Shannyn Allan, social media manager and blogger, jokes that her double major in sociology and women’s studies would have made it hard enough to land a job. “But I also graduated in 2010,” she says, which means the economy was still recovering from the recession and jobs were hard to come by.
The California native decided to move to Chicago to enroll in a master’s program, but the funding and on-campus jobs she’d been counting on to get through the two-year program dried up as well. While most students brace themselves for a bit of belt-tightening while in school, Shannyn soon realized that her budget would have to cinch to a new level.
“I got rid of my car and saved money by cutting out air-conditioning,” she says. She’d study for hours in the library, where she also figured out how to borrow most of the pricey textbooks needed for class. Shannyn scouted university bulletin boards for free events, like guest speakers or study groups, and when food was served at an event—even better. “I made it a point to ask about student discounts everywhere,” she says. “The movie theater, the grocery store, restaurants—I figured it never hurt to ask.”
The silver lining of those two lean years, says Shannyn, is that she managed to get through them without racking up credit card debt or taking out any extra student loans. “My grandma grew up during the Great Depression, and she always told me that if you could save, you should,” she says.
Shannyn had worked part time all through college, managing focus groups and bringing home about $800 a month. She took her grandma’s advice and socked a sliver of each paycheck into a savings account. The deposits hadn’t seemed huge at the time, but once Shannyn was trying to make ends meet during the recession, she realized that bit of savings would make all the difference.
“I had to spend every dollar of my savings during grad school,” she says. “But it felt amazing to know that with the right budget, those savings could get me through.” And instead of graduating with thousands of dollars in high-interest credit card debt—and a crushing sense of panic—Shannyn graduated with a feeling of confidence.
When the recession lifted, many companies were still hesitant to hire new grads. So, rather than scramble to find a retail gig or a temp job, Shannyn ramped up her blogging and was eventually hired as a social media manager for a running company in Chicago. “That felt amazing,” she says. And those early paychecks didn’t have to get funneled into repaying debt, either. Because her budget helped her through grad school, she could use that paycheck to pay for her apartment (now with air-conditioning) and her social life, and still have enough money to jump-start her savings once again.
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