When you graduate from college and get your first job in the real world, earning any kind of salary sounds better than being an unpaid college student. A dollar is a dollar, right?
But how far you can stretch your salary varies widely depending on where you live. Bigger cities may equate to higher-powered (and higher-paying) jobs in your field, but the cost of living will also be more than in smaller cities and towns that may come with cheaper living expenses.
To compare and contrast what your money can help you do as a new grad, we talked to three 20-somethings in Boston, Dallas, and Menlo Park, California. Their day jobs are the same — each works in social media — but their finances are all very different. Here’s a peek into their salaries rent, and transportation costs.
Living and working independently in Boston
Sarah Spencer Austin is 25 years old and works as a digital and social media consultant in Boston. Austin works for herself and is the creative director and owner of Spencer Austin Consulting, LLC. She earns $61,000 per year in her position. Here’s how she puts that salary to work.
Amount in savings: Around $8,000.
401(k) contributions: None currently. Austin has a 401(k) from a previous employer, and when she contributed, she put in 5% of her salary.
Monthly rent: $2,100 per month. Austin doesn’t have roommates, but does split the rent with her husband — so her portion of rent is $1,050 per month. Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Boston is $2,800.
Car payment and insurance bill: $179 per month car payment and $160 per month for insurance.
Public transportation: $10 per month.
Go-to lunch spot: All Star Pizza Bar in Inman Square: one slice of pepperoni pizza and a seltzer water is $7 total.
Last big splurge: New pair of Madewell Jeans for $130. (“I’ve never spent that much on jeans in my life but they were so comfortable!” says Austin.)
Austin is currently working on building up her savings. “I try to set aside 10% of every payment I receive toward my savings account,” she says. “My husband is in law school for two more years and we would love to have a nice down payment for a house when he graduates.” The median home value in Boston is $504,200, but Austin feels confident in their savings goal, since she has no student loans or other debts, and doesn’t carry a balance on her credit card.
“Rent here can be scary expensive, but with so many colleges and universities in and around Boston you can find a lot of new grads to room with,” says Austin. And while she has a car to get around town, it’s not really necessary — many Bostonians opt to use rideshares, the T (subway), commuter rail, or even Zipcar. “Having a car allows me to invite friends along for ‘pilgrimages’ to places like Costco,” Austin says. “We share the cost of gas, and it makes errands a little more fun.”
Figuring out finances at a San Francisco Bay-area payment processing company
Angela Ruth is 23 years old and lives in Menlo Park, California, a town 30 minutes outside San Francisco. She works as the social media manager at Due.com, a company that helps manage payment processing for freelancers and small business owners. She makes $85,000 per year.
Amount in savings: $7,000
401(k) contributions: None currently.
Monthly rent: $2,800 per month. Ruth lives with her fiancé. “Generally I will pay rent and power,” Ruth says, “And he pays gas, internet, and food. We put our paychecks into a shared account and pull into personal accounts as needed so we stay on top of bills.” Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,420.
Car payment and insurance bill: $250 per month car payment and $70 per month for insurance.
Public transportation: About $40 per month.
Go-to lunch spot: Sprout Café — she spends about $10 to $15 per meal.
Last big splurge: “The last big splurge involved White House Black Market, a beautiful pair of pumps, and quite a few new outfits,” says Ruth.
Ruth wants to save more money so she doesn’t necessarily have to rely on earning income from a job. Right now, her goal is to save for two years’ worth of expenses so she can live off that without additional income if times get tough. She says that she’d also like to be able to start a family one day, without needing a dual income between her and her fiancé.
When it comes to living on a budget in Menlo Park, Ruth advises to actually make a budget — and stick to it. “This is an expensive area! But very livable if you share expenses with a roommate, live on the East Side, or are willing to Airbnb out the living room,” she says. And although she has a car, public transportation is a reliable option for those without. “If you are willing to walk, bike, and use public transport, you may not even need a car. If you work in San Francisco, you are going to want a Caltrain pass. Parking in the city every day is way too expensive.” Another tip for the car-less? Have your groceries delivered. Ruth says it’s a popular — and convenient — option for those living in the area.
Carving out a business for black entrepreneurs in Dallas
Briana Ford is a digital marketing strategist, but that’s not the only place she dedicates her time. The 25-year-old is also the founder of Startup Noire, a resource for black entrepreneurs who want to build their own businesses. Through her full-time job, Ford makes $56,600 per year.
Amount in savings: $11,000.
401(k) contributions: Ford contributes 6% of her earnings to a 401(k) through her employer.
Monthly rent: $1,113, and she covers that cost herself — no roommates. Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Dallas is $1,210.
Car payment and insurance bill: $313 per month car payment and $141 per month for insurance. And, her toll pass is $15 per month.
Public transportation: Not applicable
Go-to lunch spot: “My workplace has a cafe,” says Ford. “Lunch is usually between $5 to $9, depending on what I get.”
Last big splurge: An iPad. “I was super hesitant to buy it,” Ford admits, “but I love it!”
Ford is currently working to save a year’s worth of expenses in cash. It’s a smart move, as a big emergency fund can help anyone — new grad or established pro — through unexpected situations and expenses that monthly cash flow just can’t handle.
“In Dallas, housing is affordable compared to other major cities,” Ford says. “If you’re looking to potentially settle down, this would be a great place to do so.” She’s also noticed that jobs are fairly plentiful. It makes sense: Dallas unemployment hovers around 4 percent, while nationwide it’s 5 percent, and big corporations like Liberty Mutual, Toyota, and Jamba Juice all recently opened large corporate offices in the area.