The Financial Confessions: “I’m Financially Independent, But I’m Drowning Because Of It”

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I am completely financially independent from my parents. I pay for health insurance through my job, own my car and pay the monthly insurance, and have my own phone bill. But this is the story of my bleak 20-something financials and the reality of living in an area with a too-high cost of living.

My college education was paid for by my parents so I could avoid loans (something I didn’t understand at the time, but god bless them). Their budget was not limitless and for this reason, my decision came down to a local state school or a small liberal arts college offering me a sizable scholarship, and off I went to the liberal arts college. Beyond tuition payments, I was responsible for all other expenses during the school year, including everything from books and travel to unpaid internships, to my monthly phone bill and alcohol. I worked during the summer months as a waitress, and back on campus, I worked in admissions and at the IT desk. When I graduated, I had depleted my bank accounts and was essentially starting from scratch.

When my final semester came and went without me finding a pots-grad job, I moved back to the suburbs of my small state, applying anywhere and everywhere to positions that I didn’t even think I wanted, out of desperation to be employed and back on my feet. Finally, I got an interview at a place about three and a half hours from my parents’ house in the metro New York area. And then a second interview. It was a position for fundraising at an international nonprofit and it actually fit my career aspirations. Though it felt like a century at the time, I found a job within four months of graduation. When I agreed to my salary, $32,000, it seemed like so much money.

Relocating wasn’t an issue – my friend had gone to school in the area and was looking for a roommate. I got the job just in time to move in with her and a third girl in an off-season rental a few blocks from the beach, paying $530 a month plus utilities. While the price was right, this rental was over an hour away from my job in good traffic. I quickly got familiar with the cost of living in the metro New York area and the astronomical cost of my commute. I began struggling to budget a bimonthly paycheck, was filling my gas tank multiple times a week, and was a 22-year-old wanting to keep up with my new friends on the weekends.

When that lease was up, I decided to stop with the crazy commuting and move to a location that made better sense for me. I found a basement apartment for $800 in Stamford, CT. It was around this time that I got my raise at work and my end of year “bonus” (bonus in quotes because keep in mind I work at a nonprofit). My salary was now $39,000. Since I was no longer spending hours of my day commuting, I decided to get a second job and begin to build my savings account back up. I worked as a waitress for four months before the owner asked me to leave in favor of someone who was available to work full time. Those were long days, but they were also the only four months I have still ever been in the green for income vs. expenses since graduating college.

Living in that basement was completely unbearable. The owners trusted no one, had no boundaries, and broke a million landlord rules. I felt it was my fault because it was all I could afford and it was constant stress to not feel at ease in my own space. So I decided to move again. That’s right – my third move in a year. As you can probably guess, all these security deposits weren’t helping my situation. I found a room available in a three-bedroom apartment down the street, in a “real” complex that I believed would be worth the peace of mind. The damage would be $950 a month plus utilities, or a whopping 48% of my monthly take-home income. A big financial no-no and something I wouldn’t wish even on my worst enemy, it was the unavoidable reality of living and working where the cost of living is 22% higher than the national average.

From there, it’s been a slippery downhill slope. Job responsibilities and an irregular events schedule don’t permit me to get another job. I tried freelancing work and do weekend gigs as a brand ambassador. It doesn’t help my self-esteem that all my friends are doing well for themselves in different towns across the country, and everyone I meet in Stamford is making a more-than-adequate living at their various jobs. Frustrated that no matter what I do, I wouldn’t be able to stick to a realistic budget, I allow myself to continue to live my life and pretend that I can afford to do what my friends can. I understand money, but don’t make or have enough of it to put what I know to work and improve my situation.

It seems so many people carry some level of credit card debt and it helped me justify to myself the small amount I was starting to accumulate. Here I am, almost a year later, and in about $4,500 in credit card debt. So I am financially independent, but I use a credit card as my crutch and my parents have no idea. I am suffering under the constant weight of my financial stress and the stress I put on myself with the expectations that I should be doing better at my age. This is not how I imagined life at 24 and I feel like a gigantic failure. Here’s your lame analogy of the day: I feel like I am stuck treading water, while everyone else around me is sailing in their boats.

I want leave my current job (finally) and move again, this time to a more cost-effective area of the country. My lease is up October 31, I am still job searching, and time is not on my side. I am too stubborn to admit defeat and move back home, but I would be adding some unnecessary debt by moving without an opportunity on the other side. I feel like I am entering a black hole, with no idea what the future will hold.

-Anonymous

TFC_thicker

  • Supporting yourself financially is tough, so it’s great that you’ve been able to manage to keep your head (barely) above water this long. And I’m stubborn too so I wouldn’t want to move home to save money but obviously something has to change. So my fingers are crossed for your job search! I’m currently job hunting from a distance and it is not easy, I can attest to that.

    You’ve made it thus far – you can do it!

  • Jack

    I am almost totally financially independent (still on my family cell phone plan) and I agree that it can be really hard.

    However, it seems like a lot of the author’s problems are from poor budgeting rather than the intrinsic difficulty of financial independence. $40,000 a year a few years out of college isn’t a ton, but it’s pretty decent especially without student loans. It sucks to live in a city with a high cost of living, but I have to wonder how truly necessary the stuff that the author is spending the other 52% of their income on (plus the credit card debt) is. A car payment is a big expense, but if it’s more than a few hundred dollars a month it was probably a bad choice to purchase that car. Insurance, utilities and food combined should be another few hundred, leaving at least a couple hundred for savings and fun purchases. For comparison I make roughly $30,000 a year and live in San Deigo which is above the national average on all aspects of cost of living. I spend about 85% of my income on necessities (rent, car payment, student loan payment, insurance, utilities, food, etc) and still manage to put at least 10% of my income into savings with no credit card debt. It requires strict budgeting and saying no to a lot of things I want, but that’s what you have to do when you can’t get extra support from family. It’s concerning the author seems to think taking on debt is the only way to be financially independent rather than considering that they are living beyond their means.

