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Uploaded:2022-08-25
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In this episode, one woman explains how working as a barista set her up with good lifelong financial habits that have followed her beyond food service.

Through bi-weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Video by Grace Lee
https://www.youtube.com/c/WhatsSoGreatAboutThat
https://twitter.com/whatssograce

Written by Carrie Felter

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Everyone always talks about how much money you can save by giving up your daily latte and becoming your own barista.

But what if you are the barista? Some of us turn to jobs in the service industry because it's easy to balance those jobs with freelance work or going to school.

But for many of us, the job is our career and what we use to pay all our bills. However, tipping isn't always consistent. So there is no way to count on them as a reliable source of income.

There is a lot of advice out there about how you can earn more money by switching careers or taking on more work, but that doesn't help for the here and now. I am no longer grinding beans and slinging drinks, but these are the lessons I learned to give my barista paycheck its greatest potential that I still use today. Number one, save that change.

Getting tipped out in cash at the end of every night left me with a lot of loose change. It's tempting to throw it all to the bottom of a bag, only to eventually lose it. But I started to make it a point to save every penny.

After each shift, I would add whatever loose change I was doled out to a jar on my dresser. When the jar was full, I would take it to a bank where I could cash it out for free. Each full jar usually ended up being around $40 or so.

Which doesn't seem groundbreaking, but it was money I could have been literally throwing away. And with a little effort, it added up over time. Number two, remove temptation.

A barista paycheck is easy to spend almost all of it as soon as the money is deposited. What I learn to do is as soon as I got paid is immediately remove how much I would need for bills and send it to a separate checking account. I did this by adding up how much money my consistent bills would cost every month-- phone, rent, utilities, health insurance, all the usual suspects.

I would overestimate how much those would be, round up, divide that number by 2, and transfer that amount into a separate account. So I wouldn't be tempted to spend it. So for example, if all my bills added up to be $849 a month, I would round that amount up to $900.

Then each payday, I would move $450 to my separate account. Eventually, because I had rounded up, savings would slowly start to build. When I banked enough savings, I would transfer the balance into a high-yield savings account, slowly building my emergency fund.

Not having the money available in my regular checking account tricked me into thinking I had less money to spend than I did, which forced me to be more conscientious about my daily spending. Number three, see if your shop can be a CSA pickup site. CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is usually a subscription service that delivers fresh, seasonal food to members.

Farms that offer a CSA are always in search of individuals or businesses that can serve as a location for people to pick up their boxes. Farms often offer benefits to host sites, like a free box of produce. Even split among the staff, a full box of produce can really help you save on groceries.

Not everyone lives in an area where CSA deliveries are available. But if you do, they can be incredible. I never paid for produce during CSA season and got to bring home higher quality fruits and vegetables than I would have been able to afford otherwise.

I would even freeze or pickle extra, so I would have something on hand for winter. Fresh produce, let alone local, organic produce can be inaccessible on a low budget. So being able to get it for free can be life changing.

Number four, open a retirement account. Other than the low paycheck, service industry jobs also generally don't offer any benefits. For a lot of us, this means trying to pay for all your health benefits and retirement savings out of your already tight pockets.

I took too long to do it, but I eventually opened a Roth IRA for myself. Even if I only contributed $10 a week, it was better than nothing. It's so hard to try to plan for your future when you're struggling financially in the present.

But even contributing a bit at a time made me more aware of my future and my need to start planning for it. Number five, budget your night out from your tips. I am not someone who can work all day without ever having a night out to enjoy myself.

That being said, I try to be conscious about my spending when I do. What worked for me is to plan a night out around how much I earned in tips for the day. If we had a really busy Friday and Saturday, and I made $60 in tips, I would go out to an affordable restaurant or bar and limit myself to only spending what I had in my wallet.

If it was slow and I only earned $20, I would have a movie night with a friend and we would split a frozen pizza. I wanted to have fun, but not if it meant not being able to pay my bills or going into debt. Working in the service industry doesn't always seem like a financially sustainable option.

And it often isn't. Until we work to ensure everyone earns a living wage, we have to work with what we have and see how far we can stretch our paychecks.