In this week of Ask Chelsea Anything, I’ll be tackling two questions that are all about the practicality of the bigger things in life, and how to make them happen. So let’s get to it, and don’t forget, if you have a question for me, send it to email@example.com.
I might have a good answer for you, and if nothing else, my robust career in being a hot mess might just provide a cautionary tale!
I’m a PhD student, and for the past couple of years (since I graduated from college), my parents have very graciously helped me out financially by paying my rent, allowing me to use my stipend for research-related travel, books, any/all other living expenses. However, I recently got a fellowship (yay!) that is a bit more financially generous, and I am ready to start paying my own way.
The one hitch is that the fellowship requires me to move to a different state for a year to work on an institutional project, after which I will likely move back to my university to finish my degree. I know it’s expensive to move, and the thought of doing it twice in two years is pretty daunting. I’m wondering if you have any advice for when moving frequently is part of your career, and how to be financially responsible for what are some pretty big expenses when on a pretty tight budget.
As someone who has lived in six apartments in the past six years, I feel confident in advising you based on a few of my time-honored strategies. I’ve been at different places in my financial life each time I moved, and sometimes my moving budget was as close to zero as you can possibly imagine. I’ve made many cross-city metro trips with a pack mule’s worth of IKEA bags because I couldn’t even rent a car for the day. So I know that the strategies have to be multi-faceted, and circumstances like you knowing from the get-go that a move is going to be for a limited amount of time, will naturally change those strategies.
First and foremost, when you’re moving, you have to make sure to truly scour the city and do as much research as possible before you make a choice. Don’t just go with the neighborhoods you’ve heard of, and don’t get too caught up in the idea of a walking commute or some other extreme convenience. Ask locals — on Reddit if you have to — about the city, and where are the lesser-known places to look for affordable housing. And whatever the amount of rent you could fit into your budget is, try and shave off at least a hundred or so bucks and find something in that range.
Now, if your stay is going to be for a fixed period of time, I’d look into a few different options, but one of the best could be furnished apartments and shorter-term leases or sublets (i.e., one year only, or even six months, in which case you’d move once in between). The idea of living in a place for a year means that almost any furniture you buy will be a loss, because you’ll never be able to get what you paid for it, and if you can move into a place that already has all the things you need (and leaves you just needing to buy finishing touches like linens), you’re going to be saving a ton. If you have to get furniture on top of that, I’d say Craigslist-and-thrift it as much as you can, because you do not want to be spending a penny more than you have to on stuff that you’re most likely going to have to be leaving behind (because moving furniture great distances is extremely expensive).
And of course, for the move itself, whatever you can DIY, do. Another reason to look at furnished places/sublets is because, without the furniture, you’ll only have some personal affairs to move, which is much more doable in, say, your car, than in a mover’s van with the accompanying service. The cost of simply moving in and out of an apartment, if you go the movers route, can be as much as a month’s rent. The more you can cut down in terms of what you’re bringing, and therefore cut down in terms of moving costs, the better. If you and a friend or two can do the whole move yourselves, that’s money in your pocket. And as someone who managed, with her boyfriend, to pare down two apartments’ worth of stuff into two carry-on bags and four check bags, it can be done. Take a very critical eye to what you’re bringing, and become ruthless about what isn’t worth it. Particularly if you have the privilege of storing things with people like your parents, for example, there is no need to take it all with you for sentimental reasons.
In sum: search hard, pack light, be flexible.
What I would love to hear is how to balance dreams and [practicality]? I want to go big, go get my dreams, be a #ladyboss, take the leap etc… but I also want to not be broke + have to worry about money all the time, I want to have friends etc… how do you balance that? Especially how do you weigh dreams against the money/worry it will cost you to go after them?
So, as someone who definitely lived and walked that path (and continues to every day, more or less), I can only share what I have learned to be true. And for me, here have been three core truths to pursuing career dreams, whatever they may be, and doing it in a financially sustainable way.
- Be extremely clear about what your exact professional goals are, and start breaking that down into mini-goals. From a financial perspective, the easiest and clearest is “how do I make money from what I want to do, at least once?” Knowing not just what you want to do, but how it is monetized and the ways in which you can use it — freelance or otherwise — to make money, is key. If this means taking people out to coffee who do what you want to, do it. Buy them brunch and a bloody mary if they have serious amounts of insight to share. But most importantly, be as precise as you possibly can about these dreams, and then immediately start breaking them down into their earning potential. How do you make $100? How do you make a full year’s salary? See these questions through to as clear an end as you can before you start taking steps.
- For your “transitional” job, where you will be actively taking steps towards following these dreams before they become profitable, find something that will make for maximum flexibility and free time to work on your projects. This often means something that you don’t love, but the keys here are the ability to pursue things on the side, and the exact schedule that allows you to do it. Whether it’s a morning class, evenings spent writing, or sales outreach you need to do before lunch time each day, find the job that will accommodate your side work. And as you are making this transition, set firm goals — financial or otherwise — each month for your growing passion. Treat it with as much seriousness as you do your full-time gig, and hold yourself accountable. If this month you want to get your Etsy store up and running and have at least X amount of product on it, do that. And if you need to enlist a trusted friend to help hold you accountable (if only by asking you how it’s going), do that. Be your own boss, and give yourself critical performance reviews.
- Plan for each transition to take at least a year, so you’ll need to start planning that far ahead. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight, and never get ahead of yourself without a firm safety net. A slow, arduous transition from salaried to self-employed might not be as satisfying as quitting it all one day and ~*following ur dreams*~, but if it allows you to stay on insurance and be saving the entire way through, it’s worth it. If you start actively pursuing your passion today, a great goal is to be at least 60% employed by it by next spring, with maybe one small part-time job to supplement. It might not be instantly satisfying, but these are real goals that you can set monthly mini-goals for, and they will allow you to move in a sustainable way.
It’s within all of us to pursue our dreams, but many of us simply don’t have the freedom to do so without keeping our financial life 100% consistent the entire time. That’s fine, and totally overcome-able, we just have to be a little more creative.