If you’re a student or intern struggling with managing your money, you’re not on this personal finance journey alone. Many of us start out with limited knowledge of how to manage our finances and usually learn from our experiences in life.
Yet we can’t deny just how vital it is to be financially literate in the present day, where the very structures and technology through which we transact are evolving. For example, debt comes in many forms, and becoming indebted is getting increasingly easier. All of this makes it difficult to navigate your expenditures and in turn, makes it harder to be smart with our money—but it’s never too late to start, right? And the best place to start is learning why you should and how to budget.
Sharing their experiences on this topic are Ola Majekodunmi, Founder of All Things Money— an online resource that provides young adults with the financial tools they need to navigate adulthood; and Angel Zhou, Content Marketing Manager at Capital Placement.
Let’s dive into the challenges and strategies to better money management.
Getting started with personal finance
When to comes to personal finance, it’s important to recognise that each individual’s journey is uniquely their own—whether you’re a student with your first summer job or an intern abroad in a country you barely know. We all start from different points, face varying financial challenges, and dream of different goals. It’s through these diverse paths that we acquire the wisdom needed for better money management
According to Ola, our attitudes and habits when it comes to money start developing quite early on in life. “Our money habits, according to a number of studies, develop from as young as seven. However, I can’t remember how I managed my money when I was seven years old, if I even had any money then,” she joked—though it’s a pretty relatable sentiment.
“I actually went to boarding school, so my earliest memories of actually having to manage money was when I was 11. That was the first time I had my own bank card, and my mum used to transfer a weekly allowance. I used to make sure I budgeted that well, because I didn’t have parents (with me) I could just kind of ask extra money from.”
Ola’s interest in managing money peaked when she secured her first job at 17. As she paid off her car insurance with the support of her mother, Ola noticed just how significant of a chunk that payment took from her income. “My car insurance wasn’t cheap. I remember it used to take a whole load out of my money. I used to make sure that for my next year’s renewal, I would have some money saved to so I don’t have to fork out money monthly on things like that.”
Usually, getting our first job tends to awaken a secondary financial sense in us. Of course, that’s a lesson that can sometimes only be learned the hard way— AKA completely mismanaging the first few paychecks we receive.
For Angel, who has lived by herself in the UK for much of her late teens and early adulthood, her approach to personal finance is still evolving.
“I hadn’t been able to manage my own money or understand earning and spending because I wasn’t on the earning side until I went to university. My parents obviously didn’t trust me with that so I had a very limited budget. If I needed something, I would normally ask them and then they would evaluate the decision with me. I’ve learnt a lot from my parents in terms of how I make financial decisions.”
Since then, the challenges that come with adulthood and a touch of financial independence was something Angel learnt to manage.
“I recall reviewing my contract. My first job was as an associate during my first year of university. I was doing it part-time and at the time, I think it was around GBP 8 per hour. I calculated that a cup of coffee would be GBP 4. That would be two cups of coffee.”
This led her to question why she’d buy two cups of coffee per day at that cost. “It was like a moment of realisation when I read my contract and knew how much I’m earning per hour,” she explained. While we all come from different backgrounds with different experiences around money management, there are definitely tools and strategies that aid us along the way—and it starts with budgeting.
Why budgeting is important
Budgeting and creating a plan are like a compass and map for your financial journey. They are the fundamental tools you’ll need—yes, even at your brokest (we’ve been there).
First and foremost, budgeting provides you with clarity about your financial life. You get to see exactly how much money you have, where it’s coming from, and where it’s going. This awareness is crucial because, without it, you’re navigating without direction. “Loads of people always try and tell me that they want to save. I ask them how much they can ‘afford to save’. But they can’t tell me because they don’t have a budget,” explained Ola.
Budgeting also helps you manage your day-to-day expenses. You can spot where you might be overspending and make adjustments to get back on track. Your overall plan would also include how you’ll handle debt, emergencies, investments, and more. The ultimate goal is sustainable, long-term financial security.
Setting your financial goals
Before you get started with budgeting, you need to know your basic financial goals. These give your money purpose and direction. In order to identify these goals, ask yourself, “What am I working toward?” and “Why am I saving or investing?” This will also help keep you motivated as they provide a tangible reason to save and make wiser financial decisions. Once you know what you’re working towards, you’ll be able to set milestones along the way to help track your progress.
With clear goals, you can prioritise your spending and savings. This helps you allocate resources to what truly matters to you, reducing wasteful spending.
“Regardless of social media,what your friends do, what your family told you to do, what are your goals and what do YOU want to do? I’m self-employed and people always ask ‘When are you going to buy a house?’ I don’t want a mortgage (right now). I’d rather spend that money to go traveling the world,” said Ola, on why it’s important to identify the goals that matter to you.
