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Live Like A Student: Embrace Non-Traditional Ways Of Living

If you had to ask me what the single most important thing you can do for yourself financially when you finish school, my answer would always be to live like a student.  It seems so obvious, and yet, despite being so obvious, very few people actually follow this advice.

I live in a college neighborhood, so I see a lot of college kids when I’m out and about.  Sometimes, I like to think about how weird their living situations are compared to your typical middle-class American.  Most of these college kids live in rundown houses, usually packing four or more people into a house.  It’s not uncommon for people to share rooms or live in tiny bedrooms no bigger than a closet.  When I’m out doing deliveries, I’ll sometimes make a delivery to a dorm and am reminded that, for at least a year, most college kids live and sleep in a tiny dorm room with a person they’ve never met before!

A lot of people can’t even imagine sharing a house with another person, let alone sharing a tiny dorm room with a stranger.  When you think about how these college kids live, my adventures in renting out a guestroom on Airbnb seems downright luxurious.  At least I only have to live with a stranger for a few days.  And I don’t even have to share a room with them.

Live Like A Student
Remember when you lived in a room with a three-person bunk bed? Okay, maybe we didn’t do that.

We can benefit a lot financially from remembering the odd ways in which we lived while we were in school.  If you remember that you’ve done it before, it’s really not that hard to keep living like a student.  And the benefits of doing this early on in your financial life is huge.

Embracing Non-Traditional Ways Of Living

College students are absolutely amazing at saving money on their housing expenses.  I think the reason for this has to do with the fact that living in a weird way is completely normal.

When I look back at my own living arrangements from when I was a student, this is what I see:

  • Freshman Year – Lived in a tiny dorm room with a stranger
  • Sophomore Year – Lived in a tiny dorm room with my best friend
  • Junior & Senior Year – Lived in a windowless basement in a house with four other roommates
  • Law School – Lived in a cheap two bedroom apartment with a buddy and then lived in a cheap, four bedroom duplex with three other people.

Ms. FP lived in pretty much the same way:

  • Freshman Year – Lived in tiny dorm room with a stranger
  • Sophomore, Junior, and Senior Year – Shared a bedroom with a roommate in an apartment
  • Dental School – Bought a house and rented the other three bedrooms to random grad students.

This way of living seems pretty nuts in retrospect.  Sometimes, we look at our house and wonder how it was possible to live there with three other random people.  But our mindset was different back then.  That way of living seemed totally normal.

That’s probably why renting out a guest room on Airbnb never seemed all that weird to me.  Sure, having a stranger in my house every once in a while is a little bit weird.  But it’s nothing when I remember that I used to literally sleep feet away from some guy that I’d never met before.

If we remember how we used to live, it makes it much easier to avoid the lure of upgrading to a fancy apartment. Remember, it doesn’t matter how much you make if it all goes out the door for rent.  I see too many people forget that early on in their careers.  People tell themselves that they need the fancy apartment when they were doing fine living the way they did in college just a few years before.

Remember That We Choose How We Live

I always get a little annoyed when I hear people who make a good salary complain that they feel like they’re barely making it.  This type of thinking ignores the vast majority of people in the United States making much less money.  If someone making six figures a year says they can’t make it in a big city in the United States, then what’s happening to all of the other people who live there too?

In my opinion, what these people really mean to say is that they’re barely able to make it based on the way they want to live in that city.  No one tells us we have to live in a certain way.  Ultimately, we choose how we want to live.

Take my own example for instance.  Coming out of law school, I avoided the lure of the luxury apartment, instead, opting to live in what I’d call “normal” apartment buildings.  My colleagues chose the opposite route, choosing to live in new luxury apartments.  That was a choice they made.  In essence, they chose to pay for their apartment, rather than pay down their debt.

Even today, I rent out a room on Airbnb, sacrificing a little bit of my privacy in exchange for monetizing a portion of my house.  I don’t need to rent out a room on Airbnb by any means.  Instead, it’s a choice I made.

College students understand these choices when it comes to living arrangements.  We all made the same choices when we were in school too.  Since most of us have lived this way before, it seems like most of us should be able to choose to live in basically the same way – at least for a little bit,

You Don’t Need To Upgrade Your Life Right Away

That brings me to my final point.  You don’t need to upgrade your life right away.  Take some time early on in your career and maintain the status quo.  Live like a student now while you’re still used to it.

