Confessions Of A 27-Year-Old Who’s Never Had A Budget

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This week is my 27th birthday and I’ve never had a budget. I’m pretty positive this confession will elicit lots of eye rolling but, before you stop reading because you could care less about what the entitled, parents-still-pay-the-phone-bill, rent-subsidized-by-grandma girl has to say, please hear me out.

I am, in fact, 100% financially independent. My salary to expenses ratio is such that it allows me to spend more or less unrestrictedly without accruing debt, but I never felt like I had enough left over to save. (I must give one disclaimer upfront: I do not have student loans. I fully acknowledge how privileged I am to be in that position.)

I am a walking paradox in that I’m a completely frivolous spender, yet notoriously frugal (those who know me best might say I’m “cheap”). At the rate I’m going, my epitaph will read “Herein Lies Rachel: Champagne Taste, Wino Budget.” I splurge on big stuff yet look to cut corners — as in, going through the subway doors instead of turnstiles — every chance I can get. Yet I love nice things and will spend money on designer sample sales, high-end dinners and drinks as though I’m a Swiss socialite with a trust fund. But that trend is coming to an end. With the new year comes a new budget.

As I creep into my late 20s, I am beginning to experience financial anxiety. I’ve always sort of viewed my priorities through a “YOLO” lens, thinking about what will benefit me in the moment instead of in the long term. However, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into terrifying future events, like getting married, having children, or buying a home. I do want these things one day, albeit not anytime soon. Additionally, I want to give these theoretical children of mine a comfortable life, which my parents worked so hard to give me. There is also, though many people choose not to acknowledge it, the competitive nature of having money to consider. Down the road, I do not want to be the pre-book launch Carrie Bradshaw of my friends while they look into wealth management options.

Saving doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s why I’m starting now. Not saving money is getting old, and so am I. I am not necessarily writing “tips” because who am I to give advice? I am simply stating what I’m doing to change my habits this year in hopes that it will motivate and encourage others to do something similar. 

First, I am allocating $150 per week for extraneous spending, which excludes all the non-negotiables (rent, utilities, gym membership, transit costs, etc.). However, I am not counting “food” in the non-negotiable category. So, if I spend $70 on food for the week, I can have $80 to have fun with. But if I spend $150 on food, then I can’t go out at all or go see a movie. Secondly, I am going to shop smarter. I really love to eat. I also really love grocery shopping and perusing the Bougie Cheese Aisle for fun, which has historically been toxic to my wallet. I am now trying to only buy food that I absolutely need, and cook my own lunch every single day using fresh vegetables and the Trader Joes’ five-dollar bag of frozen grilled chicken.

Lastly, I am eliminating all unnecessary treat yo’ self-costs. I’m not one to spend a lot on beauty-related items or treatments, in part because I’m ~*frugal*~, but also because I just don’t care enough to do so. However, I will get pedicures (mostly for the foot massage) and am easily persuaded into getting a blow-out. I do not want to declare that these indulgences will definitively end, but I am proclaiming that they will become rarities. I will do my own hair, paint my own nails, pluck my own eyebrows, and contour my face with dirt if I must. (Just kidding about that last part, I’ve never actually tried contouring.)

I crunched the numbers based on what I used to spend, versus how much less I will spend after implementing these budget cuts, and if I follow through with my plans, it has the potential to save me about $14,000 this year, or $1,160/month.

I understand that, at this point, it looks as though I’m kicking off an extremely quiet, reclusive year. But that isn’t going to be the case. I am cutting back, but because I will have more control over my finances, I will be able to plan ahead for larger, more exciting purchases (hopefully vacations). I simply want to approach this year as the year I’m going to be more methodical, self-controlled, and mindful about how I spend my money and what I spend my money on.

By the time I turn 28, I’m hoping to have a new epitaph.

Rachel Rohinsky is a copywriter living in NYC.

Image via Unsplash

  • GBee

    My biggest piece of advice is to pay yourself first. Think about what is most important for you to save for, then decide what amount you want to save per month for each category. For example, if you want to max out your IRA, save $458/month and treat that as you would treat your other non-negotiable bills. Once you have allotted a certain amount for a specific savings goal, you cannot touch it.

    My second piece of advice is to not just have a general “savings”. It is so much easier to save when you have specific goals in mind. Whether it’s to retire early, go on a nice trip, or have money for a downpayment, it’s easier to turn down HH when you know that money will be spent on your plane ticket to Italy.

    I don’t give myself a budget, but I have hit all of my savings goals because I follow what I stated above.

    • CeeEm

      agreed. view “savings” as one of your set expenses like “rent” or “cable bill.”

    • I agree with pay yourself first! My savings account REALLY grew when I set up my direct deposit at work to get $100 every week so it never even hit my checking account.

      And I never had a budget until I was 26, so don’t beat yourself up. Find something that works for you (for me, I’m a YNAB fanatic but others love Mint or spreadsheets) and stick with it. When I signed up for YNAB, I committed to doing it for at least 3 months before deciding if I wanted to keep it up. Within weeks I knew it was something I was going to stick with for the foreseeable future.

      It definitely gets easier, so stick with it and you’ll see the results.

  • CeeEm

    ahhhh, who doesn’t love the bougie cheese aisle? <3

  • Lexie

    Get yourself to 1,000 and then get yourself to 3 months worth of pay. Then, find something absolutely AMAZING to save up for — like a trip to France for all that bougie cheese!!

  • Michelle

    Girlfriend you need to get yourself a mint account!

  • buckwheat

    Is this writer conflating jumping the turnstiles with frugality or do I not understand how the subway works?

    • Sindhoo

      I really, really need the author to answer this question.
      Love this article but that one sentence left me pretty perplexed.

    • Kamolika

      Wondering the same thing… isn’t that just *illegal*?

      • Vv

        I’m pretty sure that’s illegal and will end up with you getting a summons if you’re lucky, or worse, if you run into a bunch of cops on a bad day.

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