1 Out of School And Playing House, Two Ways | The Billfold

Out of School And Playing House, Two Ways

I grew up in a New York City suburb, and moved to the city for college. When I graduated a semester early, my parents, who had saved for my education their entire lives, said they’d spend the money they’d set aside for that semester’s tuition to fund my first few months in the real world.

Adults lived alone, so I opted for a studio ($1500/mo.). My parents paid my rent, but I assumed I’d take over the payments or at least start making monthly contributions—just as soon as I snagged a job. It was 2011, and the worst of the recession was over (right?). In the meantime, I paid monthly bills, which totaled $110. It was, yes, a pretty sweet deal.

I was 21. I had interned in the past—in fact, I had an internship at the time—and a few freelance leads. My cousin, who is incredibly successful, kept saying: “Everyone sucks in their twenties, you just have to keep churning out crap and some day it’ll happen.” But after hundreds of applications, there was still no job. I fell into a deep post-grad depression that I couldn’t shake. I took low-paying freelance gigs; I took a minimum-wage paying job at a bookstore. I personally was only worth $7.75/hr, and my apartment, the only thing of value in my life, had a lease that would sooner or later be up. I landed another temp job, but wasn’t enough: by January 2012, I was living at home in the New Jersey suburb I’d gown up in.

My year of studio living was an experiment in independence that floundered spectacularly. Certain lessons became apparent during these months, namely: It turns out there’s a big difference between playing house and living alone.

I took the trip to Ikea, found the cute flea market finds. I pledged my local public radio station. I got a New Yorker subscription. I dealt with landlords, locksmiths, Time Warner Cable. I felt I had a modicum of control over my house, and so to feel responsible, to feel adult, I threw the money I had at household problems. My real problems could wait.

Back home, in between applying for jobs, doing weekend customer service support, and commuting to an unpaid internship in a small publishing office ($88/wk for NJ Transit tickets), I audited a class at the university in my town ($125/semester). Though I was only making about $480/month, I was actually starting to save money, which I never had been able to in the city. As the money accrued, I realized this time in the verdant ‘burbs might be a gift, an opportunity to reassess what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be.

Around March another temp opportunity fell into my lap—one that paid a staggering $15/hr (!). I jumped at the chance to do anything for money, at the sense of purpose, at the reason to leave my demeaning unpaid internship. Another department needed another temp; I snagged that too.

Since March, I’ve been working 40 hours a week in Manhattan. My full time temp pay (monthly, after taxes) is $2,022; my NJ Transit Monthly Pass is $414. One fringe benefit of my commute is that it does do wonders for the budget: no time to spend on a social life means no spending on dinners, drinks, or dates.

What I’ve come to realize is that for most people in their early twenties, an income around $30K is enough to live on—except in New York or San Francisco. And when I think of leaving my comfortable room to squander what I’ve saved since November to live in a 10’x11’ box in Bushwick for $850/mo. without guaranteed employment, I start to Freak Out.

Moving back home when you’re 22 isn’t the end of the world, but the idea of going back to a manic existence in New York is both quite appealing and deeply disturbing. To quote a very wise man: “New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent.”

I’ve given myself until December to bulk up my savings, figure things out, and regardless, I’m out by January. There comes a time when one must acknowledge the fine line between fiscal responsibility and arrested development. Struggle builds character, right? My temp job ends in August, and I don’t want to move to a new city until I have the guarantee of an actual salaried job. For now, Chicago is the front-runner, and New York a pipe dream runner-up.

There’s an uneasy cognitive dissonance in knowing that you’re making the responsible choice, when responsibility means regression. Living in a big house with free food is a relief for a while, but I’m still playing house, even in a different context.

If adulthood means knowing when to make sacrifices, and learning to manage expectations, ironically enough, it took returning to the home of my childhood to learn that lesson. While temping has defined my professional life, my temporary stay in the suburbs has finally given me the motivation to do something instead of sit around the city and expect things to happen because I am in a place that’s happening.

