I work full-time at a job that is 30 minutes (with traffic) away from my childhood home. It is my first post-college “real” job, and I have been there for less than two years. So, as you can probably imagine, I am not bringing in wildly-excessive checks. When I got the position, I didn’t see any reason to move out, pay rent, or have my own bills. Nearly all of my income could go straight to savings if I stayed with my mom and dad. I was even driving my parents’ third car; I filled the gas tank with my own money, but contributed little else. I was spoiled, privileged. It was an opportunity to build a perfect little nest egg that many post-graduates would envy.
I quickly realized I was unhappy, and couldn’t figure out why. I had spent four years earning an English degree that caused many people to doubt my employability — “So, you don’t want to be a teacher?” — and I had just proved them all wrong. I landed a job within my field six months after the graduation gown photo shoots. I had been catapulted from working as a cashier at the grocery store to having my own office in a blink, and with each passing day, I grew more pleased. I had done it — a job I liked, with potential, with growth and creativity. I was even writing on the side, so my passion was still a massive part of my life. I was utilizing that very expensive degree from a private school. I had accomplished, career-wise, what many 20-somethings strive for, and had the fortunate opportunity to save enormous amounts of money while doing it. I asked myself, “What is wrong with you? Why are you not fulfilled? You are working, writing, have friends and a wonderful boyfriend. Get a grip, girl.”
The problem with living with my parents was that my job was my life. I had nothing else to focus on — mom cooked dinner, and if she didn’t, there were always leftovers I could reheat. My regular bills were $20 a week for gas and $40 a month for my iPhone, and anything else I wasn’t saving was just…fun money. I could afford to eat out whenever I wanted and waste a lot more time at T.J. Maxx. From 9-5, I was an adult. From 5-9, I was still a 16-year-old sneaking out to meet her boyfriend and snapping at her parents. I was living in a dual reality, a contradiction, and it was taking a toll on my happiness. Anxiety increased. I became sullen and frustrated, feeling affirmed at work but nowhere else. We re-did my childhood bedroom; it needed to be done anyway, but the decor change helped me feel like at least something had changed since entering the professional world. It didn’t fix my feelings of frustration, though. I was still stuck in a time capsule of adolescence while trying to find myself as a woman.
It occurred to me that I was putting all that money away to ensure financial security and personal happiness in two, three, four years. The thousands I was saving meant nothing to me if I didn’t have a life. By obsessing over my savings account, I wasn’t enjoying the rewards a salary had the potential to provide, like independence and self-discovery. I also realized there is a brief window of time in life that living alone is possible — aka, that period in which you are making enough to support yourself and are not yet ready to live with a significant other. For me, that time is right now.
So, I sat down with a calculator and figured out exactly how much I could spend each month to stay alive and not dip into credit card debt. I was not interested in roommates. After college, I promised myself: “never again.” I would do this on my own or not at all.
After weeks of searching, I moved to a one-bedroom apartment. My place is 40 minutes away from my parents and 25 minutes from the office. Beach chairs occupied the living room for a week until I found a futon, and much of my furniture is from Walmart or yard sales. The move forced me to buy a car, sign a lease, and become responsible for rent. It may seem like a foolish decision to some, but it saved my sanity. I gave up financial freedom for a type of freedom I couldn’t even define yet.
Seven months later, I can say with certainty that I am happy. I don’t have much money, and I save significantly less than I want to out of each paycheck. My grocery budget is slim, and I bring lunch to the office every single day. I don’t buy extra outfits anymore. But I also don’t feel the need to treat myself with empty purchases, because I go home to a sanctuary that has shaped me into someone new. Living alone is my luxury, and it has taught me so many things: I am a morning person (yes, one of those). I really, really love yoga. I am an introvert, but not shy. I will choose books over a bar any day of the week. I actually love to cook and find it relaxing to make something from scratch after work. I am not afraid to go home to an empty apartment. I am an insane clean freak.
Most importantly, I — just me — am capable of caring for myself and creating happiness in the day-to-day. I would never have known that if I didn’t move out of my parents’ house even though financially, it was a ludicrous choice. But emotionally, I am healthier, stronger, and just…better. I have found peace of mind, and that is worth every penny I am not saving.
Alexandra Caulway is a 24-year-old from New England with a passion for travel and green tea. She graduated from Assumption College in 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in writing and mass communications. A marketing professional by day, she writes in every spare minute.