You knew exactly what life was going to look like when you graduated. You’d get a sweet job, a sick apartment, and a regular spot at a trendy bar where you’d debrief with your quirky coworkers. You’d spend your weekends brunching and staying out late watching your favorite bands perform.
But then reality hit.
Maybe that sweet job is actually an internship with a minimal stipend. Maybe your apartment is the size of a large closet, or you’re sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and the balance in your bank account is looking … well, small.
All that cash you thought you’d have is going to rent, groceries, and health insurance—and a hefty student loan payment.
Turns out adulting is hard. And adulting with student loans is even harder. But you have to admit, whether you like it or not, you’re learning lessons that’ll probably serve you for years to come.
1. You have to budget
With more than a few bills to cover and a salary that doesn’t leave much leeway, the days of just winging it with your finances are over.
The consequences of getting to the end of the month and not having enough in your bank account are simply too dire. That doesn’t mean you never get to splurge—you just need to do so carefully.
2. You can’t quit your job just because you want to
No matter how many fantasies you have about storming out of the office after your boss takes credit for your hard work yet again, you know your loan payments won’t stop just because your paycheck does.
The good news? You’re cultivating a skill—sticking with the hard things—that you’ll use for the rest of your life.
3. You actually like generic better than name brands
Perhaps it’s knowing that with each mouthful of Fruity O’s, you’re saving a few dollars, but you’re finding yourself drawn to those store brands you gave the cold shoulder just a few years ago.
Saving money never tasted so delicious.
4. You won’t be having nightly cocktails out with your pals
The 20-somethings on TV are always sharing their troubles over a beer at their favorite local bar. But you never hear them talking about student loans, do you?
5. You’re really good at finding free activities
Back in school, there was always a free speaker series or concert, along with plenty of spaces to hang out where you didn’t have to buy anything.
Being a non-student can seem unbearably expensive, but if you keep an eye out you can find plenty of free activities—community yoga classes, donation-only concerts, and interesting talks at your local library.
Be sure to ask about under-35 discounts at theaters and galleries too.
6. Your treadmill days are over—for now
You didn’t realize what a great deal you were getting on that gym membership with your tuition. Now you have to pay $100 a month to sweat your guts out the one time a week you actually make it there. Twenty-five bucks a session? No thank you.
Maybe you’ve been looking for an inexpensive way to catch up with your friends. A weekly running date outside kills two birds with one stone.
7. You might want to hold off on that new pet
All those fantasies about a puppy greeting you at the door when you get home from the office? Adorable … but probably more expensive that you think.
Even if you cut costs by getting an animal from a shelter, regular vet visits—and the inevitable middle-of-the-night trip to the emergency vet—don’t come cheap.
Stick with cute cat videos. Or better yet, get your fix while you make a little extra money pet sitting.
8. You’re an expert at finding things on Craigslist—or the side of the road
Furnishing a new apartment is expensive—even at Ikea prices. But you’ll save some cash once you realize everything you need is just a Craigslist search away.
And there’s no shame in grabbing that bookcase with a “Free” sign you passed on your way to work. In fact, every time you look at it, you’ll glow with pride remembering how you got it without spending a cent.
9. You’ll make it through
Managing your student debt can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying life.
In fact, some studies show that dealing with adversity may make you more creative. So you might even have some new skills—or a new way of looking at the world—to show for it.
If you feel like you’re buckling under the weight of your student loans, learn how to lower your payments.