The idea of saving money may sound overwhelming, especially if you’re unsure of where to even start. The reality is, not all budgeting best practices work for every person’s lifestyle — but that doesn’t mean you should feel discouraged.
Getting to a better place financially could be as simple as changing the way you think about money management. That’s why we partnered with Intuit — maker of QuickBooks, Mint, and TurboTax — to learn unique methods real women use to tackle their finances, backed up by advice from a top financial planning and investment expert. Ahead, four of their best tips that can help you stretch your dollars the furthest.
For Tara Reed, a tech entrepreneur and the founder of Apps Without Code, having an automated system to tackle her finances is vital. Instead of using a set budget, Reed says she prefers to distribute each paycheck across five different bank accounts. These accounts are labeled for various expenses (i.e. rent and transportation), with one of them covering the costs of leisure. “The bank accounts work like a prepaid card,” Reed tells Refinery29. “For extracurricular spending, when there’s no more money on the card, I know I can’t go out to dinner and need to cook at home.”
Similar to Reed’s concept, “reverse budgeting” is a Stash Wealth-coined alternative that also emphasizes savings goals over traditional budgeting. “Rather than constantly feeling like you’re tracking where you’re spending your money, save first,” says Priya Malani, a financial expert and the founder of Stash Wealth. “If you plan in advance and set up a savings account — automating the savings into that account — then whatever’s left in your checking account is yours to blow, guilt-free.”
For convenience sake, Mint is a free, digital budgeting app to help keep you and your finances organized. It combines all your bank accounts in one place and reminds you when a payment is due.
To minimize debt, Gabrielle Hickmon, a Cornell University alum and the founder of The Reign XY, says it was important to begin paying the interest on her student loans right after graduation rather than waiting until her six-month student-loan grace period ended. As Malani explains, most student loans continue to accrue interest even when payments aren’t required. “If you can pay down the interest and avoid capitalization,” however, “it could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.”
Paying your loans as early as possible also helps you avoid growing accustomed to freely spending your full paycheck, Malani says. As a general rule of thumb, she recommends those with student loans dedicate 20% of their net take-home pay to paying them off. “If you’re only making the minimum payment, it’s kind of like running on a treadmill. You’re working really hard but going nowhere,” Malani explains. “So you need to make sure that your payment is large enough to make a significant dent in the principal.”
“I pay quarterly taxes,” Karen Spears, the founder of Kareracter, a creative design studio, tells Refinery29. “Since my income fluctuates, it’s important for me to set aside a consistent amount of money — 20% of every transaction — for overhead costs and taxes.” According to Malani, planning for taxes — aka lumping funds in a separate savings account on monthly basis — is a big deal for entrepreneurs and side-hustlers: “You’d be surprised how many people don’t [do it], and then April rolls around and they owe the IRS like $1,500.”
The automatic categorization feature of QuickBooks Self-Employed makes it easy to sort your personal finances from your business finances, so you can see your total income, expenses, profits, and upcoming quarterly tax info in one place. If you add on TurboTax Self-Employed, you also get the ability to maximize your deductions, pay quarterly taxes online, and file both your federal tax return and state tax return one time at no additional cost.
On the flip side, to avoid overpaying the IRS, Spears says she keeps a running tally of her business expenses so that writing them off come tax time is less stressful. Waiting until your credit-card company sends you a year-end summary is another option, Malani adds. Regardless of whether you’re a small-business owner, once you have the statement in hand, “go through it to find all the different expenses you can write off, and add them up,” she says. Everything from office supplies to magazine subscriptions is fair game, according to Malani, as long as the expense in question served a business purpose.
“Working for the government, they really, really, really stress the importance of contributing to your 401(k),” Chelsea Anderson, a public relations specialist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, tells Refinery29. Anderson’s current contribution is around 15%, a sacrifice she believes will be worth it in the future. “Coming in as a younger person, a lot of my older colleagues told me to contribute as much as I can, because they wish they would have done that at my age.”
According to Malani, money that’s invested in your 20s will be worth way more, having had more time to grow, versus if you start saving at age 30 or later. However, she also says going above and beyond isn’t always necessary — especially if the money could go towards minimizing high-interest debt. “The media has scared millennials into thinking they’ll never be able to retire,” Malani says. “For that reason, we find that a lot of people are over saving for retirement, which sounds crazy, but it’s true.” Instead of maxing out your retirement accounts, she suggests calculating a figure that will ensure an 80% replacement of your income by the time you retire. “At the very least, definitely max your employer match,” Malani continues, “otherwise, you’re basically saying ‘no’ to free money.”