Financial Freedom at 22: My Story & Money Tips

A few weeks ago, I shared my honest experience of life after graduation. You can read the post here. The post received a lot of really incredible feedback from readers and I'm back today (as promised) with a post about my finances. When I posted an Instagram call out for questions about post-grad life, almost half of them were about money and finances alone so I wanted to share my story and tips for saving money and starting out in your early twenties.

Ever since I could legally work (aka any job outside of babysitting), I've kept a very steady work schedule. I started out as a hostess, then moved to an ice cream shop for a few years. I then waited tables all through college and worked retail at Lilly Pulitzer. In college I worked at the library, and sometimes I worked at the Community Service-Learning office, and blogged my way through school as well. During my college summers, I worked full-time internships to save money and gain experience. In short, I love working and almost always held several jobs at once.

When I was in college, my parents were awesome and helped me pay for the necessities of school. They paid a portion of tuition, but I still had to take out a good chunk of money in student loans. They helped me with my rent, paid for my phone, and also supplied me with a car (really for my senior year, but that's another story). Other than that, everything in college was on me. I knew if I ever needed cash or found myself in a tough spot, my parents would help me out, but I always made sure it never came to that. I paid for books, my sorority, my apartment utilities, my gas, my groceries, car repairs, and any other expenses like a night out, clothes, or miscellaneous purchases.

During the summers I worked to save money and during the school year I maxed out my student work hours to the point where my bosses had to deny me the open shifts at work. You get the point - I worked hard and learned financial wellness pretty early on. I learned before a lot of college kids how to budget for bills and deny a night with friends to save money. Seriously, I had some friends asking me how to fill out their tax forms for their full time jobs this past May.

Now that I'm out of school and have a steady paycheck coming in, budgeting has been a pretty simple adjustment. I feel like I've been doing it for a while, but now I just am paying for all of the aspects of adulthood instead of a handful of things. Below is a list of all of my expenses. I will point out that rather than making me get a car of my own, my parents let me take my 2008, fully paid off, Toyota Corolla with me to Atlanta as a graduation gift. Also, dental and health insurance comes out of my paycheck every two weeks, so although they aren't listed they're still on my expenses list. Disclaimer: I work an entry level job and get paid an entry level salary. Money is by no means pouring out of my wallet and I can’t buy anything that I want, BUT even with an entry level job, you can make your budget work.

  • Rent

  • Water/Trash/Apartment Utilities

  • Phone

  • WiFi

  • Electric

  • Car Insurance

  • Groceries

  • Student Loans

  • Gas

  • Savings

  • Dental and Health Insurance

I get paid twice a month, on the fifteenth and then on the last day of the month. This works out perfectly because rent is due the first. I have also set up my bills so half comes out of my account the first half of the month and the other comes out during the second half. Here's how I break things down starting on the fifteenth of each month (since it's the first paycheck of the month...

When I get paid I place half of the money due for rent and my water/trash/apartment utilities in a separate checking account so if I overspend, I know I'm not jeopardizing the roof over my head. I then immediately pay off my wifi bill and my electric bill. Atlanta is known for having high electric bills but I split my electricity and wifi with my roommate. We both have equal sized rooms and private spaces, so we pay an equal amount of rent.

After I move my rent and apartment utilities into a separate account, I immediately move 10% of my initial paycheck (what it was before I saved my rent etc.) to my savings account. My consistently doing this, I end up putting several hundred dollars into my savings account each month. On the seventeenth of each month, my car insurance is automatically taken out of my checking account too. My car insurance is a little over $100 a month.

Once these utilities and expenses are paid or saved, I have a chunk of money left for the two weeks to purchase gas, groceries, and any frivolous spending. With this money I first buy groceries and fill my car up with gas and then whatever is left over is meant to cover any frivolous spending so meals out, drinks with friends, Target runs, clothes, anything that isn't essential. And although I did make $12 last for ten days one time in college, the money I have left in my account is slightly larger but still requires watchfulness and smart spending to make sure I'm not broke the days leading up to pay day.

Fast forward to the last day of the month and it's pay day again!! On this day I immediately pay my rent - remember I saved half of it last pay period. I then move another 10% into my savings account and pay off my phone bill. I splurged on my phone and I'm sure I could find a cheaper plan but I work in social media which means I'm always on my phone so I bought one with more storage and a better quality camera. I also don't have a work phone so I need mine to do the job for me. It was a total investment and I'm super happy with my decision.

During this pay period is also when I pay back a percentage of my student loans. Right now there is a hold on adding interest to student loans, so now is the time to take advantage and pay it off if you have the means. Interest ecrus so quickly on student loans, so while it's frozen take the time to save yourself money in the long run.

You might notice that I don't have money dedicated to a 401K yet. Yes, that is on my radar, but I want to get myself out of debt first. I want to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Once I pay off my student loans, I will contribute to my 401K. My paycheck right now doesn't lend myself to do both right now.

To help increase my financial stability and grow my savings account, I picked up a second job working at J.Crew. I talk much more about that in last week's post. But with J.Crew, I increased my annual salary by 13% which means I can put more money into my savings account, my student loans, and taste the sweetness of financial freedom. J.Crew pays me weekly so it's a consistent stream of income in the event I overspend. I also place 10% of every J.Crew paycheck into my savings account. Although these are much smaller portions going in, everything adds up! If you have the time and the ambition to earn a little extra cash and have some human interaction, I highly recommend getting a part time job.

One thing I hate about adulthood is having a credit card. I've never had one before but in order to one day buy a house or apply for a loan, you need good credit and the only way to do that is to have a credit card and make minimal purchases and make sure to pay it off each month. I normally put a Chick Fil A meal on my credit card at least once a month and pay it off immediately and I mean immediately. I also use my credit card to purchase plane tickets. The card I have gives me really great airline miles so with each purchase I earn points to eventually result in a free ticket. My credit card is also used for emergencies like if my car breaks down and I need a tow.

Last thing I want to touch on is my savings account. These savings go untouched unless I need to buy a plane ticket home or there's an emergency. This is the first time in my life I haven't had to save for anything in particular. I can just save and let it sit in my account and continually grow. I have a bit of an obsession seeing my savings account grow - that's a pretty healthy obsession I guess!

My best financial tips are to pay your bills and debt immediately, open a savings account and put whatever you can into it consistently, and learn how to save on frivolous spending. For me it's staying in one night each weekend to save on dinner and drinks. Live like you are a college kid, even though you have money burning a hole in your pocket.

I by no means am a financial expert, but this is the method that works for me and my starting salary. I would love to one day invest in stocks or property, but as a 22 year old I just want to have a little savings nest egg, good credit, and as little debt as possible. I hope this post helps you on your journey to financial wellness!