How I Learnt To Budget, Aged 29 And A Half

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I’ve never been very good with money. As soon as I started earning it, I took total pleasure in spending it. A habit of ‘treating myself’ developed when I was at uni – I lived at home in my first year and convinced myself that because I wasn’t going out drinking every night like my friends, I could spend my student loan at Topshop instead. This kind of thinking has followed me ever since – if I have a bad day, I cheer myself up with new shoes. If I win a pitch, I reward myself with an expensive perfume. Sometimes I wonder if the Parks and Rec ‘treat yo’self’ skit is based on my life… except once a year is more like once (or twice, or three times) a week. Really though, who doesn’t love mimosas and fine leather goods?

Treating yo’self is all well and good when you have the disposable income to do it, but when you don’t – or rather, you do but should probably spend that disposable income on something more substantial, like a house – it becomes irresponsible. Treating yo’self is also more difficult when you’re self employed, especially when you run a limited company. I actually think the horror of having another person (like an accountant) look at your bank statements is enough to scare any serious over-spender into the black.

One of my goals for 2015 was to get my finances in order, and I think – a mere 8 months into the year – I might have achieved it. My name is Jen, and I’ve finally learnt how to budget.

top tips for budgeting

Now I’ve got a handle on my money, I feel kind of ashamed that it took me till now to figure it out. I’m about 5 months away from turning 30 and I’ve only just got to grips with something many people find totally natural – not spending money. What makes the situation more frustrating is that I’m not irresponsible by any means – I’ve never missed a single bill payment, I always cover my essentials and I don’t have loads of debt. I’m always so close to being great with money, and then I’ll take my £300 surplus and spend it in Zara. Not great adulting, Jen.

For the past few months I’ve been trying some new techniques that have really helped me keep track of my cashflow, my outgoings and what’s left over each month. By being reasonably strict with myself, I’m managed to save more in the last three months than I ever have in my life, and it’s a pretty rewarding feeling. Maybe even more than that expensive perfume!

So here are my top 5 tips for successful budgeting, for those who find themselves browsing ASOS when they really shouldn’t be…

  • Calculate your outgoings and work out your monthly ‘essentials’ total. Include your rent/mortgage, all bills and any necessary costs. Rob and I have a joint account for all our shared bills and food, so I have a standing order from my own account that covers everything. This makes things really easy as it’s just one lump sum rather than dribs and drabs throughout the month – it’s worth looking into a separate account for bills for this reason.
  • Allocate a weekly budget based on your disposable income. Once you’ve paid your outgoings, work out how much is left over and divide it over each week of the month. Remember that you don’t have to spend all your disposable income – I try to stick to a much lower weekly budget so I still have money left over for the holy grail of good budgeting – savings.
  • Draw out cash at the beginning of each week and use this rather than your card. Without a doubt, this is the thing that’s really helped me get to grips with how much I spend. When you can actually see your money, you’re far more aware of its value.
  • Organise your shit. This is specifically for anyone who splurges on clothes/shoes/accessories/homewares/etc – clearing and organising what you already have is a great way to shame yourself into being more thrifty, and you’ll rediscover things you’d forgotten you had. When I sorted my wardrobe out a few months ago I felt truly disgusted with how much I had and I genuinely haven’t bought much else since.
  • Be honest about your situation. For a long time I brushed off my overspending as ‘enjoying life’ and I fully subscribed to the ‘you can’t take it with you!’ approach to money. But seeing people much younger than me buying houses made me realise that I needed to grow up. I get mad at myself when I realise how much I could’ve saved over the years, but at least I got there in the end.

Budgeting is not something that comes naturally to me, and I strongly believe it’s something we should be taught at school. It’s taken me almost 30 years to realise that I really don’t need another copper plate from H&M Home, but I’m pretty pleased it’s finally clicked and hopefully I’ll reach my ultimate saving goal (that elusive house deposit) soon.

Do you have any budgeting tips? Share in the comments!


