Like many other new grads, around this time of year, you’re facing the idea of suddenly being on your own, paying your own bills, and having an (unfortunately) small starting salary. But how to do you live well on a small income?
This was 100% me two years ago…graduated in May 2015, started my job 2 days after graduation, married in August 2015. My job was in Sarasota, FL which definitely restricted us to that location. And my husband wasn’t having any luck getting a full-time chemical engineering job here.
So, like many entry-level grads, I was facing a super low starting salary…and making that work for 2 people.
And quick disclaimer: Were we on food stamps? Absolutely not. Were we in danger of not being able to pay our rent and being homeless? No.
But for two newly married people who also just graduated college, we were on a very very tight budget. Especially going from being very lucky our whole lives to having our parents pay for things, except for the minor part time jobs.
Spend your money on areas connected to your happiness to live well on a small income
The biggest thing I learned about making a tiny salary work, is spend your money on what matters to YOU.
- What can you NOT live without?
- What area of your life is SO directly tied to your happiness?
For example, I knew if we lived in a super rundown apartment in a terrible part of town, with appliances that didn’t work and sketchy Internet, and people who were selling drugs next-door, I would be miserable. That would affect my entire life…I would be unhappy at work, unhappy in my marriage, basically just all around miserable.
So, yes we lived in a really nice apartment with brand-new appliances and a community pool, and a dog park, and beautiful views. But that’s what mattered TO Me.
Your housing might not matter to you, but maybe it’s your car. Maybe if you’re driving a run down, beaten up, super old station wagon, that feeling of miserableness affects every area of your life. So, you just know that your monthly car payment is going to be a big chunk of your budget.
Prioritising what’s most important to you and then being okay with using a large part of your budget for that is the key to staying happy and satisfied. I never felt like we were missing out on too too much because we had a really nice apartment in a really nice neighbourhood that made me feel happy.
Cut back on what’s not important
However, because you’re paying for what you care about, you have to cut back on the things that aren’t super important.
For me, that was clothes. I don’t think I bought a single new pair of clothing for a year. I know that sounds insane and you might not even believe me, but seriously, I did not buy a dress from Target, I did not buy a random pair of shoes from Forever 21, I didn’t buy yoga pants from Nordstrom. I did not purchase clothing.
- What are you fine going without?
- What areas of your life aren’t directly connected to your happiness?
- What are you okay with giving up?
If you are fine with driving a beat up car, sell your car and get some extra cash that way. If your hair can easily be dyed at home, then trade in that $200 salon visit for a $20 box of hair color.
* If you need more tips on cutting back, make sure to check out Katherine’s article on saving money and budgeting tips here!
Ask instead of buying
We asked for things that I would’ve otherwise bought.
For example, these days, if we need large glass mixing bowl, I will go to Bed, Bath, & Beyond and pick one up. Two years ago, I would have asked my parents, my husband’s parents, and close friends in the area if they had a large mixing bowl they were giving away or didn’t need.
Did it humble me to ask for things they didn’t want? Absolutely. But it also saved a lot of money in the end.
Don’t skimp on eating well but work out for free
I am notorious for loving overpriced yoga and Pilates classes. An easy $300 a month.
We obviously could not afford that, and even a $30/month gym membership seemed silly when our schedules were so erratic, that some weeks I didn’t have time to drive to a gym.
So I turned to working out outside. Running outside, bringing my yoga mat outside and doing YouTube workout videos. Buy a yoga mat and a few hand weights, and you’re set up for good, all for under $20.
On the flip side, I realized a huge way to me staying fit and healthy was just simply eating right. Not killing myself at $25 Orange Theory or $30 Pilates Megaformer classes.
- Can you feel fit and healthy without workout classes or a gym?
- Is a gym membership REALLY an effective use of your money? Do you use it enough?
- How can you adjust your eating to make staying fit even easier?
To wrap it up, it’s absolutely a challenge to make a small, entry-level salary work for 2 people. It can feel like you’re missing out, and it’s easy to be jealous of your friends who majored in Finance or Business who are making double your salary out of college.
But keep working hard at your job, and chances are, you’re going to get a raise sooner or later. Until then, figure out what you can’t live without and figure out your budget accordingly. If you guys have some ultimate budgeting tricks, I would LOVE to hear them!
A huge thank you to Amanda & Julia for having me! And a huge thank you to them for creating such a cool platform as The A&J Muse for all of us who are bad with math and numbers and have NO clue what a derivative is…I am super thankful for a place that explains finance and investing and does it with a cute Instagram and funny memes.
Katherine created her blog and brand, Slightly Savvy, when she was looking for an all-encompassing lifestyle blog about life after college. She couldn’t find one, so she built one. Since then, Slightly Savvy has evolved into everything from branding + blogging tips to home decor to clean eating. Follow her on Instagram or find her at slightlysavvy.com.