Creative Commons License photo credit: CarbonNYC

May is around the corner which for some means graduation from high school, college or graduate school. I remember the feeling well. And, while it meant being released from the bosom of self discovery into the arms of adult responsibilities, I looked forward to it with enthusiasm.

I moved to DC in 2003 and I remember talking to my Uncle about all the things I’d need to take into consideration on my meager salary. He wanted to make sure that I was well informed about the realities of adulthood which meant being independent and paying for everything on my own. Now its my turn, for those of you that are graduating high school, college or even graduate school, here are 8 frugal and cost cutting tips to take into consideration when spreading your wings.

Apartment

Consider the cost of living wherever you are headed. After living in NYC for most of my life and then moving to DC, for some reason I thought apartments were dirt cheap since I was moving to the “south”. Ha! I told my uncle that I’d found an apartment for $580 per month in NE DC (not knowing a lick of information about the area mind you…) he just agreed to take me over to the area to judge for myself. While he got a hearty laugh, as I realized we were now in the not so great part of DC, I almost broke down when I realized that where I actually wanted to live, Alexandria/Arlington, VA was more like $1100 per month.

I knew that was out of my budget and regretted taking the position because I wasnt able to afford to live in one of the better parts of town. I didn’t want a roommate and settling for NE DC (no offense anyone) wasn’t in the cards. Looking back I should have considered a roommate in a better part of town. What did I do? I chose an apartment in an OK part of town for $750 per month and lived solo. I’d never live there again but it worked for the time being and I was able to save money.

Lessons Learned:

  • Visit the new city before signing a lease or settling on a particular part of town.
  • Consider having a roommate or two, as this greatly subsidizes the cost of living in a better part of town while meeting new people
  • If you aren’t splitting utilities, find an apartment that includes utilities in the rent. With rising utility costs you’ll avoid paying the high heating/energy bills depending on the season.

Transportation

DC is very different from NY in that people who move here aim to live near their place of employment, while in NYC, its pretty normal to have a 90 minute commute to work getting from Queens to Manhattan. Imagine my excitement when I figured out that my commute would be 20 minutes max! Well that’s because my apartment was walking distance to the metro and I was also 5 minutes from the beltway. If I drove in then my commute increased to an hour because of the traffic getting into DC.

Lessons Learned

  • Choose an apartment or house within walking distance of public transportation the metro
  • Forgo purchasing a car if you live near a metro as this will save you money on a possible car note, parking, fees, gas, insurance and maintenance
  • Before signing the lease, take public transporation around your neighborhood and to work as you would on a typical day. As you get settled in, you’ll be familiar with the area and hopefully not skip a beat as you make your way around your new neighborhood.

Set Up Automatic Bill Pay for all Bills

This includes student loans and credit cards. Don’t risk getting hit with a late fee because you’ll get so caught up in your move that financial obligations fall through the cracks. As I got settled into my new apartment a few bills didn’t get paid because I totally forgot. Why? the credit card company hadn’t sent the statement to my new address and it slipped my mind to call and pay the bill. Also keep in mind that when you pay over the phone, most credit card companies charge you a convenience fee and using checks opens yourself up to identity theft and possibly not mailing the payment to the correct address. If you must use snail mail, use the envelope that accompanies your statement.

Lessons Learned

  • Set up automatic bill pay to ensure on time payment of all monthly financial obligations
  • If you must use snail mail, use the enclosed envelope that accompanies your statement

Compare Cost of Living with New Salary

This was one of my biggest mistakes when moving to DC,not understanding what my salary would afford. I saw $23, 000 and thought, oh Im rich! I was sadly mistaken and in for the shock of my life when I realized I didnt have enough money to go shopping for new clothes or eat out for lunch with my colleagues. Had I known how to negotiate a better salary I might have been in a better position once I moved here. While I know some believe in paying your dues, I believe strongly in paying the bills. And, after spending 4 years and amassing thousands in student loans, college graduates should command salaries that will keep them just above the working poor, ie living paycheck to paycheck.

Command what you are worth and don’t settle for a salary that will limit you in terms of quality of life and being able to pay your bills, save and live comfortably.

Lessons Learned

  • Master the art of negotiating your salary if the offer falls below your target goal
  • Compare the cost of living with your salary offer and determine if you will be able to save and cover your monthly expenses without having to eat Ramen Noodles every night
  • Use the Paycheckcity calculators to determine how much money you will actually take home every pay period

Sign up for a Local Food or Grocery Charity

The cost of groceries here in DC is higher than NYC. *shrug* Don’t ask me why as I thought the opposite would be true, I was quite surprised after leaving my local Giant supermarket one afternoon. Neighbors told me about Sharedc.org which allowed me to get groceries on the cheap at $18 a bag. This included fruits, veggies, meats and some snacks. It was enough to subsidize my grocery spending significantly. I still toy with the idea of doing the same thing now given the rise in food expenses.

Lessons Learned

  • Compare prices of your food staples and create a price book to help you keep track of your favorite items
  • Sign up with local food charities like ShareDC.org or Angel Food Ministries
  • Cut coupons from the Sunday newspaper to save even more money
  • Utilize sites like The Grocery Game to compare local sales in your area
  • Buy in bulk in addition to utilizing food charities
  • Plan your meals for the week and use leftovers for lunch

Decorating Your new Diggs

While I was on a Ms Independent kick, my mom did purchase my first bedroom set and my uncle purchased all of my kitchenware, bedroom and bathroom linens. I went for a while without real living room furniture because I refused to go into debt for furniture I wouldn’t take with me to the next apartment. I advise you to o the same. I scoured Craigslist for a futon frame and bought a cheap futon mattress from a retail store, bought a 20 inch TV for $30 and a coffee table set for $55. My living room was now complete! All courtesy of Craigslist.org. My futon doubled as a bed whenever friends stayed over and I had a working TV along with a semi new coffee table set. Had I gone out and purchased a new living room set it would have set me back over $1000.

Lessons Learned

  • Check into semi used furniture to cut on the cost of furnishing your new space

More Lessons Learned….

  • Spend Less than you Earn while Devising a Plan to Earn More
    • Create a budget and stick to it. Know how much you need for monthly bills and how much you have remaining for discretionary spending. While keeping this in mind, remain focused and purposed in devising your next step. Set career goals that will enable you to be promoted by learning new skills through graduate school or taking on extra responsibilities.
  • Buy New Work Clothes on the Cheap and Recycle What You Already Have
    • Stores like Charlotte Rousse, Forever 21 and H&M are a godsend in helping a fab fashionista remain updated on the cheap

While this is a new and exciting time in your life, make a serious attempt to reign in your spending habits as this will be useful as you learn to make better decisions when it comes to money. What are some tips you have for the new graduate in a new town? How did you handle your finances in your first year after college?

Creative Commons License photo credit: CarbonNYC