As I was finishing up an externship at a Philadelphia-area law firm one spring, one of the partners pulled me into his office. He told me not to waste the rest of my 20s playing it safe. Now was the perfect time to take risks because I had no responsibilities or obligations beyond my law school student debt. The partner didn’t follow his passion while he was young, and he felt limited by the time and financial obligations of his young family.
With a festering entrepreneurial bug keeping me up at night, I took my law diploma and confounded family and friends by joining an 8-person tech startup with seed funding and an 18-year-old CEO…so much for walking the well-worn legal path. While some of my friends were pulling down six figures in biglaw, my starting salary was barely scraping entry level for college graduates.
In order to stay afloat financially, my burn rate needed to be slashed hard. I moved in with a friend for a year then rented a tiny room in a 4 bedroom house. My Boston Sports Club membership was traded for Planet Fitness. I made sure to live in an urban suburb of a major city so I could use public transportation. All lunches and dinners for the week sat in Tupperware containers in the fridge. I stayed on my family’s cell phone plan to take advantage of economies of scale.
My salary and relational responsibilities have grown in the past five years, but my “low burn” mentality is still alive and well. I take pride when sharing stories about getting a deal on a 1993 Corolla or using airline and hotel points to finance our honeymoon. Too many of my peers are hell bent on maintaining a heightened lifestyle that they don’t realize how financially captive they’ve become. Below are a few pro tips that steered me well at the beginning of my career.
- Don’t Let Salary Determine Your First Job (learn in your 20s, earn in your 30s)
- You Don’t Need a Fancy Car in the City
- Shed the Swanky Gyms, You Can Shower at Home
- Cook Your Lunches and Dinners at Home, Saving Eating Out for Special Occasions
- Resist the urge to rent sweet digs downtown, you’re not at home much longer than is necessary to eat and sleep
- Spend nights at events to build your network and nosh on free pizza and beer
- Use apps like Mint, Betterment, and others to drive savings and monitor entertainment spending