When most nurses think of budgeting, they might feel restricted. But budgeting is a tool to help you meet your goals and find financial freedom. It lets you get the most out of your income, feel good about your purchases, and save for the future.
As a nurse, your days are busy, and you might not have a lot of free time to create a detailed budget or account for every purchase. However, small steps can go a long way in working toward your financial goals. Let’s look at why nurses should budget and how to create a budget in 6 easy steps.
A budget is simply a spending plan based on how much you make and your expenses. It accounts for everything from fixed expenses to discretionary spending and saving goals.
Why budget? If you tend to spend too much or feel guilty about spending, budgeting can help you stay on track and reduce stress around money. Budgeting can also help you achieve your goals, whether that means taking a vacation, getting your next degree, or saving for retirement.
Nursing comes with its own unique set of financial challenges. You might come out of school with student debt that you want to pay off in a reasonable timeframe. Maybe you have an associate degree in nursing, and you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree to increase your earning potential. Or maybe you’re considering a master’s degree. Budgeting can put you on track to meet these goals.
Work-related expenses, like new uniforms or equipment, might make your credit card bill higher at the end of the month. Having these items in your budget helps you prepare for these expenses when they come up.
Nurses should keep a few things in mind while putting together a budget. Income is always a factor—there are only so many hours in a day. If you’re a travel nurse, you’ll likely be reimbursed for basic living expenses while staying in a different location. However, other costs might change depending on where you are.
Financial products designed with nurses in mind can help with budgeting or help you earn a little extra. For example, Laurel Road’s Loyalty Checking account for nurses offers a $300 welcome bonus and $20/month in cash rewards for the first year – just for setting up qualifying direct deposits.1 So, make sure you’re taking advantage of any extra benefits like this that can help you earn a little extra cash for your budget.
Budgeting comes down to balancing your total income, your total expenses, and your savings. For most people, it makes sense to look at your expenses on a monthly basis.
The 50/30/20 budget is a great way to get started. This budget method sorts your expenses into three buckets — needs, wants, and savings. Here’s how it works:
What does this look like? If you make $4000 a month after taxes, $2000 would go toward essentials, $1200 toward discretionary spending, and $800 toward savings. Try out our budget calculator below to see how your budget stacks up.
Our budget calculator will divide your after-tax income into three categories: 50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings.
Essential required expenses – including housing, utilities, and minimum debt payments.
May include expenses you don’t always need, such as restaurants, travel, or entertainment.
Should include emergency funds, retirement, and extra debt payments.
To figure out how much you can spend, you first need to calculate your monthly income, after taxes. This is most likely the number on your paycheck (with some light math, depending on your pay schedule).
Almost all nurses are eligible for overtime pay if they work over 40 hours a week, which can make this step a little tricky. It often makes sense to average overtime pay over a few paychecks and use that number.
If you have pre-tax deductions taken from your paycheck, like health insurance or retirement, you should add that money back in to have it count toward your total income calculation. This will give you a more holistic idea of where your money is going when you categorize expenses.
Next, think about your monthly expenses and write them all down. You can use a spreadsheet, write them on paper, or use a budgeting app.
If you’re having trouble remembering your expenses, start by recording the utilities you pay, as well as housing costs. Account for any hobbies or things you do for fun, like concerts and movies. Look at your credit card bills and bank statement. Check what you’re spending money on and inventory everything.
Remember the buckets from before? Now it’s time to categorize your expenses into those buckets. Look at the expenses from step 2 and categorize them all into needs and wants.
Now that you know what you’re spending your money on, you can see how that aligns (or doesn’t) with a 50/30/20 budget. Think of places where you can adjust your spending to better fit your budget and your goals overall.
This is a good opportunity to cut out expenses you don’t need, like subscriptions you’re not using. You may even be able to reduce your fixed expenses by negotiating with creditors for better rates, or by refinancing your student loans to a lower rate or lower monthly payment.
Now it’s time to think about what’s important to you. Consider your long- and short-term financial goals. Do you want to pursue an MSN in two years? Retire in ten? Write these things down, too.
Why are goals so important? Staying on track is easier if you know you’re taking concrete steps toward something you want.
Let’s look into the future. In this last step, look at the budget you created and see how it can help you meet your long-term goals.
Figure out how much you need for your goals. Realistically, how much should be in your savings account before you start taking classes for your MSN? What do you need to save to pay off student loans? This is the time to see how long it will take and adjust your budget if necessary.
Ready to get started budgeting? Remember, while it’s important to monitor your spending and stick to needs and wants budgets, you can always put more toward savings. Check in with your spending habits regularly, make sure you’re on track, and keep your goals in mind.
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