New York will always be around, but a city owes you nothing. You can strive for happiness anywhere as long as you earn enough to live the life you want. I’ve lost some important friendships. I’ve watched too much Law & Order and eaten too many cookies. I’ve spent more time in Penn Station in one year than any human being should in a lifetime. I’m still looking to get a job that gives me a greater sense of accomplishment, and the independence and freedom that comes with disposable income. I’m fortunate for the generosity and guidance of my parents. I’ll be more fortunate when I no longer have to rely on them.


Galia Abramson is a blogger and a temp, currently looking for a roommate and a job. She prefers the term “pragmatic realist.”


48 Comments / Post A Comment

oh man i am in literally exactly the same spot as you (except i’m uh, 25. great)

I spent my first year out of university living in Montreal paying $750 in rent (a ludicrous amount in montreal) and saving barely anything. anyways I’ve been living at home for a while now, made easier by the fact that basically all my friends are in the same boat, but I really want/need to move out soon. But all the money I’m saving that will go to rent instead! Argh.

Right now I have no job security – ie a full time job that pays well but no contract, which makes moving out even sketchier. I’m thinking maybe year long sublet at a place that’s furnished already, that way i can … re-dip my toes in the water? maybe this is a terrible idea. i definitely think i will have to go the roommate route though.

@redheaded&crazy ugh i’m annoyed at this comment for saying “literally exactly”


gna207 (#988)

@redheaded&crazy hahaha – it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone! My brother is a phd student in pasadena and he is the one who made me think about moving anywhere where I can afford rent, but then it becomes this horrible loop of no job – no apt. Roomies are great – I mean, my two roommates are my parents (woo hoo) but definitely subletting is how I think I’ll go when I really move out (just in case it’s boomerang syndrome, pt. ii…)

@gna207 it’s really hard not to see it as arrested development, or failure to launch, or boomerang syndrome or anything. I guess some days I’m more at peace with it than others.
the part i’m really struggling with is this: an opportunity to reassess what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be. cuz I seriously have NO idea. and i went through all of university being so fucking smug “oh yeah I picked psychology! I’m so proud of myself that I didn’t switch majors like my friends but this is really what I want!” and now three years later it’s like … IS that what I want? I don’t think so.
anyway. this year I’m REALLY determined to “figure it out.” The first step is figuring out how to figure it out. And also maybe coming to terms with the fact that it may not be as simple as figuring out one grand scheme for the rest of my life. unless that one grand scheme is to marry into the military because holy cow they get good benefits (just kidding) (not kidding).

(or you know … join the military. which is a less awful sentiment but also even less likely to happen)

I was 22, working in publishing for 29k which gave me much less than the take-home $2,022 you describe here (it took years to get above 2k a month), and I lived with two roommates in the small bedroom of our Astoria apartment. Commuting from a free room in the burbs wasn’t an option for me and while I did not save a lot of money (and 6 years in, still have yet to), it’s worked for me. There is no hard and fast rule as to how much it takes to live here. New York is what you make of it – end of story – but I do appreciate you sharing this straddling-two-worlds situation that most will have to survive in their 20s.

gna207 (#988)

@Peter W. Knox@twitter Thanks for sharing. Were you 22 in 2006? Part of what’s so difficult for people my age is the ability to actually get an entry-level job post-recession. I don’t expect a salary much above 30k,(my 5 mos. temp job means that I’ll still make far less than 29k) but I am staring impending unemployment in the face, and I think many people are currently. I just wanted to share what I learned about saving during my period of underemployment (i.e. having to make not fun choices so I can eventually move out).

@Peter W. Knox@twitter Yeah, I wasn’t really sure where 29k translates to 2k a month…I take home about that after my insurance/401K/transit is taken out monthly, and I’m around 40k.

Edit: I just did my math, and realized that I actually make 2700/mth after deductions, rather than $2200. And now I feel weird about the $500 that is just gone before I see it.

I’m 28 and I’ve done this exact thing like, three times now. Hopefully that’s over with for good…

sea ermine (#122)

I’m so afraid of maybe having to move home in the future. I just graduated from college this May and right now I’m applying for jobs and borrowing money for rent, bills, and food. Ideally I’ll get a job soon but if not I have to move home. Normally I’d think of that as a way to save money but my parents live almost 9,000 miles away and move a lot and I don’t have a work visa to work in the country my they live in (and no one gives work visas to 22 year olds who’ve only ever had part time jobs) and I can’t see my parents moving back to the U.S for many more years. The whole reason I’m borrowing tons of money from them (with no knowledge of how I’ll pay it back) to try it on my own is that with the insane time difference, and the terrible internet connection, and the inability to do in person interviews moving home after college would have made it close to impossible for me to ever get a job. Keeping my fingers crossed that the one interview I’ve scored turns into something.

