Most entry-level jobs do not pay enough to support someone living in a large city. This is a problem for recent grads. They imagine life in a big city as lots of entertainment, crowds of young people for fun, and a great dating scene. But it’s a hard life to fund: The cost of college, healthcare, and housing have gone up, all while real wages have gone down. This generation is facing a gap between wages and the cost of living that their parents never did.
Erica Skov moved to Boston for the opportunities a big city offers, but in the process, she gave up the low cost of living in upstate New York for the steep cost of Boston. Today, she has a job as an analyst, and she has to be careful to stretch her salary to cover both life in Boston and grad school payments.
This typical situation for young people is, on the one hand, full of the promise of an exciting, fulfilling career. But on the other hand there is an absurdly high risk of going deep into debt just to fund oneself in an entry-level job.
Here are some things to consider so that working your first full-time job does not put you further into debt.
1. Go into investment banking.
If you are equally passionate about two careers, and one pays really well and one doesn’t, choose the money. The problem is that most people are not wildly drawn to the high-paying careers. After all, if everyone wanted to do the highest paying work then it wouldn’t be so high paying after a while. But remember that you don’t have to get paid to do what you love. You love sex. Do you get paid for it? No. Impractical. So try to be practical and pick something you love that also pays well.
2. Move in with parents.
Loving what pays well is easier said than done. Which is why more than half of college grads today move back home with their parents. If you move back with your parents you have the chance not only to save money but also to search for the right career.
You don’t need to be an investment banker if you can afford to intern at an art museum. It might not feel so great when you don’t earn as much as your banking friends. But in the long run, the people who take time to figure out a custom career for themselves are the people who avoid the quarterlife crisis. Finding what you love requires lots of experimenting, and the less money you need, the more freedom you have to figure out your life.
3. Get roommates.
In each major city there are areas and/or buildings that function more like a dorm than an apartment building. This is because all the people who live in the building have never lived outside of school before, except in this place. So they recreate school in a big city. It is a cheap, few-frills life, with lots of random hookups. In fact, where you live is not nearly as important as who you are living with. So if you find people you like, it probably doesn’t matter that you are recreating college. It won’t last forever.
4. Skip haircuts and lattes.
The most popular finance advisers online today aren’t always talking about 401(k)s. JD Roth, Trent Hamm, Presh Talwalkar – they give practical advice for people who haven’t had the ability to stockpile for decades. They give advice about tracking expenses and cutting small stuff all over the place, like lattes, and haircuts. This sort of advice resonates with Skov, who says, “We have daily conversations in the office about where to get cheap manicures and haircuts.”
Skov is in no position to take financial advice about six-month CD rates. But she only gets a haircut every six months, which may be the Generation Y equivalent of money management. It adds up, and with a frugal lifestyle you can live in the city of your dreams. It’s just you probably won’t have the lifestyle of your dreams.
5. Move to a smaller city.
The dorm in a not-dorm life is okay, without haircuts, for a while, but you’ll get tired of it. You’ll see that there is a class of people in large cities that can afford to live alone, in their twenties, and you’ll notice a theme: Consulting or trust funds. This is an exaggeration, yes, but not a huge exaggeration. So what can you do? Move to a smaller city.
Minneapolis is very popular right now, and it has that magical combination of low cost of living, good schools, and varied industries. Other cities to consider: Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, Chapel Hill, N.C., Columbus, Ohio, and Madison, Wis.
6. Work while you’re in school.
Skov is studying communication management at Emerson College, and working full time. It’s not a bad idea. In fact, there are many circumstances when grad school is not worth going into debt for. A degree in creative writing, for example. You probably won’t support yourself with that degree, so start finding a career while you’re in school, and do your writing at night, after work.
Or, according to recruiting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc., if you are not at a top 10 business school, your increased earning power is so little that it is not cost-effective for you to stop working to go to school. Besides, the best way to keep your options open after graduate school is to have as little debt as possible that you have to pay back.
7. Accept that it’s normal.
It’s OK if you can’t support yourself after college. Most people can’t. Not today. The people who can do it are often high and mighty, but ignore them. Because there is no evidence that supporting yourself right after college leads to a happier, productive life. And there is good evidence that people who experiment with a lot of career choices in their twenties are more likely to find something that suits them very well.
And for those who are dealing with debt and looking around, Skov has the type of outlook that lays the groundwork for success: “I’m a well-rounded person and I could do a lot of things. You have to look at what’s out there. It’s not so much what exactly you’re doing but who you’re doing it with.”