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The time has come. You’re striking out on your own, leaving the comfort of your parents’ suburban home behind. And with big-city living on the rise for our generation, it’s clear the glamour of these locales is enticing.
But with this move comes challenges you’ve never faced before, and once you’re responsible for your own financial future, one small misstep can lead to many big ramifications. As someone who’s had to navigate these pitfalls personally, I can tell you that moving out and starting a real job takes more than a little prep work to stick the landing.
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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
As with most kids, my first taste of autonomy was my move to college as an undergrad. I started school with zero accountability or time management skills, focusing on parties and alcohol over studies and grades. It took longer than I’d like to admit to find a proper balance between personal relationships and academic ones.
It’s funny how quickly things change. Four years later, my next big move was far easier than moving to college. I already had my routine down, I was more mature, and I knew my new environment wouldn’t affect me as badly. College was great practice for adjusting to life’s curveballs.
What I found when I made the big-city career move were the challenges common to all Millennials — truly “adult” struggles I had yet to encounter. I can’t stress this enough — you should have all three of the following challenges nailed down before you move to the city:
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1. Financial Responsibility
It’s time to practice living within your means. Frivolous spending adds up, so work on an appropriate and mature pattern of spending — always address the needs before the wants. Ideally this should start while you're still in college.
If you’re wondering how to achieve this and still have a social life, here’s where you can get creative. Big cities are full of neighborhood eateries and hangouts, which are way more affordable than tourist destinations. Use public transportation, walk, or bike around. You’ll find free events, discount tickets, and unbelievable vintage stores — explore it all.
You also should have an “emergency fund” to carry you through six months’ worth of living expenses. Deposit the fund in savings or a short-term certificate of deposit account; don’t leave it in your checking account where you’ll be tempted to spend it.
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2. Fiscal Independence
This one is a tad harder to define. It’s no problem if your parents chip in occasionally, but in order to build credit, you need to do some things on your own — namely, open your own lines of credit, and pay your rent. This establishes your credit score. These numbers define you financially and establish whether you’re credit-worthy.
Your credit score is factored by how long you’ve had credit accounts, your payment history (late payments are red flags!), and your credit-to-debt ratio (so don’t max out a credit card). The bottom line: Keep your oldest credit card open, pay all of your bills on time, and don’t run up credit card debt.
Always pay off your credit cards and any other high-interest debts, and then focus on paying off student loans and car payments. Get in the habit of paying cash as you go, and use the credit card for an emergency.
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3. Time Management Skills
I hate to say this, but some people have zero time management skills. This is critical — learning how to spend your time not only builds character, but it also helps strengthen relationships. Don’t be the friend who is chronically late. Beyond that, nobody likes managing the employee who’s always tardy to work and meetings. Make an effort to show up, and show up on time.
Have you ever noticed how much of your day is consumed by emails? Don’t be a slave to technology. Use these tips to own your time:
- Turn off your phone and close your emails when you work on a complex task.
- Make it a habit to check emails once or twice a day, and don’t use emails to carry on conversations.
- Don’t even open social media at work. You’re not being paid to read posts.
Think about when your hours of peak productivity might be. Night owls are more productive in the late hours, while others get their best work done first thing in the morning. Location can be a big factor as well — while working from home may seem like a good idea, a trip to the library or coffee shop could lead to a much more fruitful day. Set yourself up to exploit your best hours in the best atmosphere.
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Look to the Future
While you’re enjoying your tiny little big-city apartment, start saving money for your future. This may hardly seem possible, given the ratio between your earnings and debt, but think about it this way: Pay yourself first, every month, with a savings deposit. You can have an automatic payment made to a savings account, and you won’t get in the habit of spending it. Throw your spare change in a coffee can (the price of a cup of coffee, every day), and it will add up. Your bank account will thank you later.
So there you have it. Ace these subjects — financial responsibility, fiscal independence, and savvy time management — and your big-city experience will be memorable and fulfilling.
About the Author: David Adams is the founder of HomeSuite, an online marketplace for temporary furnished housing that uses technology, data, and customer service to provide the best possible experience for tenants and landlords. Connect with David on Twitter.