Server Tips: How to Budget When You’re Paid in Cash
It’s difficult to keep track of your money and budget when you take home cash. As a server or even as a bartender, you can leave your shift with $150 in your pocket, and somehow the next day you’ve got a handful of ones, some loose change, and nothing to show for it.
There are two factors that make budgeting as a server difficult: Your income is irregular, and you’re paid in cash. But that’s no excuse for not having your finances in order. It is a little trickier, yes, but you can create a budget that works for you.
Tips For Your Tips
Getting paid in cash comes with its own set of unique challenges. It’s hard to keep up with in terms of how much you’ve made and also to literally keep up with — who hasn’t lost cash at some point? We have a few tips to help you make the most out of your cash income.
Write down your total tips after each shift.
You’ll need this information to set up an accurate monthly income estimate for your budget, but you should continue to track this information even after you set up your budget. The amount may change over time, so you’ll need to adjust your income total.
Keep your tips in one place.
This will help you know how much cash you have at any given moment. If there’s some money in your apron, some in your wallet, and some balled up in the console of your car, it will be impossible to keep track of it.
Use big bills.
At the end of your shift when you’re doing your close out, consolidate all your small bills into big bills. People tend to consider a purchase more when they have to break a large bill than if they can pay for it with singles.
Create Your Budget
When you break it down, a budget is simple — income minus expenses — so you only need those two things to get started.
Look at the total tips you earn each shift, and calculate your average monthly tips. If you aren’t already writing down your total tips after each shift, you’ll have to start your budget with a guesstimate about your income and then adjust once you have a clearer overview of your earnings.
After two months of recording your tips, you can figure out your monthly average and update your budget with this number. Repeat this each month until you have several months that you can average out to get a more accurate income projection. The more months you can average, the more accurate your total will be.
Next, write down your recurring bills — anything you know you need to pay every single month, whether it’s $1,000 for rent or a $9 Amazon Music subscription. Don’t forget to account for expenses that vary such as gas and groceries. You will probably need to take an educated guess about these, but after you track your purchases for a month or two, you’ll be able to calculate the average and replace your guestimate with this number.
You should also include a “savings” category, which you can break down into sub-categories to cover specific goals. And don’t forget to add a “fun money” category. If you love to go out with friends once a week or can’t live without your grande green tea frappuccinos, add it to the budget.
Balance your budget
Once you’ve allocated money to each category, see what you have left. If there’s nothing left over, that’s great! Your budget is perfectly balanced as is. If you have money left over, increase the total for your “savings” category, and add the extra money there.
If you don’t have enough money to cover each category, you’ll need to review your budget to see what you can cut out. Typically, the “fun money” category is the first to go when you’re low on funds. If you’re still not able to reach the minimum needed to cover your must-haves (rent, electricity, etc.), then cut from your savings and any non-essential bills. And no, Netflix isn’t essential.
Servers tend to keep cash for non-bill purchases, and it can be difficult to find apps or tools to help you track cash transactions since they sync to bank accounts and don’t always allow for manual entries.
Dollarbird is an app available for iOS and Android. It allows for synced accounts and manual entries and is uniquely designed with a collaborative calendar to support both individuals and families. This app also helps you see your current and projected balances, so it’s great for planning ahead.
Mint is one of the original budgeting apps. It has robust features and allows for both linked accounts and manual entries for cash purchases. Mint also gives you free access to your credit score which is an important indicator of your financial health.
If apps aren’t your thing, there’s always the classic spreadsheet option. Excel has been a budgeting go-to for years, and it works great for people who frequently use cash. You can create a custom Excel sheet or use a free template that suits your needs. If you don’t have Microsoft Office, you can use Google Sheets, a free online spreadsheet software available through your Gmail account.
Melissa was a server for five years and a cook for one day. Now she writes about food and restaurants. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.