I have one couple that I know that’s really doing everything right when it comes to their money.  They’re both physician assistants, easily making close to $200k a year as a household.  And amazingly, they both got out of school with no debt.

Even with what appears to be a huge amount of money at their disposal, they’ve never fallen into the luxury apartment lifestyle.  Instead, they live in a normal, one bedroom apartment paying $800 or $900 a month.  I’m sure one day, they’ll buy a house and upgrade their life.  But they’re only three or four years out of school.  They understand that they don’t need to rush into upgrading their life – not yet anyway.

Live Like A Student

If you want to start yourself on the right financial footing, take the time early in your career to live like a student.  Find an affordable place to live.  Get a roommate if you need to.  Just think back to your college days and remember how you lived back then.  If you keep that perspective, it makes it much easier to live like a student and ignore the folks around you immediately spending all of their paychecks on luxury apartment living.

31 Comments

  1. Yes. I started getting interested in Personal Finance 2 years after graduating and seeing that i made little progress with my money. It was too late for me, but this is definitely the single most important advice I would give myself upon graduating.

    • Not living like a student is exactly why so many my colleagues are still paying off their loans. People immediately jump into living in luxury apartments instead of just spending a few years living exactly the same way that they had been living before. ALmost all lawyers, doctors, dentists, etc should be done with their student loans in just a few years. But vast majority aren’t. There has to be a reason why this is the case, right? If we really just think how weird we lived in college, why can’t we just live a little bit less fancy out of college?

  2. I’ve been thinking about this topic so much lately! It was great to see a post on it. I’m happy to be spending a bit more on healthy food then I used to, but some traditions from our youth are awesome ways to save money. For ladies, I think about how freely we would borrow clothes for special events so we wouldn’t have to buy anything.

    • I do try to eat a little bit better, although I still enjoy the occasional chicken ramen packet!

  3. How ironic, I just said the exact same thing on a Mo’ Money podcast I did that came out today, aimed at Millennials. My advice: live like you’re still a broke college kid for the first 5 years of your career, sock it away, and let compounding do the rest! Great post!

  4. I loved being a student, and I had very similar living arrangements to the ones you describe.

    This is sort of a downgraded version of the mantra many of us docs preach: Live Like a Resident for awhile when you get your first real doctor job. It’s actually quite an upgrade from student life — you get to live like a normal middle-class grown-up. Yet, most scoff at the idea. With the big salary comes a whole lot more biggering and biggering.

    I like your style.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • It’s definitely the same idea, and honestly, it’s nothing new. It’s just interesting how few people take this very basic advice. You’d think people were miserable as students or something.

      When the fiance starts her first real dental gig, we’ll be continuing to act like she’s making nothing – at least for as long as we can handle it.

      Here’s one interesting thing – when we all start working, most of us basically start on the same level. Every classmate my fiance has is basically making about the same and probably have similar levels of student loans. Makes you wonder how some people can have such nice stuff so quickly, considering the fact that everyone is basically starting out at the same point in those first years out of school.

  5. Ah, the days of college. I laugh when I think back to how we lived back then, but we had a blast. We weren’t focused on accumulating stuff. It was more about experiences and meeting people and of course learning at the occasional class. People would be a lot better off if they kept that mindset of seeking out experiences rather than accumulating stuff.

    • It’s crazy when you really think about it. That’s one of the reasons I love living in a college neighborhood. I feel like it keeps me grounded. I think I’d be worse if I were living in a fancy suburb.

  6. Great advice as always, Panther. My wife and I did some pretty crazy things in our marriage (think long distance from Southern California to Wyoming. It happened) but since having minions we have to tone it down a little.

    Throw in them and my anti social cop-behavior, and there is no room for the excellent monitization of a spare room. Sorry, four girls and a zealous,overprotective father? We shall wait until the minions leave before opening up the house to strangers.

    • I admit, I don’t expect to do Airbnb when we have kids either, although I know there are Airbnb hosts that do it. I just like to point out that renting out a room in my house on Airbnb isn’t really all that weird when I think about how I used to live just a few years ago.