Eleanor G

I’m fairly rubbish with money and always have been even at much older than 29! Fortunately am married to a man who is tight as a ducks bottom and keeps me in line.
Couple of my tips:
1: For travel work out how much you spend each month and try to pay for it early in the month. Sometimes a travelcard will be slightly more expensive but worth if if you likely to be travelling at the weekend too or scrabbling around for change every day. Where I live (Edinburgh) you can buy pre-paid bus cards and day tickets so I tend to get a batch at payday so I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the month.
2: Ebay is your friend after wardrobe clear outs – if you really don’t like or don’t wear something sell it as soon as possible especially if it’s a brand. I’ve sold alot of ‘occasionwear’ outfits for weddings etc or night out tops I’ve got bored off.
(bit of boring mummy one coming up – sorry)
3: If you are thinking about children plan for the future accordingly. After having my son my income dropped to a quarter of what it was before as I went part time and was shelling out for nursery. If we hadn’t bought a home that we could afford on one salary we would have been stuffed. Kids are amazing but nursery fees will make you weep – like £850+ a month per child for full time!

Eleanor G

Just remembered another one from a much more organised friends which I don’t do myself but think is a great idea. They worked out how much on average they spend on the festive season (presents, nights out, new outfits, booze etc) divide by 12 and save a relevant amount each month in a Christmas account. Could be a good one for summer holidays, special events etc.


I am absolutely awful with money but I am getting better, we have a spreadsheet which we review regularly which has helped, I just need to cut down on my clothes spending!

Maria xxx


I feel quite lucky in that I’ve managed to be quite good at budgeting. I don’t earn a huge amount but I do think there’s a couple of thins that have helped me financially – most of which my parents taught me when I was a student, and have just stuck. I’m not a very easy body shape to shop for so that has probably helped too!
1- make a packed lunch. Seriously. A homemade sandwich and fruit, or some leftover roast veg and pasta will cost you less than £1, compared to £4 in a coffee shop. No it’s not exciting, but it adds up pretty quickly.
2- plan your food shop – write a list of meals and buy the ingredients for them, rather than buying each night. I get mine delivered to help me avoid unhealthy things and impulse special offers! Again, not exciting, but saves a fortune and definitely helps me stay healthy!
3- set up a regular savings account so that it goes out every pay day. If I make a bit of cash on eBay, I put an extra payment in. It’s so much easier to save if you don’t see it in your bank account!


Great tips – it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve been able to grasp budgeting. I look back at my first two years of working and feel awful about how much money I frittered away in Topshop but having that “treat yoself” period has made me a lot more sensible now! I use the Toshl app to record my spending and it really shows me where my money has gone when I’m looking at a sad bank balance. x


I agree with Gwen, I have a separate savings account (an esavings one where I don’t get a card so I can’t spend direct from it) and I put a set sum in each month as soon as I get paid. We also have a joint account for food and bills so I pay that at the same time and what’s left in my current account is then mine! If there’s any leftover at the end of the month (after Topshop) I put that in the savings too and start again the next month 🙂
Once I saved a substantial sum, I got an Icer account so I get a better interest rate. I still use my esavings on a monthly basis because it’s easier to access in case my car breaks down or our boiler packs in, but once I reach the next round figure I’ll pop that into the Icer too. It’s good to have a safety net!

Eleanor G

sorry me again – something else I just remembered not exactly budgeting but I’m a bit fanatical about keeping receipts for things. I tend to write on them what it is I bought and then stash them in an envelope. The reason being that I’ve had alot of disasters over the years particularly with footwear that I’ve been able to take back. My most recent was a pair of boots that had been worn for one season and were unfixable and I ended up getting a new pair and £70 refund.


