I wanted to write this for those of you who are graduating from college soon and may be taking a huge leap to move states away, where you don’t know anyone, alone, and can only count on yourself to work, pay bills, and keep yourself alive. No one gave me any advice before I left, and after thinking about it for over a year, I realized it was because so few people I know have taken that large of a step. After living and surviving six hours away from everyone I know and love, I think I am able to tell you my story, make suggestions, and possibly answer any questions you may have.
Before graduating college, I narrowed my future city to either Augusta, Georgia or Charleston, SC, based on the schools I had been accepted to and wanted to attend. Just a few weeks before walking across the stage on that incredibly hot May day, I chose Charleston. Now, I needed to figure out where I was going to live and how I would pay for it all.
I signed up for the classes I would be taking in the fall, and I began looking for a job that would help me make enough money to survive, while also being flexible enough to work with my class and homework schedule. I found a fantastic job in which I would be working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder during the day and taking classes in the evening.
Now that I knew where I would be working, I needed to find somewhere to live. I was incredibly naive about how finding housing worked and it was much more difficult than I expected. The first issue was that housing in Charleston can be incredibly expensive, especially downtown, on the islands, and in Mount Pleasant. I was looking online all day, everyday, contacting apartment complex and apartment complex. I didn’t have any prior renting history and I knew I wouldn’t be making a whole lot of money, so I wasn’t
qualifying for any places. I was about to give up and just accept my life of living in Southwest Virginia my entire life. I know, I was catastrophizing like nobody’s business. I had orientation at my new school on August 12th. I found a place that would take me on August 7th, and we had to drive for six hours the very next day to sign the lease. I didn’t move down for about two weeks, but it was a very close call. I almost didn’t find anywhere to live, and truth be told… I shouldn’t have been accepted to this place. I spoke to them on the phone and said I would be working about 20-25 hours per week. Somehow, they thought I said 40 hours. I’m thankful for the hearing deficits of the woman I spoke with. Also, this was not the nicest place to live in the area. I was technically in one of the safest cities in the state, which bored on one of the most dangerous. I lived about a mile from the infamous Walter Scott shooting, and many other crimes that just did not make the national news. I wasn’t too concerned, because I’m an idiot, but also because I felt as though I could handle myself and anything that came my way. I wasn’t incredibly worried about rent, because I would have a roommate. She showed up without a job and left within a month. I was a little freaked out, but admittedly, I was excited to live by myself. I know, a woman living alone in a questionable area… probably not my best choice, but I’m here to tell the tale! My friend came to live with me about six or seven months later for the duration of my lease, and Mychael moved down right after graduation, so I was definitely not alone anymore. However, they were both fantastic to live with. Our place was just much too small for three people and there was not enough insulation. Really, I don’t know how the house never fell over. I assumed everyone in my cohort was living like this, because we were young, taking classes, and just wanting to survive on our own. I was wrong. Many people I met were working a few hours a week, if at all, and their parents were paying the bills for them to live in nice apartments.
For me, I knew it was my choice to move. It was not the responsibility of my parents to continue to take care of me. If you find an inexpensive place that definitely is not the nicest, take it anyway. You’ll work harder for the next year, and when your lease runs up, you’ll be able to find somewhere better. You’re young. You shouldn’t be worrying about where you live, what you have, or what people will think. You have plenty of time.
When you are paying for everything yourself, you have to learn how to save money. I’ve never been one who spends much money. In fact, I always save as much money as possible, and that is one of the best qualities to have when you’re just starting out in the world. I had one credit card, that Mychael talked me into getting, which was made for students to help build credit, with a fairly low limit. I knew I would have to make every dollar stretch, and I want to tell you some of the things that I did to make that happen.
One thing many people are used to doing is going out to eat and even drink fairly regularly. I did that sparingly, usually only when Mychael was in town. I bought groceries at less expensive stores (e.g. Bi-lo & Harris Teeter), purchased store brand products, used coupons, and purchased an abundance of meat when it was on sale, so I could freeze it until I was ready to use it. I cooked at home, and because I was only cooking for myself and I don’t usually eat large portions, I could make a meal and it would last a few days for lunch and dinner. During this time, I also learned how to make more meals, tried new things, and ate much healthier than I did in college.
I wanted a gym membership nearby so I could work out whenever I was able to. I purchased a membership at Planet Fitness, because it was inexpensive and only a few miles away from my house. I constantly see people make fun of those who go to Planet Fitness, which doesn’t make any sense. It’s a cheap way to keep yourself healthy, so don’t ever try to pay for anything that isn’t within your means, just because you think you should or so people will think a certain way about you.
When it came to buying clothes, I always went to Goodwill and consignment shops. There is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing second-hand clothes, in fact, it’s actually fun! I have purchased the following brands for under $10, and usually under $5: Lilly Pulitzer, J. Crew, Kate Spade, Keds, Anthropologie, American Eagle, H&M, White House Black Market, and many more. These items included shoes, jeans, shorts, tops, sweaters, dresses, and hats. In addition, many of my furniture pieces were secondhand, and got the job done. We are excited in the upcoming year to make larger furniture purchases and be able to donate these pieces back so someone else can get as much use out of them as we did, but they have worked wonders for me for the last year and a half. Clothing and furniture pieces are not something you should be paying an exponential amount for, at any point, but especially when you are young and just getting your own place and entering the real world.
Sometimes it feels scary being on your own, not knowing anyone except the people you have just met with at work, being hundreds of miles away from the people you love, trying to balance your life and your money, living in a new place that may not have the best reputation. As a woman, especially, you must always be aware of your surroundings, try not to go out at night by yourself, be prepared for anything, don’t put yourself in possibly dangerous situations, always lock your doors, and call your parents or a friend while in public if it makes you feel more comfortable.
These are the experiences I have had living on my own in a new place, and many of the people around me have never had theses experiences. Mychael and our roommate have never had to live on their own before or moved to a place where they didn’t know another person. It can sometimes be frustrating to think about the struggles I went through, knowing others will never have to experience living alone in a small house with bugs… no matter how much you cleaned, paying everything yourself, figuring out how to get around a city completely different from small town U.S.A., and regularly worried what may happen in the neighborhood while you slept. No matter how annoying it may feel at times, I know that the things I went through shaped me into a stronger, more independent, thoughtful, and more courageous young woman. I did it, survived, and even thrived. You can do it too. Don’t be afraid to branch out away from your hometown or start a new life and career somewhere else. It can turn out to be one of the best times of your life.
If any of you are thinking about or choosing to move away by yourself, please feel free to reach out with any questions you may have! I want to help you in any way possible!