If you’re not ready to spend on something, it shouldn’t be an active goal until you know you can commit to it—or at the very least that you want to. Additionally, not all goals are equally important at all times in life, so make your decisions wisely and be honest with yourself about how much you really need to spend on certain things.
Now that you’ve identified your goals, they’ll serve as the foundation for creating a budget.
We all have our unique needs and unfortunately, this is why we don’t have a singular budgeting approach that fits us all perfectly.
But not to worry, there are dozens of approaches—legitimate and homebrewed—that could help you out. Here are a few well-known methods to try out.
- The 50/30/20 rule: This budgeting guideline suggests allocating 50% of your income to needs like rent, 30% to wants, such as a new video game, and 20% to savings and repayments.
- The cash envelope system: You divide your cash into separate envelopes, each allocated for a different category, like groceries or movies. Once you’ve emptied that envelope, you can’t spend more in that category your next payday/budgeting cycle comes around.
- Zero-based budgeting: This approach is different as you assign every bit of your money to a specific purpose. At the end of each month, your income that has been distributed across the categories for that month should equal zero. Plus no category is assured to be listed every month—which keeps your priorities flexible. It forces you to allocate your money deliberately and prioritise spending based on your financial goals.
- Automate your savings: If saving is at the top of your priority list, this could be helpful. By setting up automatic transfers to your savings or investment account as soon as you receive your paycheck, you make sure that you’ve set aside a chunk that will remain untouched before you even spend a cent.
- Debt snowball or avalanche: If you have multiple debt repayments, this is something you may want to consider. When paying down debt, the snowball method starts with the smallest debt and paying it off first. One the other hand, the avalanche method prioritises debt with the highest interest rate.
There are definitely more out there, but the key is to choose the ones that align with your financial goals and lifestyle— and of course, being consistent in your budgeting efforts. It’s important to remember that budgeting is a dynamic process that can evolve as your financial situation changes, so stay flexible and open to adjustments when necessary. Don’t let your budget cause you unnecessary grief.
“You have a budget you set for yourself that you can use to spend on things that you like. (Personally) if it goes over that budget, I’ll probably take something from next month if I really want it!” Angel shared.
She added, “I think living is in the present. Do something that makes yourself happy. Yes, we have these structures to help us organise our life and our budget a lot better. It helps us in the long term, but I also think that it’s important to do something that makes you happy.”
Angel’s wise advice? Spend on things you like but do so responsibly and in a sustainable way.
Now that we’ve covered budgeting, let’s do a quick runthrough of some important steps to take in your personal finance journey.
- Set your financial goals: Begin by setting specific financial goals. These could be long-term, such as a retirement fund, medium-term, such as a car, or even short-term, like tickets to the Eras tour. (But let’s be honest, that would change our entire lives.) Start by listing your financial aspirations and needs before making them clearer and more specific. Quantify them—assign a specific amount or target so that you can visualise at a glance how much money you need to set aside.
- Prioritise them: Do this based on their importance and timeline. This will guide your allocation of resources. For example, if saving for a new gaming setup is your goal, then you’d want to set up a timeline leading to when you want to purchase it. Calculate how much of your income you can realistically set aside in that time. Basically, the ‘goal’ would be to save up enough to purchase the setup in that period of time.
- Create a budget: After you’ve set up your timeline, work on your budget. Outline your monthly income and basic living expenses. (Be realistic and accurate in your estimations!) Allocate a portion of the remainder to each of your financial priorities. This includes savings, subscriptions, debt repayments, etc. What you have left is for you to enjoy. Make sure to track your expenses regardless of what you’re spending on—even fun!
- Set up an emergency fund: Once your expenses are covered, you may be concerned about what you have left and if it’s possible to have an emergency fund. The thing is, it’s for a rainy day—just in case. You can start now and add a little to it whenever you can, gradually increasing how much you have put away. Ideally, aim to build at least three months’ worth of your living expenses in your fund.
- Repay your debts and loans: Debt can be unavoidable. For example, many people require credit cards to be able to afford necessities and this still counts as debt. Managing your repayments is highly crucial as missing a credit payment could have bad consequences. Prioritise your high-interest debts and make it a goal to clear them as early as you can manage.
Personal finance is a long-term journey
Of course, ultimately, balancing these priorities requires patience and discipline. It’s a long-term journey, and progress may be gradual. We acknowledge that it can be difficult and overwhelming at time but a lot will change in life. You’ll experience different challenges when it comes to your finances, which is why staying flexible and adapting as you go is important. If you know your goals and you have a plan, you’ll be better prepared.
Make sure to reassess your financial goals, income, and expenses every now and then. Over time, your priorities, life, and even general living expenses will change, and your previous budgeting or plans may no longer fit what you need. Stay committed to your plan and you’ll see it pay off.