I was just over a month into living in a new apartment in a new city with a new job and new
stresses responsibilities, and the bank account I'd steadily built up through college was reaching zero faster than I could accept a brunch invite. After bills I begrudgingly paid, I had no idea where my paycheck was going, other than a smorgasbord of food, drinks and other entertainment mini-splurges I deemed part of enjoying life in New York City.
These uneasy feelings put me in the same boat as a lot of people my age — according to a new survey out from Duke University's Common Cents financial research lab, millennials age 20 to 36 are more likely to regret smaller daily purchases, like dining out, ordering food and grabbing coffee. On the flip side, we find satisfaction in paying larger recurring bills like health care, rent and utilities.
Anyone who's accidentally racked up a higher-than-expected happy-hour tab will understand. It's easy to feel bad about those daily expenses that add up over time, especially compared to the gratifying "Look, I'm an adult!" feeling you get from paying your bills. But that's not to say that you can't learn to enjoy those daily indulgences — and even make them part of a healthy budget.
After taking stock of my incoming cash flow minus my fixed expenses, future financial goals and nonmonthly costs, I got to an easy-to-remember amount I could spend on myself, however I wanted, with every paycheck.
I set up a banking system that lets me see how my money hits my different financial goal buckets, which helps me feel like I'm on track for the longer term.
Plus, it helped me see exactly how much I was spending on the fun stuff. Now, when I check my account and see the string of restaurants and bars on the list, I don't feel as guilty about those "extras" because I know items like my emergency fund, 401(k) plan and future travel are also covered.
But that doesn't mean I swipe my card at every turn until my funds are depleted, either. Having a set number I stick to means I've learned to prioritize what I spend my money on in a way that I'll enjoy it most — and yes, that includes a latte (vanilla, half decaf) every now and then.