How to Live on a Post-Grad, Post-Pandemic Paycheck

By Ann Lloyd, Student Savings Guide

Used to be, when you got a full-time job after college, you were golden. You had a guaranteed paycheck — it might not have been huge, but it was enough to live on, and there was nowhere to go but up. You’d worked four years or more to earn that advanced degree, and with it you could look forward to a decently funded, fully independent life.

These days, things have changed. Entry-level salaries are dropping, student loan obligations are rising, and graduates are feeling the squeeze. On top of that, economic conditions degraded by the coronavirus are making jobs even harder to come by: Many grads, even those looking for a stopgap job while waiting for that ideal career opportunity, are finding the pickings slim. 

If you’re wondering how to face this perfect storm of challenges, read on. Here are some ideas that might make the journey a little easier.

Scrimp and save

If you’re having trouble just making ends meet, saving might seem like a pipe dream — but it also may not be as hard as you think. Start looking at things to cut out. Fast food can be as expensive as a sit-down dinner in some places, so stay home and make your own mini-feasts. (Don’t forget to eat the leftovers the next day.)

Look for grocery coupons that can help you save even more, and check for online promotional codes before any purchases. The number of Americans using digital coupons is expected to rise to more than 145 million this year, so you won’t be alone.

Also: Can you pile on some more blankets and turn your thermostat down during winter? Do it. Brew your own coffee instead of heading to Starbucks. Go with basic cable (or just broadcast TV) and cut down on your number of streaming services. 

With the money you save, you can do a couple of things:

  • First, create a cushion for emergencies. You’re not invulnerable, even though it may feel like it: Even young people can wind up in the hospital unexpectedly. If you’re in an auto accident, or get a speeding ticket, you may face repair costs as well as fines, court fees, and higher insurance costs. 
  • Second, set some money aside as collateral for a secured credit card. This kind of credit allows you to put a few hundred dollars in an account to serve as your credit limit. As you draw on it and repay it, you build your credit score. Solid credit will be an important asset for you in the future.

Pay less for the roof over your head

Spending less on lodging doesn’t mean living out of your car, but if you’re still living at home, see if your parents can extend that arrangement until you’re on your feet. Even if you have to pay them some rent, housing can be one less thing you’ll have to worry about.

If you do move out or you’re already on your own, look for something affordable. Buying is always better than renting in the long run, so if you can go that route, look for a fixer-upper and invest some sweat equity in your living situation to offset some of the cost.

Minimize transportation costs

Can you walk or ride a bike to work? If so, it’s a lot cheaper than paying for a car, not to mention the fuel, parking, registration, maintenance, and insurance costs that go with it. 

If you live near a co-worker, see if you can catch a ride with them in exchange for some gas money. And if you’ve already got a car, keep it long enough to pay it off. The days of “a new car every two years” are long gone. 

Look for apprenticeships

If you’re having trouble breaking into the job market right away, consider an apprenticeship program. It’s a way to hone your skills and create a niche for yourself that will give you a leg up on competitors who just send out resumés willy-nilly. 

According to the federal government, 94% of those who complete an apprenticeship stay employed, at an average annual salary of $70,000. That’s not peanuts. In fact, it’s significantly higher than the 2020 average entry-level salary of $59,765.

Improvise

Look for a side hustle you can do as an independent contractor while you’re looking for more stable employment. Who knows? It might turn into a full-time gig, and if not, it will tide you over for a while.

Whether you’re offering a delivery service, operating an Etsy store online, doing yard work, or walking the neighbors’ dogs, there are plenty of opportunities out there. You can become a tutor, copywriter, or substitute teacher while you wait for your resumé to be picked at your dream company.

And there are a lot of possibilities we haven’t even covered here, so get creative as you go forward. 

If you keep an open mind and a tight rein on your spending, you’ll be able to move beyond graduation with less stress, more confidence, and more money in your pocket.

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