How to budget money on a low income in your 20s Learning how to budget money on a low income takes work, but it can pay off big if you start early. Here’s how. November 28, 2023 Starting your first job after school can be exciting, but it also ushers in new challenges. One of the biggest hurdles is making sure you can cover all of your bills and living expenses with your entry-level income. Taking the time to create a budget can reduce stress and set you up for long-term financial success, says Michela Allocca, founder of the personal finance blog Break Your Budget. Sticking to a budget on a low income in your 20s can get your financial life in order with the right mindset for planning. Not sure how to budget money on a low income? Allocca explains what a budget is, why it’s important to have one, and how to stick to one—even on a low income. Why budgeting for young adults is important (especially on a low income) Creating a budget may not sound like the most exciting way to spend time when you’re young and adventurous. But Allocca says that putting in the work now will make it easier to reach your financial goals and avoid money stress in the future. In short, a budget is a spending plan based on an individual’s income and expenses, Allocca says. “In its simplest form, it’s how you choose to allocate your funds over a certain period of time,” she says. “It includes the essential expenses that make up your cost of living, as well as your nonessential expenses such as eating out, entertainment, or travel.” Allocca believes having a budget is helpful at any stage of life, but it’s especially important in your 20s. “Not only does it provide direction on where your money is going, but it draws your awareness to what you are spending your money on,” she says. “This level of awareness makes it possible to nip poor spending habits in the bud early on, as well as ensure the money you are spending is being directed toward things that matter to you.” How to create a budget that works for you Younger people are often looking to align their spending with their values, Allocca says, and creating a budget can make your financial dreams a reality. When you’re ready to create a budget, Allocca recommends taking the following steps: 1. Gather information “First, start by bringing awareness to your expenses,” Allocca says. “Look back at how you’ve been spending pre-budget.” She recommends taking a look at your credit and debit card statements from the last three months. From there, you can figure out the categories, based on your monthly expenses, that you’ll need to allocate money to. “Not only does [a budget] provide direction on where your money is going, but it draws your awareness to what you are spending your money on.” 2. Pinpoint your spending Next, identify what you’re spending on average for each of the various categories of your budget. “You can use your historical information as a guide from the statements you reviewed earlier,” Allocca says. This is especially helpful if you’re thinking about how to budget to pay off debt. 3. Adapt and adjust No budget is perfect out of the gate, Allocca says. Rather than spending time making sure your budget is flawless, it’s more important to put it into action and iterate as you move forward. “It’s super normal for your budget to shift and change both throughout the month and over time,” she says. “If it’s your first budget, keep an open mind to adjustments, and don’t worry if you are over or under in a certain area at first.” To build your beginner budget, Allocca recommends using either a budgeting app or a budgeting spreadsheet (her personal preference). How to stick to your budget over the long run Creating a budget is the first step toward building a healthy financial future, but sticking to a budget is crucial. Allocca shares some tips for budgeting for young adults, even those who have a low income. Learn how to say no “’No,’ is a full sentence,” Allocca says. “In your early 20s it can be easy to succumb to peer pressure or to feel like you need to buy things to keep up with an image. It’s okay to turn down plans if it’s going to stretch your finances too thin or if it just isn’t worth it.” Your future self will be rewarded for making those sacrifices early in adulthood, she says. Keep your essential expenses as low as possible Having fewer expenses will make it easier to stick to a budget. “The highest expenses you’ll have are rent and your car, if you have one,” Allocca says. “If you’re in your early 20s, get a roommate or two, and don’t buy or lease a car that is more than 10%-15% of your income.” Prioritize your value categories What expenses are most important to you? “You don’t need to do everything, and you don’t need to spend your limited income on anything that isn’t adding value to your life,” Allocca says. “In my early 20s, I prioritized my discretionary income on my gym and my restaurant budget because those two things added the most value to my life.” Or, if you’re learning how to budget to pay off debt, you should prioritize your debt payments in your budget to become debt-free. How to adjust when your expenses outweigh your income Allocca says that budgeting for young adults on a low income is very similar to budgeting on an average or even a high income. The formula stays the same, she says: Allocate your income to the appropriate categories. “The challenging part of having a low income is that you have less wiggle room, which can make day-to-day decision-making a lot harder,” Allocca says. “Don’t let this intimidate you, because a budget shows you how to use your money. It’s designed to be a tool to help you.” And if your expenses outweigh your income, you can either reduce your expenses or increase your income. “Unfortunately, there is no secret sauce to this problem; it boils down to the math,” Allocca says. “That being said, there are ways to go about this that don’t need to be super overwhelming or stress-inducing.” First, look at your expenses. If this is your first budget, there are likely many ways to make cuts. Start with unnecessary expenses: What can you live without? Once you’ve trimmed the nonessentials, assess whether you can reduce any essential expenses—whether that means moving to a less expensive apartment or buying produce on sale. Spending less is a great start, but you can only cut your expenses so much. “The other side of the coin is increasing your income, which isn’t as hard as you think,” Allocca says. She encourages people to pick up a side hustle, such as ride-share driving or delivering food to earn extra cash. “Think about skills you have that you can leverage to earn money online via freelance websites,” she says. Start saving with no minimum balance Learn more Discover Bank, Member FDIC Take control of your finances today Budgeting allows you to get a handle on your expenses, spending, and financial goals. Having a budget in place early in adulthood helps you develop healthy financial habits—such as regularly adding to your savings account—and can reduce money-related anxiety, Allocca says. But budgets are not a one-and-done exercise; your budget should evolve to adapt to your life situation and goals, she says. To stay on top of your changing priorities, try referring to a financial review checklist to ensure your budget is always aligned with where you are—and where you want to be. Articles may contain information from third parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information. Share article on facebook. Share article on twitter. Share article on linked in. Share article on facebook. Share article on twitter. Share article on linked in.