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So you just finished school and are getting ready to head out on your own? Schools and parents sometimes don’t do the best job at explaining how to manage your finances as you’re starting out. I believe that the beginning of your adult life sets a foundation for your future. Having good habits from the beginning can help keep you away from living paycheck to paycheck or digging a large hole of irresponsible debt.
I hope that through my story and tips you’ll be able to find that living paycheck to paycheck (even in expensive states) isn’t a mandatory requirement and you can escape it.
I saw a meme on Facebook a couple weeks ago that was joking about what some people’s definition of financially stable was. The answers echoed much else I’ve read from young adults about their financial situations. Financial stability to them was not having to check your bank account before buying a coffee, not having to put something back at the grocery store, not living paycheck to paycheck.
A sad laugh came out because if the standard of financial stability was simply knowing that a small purchase wouldn’t make you overdraft, then dang I must be crazy rich.
Adulting is hard.
In my first 3 years exploring the real world, we were able to improve our living situation drastically. We moved to MA, got better paying jobs, and bought a house.
Through all of that we had a goal in mind- live on one income.
We made living on one income work for us for a couple extended periods in the first couples years due to some crappy circumstances.
My adult personal finance experience is entangled with my husbands, but even if you are single and starting out the same principles apply.
The key to not living paycheck to paycheck for us has been living below our means.
Easier said than done?
I totally understand because what needs to be done to allow this to happen is not fun.
Being at the beginning of your adult life actually helps you accomplish this much easier than people who are already stuck in the paycheck to paycheck trap.
Where to Start
Build the life you can afford and don’t add any further expenses until you are sure you can cover the extra comfortably.
Does that suck? Yes! But you will love yourself later.
How we built the life we could afford on minimum wage:
-Rode the bus with the most cost efficient bus pass based on how often we would need to ride to get to and from work.
We couldn’t afford to front the purchase of our first car + gas + insurance at first. It absolutely sucks to have to take the bus to work every morning, but it also saves unnecessary trips to the mall.
This is where Pinterest came in handy for me. I didn’t have much cooking experience starting out, but we were trying all sorts of recipes. It was fun to find what was cheap, easy, and yummy to prepare.Not eating out saved us a lot of money.
We received free cable for a time while my husband worked at a cable company. When that job ended, we cut cable and started testing streaming services.
As far as entertaining ourselves while we were not working, we would occasionally splurge on a date to Dave and Busters (but only when I had a buy $20 get $20 coupon). We also had a couple board games and utilized cheap video game sales on Steam. As you can tell we’re pretty big homebodies, which actually really helps when you’re trying to save money.
If you like going out, find ways to make your time out as frugal as possible. Or only go out on occasion.
We have received several good pieces of furniture for free from our landlords. Tenants leave behind furniture all of the time and the landlords are looking to get rid of it. When you’re just starting your furniture doesn’t need to match and be expensive. Especially because you’re not in your permanent home yet. Get the necessities for cheap/free and save some money.
-Don’t Rely on Credit Cards
I refuse to pay credit card interest. I’ve heard it be called a dead beat. This is what you want to be!
Only spend money you actually have on credit in order to build a credit history. Pay it off in full each month!
I didn’t get all crazy with it, but coupons when you can get them are your friend. My favorite kind to utilize because of their ease as digital app based coupons. At the time Target was my most convenient place to shop, I loved searching through Cartwheel looking for coupons before buying anything. Add that to my Target Redcard (the debit card version) and I was saving a good chunk of money sometimes.
We even went for a cheap elopement instead of spending thousands for a wedding.
The honeymoon was postponed. 3 and a half years later and I just got done booking our honeymoon trip to Disney World.
(This is where you’ll be loving yourself later. It sucked to not get to honeymoon following our wedding, but now we’re in a much better position to better enjoy the trip we really want.)
Our First Car
When we moved, our new apartment location demanded a car. This is when we finally bought one.
In buying one we looked for the cheapest year to mileage SUV that we could find that was in good shape. We bought a 2003 Ford Explorer and 2 and a half years later it’s still working out just fine. It’s not the fanciest car on the road, but it barely has more than 100,000 miles on it.
We also haggled the crap out of the deal to purchase it. Don’t let car salesman make you feel like you can’t negotiate. The few times we were told they don’t negotiate throughout our car buying adventures, we walked. Each time they were calling us begging us to reconsider buying the car. One car dealership lost us as a customer for life after this happened.
We got jobs that allowed us to commute to work together. To this day, we still carpool as much as possible.
Bye, Bye Rent
Our house purchase came a year later. We didn’t want to be paying rent any longer and were ready to start laying down some roots that would allow us to have children in the near future.
Because we lived below our means we were able to save money for the purchase of the house.
Our mortgage is similar to the price of rent for smaller apartments in the city we work in.
With pay raises we didn’t necessarily raise our spending. We still lived (and to a slightly less extent still live) way below our means. Every potential purchase that will create a monthly expense is evaluated.
Do we have the money each month to comfortably add another expense? This is what you should ask yourself.
If the answer is no, try to find another alternative. I am a psycho Googler. I will hunt down every option possible to make something I want be able to work for me if there is a way. Sometimes there isn’t.
If you’re not being paid enough, apply elsewhere.
While working my first job, I applied around to places I thought might pay better. I loved the people I worked with, but the pay really wasn’t good for our situation. I didn’t get anything else, so I understand that it’s not very easy but put in that effort.
Write out your monthly expenses and income after taxes and health insurance.
For a long time I would just guesstimate how much my total monthly expenses were and how much I was bringing in. My hours weren’t stable so it was hard to plan for anything. Writing everything down helps you see how much money you have left after you cover all of your needs for the month.
Make every decision considering all of the factors. You can’t live in a $1,200 a month apartment making $9.00 an hour. Doing this just sets yourself up for failure.
You might not have as nice of a life as you have grown accustomed to at your parents house. You might have to sacrifice some things.
But the thing is, you won’t be sacrificing forever. At some point you will start to have an emergency cushion stashed in your checking account. You’ll watch your credit score grow. You’ll realize that by not choosing the car or apartment with better amenities, and not going out all of the time and blowing paychecks on the hottest clothing, make up, and technology trends, you are in a position to make your large purchases in cash. Maybe take that trip you always wanted to, without relying on a credit card.
Don’t Compare Yourself to What Everyone Else “Has”
Everyone else looks like they’re having a blast on Instagram, but they aren’t laying a solid financial foundation for their future goals. You don’t know how they paid for that trip, outfit, beautiful apartment, etc.. They could be (and probably are) in a huge heap of debt.
You can be better than that.