6 Ways To Handle Your Finances More Efficiently In Your 20s

by Mary Rebecca Harakas

Many things in life are no longer as stable as they used to be, like careers, friendships and even marriages. As part of that, it’s important to prepare for anything life throws at you.

The word, “budget” is part of everyday thought and conversation, especially among the Generation-Y. Why is this important? It’s not only necessary to save for whatever life throws at you, but in a more positive light, it helps you be able to do the things you want to do.

When you save money and a friend asks you at the last minute to do something fun, you’ll have the money in your “fun fund” to participate. Same goes for vacations; found a Groupon for an all-inclusive trip to St. Lucia? I’ll happily hop on board.

Here are some of the best money-saving strategies I ever learned. These tips have not only kept me sane in the midst of life’s many surprises (like my latest car repair or an increase in the utilities bill), but also for fun things like last-minute concert tickets and drinks out with friends.

Using these tips, I have never been left feeling guilty or irresponsible for spending money on things that make me happy.

Use financial tools.

Most banks have an online banking feature that allows you to track your spending and create budgets. While I don’t create my budget on this app, I do appreciate when the bank sends me text messages each day with my account balance.

This is extremely helpful if you’re prone to overspending (think overdraft fees). Sign up for text message alerts for your daily balance, direct deposits or any other banking transaction that will help you stay on top of your account balance. is a great budget creating tool that divides up your spending into categories, or you can create them yourself. Another advantage is the goal setting feature. Want to save up for a vacation or a car? Create a goal for it.

One of our biggest expenses is gasoline. Commuting to work each day will really take a toll on your gas tank. Download the GasBuddy app on your iPhone to find the cheap gasoline in your city or zipcode.

Cash, debit or credit? Use all three.

Credit cards often get a bad rep, but it depends how you use it. There’s no point in purchasing everything on credit and not paying the bill; credit cards are not an excuse for money you don’t have.

Do sign up for a credit card that offers rewards like cash or points, although cash is preferable. You need to build credit. Why? If you want to take out a loan, purchase a new car or rent an apartment, you will be required to pass a credit background check.

Plus, my wallet only gets happier when it sees cash coming in from credit card rewards. Track your spending in conjunction with your checking account so there isn’t a surprise at the end of the month when you so happened to over-spend.

Use a debit card for your standard purchases like groceries, prescriptions, etc. and save petty cash for drinks out with friends or a small purchase here and there, like coffee with a client or a car wash.

I often take out a reasonable amount of cash per week to use on these purchases. That way I can’t go over the amount because once the cash is gone, it’s gone, but I can save the leftover cash for the following week in addition to the next week’s allotted cash amount.

Another kept secret is saving change. I once kept my spare change in a change box and after a few months, I rolled them into change sleeves and took it to the bank for cash. The outcome: over $50 in cash simply by keeping my change. Quarters are best thing to save, but other coins will quickly add up too.

Make wise memberships.

Everything now requires memberships: the gym, grocery stores and even recreational sports leagues. Investing in certain memberships will help you in the long run when it comes to your savings.

Membership at a major supermarket like Sam’s Club or Costco will save you in terms of both groceries and gasoline. How? Many supermarkets are now offering gasoline stations, so you can grab your groceries and fill up all at once.

These gas stations are cheaper than other stations (often by 50 cents or more) and are exclusive to members. It’s reasonable to purchase items you use often, like toilet paper and paper towels in bulk. If you’re living alone or with a roommate, it’s best to purchase groceries from a supermarket with lower prices: think Walmart or Aldi since it’s likely that bulk items will spoil if there aren’t enough people to consume it.

When it comes to having fun, Groupon is great for providing coupons based on your interests and location. From gym memberships, wine tours, massages and facials to vacations and restaurants, there are Groupons for almost everything.

Sign up for alerts at your favorite grocery store. For example, Harris Teeter offers alerts in which you receive weekly emails with the week’s specials. Even better, use the week’s specials to plan your meals.

Plan like a maniac.

Planning is key for saving money (hence why their are job titles like “financial planner.”) Your grocery bill is one of the easiest ways to save money. Plan out your meals for the week and create a grocery list to accomodate.

Want to save even more? Plan your meals that use similar ingredients, use a crockpot and freeze or reserve the leftovers, and stick to little meat. And let’s face it: Most off brand products are just as good as brand name items, so no need to purchase the $25 bottle of shampoo; Herbal Essences will work just fine.

Going out with friends is a little more difficult to plan since we often make plans at the last minute, but all isn’t lost. Rather than turn down plans constantly because you’re trying to save, make less expensive suggestions.

Instead of always going to lunch with friends, plan for one lunch out per week and bring lunch to work on the other days. The same goes for a dinner out; plan one per week and suggest drinks with coworkers.

Brainstorm other social outings like a new yoga class you found through Groupon or a free arts festival downtown. Research your favorite bars’ daily specials or a half-off wine night with girlfriends. Use your creativity and your social life and your wallet will be happy.

Shop smart.

Shopping is any girls weakness, but shopping smart is a strength. When shopping for clothes, shoes, jewelry, whatever, put the item down and think about it for a few days, or put the item on hold.

If you’re still thinking about it and want it, then go for it. Also, search through your closet to see if you have something similar already and don’t actually need the new clothes or shoes.

I often go through my closet each season, pull items and think to myself: would I rather have this piece of clothing now or the money I spent on it? Think that way when you’re shopping and you’ll save more than you can imagine.

Use your talents.

Talent is rare, so why not use it to your advantage? If you enjoy hanging out with kids, babysit in your spare time. If you love to write, offer freelance work for a magazine or newspaper. If you’re creative and love to paint, make artwork to sell on the side. If you’re a customer-service guru, there are several independent retail options out there that offer rewards for yourself.

For example, an independent Mary Kay beauty consultant can purchase her own cosmetics and skincare products at cost (that’s 50 percent off retail price!) Same goes for discounts offered by Pampered Chef, Stella and Dot and other independent retail options.

Enjoy teaching? Offer tutoring sessions at local schools. The options are endless, so use your creativity to take something you love and apply it to earning some extra cash.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It