How can I stay on bud­get and still hang out?

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - BUSINESS - “Ask Bri­anna” is a Q&A col­umn from NerdWal­let for 20-some­things or any­one else start­ing out. I’m here to help you man­age your money, find a job and pay off stu­dent loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in col­lege. Send your ques­tions

Q: I don’t have a lot of spare money, but I still want to so­cial­ize and travel. How can I live within my means with­out be­com­ing the an­noy­ing broke friend?

A: First, take a breath. You will not lose friends — real friends, at least — be­cause you can’t swing a girls’ trip to New Or­leans this year. You also might want to re­mem­ber that ap­pear­ances can be de­ceiv­ing. Your bud­dies may go to happy hour three times a week, but that doesn’t mean they can af­ford to.

Take one mea­sure, stu­dent loan debt, for ex­am­ple: About 7 in 10 grad­u­ates of pub­lic and non­profit col­leges left school with debt in 2015, ac­cord­ing to The In­sti­tute for Col­lege Ac­cess & Suc­cess, at an av­er­age of $30,100 per stu­dent. You may feel alone and broke, but in re­al­ity, you’re in good com­pany.

“The peo­ple that you think are hav­ing these great lives on Face­book and In­sta­gram, they’ve prob­a­bly got stu­dent loan debt,” says Ben Graney, an ac­tor and writer who co­founded the Artists Fi­nan­cial Sup­port Group in New York. “They’re prob­a­bly feel­ing the same anx­i­ety and the same fears,” he says — they’re just not show­ing it.

In­stead of hid­ing away in shame or con­stantly com­plain­ing about your rock-bot­tom bank bal­ance, use these strate­gies to bud­get — and so­cial­ize —

Whether you’re in grad school, stuck with mas­sive stu­dent loans or liv­ing on an artist’s er­ratic in­come, the first step is to own where you stand fi­nan­cially. But to do so, you need in­sight. A bud­get helps you de­ter­mine where your money is go­ing and where you want it to go.

with con­fi­dence and con­trol.

FIRST, MAKE A BA­SIC BUD­GET

Whether you’re in grad school, stuck with mas­sive stu­dent loans or liv­ing on an artist’s er­ratic in­come, the first step is to own where you stand fi­nan­cially. But to do so, you need in­sight. A bud­get helps you de­ter­mine where your money is go­ing and where you want it to go. With­out one, you may have only a vague sense that you should limit your spend­ing, us­ing scary clues like a maxed­out credit card or late rent pay­ments.

To cre­ate a ba­sic bud­get, you don’t need to cat­a­log all of your ex­penses or com­mit to us­ing an ex­pense-track­ing app — un­less you want to, of course.

“Bud­get­ing is not about per­fec­tion. It’s about cre­at­ing aware­ness,” says Matt Cos­griff, a cer­ti­fied fi­nan­cial plan­ner at fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sory firm Life­wise in Minneapolis.

Look at your bank ac­count and write down your take-home pay from last month. Sub­tract your fixed monthly costs: rent, util­i­ties, in­sur­ance, gro­ceries, debt pay­ments (in­clud­ing credit cards) and trans­porta­tion. Aim to save 10 per­cent to 20 per­cent of any re­main­ing amount for emer­gen­cies and re­tire­ment. The rest is for fun or other long-term goals.

If your fixed costs take up all, or nearly all, of your in­come, look for ways to free up cash. You can lower fed­eral stu­dent loan pay­ments with an in­comedriven re­pay­ment plan, hunt for cheaper car in­sur­ance or can­cel sub­scrip­tions you don’t need.

TRANS­PARENCY IS THE BEST POL­ICY

De­cid­ing to stick to a bud­get might put you in a dif­fer­ent fi­nan­cial po­si­tion from that of your friends or fam­ily. Tell them.

You don’t have to craft a sob story to win their sym­pa­thy; in­stead, clearly and hon­estly share your cur­rent pri­or­i­ties. Let them know whether your strict spend­ing plans are shortor long-term so they’ll know whether to keep invit­ing you to those pricey con­certs.

And in­stead of turn­ing down in­vi­ta­tions, turn them around. You could say, “The­ater tick­ets are beyond my bud­get right now. But I’d love to get to­gether. Let’s go to free-ad­mis­sion day at the mu­seum and pack a lunch to eat in the park.”

PLAN (VERY FAR) AHEAD

These changes may feel small at first, but in time you’ll see a dif­fer­ence in your check­ing ac­count — es­pe­cially when you sock away man­age­able amounts for ex­penses or events on the hori­zon.

Even though Graney earns an ir­reg­u­lar in­come as an ac­tor, last year he saved an at­tain­able $20 a month for hol­i­day gifts. By De­cem­ber, he had $240 to spend on friends and fam­ily, and he didn’t have to take on credit card debt.

You can do the same for that trip to New Or­leans. Pre-empt your most or­ga­nized friend by sug­gest­ing a date far in ad­vance and scour­ing flight deals. Liv­ing fru­gally doesn’t mean avoid­ing your so­cial cir­cle; it means tak­ing on a more proac­tive and cre­ative role.

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