After years of hard work, your time has finally come. You've walked across the stage, received your diploma, perhaps even been offered a full-time job. Graduating college is a big plunge into the real world of work, paying bills and managing your time.
During this time of transition, it can be important to live on the cheap. Even a decent starting salary is often stretched thin when it has to cover "grown-up" costs such as rent, insurance, utilities, debt payments and the like. To add struggle to stress, many recent college grads are starting out with less income than they might have expected.
My husband and I are living in this stage of life. I graduated three years ago and became a junior-high teacher; he is employed as a graphic designer, while still completing his degree. It requires some effort to balance the budget every month, but we manage to make it work. As I learned as a single woman right out of college—and as we continue to learn together—you don't need a lot of money to live with gusto.
For an inexpensive, fun-filled life, here are some helpful guidelines we have discovered:
Set long-term goals. With only the demands of full-time work and the benefit of a regular paycheck, it can be tempting to drift aimlessly, spend money without a real plan and become satisfied with mediocrity. Instead, ask yourself what you want to get out of your life. Do you want to buy a house? Move overseas? Go to graduate school? Decide what you want and prepare to achieve it.
Make a budget. Most long-term goals will require money, so you need to make a plan to manage your paycheck well. If you have taken your first full-time job, you may at first think that you are rolling in money. However, rent, utilities, food, insurance and other expenses quickly add up. Be prepared for what you can spend on fun, decorating and entertainment, and stretch that money creatively.
Learn to cook. It is startling how eating out, even at fast-food restaurants, can completely consume a paycheck. If you will take the time to prepare your meals at home, you will save money and eat better. You might even lose weight! There are websites and cookbooks galore that will teach you to create simple and delicious meals that will spare your budget and please your stomach.
Manage your expectations. Does your idea of a good life involve designer clothes and $150 dates? Consignment stores and homemade picnics can provide the same enjoyment as their more expensive counterparts—and a good deal more adventure. Still, you don't have to completely forsake that expensive coat or nice date. Just make sure you have planned for the expense. And enjoy it. Splurges are more fun when they are occasional.
Exercise creativity. If you're furnishing an apartment, check out garage sales, online classifieds and thrift stores. These present endless possibilities for the college grad. If you find a furniture item with a good aesthetic but awful paint, you can always re-do it. If you're willing to look around, you can also find dishes, vintage electronics, pots and pans, and picture frames for inexpensive prices. Some of my favorite items in our home were almost free.
Live intentionally. To live cheaply, you do not have to abandon your values. Mason and I support local businesses, welcome friends into our home, eat well and do things we like. Our lives are better because we don't spend haphazardly. Rather, we spend our paychecks on purpose and choose to enjoy our lifestyle. We don't see our frugality as deprivation; we see it as freedom to be creative, prepare for the future and cherish a simple life.
Find here some excellent vegetarian recipes with delicious and healthful ingredients—they are definitely worth a try.
Dave Ramsey is a well-known financial expert who has helped many couples and families manage their money and get out of debt.
Want to improve your financial situation and job opportunities? The Mississippi Department of Employment Security offers a free job search, job hunting tips and resources for additional vocational training and education.
A free money management website designed to track your spending and worth, produced by the makers of Quicken.
Get local advice from Rainbow Whole Foods about organic foods, healthy living, eating vegan and promoting a clean environment. Also sign-up for their free newsletter.
One of my favorite recipe sources, this blog is invaluable help for those with small kitchens.
The cooking blog of http://www.apartmenttherapy.com, this lovely site emphasizes simple meals and efficient kitchens.
This is the program that we use for our budget—and it's fabulous. It helps you quickly assess your costs and build up a "buffer" for emergency expenses.