Professional Development Work-Life Balance

How to Live Large on an Entry Level Budget

Written by Miranda Pennington

You’ve finally landed an entry level job and everything has been going well.  You’ve gotten your first pay stub and you’re excited and ready to go out and spend that money on extravagant items. BUT WAIT, there’s one thing you forgot–you’ve got bills to pay! Now you find yourself in a position where you have to create a budget so that you don’t spend your money carelessly. Being an adult is tough work, but if you follow these 6 steps, you can develop an effective budget that will leave money in your pocket while still living large!

1. Plan your budget

The first, most obvious, step, is to make a budget. Mint is a great app that helps you track what you have coming in and where it goes where you spend it. It nudges you to remember to save some money for fun things like  entertainment, but also helps you save for large purchases or even retirement investments.

2. Rent cheaper apartments

You have to live somewhere and it can be tempting to pick the coolest neighborhood or the shortest commute, near where your friends live or right by your favorite music venue. But casting your net a bit wider, geographically speaking, may help you maximize your floor plan while minimizing your monthly rent expenses.

3. Cook your own food

Real Talk: My first year of employment and New York living, the Chinese takeout near me knew my out-of-state area code and order so well they’d answer the phone with, “Yes, Virginia, steamed dumplings and…?” It was not a good look. As a newly fledged adult I’ve learned to cook the basics—proteins, pasta, roasted vegetables. Salt and pepper. Cooking even the simplest things is better for you than living on leftovers—and making smart (cheap) choices for breakfast and lunch lets you save a few bucks for a nice meal out now and then.

4. Work on your bargain hunting skills

Get to know the stores that take consignment or accept trades. Sell back old textbooks. Build up your eBay skills so your listings are polished and professional, and see how your collectible former fads fare on the resale market.

5. Enjoy the FREE festivities

Museums and libraries are your new best friends; outdoor concerts are your bread and butter. Gallery openings, tourist offerings, offseason events with discounted fees, and of course apps like Groupon can all help you make the most out of that limited entertainment budget Mint helped you set aside!

6. Take advantage of company perks

This will all depend on where you’re working, but often corporate employers have partnerships with entertainment venues, fitness centers, or educational organizations. They may even offer public transit rebates! Figure out how to make the most out of your employer’s strategic alliances to secure experiences or goods and services that make your life better!

And finally, remember that this too shall pass—every annual review is a chance for a cost of living increase or a title bump. Eventually you will look back and wonder how you saved up all this money—and it’ll be because you developed responsible habits when you didn’t have much to spend.

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.