reating a budget after graduating is key to making sure that you balance paying down debt and achieving your personal or professional goals. The process of creating a budget and following it is one you will have to continually repeat – you must be honest with yourself and create a plan that actually makes sense for your lifestyle. Post graduation is the perfect time to learn and figure out where you can spend less or where you can spend more.
Before you start putting numbers in an excel sheet, you will need to make a list of things that you know and that you don’t know. Do you know what your income will be? How about where you will be living? Any short-term goals coming up that you will need to pay for?
Start off with the things that you know and begin pricing them out, base it on the past but also realize that some things may be different. You’re no longer in university – your social life will be different and you may be living in a new city working at a new job, all these things are important to keep in mind when creating your budget. For the things you don’t know, ask your family members or friends! This will be a good foundation for your first month’s budget and then you can make adjustments that are tailored to your lifestyle for the following month.
Now, let’s get into the specific areas of a budget – income, living costs and entertainment/food. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it is a good foundation for a basic budget.
Coming straight out of university, you might still be looking for a job and don’t know what your income will be and that’s completely fine! If you have a job title in mind or a field that you want to go into – provide your best guess as to what your income will be based on estimates from Glassdoor.
When it comes to putting your income in your budget, it is extremely important that you factor in tax. There are two tax brackets in Canada, Federal and Provincial – make sure that you’re including both in your excel model. Information on taxes can be found here: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/frequently-asked-questions-individuals/canadian-income-tax-rates-individuals-current-previous-years.html
The first time you create a budget it will most likely be at the monthly level, however, once you start to get comfortable with the process, you should break your monthly budget to match your pay periods which is typically bi-weekly or bi-monthly. Doing so will allow you to better balance your expenses with your income. You will be able to identify when you can afford to spend a little extra and when you need to save in order to have enough for a BIG purchases!
When it comes to budgeting for your living costs, you need to keep in mind when payments are due relative to when money comes into your bank account. As living costs will be your largest expense, it is important that you balance your spending throughout the month to make sure that there is enough money in your bank account to pay your rent.
If you’re renting a place that is not all-inclusive, you will need to factor in costs for heating, hydro or water that may be added to your rent. Additionally, you should include costs for laundry (if the machines aren’t in your unit) and internet/cable.
First let’s talk about entertainment – as you start your career, you probably won’t be going out to the bars as much (or depending on how work is going you might start drinking at home). But just because you’re spending less on alcohol doesn’t mean you will be spending less on entertainment – keep in mind where you will be living.
When you first start your career, it is important to be social with your co-workers and attend any events that are happening outside of work. For the first few months of your budget, factor in some extra entertainment costs to accommodate those type of events.
Now onto my 3 favourite words – breakfast, lunch and dinner. You want to try and eat 3 meals a day, they don’t have to be big but it is important to plan, plan and plan! The reason? So, you can save!
Eat a lot of cheese? Buy it when it is on sale and half the price – unopened cheese usually has an expiry date that is at least a year away, you should buy more than one and store it in your fridge. The same goes with any foods that are good for a long time, buying things in bulk makes sense only if you have the space and if you are going to consume it before it goes bad. Doing so will make a huge difference to your wallet.
Another pro tip not related to food – stock up on essentials like toilet paper, paper towel, laundry detergent and dish soap whenever they’re on sale. These everyday items can be kept in storage and buying them on sale will cut your expenses on those items by half!
Don’t forget about the little things! Haircuts, transportation costs, coffee runs – these expenses add up and it’s important that you factor them in your budget. As you start to plan and budget for life outside of University, remember to be realistic and honest with yourself. In your excel model have a column for your planned budget versus what you actually spent that month. Spent more than what you initially thought? Make adjustments to your budget! This exercise will also help you identify if you should cut back your expenses in certain areas. Remember, budgeting is an iterative process and the person that will hold you accountable is you! Don’t be intimidated and start the learning process today.