How to Survive Real-World Budgeting for the First Time

By Connie Mei

| Photographs By jacoblund

One of the most exciting times of everyone’s life is entering the real word as a young adult. Finishing school, getting that first full-time job, and venturing out on your own is always an important milestone everyone remembers. It signifies the start of adulthood and finally not being “a kid.” However, for many, the excitement wears off pretty quickly and you then get hit with one of the harshest realities of being an adult: managing your own finances. Why is it so hard?

Budgeting and learning how to spend your money wisely for the first time is a challenge for everyone. And you’re bound to make mistakes. To make your transition easier, here are five tips to help you survive budgeting in the real world for the first time:

Know Your Take-Home Income

When you get your first job, you will get a salary offer. Let’s say you’ll be making $20 an hour or roughly $40,000 annually. Does that mean you’ll be taking home a little over $3,300 a month? Wrong! When you get your first pay stub, you’ll see that many expenses are deducted from your paycheck, such as state and federal taxes, Social Security income, and health insurance (just to name a few). This can take up a very large percentage of your gross pay, on average 25%. It’s important to know what your true net or take-home income will be so that you can properly budget.

Understand All Your Expenses

Living away from your parents for the first time can be a real eye opener. You start realizing how many things you actually need to pay for that you didn’t necessarily think about before. Make sure you really understand what all your expenses will be, from the big items, like rent, all the way to the little things, like toilet paper. If you’re trying to figure out how much to spend on rent, a good rule of thumb is 30% of your gross income, but that also depends on where you will be living. If you’re in a big metropolitan city, that number could be a lot higher. Also think about your food costs, which will probably be your second-biggest expense. If you’ve never had to do grocery shopping before, a good first step is to just hit the grocery store with a list of necessary items you need to buy weekly. Get a gauge of how much everything costs so that you can better budget for this in the future. Remember, all the little things add up, so make your budget as detailed as possible.

Be Organized, Track Everything
One of the most important things about managing your finances successfully is organization. You simply just need to track everything very well. Once you have that down, you’ll have an accurate snapshot of what you’re spending and what you should cut back on. Many people forget the little things, like your daily cup of coffee, but a small expense like that can actually add up in the long run. Make sure you’re keeping track of everything. The easiest way to do so is by starting a spreadsheet where you input your expenses. Tools such as are also great to use because you can integrate it with your bank and credit card accounts to help you track your purchases.

Save, Save, Save

Being on your own for the first time is really exciting, and there will be an urge to do everything and spend on everything. But remember that it’s important to live within your means, because not doing so will get you into a lot of trouble down the road. Start good financial habits now. Have a small budget for discretionary spending but for the most part: save, save, save. Start an emergency fund as soon as possible because you truly never know what can happen in life. It’s also never too early to start thinking about retirement. With the power of compound interest, the earlier you start saving for retirement, the more you will see later on.

The views expressed in content distributed by Newstex and its re-distributors (collectively, “Newstex Authoritative Content”) are solely those of the respective author(s) and not necessarily the views of Newstex et al. It is provided as general information only on an “AS IS” basis, without warranties and conferring no rights, which should not be relied upon as professional advice. Newstex et al. make no claims, promises or guarantees regarding its accuracy or completeness, nor as to the quality of the opinions and commentary contained therein.

Licensed content is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended to represent any endorsement, expressed or implied, by USAA or any affiliates.

This article was written by Connie Mei from MoneyNing and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to


How to Pay Yourself First and Grow ...


5 Foolproof Tactics to Overcome Impulse Buys


Year-End Financial Checkup for Military Members