    • Hiphopannonymous

      Can you give LW the benefit of the doubt, though? This person got through college without debt, so obviously they know something about budgeting (unless their school paid admissions and IT student workers a lot of money, which, I doubt).

      There are a lot of unknowns here. If LW works in NYC, there is a huge NYC tax on your income, in addition to NY State. If they are commuting via car, they likely have to pay for parking (I had to pay for parking everywhere in Stamford). If they’re taking the train into the city for work, that’s over $300 per month for a ticket. It was a brutal winter this year in the Northeast- utilities were soaring. CT makes you pay property tax on your car, even if you lease it. So that’s on top of the car payment, gas, parking, and insurance. Not to mention, Stamford is situated in some of the toniest towns in CT (Greenwich, Darien, etc.) so the cost of living on even basic groceries bleeds its way into Stamford.

      Maybe you’re right, but if this person took the time to write all this out, to a financial blog (indicating they think about this topic at least somewhat), I find it possible that the person knows something about their finances and budgeting and is still struggling.

  • Sarah

    i actually really appreciate the number of posts on this site that shed some reality on the whole big city dream. it would be interesting to see the perspective of someone who moved from NY/LA/seattle etc. to a smaller city or town and what that meant financially. i think a lot of us as young people are given the impression that your “best life” should take place in a large, glittering metropolis, and we don’t hear a lot from young people who are doing just fine in smaller, less glamorous places. it seems to me that ~*city life*~ is its own jumble of unrealistic aspirations that can often hurt us both financially and emotionally by putting a rose-colored sheen on living in a large city and fueling dissatisfaction in those who don’t live in one.

  • Lina Abascal

    So curious where you end up .As someone who grew up in LA and then proceeded to live on other even more expensive parts of the country, I feel both frustrated w/ the cost but also blessed w/ the standard i was used to so now if/when I do move anywhere cheaper I will be so excited hahaa.

    Maybe i should keep this in mind when I have a kid, if the first place you ever pay your own rent is NYC the rest of life will be a breeze

  • Cantika

    I understand how you feel because I, too, have found myself in your situation. I’m barely making ends meet as it since I moved jobs and area yet my pride is way too big to admit that to my parents. I hope that things look up for you, but darling just know that it’s okay to put aside your pride because when it comes to your parents, they’ll love you and is more than willing to help you out. Sometimes being a strong person means asking for help. 🙂

  • Katy Parker

    My first thought: you’re not treading water…you’re swimming very slowly!

    You picked a field which is not lucrative for entry-level workers, but you are building your resume and accumulating experience and connections. It’s so impressive that you’ve earned a large raise already.

    You’re educated and already building a career path. Keep going…the more experience you get, the more opportunities you will encounter. Anticipate that within five years your salary and position will evolve, whether or not you’re at the same organization.

    Remind yourself that your friends chose different paths than you did, for their own reasons. You chose your path with hopes of being fulfilled by your work. Your salary is no measure of your capability and value as a person. If your work really is fulfilling, keep doing it. Hang in there! If not, you have undoubtedly developed skills which are transferable to another field.

    If you have a good relationship with your parents, go home if it becomes necessary, or ask them for some help. It is pure insanity to be twenty-something and trying to build a life right now…it’s harder for us than it was for anyone before us. It’s okay to get help. There is absolutely no shame in it.

    However, if it becomes possible to continue forward on your own, know that credit card debt is not the worst thing that can happen in your life. If you have any extra income, use it to pay down the debt little by little.

    Keep plugging away. I have to believe it’ll get easier! One day you’ll be such a badass, self-made person, and it will have been so very worth it.

  • Alysa

    I agree with @disqus_3OSy82iJmI:disqus about the number of posts that help put into perspective the amount of resources it takes to live in a big city. I’ve been in Omaha, Nebraska for my entire young adult life (13-24) and after learning the actual cost of things, I don’t have such a large drive to move. Not that there aren’t fun things to do in town, but if you have the right people around you any size town will be big enough. It also helps that Chicago is 6 hours away, Kansas City is 3-ish, and Denver is about a day’s drive.

    I’ve recently had to move back home because I found out I was allergic to cats (my roommate had 2 -_-), but this has allowed me to really focus on eliminating my credit card debt that I have been foolishly racking up since I got my first credit card in 2009. My uncle has been a great influence with learning how to budget and now I own my car and am halfway through my credit card debt. I think my location has attributed to this as well because I am in a city that has a low cost of living and unemployment rate. I am paying off large amounts of debt without having to sacrifice being able to go out on the weekends with friends.

    If you can, I would move back with your parents. In my case, my younger brother (who is still in college) is also at the house, so at times it can get tight. It is tough for the first few months, but it is worth it to be able to create a savings that will afford you the opportunity to move to another part of the country if you want.

  • Slave_to-the_man

    32 to 39k… You are progressing. Just keep going. You’ll be fine.

  • Lady A

    If you can try a recruiter and see if you can go be an admin at a financial services firm for a couple years they pay pretty well and I’m sure there are a decent amount in Conneticut and there are a lot in NYC.

  • Frugal Millennial

    I would highly recommend moving back home. It’s not like it would need to be a long-term thing. Since your only debt is $4,500 of credit card debt and you have no student loans, you could pay that debt off quickly if you lived with your parents temporarily. Then you could save a little nest egg for yourself so you don’t have to rely on credit cards.

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