12 Ways To Live On A Postgrad Paycheck

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Once upon a time, landing a full-time job out of college meant the beginning of smooth sailing. Back in the day, tuition was manageable, careers were more stable, and if you had a job lined up, graduation marked the end of struggling to “make it.” All you had to do was excel at what you’d been trained to do.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple anymore. More people change jobs, and even careers, twice or more during their adult lives. One job may or may not be enough to live on now, even with a degree — especially if you’ve got a family. (Single-income households are almost as passé as disco and mullets.) 

Then there’s the cost of education, which you’ll likely need to repay because of those student loans you took out. Add the cost of rent, utilities, transportation, food, and everything else needed to live, and you might be facing more stress than you did while cramming for finals and finishing that term paper due on the last day of class.

Starting salaries, in a lot of cases, just ain’t what they used to be, and you’ll probably need all the help you can get. So here’s some advice on where to look and how to make those dollars stretch.

1. Keep Housing Costs Minimal

You might want to build equity by buying a house instead of renting, but you may also have limited funds. So why not look for an affordable fixer-upper, then add some sweat equity to make it shine? Rent a dumpster to get rid of all the junk and debris, clean and refurbish the place yourself, and start fresh.

2. Install Energy-Efficient Windows

While you’re remodeling, cut down on future energy costs by putting in energy-saving windows. Dual-pane windows keep heat in better during the winter and out more effectively during the summer. Gas-filled “low-e” windows offer a way to cut your heating expenses. More and better insulation (check out the “R-value”) can help, too. It’s a long-term investment that will pay off.

3. Cut Down On Dining Out

Restaurants can be expensive. You’re not just paying for the food but also the entire dining experience, which includes the gas it costs to get there and the tip you pay the waitstaff. Even fast food isn’t cheap. If you work outside your home, make your own lunch and take it with you, and brew your own coffee. You’ll be amazed at how much you save. 

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4. Narrow The Stream

When it comes to home entertainment, everything seems to cost extra these days. It’s not just cable, it’s also streaming channels that seem to be multiplying faster than rabbits in a math class. Do you really need Netflix and Hulu and CBS All Access and Amazon Prime and… ? Of course you don’t. Choose one, sign up just long enough for the show you want to see, then cancel. Or cut the cord completely.

5. Diversify!

Whether it’s your stock portfolio or your skillset, diversification is the name of the game. The more skills you add, the more valuable you’ll become. You’ll be more likely to snag a raise or a promotion — or to find another company that values the skills you’ve acquired. Ask about in-house training opportunities, explore online, and pursue continuing education classes.

6. Optimize Your Use Of Credit

Credit can be a great tool to help achieve your goals if it’s used wisely and judiciously. It’s important to establish and maintain solid credit so you can pursue larger goals down the road when you’re in better shape financially. It also helps to give you a cushion in case something goes wrong and you need to draw on it.

7. Keep Yourself In Shape On The Cheap

You don’t need a gym membership to stay healthy. Take a walk or jog around the block. Play basketball at the park. Go for a hike or a bike ride on a scenic trail, or if you’re the indoor type, use a stationary bike instead. Buy some inexpensive weights to lift during your breaks or on weekends. There are plenty of options for getting/staying in shape that cost next to nothing.

8. Watch Your Heating And A/C Use

Utilities can be a major expense, especially in areas that get blazing hot in the summer or crackling cold in the winter. Set your air conditioner to 78 if you’re at home and higher if you’re out of the house, and don’t put your thermostat higher than 68 when you’re at home in winter. Lowering your thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees eight hours a day can save you 5% to 15% on your energy bill.

9. Use Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs And Appliances

Fluorescent and LED bulbs last three to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs, saving you replacement costs. And they’re more energy-efficient, too: They can use 25-80% less electricity. When purchasing appliances, look for the Energy Star label. The government guarantees that an appliance meets energy-saving standards.   

10. Make Your Insurance Work For You

Insurance is essential to protect you from unexpected and potentially catastrophic expenses, whether you’re talking about your health, automobile, or home. But you don’t want to overpay or buy features you don’t use or pay twice with overlapping policies. Research what you need, look into various deductibles, payments, and benefits, and decide what fits you best.

11. Put Pennies Into Savings

Some banks allow you to round up your purchases to the nearest dollar, then deposit the difference into your savings account. Several apps can help you set this up. It’s a great hands-off way to build a cushion for when you might need it, without feeling the pinch by diverting a large amount of money all at once. 

Or do things the old-fashioned way: Save your coins, roll them up, and take them to the bank when the year is up.

12. Start A Side Hustle

Augment your salary with a sideline during your off-hours. Start a delivery service to help folks who want groceries or other goods on their doorstep. Walk dogs or mow lawns for a fee. Sell off things you don’t need — but others may want — on eBay. Open an Etsy shop. There are many opportunities available if you’re creative and industrious.

So, there you have it: a dozen ways to economize and maximize your finances as you tackle the post-college job world in the early 21st century. You can probably think of a dozen more on your own that will leave you in a lot better shape than you may have thought possible. What are you waiting for?