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Six financial survival tips for young professionals

Emily Crone

I’m a recent college grad so I’m on an entry-level salary. I’ve had two terrible roommate experiences so I live alone. I’m an animal lover so I have two pets. I am getting into fashion so I shop more than I used to. I often make small impulse purchases. I recently became financially independent and am still learning how to budget. All of these factors combine into major financial doodoo.

The other night I examined my situation. I shed some tears and realized I needed to get my act together — especially when it comes to not buying things I don’t really need (like more shoes). I know there are so many other young people like me, out of college with a job and loving the independence, but struggling to figure out how to budget and make it on our own. Our consumer-driven society is also full of difficult temptations. Here are six things I have learned along the way that may help you too, many of which I am still working on mastering.

1.     No matter how much of an animal lover you are, don’t get a pet unless you have a healthy amount of disposable income. There’s the food, toys, training, boarding, annual vaccines, monthly heartworm and flea meds. But the vet trips really kill. Last week, my cat got into a nasty catfight and the bill for his surgery was $220. Two months ago, my dog got sick from eating something and the vet bill was $240. There was another $200-something catfight a few months before that. The list goes on. I love my pets, but sometimes regret not waiting until I could better afford them.

2.    Do not impulse shop — it really adds up. This is something I really have to work on. Target is my greatest enemy.  Its merchandise has gotten so cute and hip and the prices are so low, but before you know it, you’ve spent $100. Credit cards make it that much easier to go wild. I vow to not go into Target anymore unless absolutely necessary, to not buy things I don’t need and to practice self-restraint in the checkout aisle. StopBuyingCrap.com is a fun blog for those interested in frugality.

3.    You can find other ways to supplement your income. After spending a chunk of this month’s paycheck paying off holiday debt, I realized I needed more money, especially with my accident-prone pets. So I found some families in my neighborhood and on Craigslist.org who need an occasional babysitter. I made $60 babysitting all Saturday night, and the kid was asleep for three of the hours – not bad! Craigslist is a great place to find occasional gigs. People need their houses cleaned, offices organized, walls painted, seminars transcribed; you name it.

4.    Get a roommate. I mentioned earlier I had two horrible roommate experiences, which made me scared to try it again. I’m living alone for the second year in a row and I love the privacy. But living by yourself is financially stupid. You have nobody to split rent, bills or food with. When you’re living alone, most of the groceries you buy go bad before you can use them all, but eating out isn’t cheap, either. If money is tight and you live alone, strongly consider finding a roommate — I’m starting to wish I had. Just make sure it is someone you can trust, and lay down the ground rules from day one. And avoid drug addicts at all costs.

5.    Try to use your credit card for emergencies only. My credit card has really come in handy for major expenses my parents will be reimbursing me for, or times like the holidays, when I knew it would take more than one paycheck to pay off. But it is SO easy to put lots of day-to-day purchases on the card, which can really add up. It is miserable paying off the bill and realizing how many of the expenses weren’t necessary. It’s no biggie if your card is at 0 percent APR, but if you have a normal interest rate and you charge more than you can pay off that month, hello interest charges. Unless you are determined to rack up reward points, don’t use the card for petty purchases.

6.    Reduce clutter and make money with eBay. I’ve sold old books, clothes, DVDs, electronics and all kinds of doodads I no longer need or want on that Web site. I don’t always make much, but hey, $7 for a Collective Soul DVD I got for free but would never watch is a meal at Jason’s Deli.  Getting rid of that stuff also clears out more space at home.

I hope these tips help others struggling to adjust to the turbulence that financial freedom brings.  Do you have any tips or advice for people in the same boat? Or any lessons you’ve learned and want to share?

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  • Guest

    Great tips! Will share it with a few people I know that can use them!!

  • Dan Ray

    I’ll give you $4 for the Collective Soul DVD.
    😉

  • casey

    Babysitting is great for a little extra money. Families in the Boston area pay anywhere from $12 to $17 per hour for an experienced sitter (read: over 18), and they’re always looking for more caretakers.
    I would also recommend keeping closer track of finances with software or a simple Excel sheet. Knowing exactly where your money is going is the first step to financial solvency.

  • Emily Starbuck Crone

    $17 an hour for babysitting? Holy moly!!! People only pay around $10 for that here in Austin.

  • One huge thing that helped me realize what part of my income I was considering as “disposable” was to print out my entire debit card statement for three months (I don’t use credit cards and hardly cash though SF is a cash-only city so it can get hard) – having page upon page of $7, $15, $23 charges adding up to burning through my paychecks made it clear that I had to change my spending habits.
    You really don’t realize the day-to-day but if the day-to-day is added up over a significant amount of time, you can’t help but ignore how much you’re throwing away.
    great tips!

  • Corey

    I’m sorry, but if you still have parents reimbursting you for large expenses I don’t know if you should be giving finanical advice geared towards the “young professional”
    Just saying, its actually important to responsibly build credit, and that involves using and paying off a credit card.

  • Patti

    A few other suggestions that I learned the hard way:
    – Don’t buy stuff you can’t pay for with cash on hand. Spreading holiday purchases over several months on a credit card after the fact costs you the added interest charges. I now save in advance for upcoming purchases and pay off my credit card every month.
    – Have a budget on paper or in your computer. It will help you get control over what you spend each month. Printing the debit statement and getting a handle on all those hits is a great idea since self awareness is key here. Also, with a budget, start building in savings for your emergency fund so you are not living paycheck to paycheck. Treat your savings like a bill and have it auto deducted gives it the same priority as your other expenses.
    – If you have several debts, concentrate by paying off one at a time and make the minimum payment on the others. I like to start with the smallest so I feel like I achieved something quickly.