Right out of college, Parween Mander was excited to start her new job. But anxiety hit when the reality of paying off student loans and credit card debt shrank her take-home pay so much, she was barely getting by.
"I felt more and more that I wasn't really getting anywhere or getting ahead. I'm making most I've ever made, but I'm not really seeing that reflected in my bank account," Mander said.
So Mander decided to change the way she approached money. Those hard learned lessons inspired her to become a money coach and she went on to found her own company called The Wealthy Wolfe.
Mander believes the first step towards financial freedom is to assess your psychology around money.
"That's our beliefs about money ... that are really shaping [and] influencing how we interact with money today and how we make those decisions," she said.
Mander advocates finding savings in your budget and looking for new sources of income. Cut or reduce any unnecessary costs and minimize expenses by doing things like canceling unnecessary subscriptions. She also recommends taking inventory of what you may be overspending on, whether it be groceries or eating out, and make a goal to reduce spending in that category by 10% or 20%.
To increase cash flow, Mander recommends trying to negotiate your current position's salary or taking on a second job.
"I think a lot of the financial advice out there is focused on cutting and reducing expenses and we need to have more confidence about bringing in more money and more income because that is unlimited," Mander said.
But the key to her financial strategy is what she calls a "joy fund." It's a special account where you save a small sum, meant to be spent on something that brings joy.
"Use that exclusively to spend on joyful purchases," she explained. "This money is allocated separately from my bills and my other financial goals so I can enjoy it guilt-free."
Setting aside a "joy fund" can make the hard work of saving and cutting debt easier, she said, and in the long run, it gets you out of a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.
"Spending in alignment with what we actually value is what we want, right? I think we're just taught that, 'Hey, we shouldn't be spending at all.' And that's a really negative narrative to be imposing on people," she added.
If figuring out how to create a joy fund -- or budgeting in general -- feels overwhelming, don't worry. ABC News chief business correspondent Rebecca Jarvis shared her own tips to help people cut back on spending and create a "joy fund" in their own lives.
How can you apply a joy fund in your own life: Remember the 50/30/20 rule
"There is no such thing as a one size fits all model here, but one rule you can follow is the 50/30/20 rule," Jarvis said. "That's 50% of your after-tax paycheck going towards your needs, your rent, your utilities and food; 30% going towards your wants, a part of that joy fund; and 20% the remaining portion going towards your savings and your debt paydown."
Necessities may even be taking up a bigger portion of the paycheck right now because of inflation, so adjust accordingly and as needed. Remember that your plan should be tailored to you.
What about people who have a lot of debt or no emergency savings? Try 50/10/40
For a lot of people, it's going to make more sense to divert some more of that savings into their savings and their debt paydown. So after-tax you can follow the rule of 50/10/40 rule, Jarvis said, as in 10% goes to your joy fund and 40% goes towards building savings and paying off debts.
Having that 10% for your joy fund psychologically is a reward to keep you going on your personal finance journey.
Use apps to help with budgeting and saving
You don't have to go at it alone. Free apps like the ones below are great budgeting tools and can make financial organization and saving feel a little less daunting:
Mint is a great choice for finance newbies to help with budgeting.
PocketGuard is another app which automatically pulls out transactions from linked accounts so you can see categories like "travel" or "utility bills," and where you can set spending limits.
Digit is an app that connects your checking account and automatically saves small amounts of cash that it holds in a savings account until you decide how you want to use it. You can create different savings buckets, and it will put money into them automatically.