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Livable Living Expenses

By Jonathan Follett

Budgeting can reap many rewards if you know how to do it right.

Debt is another scary monster that many students right out of college have to face.
Budgeting doesn't have to be all about singin' the blues. In many industries, salaries for entry-level positions are small, and, even if you make $24,000 a year, you won't be taking it all home. Uncle Sam wants his share, and he'll get it in the form of federal income tax, social security tax, and Medicare. Then there's state income tax. Realistically, you can expect that 30 percent of your income will be gone before you even get out the door.

After Uncle Sam Takes His Cut

However, there are ways to hold onto the cash that does make it home with you. To begin with, you'll need someone else to come home to, probably a roommate. "If you're living to a big city like New York, you can forget about wanting to live by yourself," experience member Jenny says. "It's not a bad idea to move to a suburb of a city. I lived in Queens when I first moved to New York. Even though that's part of the metropolitan area, it's not downtown Manhattan. My roommate and I had a huge beautiful two-bedroom apartment for $700 a month. You can't even get a studio apartment in New York for $700 a month now."

Packing a lunch isn't a bad idea either. "I bring my lunch to work only because, man, it's $2,000 a year if you don't. I figured it out. $2,000 a year!" Todd, another experience member, exclaims. "It's way too expensive. I was buying lunch for awhile, and I couldn't figure out where all my money was going."

Hold the Extras
It's also a good idea to keep track of your monthly living expenses and make cuts where appropriate. Apartment expenses will include the electric, gas, and phone bills. In addition, you might want to set aside some money for furniture and decorations. If you have a car, your transportation expenses will include gas, auto insurance, monthly payments, and repairs. Otherwise, you'll need money for the bus or subway. Then, there are work-related expenses, like new suits, dry cleaning, and the cost of a new briefcase or portfolio.

It doesn't hurt to be frugal. Turning off lights when you're not using them, clipping coupons, and buying food on sale are all ways to make your paycheck stretch. And don't forget, matinees are only five bucks.

Credit Crunch
Debt is another scary monster that many students right out of college have to face. To keep debt at bay, make sure your credit card has a low interest rate. Watch out for those cards with five percent introductory rates that skyrocket to 18 percent after three months. The best strategy with credit cards is to treat them like deferred cash. Pay off your monthly balance in full, every time. Whatever you do, pay more than the minimum balance each month, even if it's tempting not to. An 18 percent interest rate is barely disguised robbery.

"I think you have to stay away from credit cards," Jenny Holm advises. "I didn't really have a credit card until I was out of college. Then, I got the American Express Card, which is a good card to have because you can't carry a balance. If I had had a card where I could carry a balance, I think I would have been in big trouble. You can go out, buy a new jacket for 200 bucks, and think you'll pay it off. But, at that point in your career, you're not bringing home a lot of money."

Student loans are another financial burden. They have low interest rates, but you'll be paying them off forever. After you graduate, you'll usually have six to nine months before they come due. If you're having trouble with your student loans, whatever you do, don't default. There are banks that will consolidate the loans for you so you can make one payment a month. Also, there are programs that allow you to pay only the interest due every month rather than the interest plus principle.

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