Pick Chicago-the living is cheap for a large city. I moved here after living in NYC for a few years, and a huge selling point is that Chicago’s trash is kept in ALLEYS (seriously-quality of life issue here). That alone was enough to thrill me. I also have a gigantic two bedroom apartment in a neighborhood very similar to Bushwick which runs $1075 total. And has central air. And is in a beautiful turn-of-the-century stone building on a tree-lined street, with a new gin bar at the end of it. Did I mention our CTA passes are only $86 a month? The end.

gna207 (#988)

@Jake Reinhardt Do you live in/around Logan Square? I’ve been thinking of neighborhoods around there or Lakeview/Wrigleyville area. My bro went to UofC and he’s never looked back; Slash OMG YES THE ALLEYWAYS. For a city that gets sweltering in the summer, that sort of thing is key.
(But what’s with the wooden fire escapes everywhere?)

@gna207 Logan Square! It’s better over here. Wrigleyville is bro-town; don’t know much about Lakeview. I lived in UK village for a bit, and it was very nice, but kind of yuppie/young family. Logan Sq. is so cheap, and so walkable. Wooden fire escapes here are called our back porches, I think…

@gna207 Every now and then I think I’m done with Chicago (UofC alumna too) and look longingly at NYC. Then I read an article like this and whisper a thank-you for my gorgeous $1,000/mo 2BR in a calm, fun, convenient neighborhood. I was in your position a year ago, though I wasn’t quite at the point of having to move back in with my parents. I definitely would have been if I had tried to move to NYC.

Wooden fire escapes are for growing tomatoes on! Move here, move here, but stay away from Lakeview/Wrigley if you’ve ever lived in a city before. Logan Square is great, but I love Lincoln Square/Albany Park too. (A little older, a little more expensive, but cleaner.)

dotcommie (#662)

@gna207 logan square is the shit, move here. but it’s not really bushwick-y? i would say bridgeport is the bushwick of chicago–kinda shitty, kinda hip, inconveniently located. logan square has enough of an established cultural infrastructure that it’s more like a closer-in brooklyn neighborhood, imho, like parts of williamsburg. stay away from most of lakeview/wrigleyville, it’s pretty bro-y. i like the blue line scene a lot better.

and yes, chicago is the bomb (uofc ftw). alleys, cheap, global city, enormous lakefront open to the public…

Megano! (#124)

I don’t understand this garbage train thing?

cliuless (#36)

@Megano! did you mean to post this in the subway post?

but basically, the garbage train in new york passes through each station late at night and collects the garbage that has accumulated throughout the day. it’s just a train of flatbeds holding open dumpsters filled with black garbage bags, and it’s the most disappointing thing to see late at night.

ciphressinchief (#1,880)

No offense intended to the author of this piece, but this site sure does profile a lot of people living with/ supported by their parents. Would love to hear more stories about young folks in different financial circumstances…

If you’d be interested in sharing your story, we’d love to read it. logan@thebillfold.com

Kate (#1,408)

@ciphressinchief I moved out of my parents’ house on my 18th birthday and literally (LITERALLY) have never been back. So maybe I will write about incredibly broke I was!

readyornot (#816)

@ciphressinchief another interesting perspective is the cross-country comparison: like, a lot of European kids live with their parents through college. I hear from my sister who lives in Brazil that young people there stay in the family home until they marry, which has the interesting side-effect of producing a sex hotel economy for yuppie couples, not prostitutes.

navigateher (#555)

@readyornot Which European countries are you referring to?

@navigateher It’s common in France and Germany and, to a certain extent, England. In fact most of my European friends who are not abroad studying or working somewhere live at home with their parents. The only young French person I know who has her own apartment is also the only French person I know who has a normal part-time job (at Quick) and I think she still gets support from her family for that.

