Standing in front of my open fridge one summer night in 2011, I considered my meal options: leftover pizza scavenged from my job working for a late-night TV show, or a post-sell-by-date panini I pardoned from its dumpster fate while working at my second job as a barista. After soaking up a few minutes of refrigerated coolness, I picked the tomato, mozzarella, and pesto sandwich, and popped it into the toaster oven.
This was a pretty common scene from my early twenties. I was scraping by on just $23,000 a year—but was still determined to avoid debt and even tuck a little money into savings: I pillaged leftovers to reduce my grocery bill, refused to use an AC unit (no matter how hot) to keep my electric bill low, and ushered at Off-Broadway shows to keep my entertainment costs close to zero.
But, of course, penny-pinching can only take you so far. Over the years, I’ve adopted other habits that helped me transition from scraping by to officially getting my financial life together—so successfully, in fact, that I literally wrote the book on how to stop being a broke millennial.
Here’s how I did it:
1. I Found the Budgeting Approach That Worked for Me
At first, I used a combination of an all-cash diet and the envelope system (where you stuff envelopes with cash dedicated to each spending category) to stay on target. But, as my salary and net worth grew, I allowed myself more flexibility.
Now, I move money into savings and investments first, and transfer cash for bills to a dedicated savings account. Then, I can spend what’s left however I’d like—no buckets, categories, or percentages. This “No Budget” Budget, as I call it, has helped me move away from the hyper-frugal mindset of my early days, while still ensuring I stay on track financially.
2. I Negotiated for More Pay
After some trial and error, I finally figured out how to calculate and convey my market value to an employer or client, and negotiate my pay effectively.
I kept meticulous records of my achievements and feedback over the course of the year, stayed on top of what other people in similar roles in my field were earning or being offered, and role played asking for more with a trusted friend so I went in well-prepared and confident. In one instance, I scored a $20,000 raise for my efforts.
3. I Leveled-up My Financial Products
I’m an early adopter to internet banking and haven’t had an account at a brick-and-mortar location since 2011. But, it took an embarrassingly long time to move my money from a checking account to a savings account that earned more than a .01% interest.
Now, I make sure my savings account pays a minimum of 1%—because why shouldn’t my money be working for me, even in savings?
I’ve also learned to maximize my credit card rewards without incurring debt. Once, I pooled enough rewards to cover two round-trip tickets to Berlin as a surprise Christmas gift for my boyfriend.
4. I Stopped Letting Other People Spend My Money
The best lesson I’ve learned over the years is to stop letting other people spend my money. I’ve worked hard to identify my values and ruthlessly prioritize them. So, I don’t feel bad saying no to a $16 ticket for a movie I don’t want to see or feel pressured to shop for clothes just because they’re on trend.
Does this mean I only ever spend money on what I want? Nope. Sometimes, I knowingly buy things that are overpriced (bridesmaid’s dresses). But in those cases, I’m investing in relationships, not things. And relationships are at the top of my values list.
This article was originally published on Grow. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person budgeting courtesy of Image Source/Getty Images.
Grow is designed to inspire and inform anyone who wants to be financially successful. The site features tools and advice you can apply now—and for the rest of your life; stories of real-life financial transformations; and exclusive interviews with actor-turned-VC Ashton Kutcher and other financial successes.More from this Author