Making a budget to save money

How to save money and budget copyright Harsha KR, CC.
How to save money, photo by Harsha KR, CC.

When you first arrive in the United States, you will receive cash support from either Refugee Cash Assistance or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  You may also get food stamps or a debit card to buy food.  Once you find a job, you will start getting a paycheck. You may want to learn how to budget in order to save money.

A budget is an estimate of how much money you have every month and how much money you need to pay for rent, utilities, food, transportation, clothing, etc. It will help you figure out what you can spend without running out of money. It is wise to buy the things you need before the things you want. If you have some left over at the end of the month, the best way to save money is by putting it into your savings. You can use your savings if you have an emergency. Experts recommend you create an emergency fund equal to six months’ expenses in the event you lose your job or get injured. After you have built up an emergency fund, then you can save money to do something fun, like go on a vacation with your family or buy something special.

Make sure to pay all of your bills on time so that you do not have to pay any late fees. Keep all of your important receipts and records of how you spend your money in one box, drawer or file.


Credit means borrowing money from the bank or credit union and paying it back later. When you borrow money using credit, you will have to pay interest, or a fee for borrowing the money.

It is important to pay all of your bills on time so that you protect your credit. If you want to buy a house one day, you may need to use credit.

If you decide to get a credit card, you need to be very careful to pay your bills entirely each month. Credit cards can be helpful but often charge you very high interest if you do not pay them off every month. Do not spend more money than you have!


Be careful when you are giving money to people you do not know, especially if you are paying with cash. It is better to get a checking account at a bank or credit union so that you can pay by check and then you have proof of paying your bills. If you have to pay cash, always ask for a receipt so that you have proof of payment.

There are some scams (tricks to cheat people) that target people who are new to this country and do not speak English well yet. If you get mail or email that says you need to pay a lot of money or that you won a lot of money, it might be a scam or fake. Check with the post office, your volunteer/mentor, or a trusted friend or neighbor if you are unsure.

If you are considering buying or investing in, or paying for something, it is acceptable  to ask for agreement in writing, or to say you need to talk to your spouse or think about the offer. Do not feel pressured to pay a large amount of money without documentation or time to ask for advice.


In the US, everyone is required to report by April 15 every year how much income they made in the year before. That report is called a tax return. They may owe taxes on that income. Taxes are money that you pay the government for the public services you receive, like school for your children and roads to drive on. Depending on how much money you make, however, you might receive a refund (money back from the government) on tax you already paid during the year.

When you receive a paycheck, some money will be taken out of of it to cover certain taxes. The money that is taken out is called “withholding.” This includes state and federal taxes as well as other things like unemployment insurance and social security, which is savings for retirement or disability.

Sample Paycheck from the Wells Fargo "Hands on Banking" program.
Sample Paycheck from the Wells Fargo “Hands on Banking” program.

There are many different organizations that help refugees file their taxes. Search the RCO’s Local Resources page to find tax help near you.

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