- In 2018, I left a job that was making $60,000 a year with no emergency fund.
- I’ve developed six money habits that have helped me get through tough financial circumstances.
- I still track my expenses manually in a Google Sheet because it works better for me than an app.
According to a 2022 study conducted by Fidelity, nearly half of Millennials and Gen Z don’t see a point in saving for the future. With layoffs across the country, I can imagine that many young people will not have an emergency fund to fall back on if they lose a stable income.
I went through something similar in 2018. I left a job that paid $60,000 a year with no emergency fund because I couldn’t handle the toxic workplace anymore. The next three years after leaving that job were the most difficult financial circumstances I’ve ever faced — especially since becoming a vital worker during the pandemic.
The only good thing that has come out of this challenging time: I’ve built a new relationship with my finances. With these six simple money habits, I’ve learned to live within my means without letting my income dictate my worth.
1. Manually track my expenses and income
I’ve tried personal finance apps like Mint and You Need A Budget. I’m totally obsessed with following every issue for two weeks, then get bored and disinterested once the allure of the shiny new app wears off.
While I know these apps work for some people, I’ve found more success manually tracking my expenses using a good old Google Sheets spreadsheet. I create a tab for each month and use a simple SUM-IF equation to add up my expenses in each category.
2. Have at least $20 in cash ready
On the days that I had $10 in my bank account for the next two weeks, I made a plan to spend every penny on fridge and pantry staples like tofu, peanut butter, and rice. Even though I meticulously tracked my spending, I was still surprised by automatic charges like my Spotify subscription.
Sometimes my account would be overdrawn in weeks where I had absolutely no groceries or food to cook with. I have made it a habit to have at least $20 in cash on hand in case I encounter a similar emergency.
Now that I no longer face the same fears of food insecurity, I still keep a bit of cash in my car so I can easily give a few bucks to beggars and those in need without shelter.
3. Adding automatic bill payments to my calendar
To avoid overdraft fees, I’ve started adding automatic bill payments to my Google calendar. When I first started this practice, it was hard not to feel bitter or compare myself to other people who had more disposable income. It was hard to believe that I would eventually start making enough money to pay for the entertainment subscriptions that have kept me sane throughout the pandemic.
Gradually, I got into the habit of making sure I had more than enough money to cover the automatic bill payments. I still keep the automatic bill payments on my calendar to prevent overspending.
4. Order groceries online
I started ordering groceries online for pickup during the pandemic because it was a guaranteed way for me to stay within my $204 monthly grocery budget, that’s how much I got from grocery stamps. I still order groceries online because it’s the best way to compare the prices of products between stores to make sure I’m getting the best deal.
Ordering groceries online saves time and saves me from adding other snacks to my cart that I don’t really need.
5. Add a Just for Fun category to my budget
No matter how tight my budget was, I still had a “just for fun” category in my budget — even if it was just $5 or $10 for a coffee or ice cream cone with a friend, tickets to a museum, or a snack take on a hike.
I now have more money to put into my fun spending category, but the habit of spending even $5 on fun when I had very little money left has created pockets of joy at a very difficult time.
6. Keeping money in my Venmo account to eat out
If I received any gifts or if people paid me back for lunch or dinner, I would keep that money in my Venmo account for a rainy day instead of transferring it to my bank account. When people invited me out for coffee, lunch, or dinner, it helped to see that I had some money in my Venmo account to pay for, even if I only had a few dollars in my checking account.