By Shannon Sweeny
So you’ve graduated college and miraculously and laboriously gotten your first full-time job. I just put my first payment into my retirement fund and for some reason that made things so real for me. You’re finally making enough to not freak out about going out for drinks occasionally but not quite enough to shop at Whole Foods. Your life has completely changed. You don’t have required time where you see your friends anymore, you may not be best friends with your roommates, you have to make sure your loan payments go out on time and that someone writes the rent check and you don’t have any huge breaks like summer vacation to look forward to. Life just seems to have less fun things in it. I constantly talk about how terrible I am at being an adult, at doing “adult” things, but here is my checklist of survival tips that have made this growing up business a little easier for me.
1. Create your own space. I am still incredibly busy with my full-time job, waitressing job on the weekends, trying to have a social life and after-work activities but I’ve tried to make my apartment/room a priority. You are writing probably the biggest check of your month to your rent which, theoretically, is throwing money at a fire; there is no investment, so make sure you love where you live. Put Christmas lights around the border of your bedroom, build a cheap bookshelf to put out picture frames of your loved ones and never underestimate the healing powers of a $5 candle. Love your space and you will want to come home to it every night.
2. Get a hobby. This is especially important if you’ve moved to a new city, are newly single or are looking to spice up your social life. Right after I graduated college I joined a dance company in Boston; I have gained dozens of new friends that share my mutual love of dancing. Work can be draining, so try and find a hobby that enriches your life somehow: a cooking class, fitness class, art class, or something that you thought you would never do. You would be surprised as to how many “social” 20-something activities there are.
3. Think about a second job. Disclaimer: I work seven days a week and most people think I’m nuts. I would not advise not having a day off, but hear me out. Saturday and Sunday I wait tables at a diner in New Hampshire near my parents’ house from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. I am definitely tired some weeks but this gets me on my feet, experiencing the fast-paced environment I thrive in, and the quick money definitely helps my loan-infested anxieties. Don’t underestimate the power of mixing up your work flow. Also, when I’m at work I’m not spending money and that makes me feel better about those boots I want to buy or trips I want to take. This could be working one night at a yoga studio or one day at a clothing store. I know I feel much better about my bills or big purchases knowing I have it.
4. Have a financial goal. When I get to X amount of dollars I am going to buy a new computer, or when I double my savings account I will make a large payment on my loans. These are the little things that keep me going when I feel like my money may be getting out of my control. Also, understanding your debt, whether it is normal student loan business or credit card related, is so incredibly important. Understanding is the first step to kicking it in the butt! If you don’t have any debt, have something you’re saving up for, it will make the purchase and all the hours you put in so much sweeter.
5. Along the finances line, I know no one likes to talk about them, but understanding your own finances is really important. Find out how much you will be paying if you leave your loans on your 10-year plan; this may change the way you pay them. Don’t let your money rule you, you rule your money. Think about finding an apartment without a realtor (its not always possible, but sometimes you’ll find one). Don’t just shop at the grocery store across the street because its convenient, there may be a better deal a few blocks down. Put your money in perspective and you will feel a lot more in control.
6. Spend time with the people who make your life better. You no longer have time for negative people in your life, you only have a finite amount of hours and they should go to things that make you happy. I know I barely have time to see the people I love the most, never mind anyone else, so learn how to prioritize your time to optimize your happiness. Also, never underestimate the power of a phone call. I try to call my best friends at least once a week or so to make sure we’re still involved in each other’s lives if we can’t actually see each other. Try not to get too wrapped up in your own life that you forget all the people who made it awesome in the first place!
7. Read a book. I love Netflix, I could watch Law and Order all day, and I know that many 20-somethings love to binge, but I do think books should still have a space in your life. Borrow books from your friends, spend the $1 on Amazon to get that book you’ve always wanted to read. The time can really get away from you, but I know I feel better when I have a bookmark in a book and can turn to it as an alternative to my Netflix needs.
These are just some of the small things that have made my transition to “semi adult-life” a lot easier. I’m sure there are a lot more, but starting with these may ease your mind and make balancing your life a little less daunting.
Shannon is a recent graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Political Communications with minors in Gender Studies and Dance. She has passion for the arts, human rights, non-profit work and progressive thinking. She now resides in New Hampshire and hopes to soon move back to the city she loves, Boston.