It’s my senior year of college, and a time of preparation for life after graduation. I’ll be transitioning from full-time student to full-time employee, but perhaps the biggest transition of all is that I am finally going to be financially independent. What worries me most is that there is so much about managing my own finances that I don’t really understand. As much as I hate to admit it, I honestly don’t know what I don’t know when it comes finances. And yet, I know that I can’t be the only 21 year old who feels this way.

So on behalf of others like me who may be worried about money and don’t know where to start, I’d like to share my story of how I’m preparing myself now to be on solid financial ground after graduation.

Changing my mindset

When thinking about how to get my financial feet under me, I quickly realized that my life philosophy on life, “live in the moment” was not doing me any favors. . As fun as that mantra can sometimes be for my social life, it isn’t the best approach to planning financially for my future. In fact, that mindset actually causes a wave of anxiety to wash over me when I think about financial planning.

So the first step in my journey was finding balance between my happy-go-lucky mentality and my responsibilities. And guess what? I was able to see that being intentional with my money actually allows me to live in the moment, not keep me from enjoying it. Taking care of my financial obligations first means I know exactly how much money I have left to see where living in the moment can take me.

What does that look like?

I’m not going to lie, even with the most logical rationale, changing mindsets can be hard. I work a part-time job that allows me to cover my rent, utilities, and groceries. But the thought of paying my own cellphone bill, car insurance, health insurance and miscellaneous expenses stressed me out. I knew I had to do something to prepare for taking on full financial responsibility. So, I set goals for myself to gradually get accustomed to setting aside more money for paying more bills. Here are just a few that got me started in the right direction:

  • Don’t spend all of my paycheck as soon as I get it. I need to cover my mandatory expenses first and then save the rest for next month’s expenses or an occasional social event.
  • Limit going out to eat with friends. As enjoyable as that is, it continually drains my wallet. Eating at home is considerably cheaper and healthier.
  • Cancel unnecessary subscriptions. If I’m not using it, it’s wasted money. These expenses can be easy to miss, since they’re often linked to auto-pay. .That’s just another reason to scrutinize my monthly expenditures.
  • Record my expenses. Getting a visual of where and how I am spending my money is much more effective than keeping track in my head. Doing this will help me see where I should cut back on certain costs.

Setting goals seems like a hefty task, at first. But as hard as it can be to sit down and make concrete plans, it’s worth it. I have realized that there’s a lot more freedom in being financially stable verses impulse buying an outfit that will be out of season before I know it.

What I’ve learned

Let’s face it; life after college is going to be expensive. It involves more than just the monthly rent and utilities. And although I admit to not knowing everything about financial independence, one of the best strategies I have learned is that making a budget is extremely important. It sounds cliché or like a broken record, but it’s true.

Mastering a budget now when I have limited expenses is going to help me greatly in the future when I have to plan for more items like a mortgage, childcare, utilities, health and life insurance, credit card payments, student loan repayments, taxes, car loan payments, and a lot more. Learning to live on a budget now will ensure that I am able to meet all my money obligations while also allocating funds for saving, spending, and investing. And living in the moment!

Although I’m still learning new money strategies, working through my budget eases a lot of the stress I used to feel when I thought about my finances. If I could give a little piece of advice to my peers out there who may feel the same way, it would be to have an honest conversation with yourself about what you don’t know. Ignoring the issues or procrastinating isn’t going to ease your money stress (just the opposite!). Educate yourself about how to create a budget, and remember to spend wisely. Saving money for the mandatory expenses before the discretionary wants is not always fun, but realizing your ability to handle whatever life throws at you is the best gift you can give to yourself.

Good luck!