Budgeting 101: For Hospitality Workers

AJ Wolbrum
8 min readDec 4, 2018


For support in making your dreams reality reach out. I’ll get you set up with the following services: a live personalized budget to match your unique needs, assistance with creating attainable goals, and monthly challenges to build your ‘wealth’ muscles. Contact: ajwolbrum@gmail.com

This might seem like an impossible task. How do you budget when your money is inconsistent and your weekly schedule fluctuates? Would you believe me if I said that you 100% can budget, get your finances in a healthy place, and create more space to do what you love? I’ve worked in the hospitality industry for over 10 years, which means I’ve had hundreds of co-workers. While I admired the small group of servers, managers and bussers who seemed on top of their money shit; most of us, including myself, always seemed to be hustling to make ends meet. The few days after rent always felt like I deserved to party harder. Like; I completed my one adult obligation, now let’s not worry about this for another 3 weeks. Sound familiar?

So what changed? How did I pay off 10k in 13 months, or pay off 6 years of unpaid taxes? How did I run my own business while also waitressing? I followed these 5 principles.

  1. I set my own schedule and set boundaries for when I could and could not work. What this did was create structure in my life. It’s much easier to predict how much you’re going to make when you work the same shifts. I respected my time by refusing to work shifts that didn’t make the money I needed. I only worked one 14 hour day a week. It was the most I could work while not completely burning myself out for the rest of the week.
  2. I stopped going out after work. If you are very close with your co-workers, then set clear boundaries and expectations for when you will go out. $40 Ubers at 4 am add up. Rounds of drinks for everyone adds up. You can’t build routine when you feel hungover on a Wednesday morning after a night of drinking until dawn. How are you supposed to accomplish any of your other goals if you have no energy?
  3. I underestimated. Because I had a consistent work schedule every week, I could guess based off shifts in the past how much I would make. For example: Every Monday for a 5 hour shift I would roughly make $35 an hour post-tax. I would guesstimate my expected income to be $5 less than I historically average, meaning I would budget based off of $30 an hour. Any extra money past the expected income would go towards my debt or savings. TIP: Base every estimation off of post tax. The simplest way to figure this out is to divide the total by .67. Each state is different and it is always helpful to ask your employer specifically how much tax is taken out. If your company doesn’t take out tax then make sure to take out at least 20% of each paycheck for taxes.
  4. I worked out before my shift. The easiest source of overspending is stress. When you are in a better mental state you make smarter financial decisions. I made it a point to work out before almost every shift. It kept me grounded, focused and relaxed. I noticed a massive difference in my mood, which would limit my temptations to blow money on useless activities.
  5. I practiced gratitude. I was thankful for my job. I wanted to teach yoga but I wasn’t making enough money to do it fully while trying to tackle my debt. I made the conscious choice to go back to waitressing and used every single dollar I made to pay off my debt, save for 2 months rent, go to weddings, and teach yoga without fearing how I’m going to survive. Waitressing was a tool and helped me in my time of need. When my energy would deplete I would remember that waitressing afforded me the incredible gift of financial independence.

Let’s talk about the ‘HOW TO’ Budget, now that we know the cardinal principles of consciously working in the hospitality industry.

Write It Down:

First start with your non-negotiable’s.

Non-Negotiable’s definition: An expense that happens every single month. Your monthly essential payments. Rent is an example of a non-negotiable for survival. Book club is an example of a recurring expense that adds value to your life, something that supports your overall well-being. {My style of budgeting does not ask you to eat cup of noodles and never go out. No, instead I match your budget to your unique lifestyle. You can have your $75 classpass membership and go out once a week. As long as it’s within your monthly revenue.}

TIP: Overestimate It’s always better to over-project then under project. Especially when it comes to things that are consistently due every month but tend to vary like utilities.





Student Loans:

Car Payments:


Book Club:




It doesn’t matter how small. Get all the payments you always make a month.

Supplements and therapy? Why are these in non-negotiable’s? Your life is made up of many different categories. You don’t just live to pay rent, you live to thrive and these added expenses help make you the best you. Maybe for you it’s reading or playing video games; if these monthly payments make your life better and are consistently taken out of your bank account then put them in your non-negotiable’s. Some of my clients have fitness, skin care, or credit card debt in their non-negotiable’s.

