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When I was just a few years out of college and working my full-time job, my finances were a mess. I would get paid every two weeks, and by the second week I had no idea where all of my money had gone. I paid my bills on time, but anything extra was used on random things and would run out way too quickly.
I figured I simply wasn’t making enough yet, but that wasn’t true. I was making a solid salary for a woman in her early twenties; I just had no clue what a budget was.
Getting a Handle on My Expenses
Fast forward a few years into my career and I finally decided I was done feeling trapped financially. I had to make real changes and I needed to figure out how to make my money last longer so I could kiss the stress goodbye—so, I started my very first budget.
I grabbed a pretty, lined notebook and wrote down every bill that I paid each month. I wrote down the name of the bill, when it was due, and how much it was. Then, I added everything up to get my total monthly expenses in one solid number.
The most shocking discovery? I made more money than I needed. My extra income that I could have been saving or doing more purposeful things with was being wasted on things like fast food and clothes that I didn’t really need.
Testing the Waters
I decided that this method would be really good for me to test out for a few months and see how it changed my spending habits and stress level around money. Every two weeks when I got paid, I would refer to my checklist of bills, pay all of them first, then see what I had left to work with.
I started creating extra categories for “spending cash” and “savings.” As I began to put a little bit of money into my savings account every paycheck, I found myself feeling so much more confident and thankful for the money I was making. As weird as it sounds, the feeling of not spending money was actually more freeing than when I had no structure at all.
Attacking Limiting Beliefs
Every time I heard the word “budget” in the past, I would instantly think of limitation and a dull, boring life; but it turned out to be the complete opposite for me. Instead of being worried my paycheck disappearing, I was sure of what I had and knew what decisions to make.
I knew when I could afford to go out and have a nice dinner with friends and when I should skip it. I knew when I could treat myself to an amazing pedicure to relax or stay home and have a spa night for less. There was no more guesswork.
I told my money where to go and how it was going to work for me—not against me. I had freedom and confidence.
How to Start Your First Budget
I learned so much in the first few months of consistent budgeting. Here are some of my best tips to get you started:
Write everything down. Account for every bill and expense you have and know it well.
Pay your bills first, then put aside savings if you can. Even $10 a pay period is better than nothing at all.
Have a set amount you can use for spending cash and pull that cash out of the ATM—and when it’s gone, it’s gone. No more can be pulled out until your next paycheck. This is the money you can use for fun things like dining out or pedicures, whatever you enjoy. You will want to prioritize this money because watching actual cash go away is much more realistic than swiping your debit card. This changed my whole mindset on money in the best way possible!
If you write out your budget and things seem too tight, find ways to give yourself more flexibility. This can be done by lowering any bills that aren’t for necessities or by finding a way to add more income. Take on a part-time job or remove the cable package you barely use. There’s always a way to free up some cash.
Realize in the beginning (and in the middle too!) that a budget is a huge gift to your future self, and to the sanity of your current self. Setting guidelines for yourself is not limiting your life, it’s creating freedom for you and for your future. I promise, it’s worth it.
If you can’t tell already, I’m very passionate about budgeting. It changed my life and gave me back a sense of calm and confidence in my days. I even created a product called The Budget Notebook to help women just like me manage their own finances in style. It’s much prettier than most financial tools you’ll find! If you enjoy looking at it, you’re way more likely to do it.
The only kind of money stress I want these days is what to do with my money to create the best future I can. The good kind. Hopefully now you’re inspired to start your own budgeting journey to financial freedom. All you have to do is start.
Ashley Shelly Trotier is a product designer and photographer who helps busy women just like you create your best days by planning on paper. She started her brand, Ashley Shelly, in 2014 and has been creating new products such as The Budget Notebook and The Ashley Shelly Planner ever since. She got her bachelor’s degree in graphic design in 2010 and worked in corporate design for 5 years before she took her brand full time in 2015. She loves being an entrepreneur, spending time with her husband, and visiting family back home in Pensacola, FL.