I think I’ve been on a similar journey to you lately. I find keeping track of my money each week in a spreadsheet helps… I just sit down and wrote it my balance and what I spent my money on. And then something weird has started to happen – I’ve begun to think of money saved as a treat. I’m not going to lie, dinner and drinks out is a pretty good treat, but knowing I’ve added my target to my savings account each month gives me such a kick nowadays. It’s not quite as visible as ‘treat yo’self’, but it’s still an act of self-care that makes me feel good!


I’ve just started to really tackle this problem in the last couple of months. One thing I’ve found SO helpful is keeping a spending diary. I use an app on my phone (Spending Tracker for the iPhone) and set my monthly budget, then record all of my non-fixed expenditure. I can’t say I haven’t gone over it, but it does make me question whether I really need that lipstick/purse/lamp when there’s not much left in the budget and I’m only halfway through the month. It’s been really enlightening, too. I had no idea how much my little purchases were adding up to over a month. If I can see in black and white that I’ve already spent £30 on makeup that month, it’s a lot easier to put the blusher back on the shelf.


The first paragraph could be describing me to a T! I’m going to uni again in September, and as I won’t have as much student loan the second time round I definitely need to budget better and spend less. Your tips are really useful, I definitely agree with the taking cash out one. Hopefully I’ll become more frugal and actually be able to save!

Thank you for sharing this.
Hannah xx


I knew a lady who had her weekly/daily ‘allowance’ in envelopes. She said it really worked.


Thank you for these tips I am absolutely awful with money and totally unable to keep savings for a longer period than a year, if any special events happens it’s over (especially christmas, it makes me lose my mind). At least your post reminds me that there is still hope haha, I will try and apply these rules in my every day life !

xx, Charlie


Christmas is always my downfall, too… I just go so overboard and I’m never prepared! This will be my first Christmas with the budget in place so I’m hoping it really helps me keep on top of things. I\ll probably do a specific ‘Christmas saving’ post nearer the time so check back. Good luck!


Luckily I’ve always been good with money but these tips are always worth noting. I definitely budget weekly and try to stick to cash, not card. It helps a lot! Also I try to constantly be working towards a savings goal. It works a lot better than just abstractly saving to an undesignated amount – you’re always more motivated by a specific goal.

Rachel |


Definitely! Having a tangible thing in mind (like a house deposit) is really motivating for saving. Great tip, Rachel!


I can’t believe noone has mentioned YNAB yet! I’m evangelical about it. It wipes the floor with other budeting apps. I swear it changed my life, no exaggeration. Paid off all of our debt, saved up for maternity leave, now live on one part-time salary for a family of 3, just because we finally set up a proper, detailed, easy-to-use budget. It is amazing.


You’re my inspiration. This is what I want to achieve. Downloading this app right no, thank you! <3 xx


Pretty much my budgeting regime in a nutshell.

The big lessons I learned is to not set yourself up to fail, and to be a realist.

What I get into the bad habit of doing is working out my outgoings, and then when I see what I’ve got left, I mentally think, “great, I’m going to save so much money because I won’t spend anything”.

So I have this mythical figure in my head that I think will add up over the upcoming months, and then project when I’ll reach a savings goal.

Except that never happens because life gets in the way and I rarely save as much as I think I can – mainly because I’m not being realistic with how far the money that’s left after outgoings will stretch. And then I beat myself up about it, and get frustrated that life is stopping me from reaching my goals. What?!

So I’ve found for me a better idea is to make savings part of the outgoings. Sure it means less for the disposable income pot, but it’s all about finding a decent happy medium that actually rewards you when you don’t spend it all, rather than penalising you when you seem to unavoidably creep over the amount. Again, the key is being realistic – for both how much you should be spending and how much you should be saving.


Great post! I am 28 and keep seeing everyone around me going nuts with money. My broke friend who is a single mum with 2 kids has just told me shes got a new £18,000 car on finance :S Sounds scary to me haha. However, I have always had it instilled in me to save as much as you can, treat other people first and yourself if theres anything spare. I always feel guilty for treating myself, but this post reminds me that it should be done – the money is mine, earned and ready for spending haha.


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