budget

(Not So) Basic Journalism Skills: Budgeting

10:00:00 AM

Few people go into journalism for fame and fortune. Those who do quickly realize that while fame comes relatively easily, the fortune part is a difficult goal to achieve.

Chances are your first job in this business will pay you little to nothing outside of experience. You'll find yourself scrimping by most weeks and counting the days until your next pay day. So how do you survive that first job of barely livable wages? One word: budgeting.

I'll be honest. Budgeting is something I don't do amazingly well. I have to work really hard to stick to it, and even when I think I'm right on point something I've forgotten about usually bites me in the butt. My budget is, shall we say, a work in progress, but I have learned some things over the past four-and-a-half years ... mostly through trial and tribulation (and a few tears).

Typically I try to keep around $100 in my bank account, and by that I mean more than $50. In an effort to be more financially responsible, I've started setting aside $40 every paycheck just for me. Having that mini-budget to do with what I will has actually helped me stay on the upper side of that $50 overall goal. It also means less sacrificing things I want for things I need. Never having any "whatever" money takes a toll on you after awhile. (I should point out, however, that when I first started out, I would not have been able to do this comfortably.)

When I first started working at the station, I lived at home with my parents. It wasn't out of a desire to do so. My job started out on a temporary basis; and to be perfectly honest, I didn't think I'd still be here. Broadcast isn't what I went to school to do, and I was still actively going on job interviews with area newspapers. Three months after agreeing to fill in for the morning show producer while she was on maternity leave, I was brought on full-time. Five months after that, I moved out of my parents' house and into my own apartment.

I was only able to move out on my own because over those eight or so months I lived at home, I was building up my savings. Which brings me to my first tip -- have a savings account. I didn't move out until I had built up a couple thousand dollars in savings. I spent a decent amount of that on moving expenses but didn't actually empty the account until I got married (wedding planning is expensive). Believe me, having a safety net, even if it's only a couple hundred dollars, is a good feeling; and you never know when you might need it.

That brings me to my second tip -- don't take out multiple credit cards to pay your way through life. Trust me, it's a bad idea; and the interest rates aren't worth it in the long run. Probably the biggest key to being financially stable is to pay down your debt. Credit cards have a nasty habit of building it up, especially if you're like me and have a slight shopping addiction.

Speaking of shopping, Josh, a former classmate and fellow journalist, offered up this advice to share: If you can't afford it, don't buy it. That shouldn't just apply to clothing. It should also apply to where you live, what kind of car you drive, going out to eat, etc. Learn to live within your means. It's really as simple as checking your bank account often. You should be looking to make sure your purchases have come out correctly, i.e. only once, for the right amount, etc. If you still have a checkbook, write your purchases down ASAP. You can't be on top of your finances if you're not on top of your accounts.

Matthew, a current coworker, has some sound advice for managing your money: Pay your bills up front every month, then build your more expendable budget around what's left. Covering needs before wants is key!

Keeping tabs on your bank account is important, but you can't go through life just swiping your debit card and/or writing checks left and right. You've got to manage your money. Vanessa, another fellow journalist, has some excellent advice for managing your expenses: Make a grocery list and follow it to the T. Also, plan out your meals so you don't spend on quick drive-thru meals. As a professional desk diner, I have to concur with this advice - buying groceries instead of running through the drive-through will save you a ton of moolah.

As for what you should be doing with the money you're saving, my friend and colleague Skylar has this tip: Keep an extra strict budget until you have 3-6 months worth of expenses saved and make that your "zero" point. You never know when you may hit hard times and need that security.

Meghan takes it a little further: Once you have 3-6 months savings, start putting money on existing debt. Most [of the] time existing debt's interest rate is higher than what interest you get in a savings account - so paying off the debt quicker benefits you [more] than sticking it all in savings. Once you meet your debt payoffs, then you can switch the amount you were putting on debt into savings to build into a larger safety net.

Making a budget is by far the easiest part of managing your finances. Sticking to it, however, can be difficult. This article on How Stuff Works shares 10 tips to help keep you sane while navigating the budgeting seas. My favorite tips from the list are to use cash, cut bad habits and be flexible.

For example, if I take out cash at the ATM to keep in my wallet, I'm more conscious of how much I'm spending. Whereas if I'm using my card for every purchase, it's easy to brush aside the mounting expense; it's not until I log into my account online and see the less-than-desirable balance that I start feeling buyer's remorse. Probably my worst habit is the impulse buy. My new mini-budgeting process I talked about earlier in this post is helping me cut down on that. As far as being flexible, it's been said over and over again throughout this post - you never know what's going to happen. If you leave yourself a little wiggle room, like my $50 goal mentioned earlier, those surprises life throws at you won't take as big a hit to your wallet. 

I'd like to leave you with one last piece of advice. It was offered up by my former coworker, Ashley: GET A ROOMMATE. It will keep you sane, socialized and save you hundreds.

What budgeting advice would you give to someone who's just starting out in their career? 

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