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Budgeting tips for struggling Gen Z as cost of living crisis makes it harder to save money

GEN Z is struggling to save.

A higher cost of living, coupled with lower starting wages and student debt, is making it challenging for many to budget. This can delay important financial milestones like buying a house and saving for retirement. And it increasingly means young people are relying on the bank of mom and dad for longer, or even “doom spending” to soothe their economic despair.

So what are reasonable budgeting tips, even when costs are high? We asked financial advisors and here’s what they said.

SET GROUND RULES When it comes to budgeting, setting some rules is a good place to start, said Mark Struthers, founder of financial planning company Sona Wealth.

The 50-30-20 rule, for example, recommends putting 50% of your income on basic needs, such as bills, rent and childcare costs, 30% on wants, such as restaurants and travel, and 20% on savings.

With the current cost of living, that model may seem impossible. But the rule can be tweaked, with the percentages changed to 70-20-10 or 80-10-10, for example, Mr. Struthers said. The structure allows for people to feel more in control of their finances and have some discipline.

“Even if the rule of thumb is not a perfect fit, it’s most often better than nothing,” he said.

TRACK EXPENSES Another good budgeting tip is to track actual expenses, said Douglas Boneparth, founder of financial advisory firm Bone Fide Wealth. Having a detailed spreadsheet where you see where your money goes over a six-to-12-month period can help you get a better sense of what you spend money on and decide where to allocate spending.

“Knowing your data removes any guess work and helps you make better decisions around what, if any, changes need to be made,” he said.

Once you know how you want to allocate your money, using apps to help you keep track of expenses saves the hassle of doing it all manually. In the US, Goodbudget, Monarch Money and You Need A Budget create virtual envelopes that allow you to stick to specific targets. There are even apps such as Financielle and Your Juno where you can budget alongside other people to keep you motivated.

FIX AND FLEX Another idea is to split your budget between what’s fixed and what’s flexible, said Sarah Paulson, owner of financial consultancy Valkryrie Financial. Setting autopayments for fixed amounts made every month, such as subscriptions, rent and students loans, and setting aside a fixed amount for savings means seeing the rest of your income as truly disposable, a flexed part of your budget that you can spend as you like.

Ms. Paulson said this approach allows for people to move away from a budgeting rule that makes them feel bad about spending, and instead lets them take control of what they want for themselves. She advises trying to get as close to 20% in savings as possible, although she says that includes 401(k) contributions and employer match.

“Then you can slice and dice your flexed budget how you want,” she said. If you want to go for a fancy celebration and spend the whole amount on one dinner, go for it. Just plan to eat frugally the rest of the month.

HAVE A ‘WHY’ Having a “why,” a clear reason why you want to achieve a certain savings goal — whether it’s to retire comfortably, buy a house, or spend money on something you want — are great ways to make sure you stick to it, said Mr. Struthers. The rest is about forming habits. Starting small with achievable goals and taking it step by step will help with savings in the long term. Setting up goals that are too out of reach is counterproductive as people usually end up dropping them.

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” Mr. Struthers said.

YEARLY EXPENSES It’s important to make room for expenses that come once a year, said Selina Flavius, founder of UK-based advisory Black Girl Finance.

Expenses such as holidays, birthdays, car maintenance, housing insurance and taxes can hit a budget pretty hard, but often fall once or twice a year, not every month. It’s good to plan ahead and set some money aside every month for when those charges hit.

“Working backwards, looking at realistic time frames and factoring in bumps in the road can help you save reasonably,” she said.

‘FUN’ MONEY Set some money aside for fun expenses, such as travel, a movie or a restaurant from time to time, said Ms. Paulson, or you’ll never be able to stick to your budget. Having a budget that allows no wiggle room for fun purchases can end up backfiring, she said, as people then tend to give up and overspend.

“Having some ‘fun’ money will help you stay motivated and on track to reach your goals in the long run,” she said. — Bloomberg

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