@readyornot Yeah, it’s like that in Ecuador too (sex hotels included.) I think it’s pretty common throughout most of Latin America.

Meanwhile, I met a Finnish girl whose brother had moved out at age 14 with his family’s support (not sure if that included financial support.) She said that was relatively normal there. I don’t know what other European countries are like, except that I hear Italians often stay at home until they marry.

navigateher (#555)

@stuffisthings Interesting! My experience from France and UK is very different. A lot of people seemed to have their own places, but maybe they were going to universities / whatever schools that weren’t in their home cities.

@navigateher I went to grad school in Birmingham (in the UK) and my English friends who were from there all lived at home, without exception. Those who weren’t from there rented apartments but immediately moved home after school. I think a lot of it has to do with high youth unemployment, and, in the UK, the fact that the only place worth moving to jobs-wise in London, and you can’t afford to live there without a job.

navigateher (#555)

@whateverlolawants And hell no is it common to move out at 14 in Finland. I’ve never even heard of anyone doing that, and it probably has got to do with the kid being a child genius and going to university at 14 or something like that. We go to upper secondary school at 16, and it is pretty rare for anyone to move out at that point (only if they’re going to a special school like IB that isn’t in every city). BUT, most people move out when they go to college/uni at 19-20. Sweden is the same.

navigateher (#555)

@stuffisthings Yeah, my experience is from London (and to some extent Manchester), so maybe that’s why no one lived with their parents. They were from somewhere else, I guess. Also, it was about fifteen years ago, when everyone willing to work still seemed to be able to get a job.

readyornot (#816)

@navigateher this is all fascinating. now i want to see data.

selenana (#673)

@ciphressinchief I feel that way sometimes too. I have lived with my parents intermittently since high school (mostly right after graduating and for a short spell during college when my dad lived in the same city as my school) but other than that, they have never paid my rent. They didn’t support me through college – loans, grants, and having a job did that. I don’t think there’s any shame at all in having your parents help you if that’s an option, but I would also like to read more stories of people who are a little less privileged.

selenana (#673)

@readyornot In Japan too, it’s very common for people to live with their parents until marriage. And did we basically invent the love hotel? (Maybe not, but it seems like it!) Lots of people who move out because of work just move into company dorms, which is the culture but seems infantilizing sometimes to me (especially when they have rules like no guests, no cooking in your room). That’s just to say, I think that USA culture is one of the few that expects that you will not live at home after age 18, and I think living with your parents doesn’t automatically mean you’re not a functioning adult. But maybe getting a job, not having your mom wake you up and make you breakfast for that job, and helping with bills/chores could be things that mark adulthood instead.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

Hang on a minute – did you say NO COOKING IN DORMS? What is that even?
How to people eat? Do they have to buy every meal from a restaurant or is there like a mess hall in the building or something?

selenana (#673)

@TARDIStime There’s a cafeteria at work where lunch and I think dinner can be had. Other than that, it’s restaurants and convenience store meals, which, to be fair, are quite good compared to what’s on offer in the states. Also most of them can have a mini-fridge and a microwave, but no hot plate.

ciphressinchief (#1,880)

@Logan Sachon Really (actually) not trying to be self-righteous. Don’t have an interesting story (supporting myself only cause I was lucky to get a medium- well-paid job after graduation)… but just wanting to hear from different situations for diversity!

A sudden realization that I may have come off as an asshole in the previous comment has prompted me to submit this almost a month later….

Until pretty recently, I had no idea that people moving into apartments but being supported by their parents–not just parents occasionally helping with stuff, but actually paying the rent–was something people did. I’m not knocking it, if your parents can/are willing to do that, more power to you, I just find it a neat example of how things like The Billfold are making me more aware of how other people do money.

