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Essential Budgeting Tips for Young Adults

Being a young adult comes with a lot of firsts – first job, first apartment, first time managing your own finances. While it’s an exciting period, it can also be stressful trying to navigate budgeting and money management on your own for the first time. 

The truth is, that budgeting is a vital skill for young adults to master to avoid debt, prepare for the future, and use their income wisely. Contrary to the myth that budgeting is only for families or older adults, smart personal budgeting should start early. These top budgeting tips for young adults will help you take control of your money.

Skale Money Key Takeaways

  • Simplicity in Budgeting: Start with straightforward methods like the 50/30/20 rule to easily manage your income and expenses, ensuring you don’t spend more than you earn.
  • Tracking Expenses: Consistently monitor and record all expenses, no matter how small, to understand your spending habits and identify areas where you can cut back.
  • Balanced Budgeting: Find a balance between cutting costs and allowing yourself some discretionary spending for enjoyment, ensuring your budget remains sustainable and realistic.
  • Debt Repayment Strategy: Prioritize paying off high-interest debts strategically by allocating a portion of your budget towards debt repayment each month, reducing interest fees, and achieving financial freedom sooner.
  • Prepare for Irregular Expenses: Set up sinking funds to cover non-monthly expenses like holidays, home repairs, and other periodic costs, preventing unexpected financial strain and maintaining budget stability.

Budgeting Tips for Young Adults

Start with a Simple Budgeting Method

Budgeting can seem overwhelming if you’ve never had to do it before. However, the basic premise of budgeting is very straightforward – itemize your monthly income and expenses to ensure you’re not spending more than you earn.

As a beginner, don’t overcomplicate it. Opt for a simple budgeting method using a spreadsheet, notebook, or one of the many free budgeting apps available. 

The 50/30/20 rule is an effective personal budgeting strategy where 50% of your income goes to necessities, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings/debt payments.

The most important thing is developing the habit of budgeting diligently each month. Seeing your income and expenses written out makes it much easier to manage money responsibly.

Keep Track of Spending

One of the biggest challenges for young adults trying to stick to a budget is keeping track of all those random little expenses that can add up – that morning coffee, quick lunch purchases, Uber rides, and entertainment subscriptions. Make a concrete effort to log every single expense, no matter how small, into your budget.

There are tons of great apps like Mint (Currently known as Credit Karma) that sync to your bank accounts and credit cards to automatically track and categorize your spending. Or simply keep all your receipts and log expenses into a spreadsheet weekly. Seeing where all your money is going is eye-opening and allows you to cut back on certain areas as needed.

Create a Realistic Budget

Developing a budget is about being realistic, not overly restrictive. Yes, you should identify areas to cut costs, but budgeting for young adults requires balance. Don’t make the mistake of going to an extreme diet budget that bans all fun and entertainment. 

This tends to backfire quickly and is hard to sustain. A good budgeting strategy is building in some fun money for dining out, hobbies, travel, etc. You’ve worked hard for your income, so allow yourself reasonable spending in areas you enjoy. 

Just be clear about how much you’re budgeting for these discretionary categories and stick to the limits. It’s also wise to budget for larger periodic expenses like car repairs, medical costs, or education so you have sinking funds to cover those bills when they pop up.

Tackle Debt Strategically

Many young adults are dealing with student loan debt, credit card balances, and other financial burdens from an early age. An important part of budgeting is having a debt repayment plan in place.

Make a list of all your debts along with interest rates. Then allocate as much as you can from your budget toward paying down those high-interest debts first, such as credit cards, through debt avalanches or debt snowball methods. You can even consult with personal finance specialists who will guide you to make the right decisions. 

Budgeting for college students requires one to see if they qualify for any student loan repayment assistance based on their income level. By budgeting for consistent debt payments, you can chip away at those balances and avoid excessive interest fees that make debt even harder to pay off. 

This budgeting tip for young adults and low-income families is essential.

Budget for Irregular Expenses

Non-monthly expenses can be significant budget busters if you’re not prepared for them. Get ahead of periodic costs like gift-giving around the holidays, family events and weddings, home and car repairs, and even annual subscriptions or memberships.