Let’s talk about Debt:

Do you have credit card debt? A grand or two that’s been accumulating interest, never really completely paid off, just kind of hanging over your head like last nights guilty pleasure? From my experience the only way you can even begin to clear that debt is by prioritizing it. Most people throw money at their debt; like reluctantly chucking $100 at a family member who’s always asking for a little something, something. But your debt is not an annoying burden that should be disregarded. It was your choice to spend above your means, it was your decisions that gave you debt, and it must be your decision to pay it off.

TIP: Call your Credit Card No matter how big or how small, find out if you can negotiate down your interest rates. Explain your financial situation and see if they can work out a payment plan with you.

Debt should always go in your non-negotiable’s. That way you know exactly how much money you need a month for all of your expenses.

0% Interest: There are plenty of CC’s out there that have 0% interest rates (that’s the Annual Percentage Rate or APR) for up to 21 months! Do a little research or check out Credit Karma’s post. The most important rule is to set a goal. If you move your debt to a 0% CC than you better commit to paying it off before the ARP changes. Divide your debt by the amount of months they offer so you know the minimum you should be putting towards your debt every month.

Debt is bondage. It is a terrible feeling but you’re not alone. Here are some hard facts.

Consumer debt has reached $1.3 TRILLION. The average household debt is $16k. The average student loan is $46k a year based off NerdWallet

Long story short, A LOT of us are in debt. I racked up $10k by living above my means. I chose to travel the world and spend while I wasn’t earning. I even enlisted my sister to help with some of the bills and was rightfully put in my place when she noticed the monthly bills were rising. I get it. I had shame, anxiety and a lot of rage about my debt. I made my last credit card purchase in March 2013, and finally started paying it off in August 2016. I freaked out after 2 months of payments and put it on pause for another 6 months. Once I was ready to pick up my debt again I created an aggressive payment plan that I committed to and never wavered. It took 13 months but I am completely free of CC debt.

One more thing about debt. Don’t rush to pay it off in expense of your sanity. What I mean is that while you might feel very guilty about your debt, if you put yourself in a compromising position to pay it off, as soon as you’re debt free you’re WAY more likely to end up where you started. It is MUCH more sustainable to pay what you can truly afford and pay it off slowly and measurably. This is why it’s important to find out if you can lower your interest rates or get a card with 0% interest. Don’t let the shame run your decision making. Think logically and realistically. 2 years might feel like a long time, but if it’s what you can afford, it’s the perfect amount of time.

Now Lifestyle:

The first thing I hear is “Oh, I’ll cut down on going out, or stop buying clothes.” You cannot understand why you spend if you don’t understand how you spend. Write down your lifestyle expenses. {This is a key component to your success. Most financial advice you’ll get is too general. Understanding where your money goes will give you a direct lens into your personal desires, needs and expectations.}

TIP: Look at the last 3 months of your spending to come up with an average allowance for each category.





Home goods:

Beauty Maintenance:


Weddings/ bachelorette parties:




Be Honest: I have several clients who have a category for recreational drugs. Do not hide from yourself in your expenses because it will slowly build up and prevent you from achieving your goals.

The Homework: Go into your bank account and write down your 3 month historical expenses. See how much you really spent on that wedding, how much you typically spend on clothing. Once you write it down you’ll start to see a pattern. You might even notice that without thought, you spend roughly the same every month on ‘going out’ or ‘beauty maintenance.’ When you notice a big discrepancy figure out why. There will always be a reason why your spending fluctuates; be it a bad week or a family emergency, a friend visiting town or a new job.

Create a Goal:

Lower your expectations. The biggest limitation people come across is creating impossible goals. Unless you understand how your money works, you can’t possibly know what your able to accomplish. It’s the same principles in any area you want to excel. You want to run a marathon but can’t run for longer than 10 mins. So you create actionable, small, bite sized goals. You say tomorrow I’m going to run for 15 mins. You’re way more likely to achieve a goal when you have attainable steps to actively achieve it.

There are some really easy goals you can bang out as soon as you start taking your finances seriously.

  1. Write down your 3 month historical expenses.
  2. Set your own schedule. Figure out how much money you need to make, and shape your schedule around that. Factor in days off on the scheduler.
  3. Predict monthly revenue by writing down expected income each week.
  4. Come up with a 12-month debt payment plan. How many extra shifts do you need to work a month to pay off your debt in a year post monthly budgeted expenses?
  5. If you are not in debt, create a 12-month emergency fund savings plan. How many shifts do you need to work a month to save enough for 8 months of unemployment post monthly budgeted expense?



AJ Wolbrum

AJ is a Financial Freedom Coach and the founder of Beyond The Green Coaching. https://www.beyondthegreencoaching.com/