As many as 28% of Americans live by themselves. Whether you are venturing out on your own after college, or life circumstances have forced you to live alone (i.e. divorce, kids leaving the nest, etc.), it can be hard to switch your saving and spending mentality to “party of one.”
Keep these budgeting tips in mind as you navigate the financial waters by yourself:
1. Start With an Emergency Fund
Dave Ramsey likes to start with the emergency fund, and I wholeheartedly agree. In my own experience, it seemed as if costly instances were always popping up when I had zero emergency fund and was living paycheck to paycheck.
I remember trying to reach that $1,000 saving mark for my emergency fund, thinking it was the most impossible thing ever (hey, I was only 21 making very little money). I remember when I finally reached that mark, the emergency fund stayed at $1,000 and life’s little inconveniences seemed to be easier to handle.
If you have no emergency fund, then your first financial goal should be a $1,000 fund. After that is established, you want to add a little bit of money to your account each month to save up one month of living expenses, then three months, then six months. This money will keep you protected against a job loss or unexpected medical emergency.
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2. Budget for the Fun Stuff
When all of the financial responsibilities sit on your shoulders, it can become so easy to forget to treat yourself and to budget in the fun stuff. No matter how tight your budget is, you need to leave a little wiggle room for mental health. Living frugally and on a strict budget can be amazing, but it can also grow tiresome month after month. What is the point of cutting your grocery budget to less than $30 a week if you are just miserable?
Dream big for a second. What would you do or where would you go this minute if you had the money? Perhaps you would buy yourself a fancy pair of shoes or take a weekend trip to Italy. Whatever it is, don’t ignore this desire. Instead, research how much it will cost and create a financial road map to get there. Your dream vacation could only be a year or two away with a smart budgeting plan.
3. Evaluate What You Really Need to Buy
Before you get excited about being on your own and buy everything in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, think a moment. Most basic items, such as can openers, dishes, and other must-haves for the home can be found inexpensively. Many of your family members and friends have extra dishes or kitchen gear that they never use. Ask them to borrow it. You might be surprised how generous people are when it comes to getting rid of extra stuff.
If you can’t score any freebies, then check local thrift stores and yard sales. There is no reason to spend $50 on a plate set when you can score one at a thrift store or yard sale for $5 or less.
Another tip is to buy as you realize the need. When I moved into my first place, I didn’t realize how many items were needed to just make and eat a basic meal. However, I also realized that a lot of kitchen gadgets aren’t necessities. For example, a pie server or salt and pepper shakers are nice to have, but you can easily make it work without them.
Read More: 10 Frugal Hacks for Single Living
4. Budget Before You Move and After
Before you sign the lease on your apartment or rental, crunch the numbers. Is your budget going to be tight? You might have to rethink where you live to better fit your budget. After you move in, evaluate how you are doing with your budget. Are you struggling to stick with it a month or three after moving on your own? These are little red flags that signify a change is needed, either a decrease in expenses or an increase in income.
5. Control Groceries and Eating Out
One of the trickiest things to budget for when you are alone is food. This is especially true if you are used to shopping or cooking for more people. Start with a loose meal plan. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy or time-consuming, just plan out what you are going to eat for the week. For example, on Monday, you will eat oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, and pasta and meatballs for dinner.
As you plan out each meal, coordinate your shopping list. As you cook for dinners, you can either cook enough to have lunch the next day, or you can freeze a portion of your meal for later use. This will save you time and prevent you from wasting food.
6. Automate Your Finances
Another way to make sure that you stay on top of your finances is to look for apps that will help you automate your finances. For example, Acorns helps you to invest automatically, and Mint and Personal Capital will help you budget with very little time and thinking. Schedule your bills to be paid after your payday to ensure your account does not go into overdraft.
Some sites will even let you schedule monthly payments to landlords. Just be sure to still look over statements if you switch to automatic payments. You want to ensure that you are not overcharged for anything.
Like many things, living alone has a learning curve. Don’t let a bad month have you running to credit cards or family for help.