduous journey filled with fun and excitement, but it still holds its fare share of problems, stress and worries. And guess what, it’s almost always about making meets end with an entry-level income.
The balancing act between the cash flow and the expenditures that you will be performing when you’re finally on your own can be difficult at times. While the freedom is what you’ve been dreaming about ever since you were a teenager, the ‘culture shock’ of the real world puts a lot of stress on your shoulders, and you might even be thinking about moving back home when the going gets tough.
However, before the safety net of your parents basement sways you into giving up, let’s learn a few tricks that may prove useful for young adults making their path into this crazy world. This guide may not be the ‘magic bullet’ that you’ve been hoping would solve all your financial issues, but it does provide a list of strategies in terms of living comfortably and yet within your means.
1. Remember that it’s a learning experience
The vicissitudes of life on your own build character and are perhaps the best teachers you could hope for. What this means is that without the unpleasant experiences – whether they are financial, social or emotional in nature – you wouldn’t be able to develop and mature. Try to perceive every challenge and bump in the road as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself and about the world. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t always the paragon of fiscal responsibility. Figuring out the most effective budgeting strategy for you is essentially a trial and error process.
2. Always be prepared for contingency situations
The future is packed with unforeseeable circumstances, and things won’t necessarily turn out the way you’ve planned. Therefore, having a backup plan – in this case an emergency fund to cover unpredictable situations – is a great way to stay one step ahead of your problems. For instance, what if you lose your wallet just after payday? What if the drycleaners ruin your only good suit the day before major interview? Managing your budget on a low or medium income AND saving cash is difficult at first, but as we’ve mentioned earlier, it’s a learning experience.
3. When and why to trade down
Remember how, as a kid, you’d only drink one (major) brand of soda because ‘it tasted better’? How about when you threw a tantrum because your mom refused to buy you a branded pair of converse sneakers that were basically a vastly similar but more expensive version of a non-branded pair? But those had led lights!
One of the secrets you eventually learn as an adult is that branded products are more expensive because the companies pour massive funds in advertisements, marketing and the design of the package, not because they are always genuinely better.
It’s true that there are situations when you get what you pay for, but it doesn’t hurt trying to trade down and actually see if the non-branded product isn’t similar in terms of quality. After all, current industry trends are all about outsourcing the production to lower cost facilities in low income countries. Just because your iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S5 have the quality assurance logo doesn’t mean they weren’t produced in a Chinese sweatshop.
4. Window shop for your utilities and financial services
At first glance, the service industry appears consistent across the board, so you might be tempted to go with the first offer you get. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly accurate and, considering the fact that your utilities and loans make up a hefty portion of your monthly expenditure, it’s actually pretty important to find the most affordable ones before you put your John Hancock on any contract. The good news is that the internet is riddled with information and reviews of various providers. If you’re not 100% certain you’re making the right decision, you can always consult a financial advisor for more insight.
5. Never go shopping hungry
You might have heard this expression before and, while it’s genuinely good advice to visit the grocery store AFTER you’ve had a consistent meal, there’s a deeper meaning to it: refrain from impulse buying. The worst purchases you can possibly make when you’re living on a modest income are the uninformed ones.
Sure, that newly released smartphone is shiny and the salesperson will tout its merits in hopes of convincing you to dish out several hundreds of dollars on it, and possibly a more expensive data plan to complement the device. However, when you look at the cold facts you learn it’s only marginally better than the version you already own.
Smart shopping is always about evaluating the available options carefully and considering whether a certain item is necessary. And finally, try to remind yourself that you don’t HAVE to buy something you don’t really need just because it’s on sale!