Lessons Learned in Year 1 of Financial Independence

This year, I took a big step in my life – I moved out from my parent’s house and became financially independent.

At a mere nineteen years old, I’m out living on my own, paying bills, and learning things the hard way.

Even in just the first few months of being on my own, I’ve learned a lot about the do’s and don’ts of finances.

Many things I’ve learned can even apply to those who have been financially independent for years. Here are some of the valuable lessons I’ve already learned in my experience.

Budgeting is a must. With only $800 per month of income, I learned very quickly that without a budget, it’s easy to overspend. Over half of my income goes to rent, so I must be very careful when I’m spending money.

The first few months I didn’t use a budget, which resulted in desperate calls to my parents asking for some extra cash. No matter how small your expenses are, budget them in. Small expenses add up fast.

There are always cheaper alternatives. My biggest “little” spending habit is definitely Starbucks. Sure, it’s only $4 a day, but that amounts to $28 a week, and $120 a month. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but when I did the math, I realized how much of my budget my morning coffee was eating up.

As much as I didn’t want to resort to an alternative, there are always options. I started buying the bottled coffees at the market, which cost me $4 for four, and I tried to drink coffee only on the days I was desperate for energy.

If you’re struggling to meet your budget, consider alternatives to things you spend on. For example, I don’t even have cable at my house to save money. All my TV watching is done through services like Netflix and Hulu.com.

It’s easy to burn “extra money.” One of the most painful lessons I’ve learned is how quickly money can go, especially if you consider it extra spending money. I did a commercial one month and made over $1,000 from it. I considered most of this extra money and got really careless.

I used my debit card without hesitation, and I spent less time searching for cheaper alternatives. Before I knew it, that entire thousand was gone, and by the end of the month I was still struggling to pay my bills.

I fully regret not putting any in my savings account. If you stumble upon some sort of extra money, don’t just spend it. Make a separate budget just for the extra money so that it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket.

Credit cards aren’t always bad. Especially as a college student, I always hear warnings about how dangerous credit cards can be. I got my very first credit card after I moved out, and it’s actually been a great help.

I only use it for necessities like gas, groceries, and school supplies. This is a big help, especially because I get paid twice a month, but most of my bills are due before I get paid a second time. Credit cards can be a great asset, especially a nice cash back credit card, as long as they are used carefully and responsibly.

Although a bit time consuming, couponing helps a ton. You can easily save money by using online coupon codes or clipping coupons. I’m not talking about “extreme couponing”. Just be more conscious about looking for a coupon to use before you buy something.

It can actually become somewhat addicting after you see how much you’ve saved on each receipt. In fact, you will be kicking yourself for not using coupons before. The savings add up. You might even be able to budget in a couple simple luxuries, or you can save that extra money for a rainy day.

What are some of the financial lessons you learned in college?

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  1. Well, I like coupons too – as long as I’m not buying something that I wouldn’t buy otherwise! Also, a coupon for a name brand product is not as good as finding the same thing as a generic brand for even less money. Cooking at home, eating leftovers for lunch, eating lots of rice and beans, all are good ways to save money. Buying seasonal produce on sale is good to do. Taking cash to the grocery store is a good thing to do if you can. A cheap $20 coffee maker from Wal-Mart and then brewing your own coffee is tons cheaper than Starbucks. Don’t beat yourself up over past financial mistakes – learn from them and resolve to be wiser in the future. Lastly – do not, I repeat – do not lend money to boyfriends, ever!