  7. Great perspective! I can remember a friend of mine in college needing a place for one semester. Instead of signing a lease he just slept on our couch for the semester and paid me and my roommate maybe $200 a month or something. Not sure I would let someone permanently stay on my couch now but it seemed like no big deal back then.

    • I had a buddy of mine move into our house in college after his frat house burned down. We just pulled an extra bed out of the basement (our house came with a bunch of bed frames and mattresses) and he just shared a room with someone for a year. We didn’t even think it was all that weird.

  8. Great points…I continued to live like a student for as long as possible. You’re already used to the lifestyle so continue living like that while saving money and paying off debts. The sad thing was that I saw some students who didn’t live like students when they WERE actually students. They sometimes even used excess student loan monies to pay for their inflated lifestyle while in school. They figure that they’ll make enough money after graduation to pay off that debt.

    • Exactly! You’re already used to the student lifestyle, so it’s not all that big a deal to just keep living like a student.

      I admit that I was the type of person who wasted a ton of money while I was in college. I didn’t take out loans though, but I basically just spent all the money I earned from part time jobs. Wish I had been smart and saved some of it.

  9. During my college years, I think I had 6 or 7 addresses in about 3 years, but boy was living ever cheap. Met some great people as well, who became lifelong friends.
    This is great advice at any age. While you may not resort back to your college lifestyle later in life, it’s a great reminder to think outside the box when it comes to living arrangements. One doesn’t have to follow the societal standard.

    • Exactly. We sort of fall into what we think is normal living. When we were students it never occurred to us how weird that way of living was.

  10. I’m a huge fan of living below your means. Right now since our mortgage is paid off my wife and I are able to save close to 70% of our take home pay. Sure we could upgrade homes and taken nicer trips but to impress who?

    Although I will say that I don’t eat like I did in college. With knowing more about nutrition that is one area I spend a little more in 🙂

    • You’re crushing it with that 70% savings rate! It would’ve been very easy to say, well, we’re making a ton, why not splurge a bit.

  11. The more you can widen the gap between what you spend and what you earn, the better off you’ll be. And you’ve certainly lived within some “creative” arrangements. It seems to me you might be a bit more flexible than some people which I believe contributes to your success.

    • I definitely am more flexible compared to most people, I’ll admit! I think it’s mainly because I try to keep my perspective. Living in a college neighborhood I think helps too since there’s not a lot of keeping up with the Joneses I have to do here.

  12. Great thoughts here. It’s weird when people graduate college, there’s this urge to paint their salary on the front door. You’re supposed to put decorations outside, not private information! 😉

    In all seriousness, a lot of this has everything to do with being comfortable in your own skin. Some people are always searching for approval and attention – whether a degree, a fancy new house, or something else entirely.

    • You definitely have to be comfortable with yourself. I know a lot of people wouldn’t do the things I do because it’s viewed as beneath them. If I’m doing it and I think it’s fun, doesn’t matter to me whether it’s “beneath” me.

  13. This perspective works really well for immigrants too. If you immigrated from a poorer country, or a poorer lifestyle, use it to your advantage. If you think of all cars as a luxury, you will never consider a Honda Civic to be a ‘small’ car. If you remember how your family of four lived happily in a one bedroom, you won’t buy into the McMansion mentality. Thinking like an immigrant can be a financial superpower, in much the same was as retaining a college mentality.

    • That’s an awesome way to think about it. Live like an immigrant could be another saying!

  14. Great post! This definitely resonated with me since I was a student for 10 years and that period of my life has some of my favorite experiences and memories. So while I did have a relatively well paid graduate fellowship ($30k per year), it taught me that I don’t need a lot of money to have a high quality of life. It’s all about your mindset and setting your own internal goals, which can help avoid lifestyle inflation.

    • 10 years as a student is crazy! But then again, when we add in Ms. FPs residency, she’s looking at being a student for 13 years! Let’s just say we’re pretty used to living like a student.

  15. Nice post. You know lifestyle inflation is a funny thing and I have definitely fallen into its trappings at times. I remember living in Argentina on a tight budget and we were fine. Absolutely fine. As the minimalist would say, most times less is actually more.
    -EJ

    • Less is more – great way to think! I don’t think any of us in college cared that we were living in crappy houses and drinking Natty light. If only more of us could remember that we lived fine while we were students.

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