It’s been two years since I graduated from university. During those two years, I’ve had a few odd jobs, financed five months of traveling (on the cheap), and have now settled into a good starting job in my field that I’m proud of. My SO has had a similar trajectory, so I guess one could now call us a couple of young professionals. We’ve joined the ranks of those individuals who get paid a yearly salary, receive benefits, have insurance, and experience all the other aspects of full-time work that people look forward to.
We currently have a decent combined income for a couple our age (early twenties). However, after factoring in paying rent in London (which is crazy high) and the monthly contributions we make to restore our savings accounts to their pre-travel glory, there isn’t a lot of money leftover to live off. While we are able to pay our bills and buy groceries (we make a lot of home cooked meals), paying for extras such as trips out to restaurants, buying drinks out, and the occasional shopping trip to expand our wardrobes, always has to be considered very carefully.
Basically: there is no room for spontaneous ‘treat yo self’ moments. While this is definitely not the end of the world, it’s certainly not very fun, especially when we feel like we should be able to take part in these things as working professionals. It’s been something that I’ve had to get used to — the idea that growing up and getting a “real” job doesn’t equal financial comfort in the way I thought it would.
The thing is, unless you snag a position at a very high-paying paid job straight after graduation, and/or are able to live with your parents while you’re employed (so you can save money), I believe this is a fairly common situation to find yourself in. I have to remember that struggling with money is a natural stage one must go through at the very beginning of your career when you’re first starting out. I have to remind myself that it takes time to work up to a place where you feel financially comfortable, and that struggling at the beginning to find your footing is not uncommon. This is the case for me and my SO, and there is no option other than to simply make it work (read in Tim Gunn’s voice of course).
As I look around, I’ve noticed that a lot of peers at work live from paycheck to paycheck and have told me they don’t save any money. This is an indication that I’m not the only one who has struggled with the idea that full-time work doesn’t bring complete financial freedom. In some cases, my peers are even dipping into pre-existing savings account because they haven’t yet adapted their lifestyles to fit their incomes. While it’s not fun to have to live the lifestyle your salary demands, it’s necessary to live a financially responsible life and live within your means.
For me, I found that it’s been helpful to actually live slightly below my means, even when that means I can’t keep up with other people I’d like to be able to keep up with. It’s essential that I carefully consider where to spend my precious dollars (pounds in my case) when it comes to eating and drinking out, and stretch the money I do have to its fullest extent. For example, I try not to spend money on average takeout just because I’m too lazy to cook. Instead, I do some thorough restaurant research to make sure I’m getting the best value possible.
Or, I will save up and wait to go to the restaurant I’ve been walking past for a long time, curiously peaking in through the window for weeks, and make a real occasion of it. This way, even if I can only afford to eat out once a month or less, it feels like a proper treat when I do it, and I won’t feel guilty afterwards.
When it comes to purchasing clothing and beauty items, I advocate taking a very minimalist approach. I’ve found it useful to ask myself if I truly need something when I’m out shopping for products. Living out of a 60L backpack for an extended period of time has definitely provided me with a valuable perspective when it comes to this. I now choose the superfluous items I purchase very carefully. For example, when I consider buying something new, I always make sure to put the item on my mental shopping list for a few weeks before actually making the purchase. For me, this is the best way to find out if I really need the item, or if I just want the item. So far, I haven’t regretted spending money on any piece of clothing or beauty product I’ve purchased since using this method. I think it’s important to find beauty products that actually work for you, invest in a few of them, and try not to be tempted by trendier items that promise results. When it comes to fashion, I prefer to shop occasionally, and buy items I know I really need, and fit me well.
Small mindset adjustments the ones above can really help make very limited spending money that a new professional might have access to feel less limiting. Spending wisely will also make it easier to save up for your safety cushion, which is very important to have. I’ve learned to appreciate my savings account balance more than an overpriced cosmopolitan at the local bar. While this may not give me the same instant gratification high, I’ve learned that it will all be worth it in the long run.