For myself, I’m glad I stayed home until I had a nice savings cushion (about a year and a half after I graduated), and glad I moved out when I did because it made me grow up and take responsibility for myself in ways I was probably never going to if I didn’t. And I’m glad I have a standing agreement with my parents that I could move back in if I ever needed to, but I hope I never need to.

gna207 (#988)

@Caitlin Young@twitter A lot of people end up needing guarantors (esp. in NYC) and essentially the money that would have gone to college when I graduated early went to the apartment. Basically, 12 months in that studio was still CHEAPER than 3 months in college. So, the math worked in my favor on that one. Also, I had this internship, and had been living in an actual closet that only fit a twin bed before then. Clearly, my plan failed, but my parents said I could choose to spend the college money however I wanted, and it seemed logical at the time to put it to the apt. But congrats on being able to do it alone!!

sea ermine (#122)

@Caitlin Young@twitter I agree that this site is great for seeing examples of how people do money differently. For me, I’m currently being supported by my parents (including rent) and have been since I graduated college in May (I’m hoping to have a job soon so I can support myself). I was originally planning to move in and save money but a year before my graduation they moved 9,000 miles away. To be fair, the first time we moved to my home country was the summer before I started college so it wasn’t super surprising but it also meant that living home would severely delay me beginning work (time difference, bad internet connection, complete inability to go on interviews) so we talked it over and they decided to support me until I find a job. I plan to pay them back eventually but I’m still not sure how since I’ve borrowed a lot and the jobs I’m applying for wont pay much. And if I don’t get a job in a year then I definitely have to move back and, I don’t know do unpaid volunteer work and try to convince someone to hire me via skype interview. I feel bad about mooching off my parents like this but my situation is kind of weird so I’m not sure what else to do.

I know other people have said this, but it’s not hard to live in NYC / Brooklyn (definitely Brooklyn) on $30k. $24k wasn’t even that hard. Get an $800/mo or below apartment, don’t spend too much on going out, cook for yourself a lot, done.

@Kyle Chayka@facebook I think it’s pretty hard to have a social life on 24k when you’re not 21, and your friends all make more than that.

gna207 (#988)

@Kyle Chayka@facebook I probably could make it work, but I’ve realized I’d rather not live monastically for the sake of a city – I agree with @Jake Reinhardt that there are places like Chicago or Denver where you can get by on less money and have more of a social life. (Also, this is all sort of predicated on having stable income.)

@Kyle Chayka@facebook But to what end? If you’re moving to New York by choice, presumably that’s because you want to actually enjoy the things the city has to offer (culture, night life, food) and not eating spaghetti every night of the week in a tiny roach-infested box and spending four hours a day on the train. Why would you want to inflict this on yourself?

I understand that a lot of poor people do live in New York, but it is usually because A) they were born there or B) they are part of an immigrant community with its own social/cultural/spiritual/economic networks and support links.

Believe it or not, writers, actors, and musicians come up in other cities, too. Really! No lie!

sea ermine (#122)

@Kyle Chayka@facebook But if you aren’t going to go out or do much or spend on anything wouldn’t it be better to move to a cool city in, I don’t know, the midwest where you can do more fun things than you would in New York on less money?

readyornot (#816)

@seaermine maybe for professional reasons? if the person is in a new york-specific industry, like fashion journalism or, say, theater with broadway ambition.

sea ermine (#122)

@readyornot That’s very true, I didn’t think of it at first but there are definitely some NYC specific industries (or industries that are not NYC specific but where being in NYC gives you an edge) where one would want to maybe miss out on all the opportunities that the city itself has to offer to try and find professional sucess (which will hopefully lead to being able to take all those opportunities.

dotcommie (#662)

@gna207 yeah. i really appreciate the fact that living in chicago has allowed me to be independent without sacrificing the kind of cultural life i want. my parents live in a terrible place, so moving back home would be much more disruptive to me than these folks who live a LIRR ride away from NYC.

Maladydee (#909)

The side of my family that I am on speaking terms with lives halfway across the country, 1.5 hours drive away from a major city. I don’t know how to drive, so I actually can’t move in with family, even if I wanted to. It’s a major factor in why I haven’t done any post-secondary yet.

Anyone who feasibly can move home, and would find it helpful, probably should take advantage of it. Having to either pay rent or couch-surf has basically set me back by about 10 years or more in terms of getting a real career.

lamontnoble (#4,283)

I guess that everybody pass through such moments when they are 21 years old. I was unemployed for three years after my graduation, I have worked in several places including a combat adolescent drug use center. It took me a while till I found the job I like, since then I work as a broker.

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