The author and her mother at graduation.
Long before my time as an undergrad wound down, I had a vision of how my post-grad life would look: I’d live in New York City in a quirky but beautiful apartment with friends. I’d work at a magazine, go to hip bars and restaurants, and try all the trendy workouts.
I did not imagine that two days after graduation I would be moving back home to small-town New Jersey to live in my childhood bedroom once again. A place where the closest thing to nightlife was a T.G.I. Fridays and where my only option for post-work sweat sessions was a bare-bones Planet Fitness.
Now, before you tuck me into your millennial stereotype folder, you should know I fought it kicking and screaming (figuratively, of course, because I’m an #adult) but when it came down to it, it was my most financially responsible option. Here’s how I got there — and how I got out.
You *Can* Go Home Again
Shortly before graduation I was offered a full-time job at the company where I’d been interning for the past two semesters. While most soon-to-be-grads would be thrilled by this, I was torn. Should I take this sure thing in central Jersey, or should I hold out for the possibility of my dream job in the city?
There was also the issue of salary: Entry-level journalism jobs are notoriously low-paying. While jobs in New York City would pay slightly better than the offer I was looking at, I’d also have a much higher cost of living. Even if I did land my dream job, I’d be looking at either renting an apartment nearby or commuting 2½ hours one-way from my parents’ house on a $30,000 (if I was lucky) salary. I didn’t need to be a math major to realize neither of those options were going to fly.
So I made a deal with myself: I would take the Jersey job and start accumulating real-world career experience, move back home (just a 45-minute drive away) and put as much of my income into savings as possible. After all, you can save thousands a year by living at home instead of on your own in some of the most expensive cities (a whopping $28,725 in NYC — more than my annual salary at the time, I might add). I’d stay a year — max — and then be on my way to bigger and better things.
Getting a Little Too Comfortable
Falling back into an old routine was surprisingly easy. Yes, the first few months were especially tough. (The endless social posts depicting all the new apartments and fancy offices and European travels friends and former classmates were enjoying gave me a serious case of FOMO.) But even I could recognize how easy I had it — and how few responsibilities, financial or otherwise, I actually had.
But this carefree lifestyle wasn’t doing my savings any favors. Drinks, dinners, vacations — I said yes to everything. After all, didn’t I deserve to have some fun? Wasn’t this a perk of my current living situation? I may not be living in Greenwich Village or working at a global media company, but I could go to Miami for a week and buy every cute shoe that crossed my path.
But as my one-year work anniversary approached, and I took my job search from casual to obsessive, I realized the numbers still weren’t working out. My Moving Out Fund hadn’t ballooned the way I expected. Though I’d been putting money away, I had only been saving whatever was leftover, and only when I remembered to move it over.
I’d heard it could cost $10,000 just to move to the city (between broker’s fees, security deposits and the like), which would have just about wiped me out. Then I would still need an emergency fund and ideally a cushion to offset the discrepancy between income and rent I was sure would take place. I needed to step it up.
Leaving the Nest (At Last!)
I immediately started moving my whole paycheck into savings. I always kept a surplus in my checking account, just so I wouldn’t have to wonder if I had enough to cover my bar tab or an impromptu shopping spree. I cut this down as well, moving the bulk to my savings and only keeping a minimal amount readily accessible.
I also cut down my discretionary spending, like lunches out and my shopping habit, and kept it as close to the bare necessities as possible. I still indulged once in a while on things that were important to me, like seeing friends, but I looked at my budget ahead of time and planned for it, instead of spending first and dealing with the consequences later.
It took me another full year before I landed my next gig, thanks to a slow job market and not wanting to settle for an almost identical salary in a much pricier locale. But when I finally did move out — almost exactly two years from the day I moved back home — I had more than doubled my savings. And being able to move into my own place (with three roommates, of course) and knowing I could support myself made the time I spent at home more than worth it.