My Experience Budgeting as a Server

Hello all! Now, I’m no financial advisor, but I am writing to impart a little wisdom given to me by some experienced women in my life. When I first started my college career, I really needed to find something that fit with my class schedule and where I could make a decent paycheck. Like many college students, when I was looking for this elusive goldmine, I fell into working in the food service industry. More specifically, tipped serving in restaurants. It was an excellent way to make cash quickly and most restaurants offer flexible hours. They also have a high employee turnover rate, which means most restaurants are almost always hiring. When I first started, I remember being amazed at knowing by the end of the night, I could walk out with upwards of $80.00 in my pocket for a 4-6 hour shift. Eventually, I built a base with guests and began to acquire regulars. I also began to build my knowledge of the menu and specials and make suggestions to customers, increasing my value, leading to more money at the end of the night.

The only thing that evaded me was a consistent way to save money. At one point, I kept a shoebox taped shut with duct tape and stuck bills through a slit in the top so I wouldn’t spend it. And it worked… for a little while. I eventually bought my first car with this method, but with a car, comes insurance. And I began to have more bills of my own to pay. I found that, alas, I had outgrown my shoe boxing (that's a word right?) method. One day, I complained to one of my older co-worker, Meredith*, and her advice really changed the way I saved money. She suggested I figure out how much I was actually spending per month and then figure out how much I needed to set aside every day in order to pay my bills at the end of the month. And with 20+ years in the serving industry (major respect), I decided she probably knew what she was talking about. So I set out to figure out how much I needed to work in order to pay all my bills, and to still have a bit left for my savings. So here’s a breakdown: My School Payments ended up being $311 a month, when divided by 4 weeks (making up a month), meant that it was $77.75 a week, then I divide this number by how many days I worked - let’s say 4 days a week. This meant that I needed to save $19.44 every day I worked. This method works for all sorts of bills (phone bills, utilities, rent, car insurance, etc.). But, I bet your wondering about everyday expenses like groceries or gas, right? With groceries, figure out how much you spend on food and make it a weekly expense! For me, $30.00-40.00 a week is around what I spend at the grocery store. Always round up a little bit. So, say I need to save $40.00 a week for groceries, divided by the 4 days that I work during the week, it makes it about $10.00 a day - not bad! Now, when I have finally figured out how and where my money for the week would go, I was able to develop “the envelope system.” I do this by using a coupon folder to keep everything in order. I also like using one because I can use the little tabs, move them around, or change them as my goals change. Don’t forget to budget out a little fun for yourself, like movies or date night. And don’t be hard on yourself about going over budget! Be kind to yourself and your wallet. Don’t stress. Weirdly, learning how to budget for me has given me a sense of freedom that allows me to see where my money goes. This helps me feel like I have positive financial power. There are also so many resources online for young people and college student! It can feel intimidating, but it can also be empowering to take control of this aspect of your life. Don’t be afraid to look or ask for help!