Budgeting can be tough. It can be especially difficult when you’re just starting out and building your life and career. If you’re struggling with managing your money, know that you’re not alone, and that a clear budget can do a lot to help you get things under control. Here’s an in-depth, no-holds-barred look at a real 20-something’s monthly budget — and her honest take on when it’s worked and when it hasn’t. Meet Katey.

Katey is a 28-year-old living in West Hollywood, California, with her boyfriend (living with a roommate or significant other can help to alleviate the cost of living, especially in expensive areas). She works in human resources at a major media company in Los Angeles, where she’s been employed for four years. She was recently promoted and currently earns $59,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for people in Katey’s age range last year was $39,416. While this makes it seem like Katey is a high earner, keep in mind that this number represents the average nationwide. According to Data USA, in California, the average salary in Katey’s age bracket and for her gender is significantly higher at $56,697.

Meet Katey’s Budget

Katey was willing to share a dollar-by-dollar breakdown of where her money goes. Her standard monthly bills add up to $2,906.05. After taxes, her monthly take-home salary is about $3,300, meaning she has a little wiggle room for savings or emergencies — according to moneyunder30.com, as of 2015, 14 percent of people in their 20s reported not saving anything from their paychecks, so this puts her ahead of the game. Katey tracks her monthly spending in an online spreadsheet and shared a down-and-dirty look at her financial commitments, from rent and credit card payments to streaming services and fitness classes:

Credit Card Payment




Phone payment


Food (groceries/dining out)


Insurance (auto/renter’s)


Music streaming service






Car tracking service


Audio book streaming service




Private Student Loan


Car Payment


Federal Student Loan


Martial Arts Classes


TV streaming services


Phone Bill


What’s Working and What Isn’t

While Katey’s system looks very organized, she admits that it hasn’t always been easy to stick to her plan.

“It goes in phases,” she said, when asked if she always sticks to her budget. “I always pay my bills but go through phases where I overspend on things like food, entertainment, clothes and going out — all things I would categorize as extras. And I have accumulated quite a bit of credit card debt because of it. It’s been a pretty big burden on me overall, but I am working with a financial planner now to create a plan to work on eliminating this debt.”

Even though Katey acknowledges that sticking to a budget is hard (especially in your 20s, when there can be so much to do and sometimes so little money in your bank account to do it with), she thinks it’s vital, especially when just starting out. And experts agree — CNN Money put budgeting at the top of its list of money moves to make in your 20s. “Your 20s are actually the perfect time to establish smart money-related practices,” according to the site, and budgeting is, “one of the easiest ways to keep track of your spending.”

“Sticking to a budget is extremely important!” she shared. “If I didn’t keep track of my bills and my income, then I would definitely overspend and would likely get into a position where I wasn’t able to pay those critical bills month to month. By having a budget, I can make sure I’m prepared to at least pay for the basics. Having a budget also helps me create plans for saving for vacations and other big expenses. Eventually, I hope to get a job that pays me enough to buy a house, and having a budget will help me create a plan to do so.”

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