One tactic is setting up sinking funds where you automatically transfer small amounts each month into separate savings allocations for these expected irregular expenses. 

For example, set aside $25-$50 per month for holiday spending so you have $300-$600 built up before peak shopping season.

These separate budgeting categories for non-monthly expenses ensure you don’t get caught having to charge big costs or deplete your whole emergency fund when they come up. This type of strategic budgeting is crucial for families and low-income households that can’t afford surprise expenses.

Find Ways to Cut Costs

While budgeting gives you visibility into your spending, it won’t do much good if you don’t implement cost-cutting measures in areas you’ve identified as spending leaks. As a young adult, look for these simple budgeting tips:

  • Reduce major costs like housing, transportation, and food by reassessing needs vs. wants. For example, get a roommate, downgrade your rental, and meal prep at home.
  • Eliminate fees and subscriptions you don’t need or use.
  • Avoid impulse purchases by waiting 24-48 hours before checking out online orders.
  • Take advantage of student, military, and other qualifying discounts whenever possible.
  • Negotiate bills and prices when you can.

Small savings from trims across multiple spending categories free up more income to pay off debts faster, contribute to retirement, and still have fun with your budget. These cost-cutting budgeting tips for young adults and families can go a long way.


Developing smart budgeting habits as a young adult sets you up for a lifetime of financial stability and achievement of bigger goals like buying a home, having a family, or pursuing entrepreneurial dreams. It takes diligence but is well worth it to gain control over your finances from an early age.

Whether you use a budgeting app, budgeting spreadsheet, or old-school pen-and-paper method, the keys are knowing where your money is going, spending intentionally, and prioritizing consistent debt payments above all. Implement these essential budgeting tips for young adults now to make the most of your hard-earned income during these foundational years.


What’s the best budgeting app or tool?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as the “best” budgeting app or tool depends on your needs and preferences. That said, here are a few popular and highly-rated options to consider:

  • Mint: Allows you to sync your accounts and transactions from multiple banks, credit cards, loans, and investments in one place to automatically track spending.
  • You Need a Budget (YNAB): This goes beyond tracking into active budgeting based on giving every dollar a “job” each month.
  • PocketGuard (free and paid options): Built on the principles of the 50/30/20 budgeting method and provides simple overspending alerts.
  • Spreadsheets: The tried-and-true option using Excel or Google Sheets gives you full customization over your budget categories and formulas.

The key is choosing a budgeting tool you’ll actually use consistently. Try out a few different apps or methods to see what works best for your financial situation.

How much should I budget for entertainment?

There’s no hard and fast rule, but many experts recommend following the 50/30/20 budgeting approach where 30% of your income goes towards discretionary spending like entertainment and dining out after covering necessities (50%) and savings/debt payments (20%). This ensures you’re living within your means while still setting aside money for fun.

Within that 30% portion of discretionary spending, you may choose to allocate something like 10% for entertainment subscriptions, 10% for dining out, 5% for travel, etc. The most important things are being intentional about how you want to split up your entertainment funds and sticking to those category limits you set.

As your income and financial responsibilities change over time, you may need to adjust the percentages accordingly while still balancing goals.

How can I budget if my income fluctuates?

Having a fluctuating income from freelancing, gig work, commission-based jobs, or irregular hours makes sticking to a strict budget more challenging. However, it’s even more important to budget carefully so you don’t overspend when times are good or fall short when income dips.

Here are some tips for budgeting on a variable income:

  • Calculate your baseline minimum income based on your lowest-earning months historically. Set your necessity budgets like rent and minimums for food/utilities based on this amount.
  • Put any income earned above your baseline into separate savings buckets for irregular expenses, taxes, and padded budget months.
  • Follow a zero-sum budget where all income gets allocated – no extra to randomly spend.
  • Keep tight reins on discretionary spending categories during lower-income months.
  • Maintain a larger emergency fund with 6-8 months’ expenses to cover gaps.

Budgeting this way protects you from overdrafts or going into debt during dry spells