I’m a broke 22-year-old-here’s how I figured out money

I’m on the precipice of 23, so I feel like a quasi-functioning adult. I pay for my own rent, electricity, Netflix, Spotify, and groceries. Fortunately for my bank account, I don’t have a driver’s license, so I don’t have to worry about vehicular expenses. The downside is that I’m 23, single, and creatively minded, so I don’t make a lot of money, and I live in Austin. The struggle is real.

When I started out in Austin, I was a lost baby freshman who turned 18 the day of move-in. I had never been out on my own. The moment my mom left was the moment I knew I wasn’t a kid anymore. Sure, I had my stuffed animals and endless supply of fruit snacks, but this was the beginning of my adult life…and financial mistakes.

I didn’t have a bank account until December of my freshman year, so I had no idea how anything worked. In my head, it was like the movie Blank Check. I didn’t understand how all of those seemingly great Amazon purchases like all seven seasons of Boy Meets World and plush Captain America toy took a day or two to go through on my account. That’s how I ended up trying to pay off $300 of overdraft fees during the last half of freshman year, and that’s why I’m writing this. I want to save you from some of the terrible financial decisions I have made in my life through teaching from experience. Let’s get started.

First and foremost, budgeting is key. I was an RA throughout college, so I didn’t get my first apartment until after I graduated. The biggest reality check (no pun intended) of my young life so far was going from having meal plan and free housing to buying groceries and paying rent. I was used to blowing my entire tiny RA stipends and student refund checks on onesies (I still own both of them) and movie tickets whenever I felt like it. I had no real concept of how much things actually cost (by the way, campus food costs way more than real life groceries). After two months of holding my debit card and weeping, I finally got mostly serious about my finances. I learned to give myself a limit out of each paycheck. That way, you have enough left over in case of emergencies and for bills that fall between pay days, especially if you are paid bi-monthly like I am.

Secondly, you don’t usually need that pretty new thing. I am notorious for texting my friends pictures of things like, say, a Chewbacca hoodies with some derivative of the caption “I NEEEEEED it” or even “I’ve never needed something so much in my entire life.” You are definitely allowed to treat yourself, but there is a definitive line between need and want. For example, I need to have electricity, but I want (NEEEEEED) a rotating, light-up lamp that plays your iPod through Bluetooth and looks like waves cascading down the walls of your bedroom. I need groceries, but I want (NEEEEED) the entire box set of The Mighty Boosh. I need an apartment, but I want (NEEEED) those Betsy Johnson wedges. You get the picture. It’s essentially to get a better grasp on what you actually need and what you just really, really want.

Thirdly, you can totally treat yourself. You are allowed to buy that fancy, iPod light thingy, but you have to make sure you can afford the wifi bill to be able to connect and pay for your Spotify account. You’re allowed to buy those wedges, but you have to first pay for the apartment you’re going to walk through to break them in. It’s all about creating a system of balances. Buying that Chewbacca hoodie might mean you don’t eat out that week or vice versa. Just make sure all of your bills are paid firs,t and then you can budget for the fun stuff.

One thing I’ve learned during all of my financial blunders is that your friends understand when you’re broke. More often than not, they’re broke too. That way, y’all can all figure out something to do that doesn’t cost money together. Some of the best memories I have are just sitting around at someone’s apartment watching movies or playing video games. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time.

Lastly, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to spend too much money eating out. You’re going to splurge on a pair of leggings with horror movie characters (or whatever normal people splurge on) only to forget you have to pay the bill for the credit card you maxed out sophomore year the next day and be down $40.

It’s okay. I’ve been out almost entirely on my own for over a year now, and I spent too much last week. All it means is I have to be careful this week. You can’t get mad at yourself because we’re still young. I’m wearing rainbow socks and lying on a stuffed unicorn as I type this. This is the time you learn how to recover from these mistakes and avoid them in the future. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from time to time. I’m not embarrassed to admit I’ve had to borrow money from friends and family. I’ve paid them back, but I just needed a little help. Sometimes your check isn’t as big as you thought because you forgot you had to take a day off. Sometimes your electric bill is a little higher than usual. Sometimes you get sick and have to pay for a doctor’s visit and medicine you didn’t plan for. It happens. The important thing is to keep learning.

[Image via Universal Pictures]

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