Living a Real Life

Let’s face it: school is “some of the best years of our life” because we have so much going for us. But this summer, my full-time internship put me in a position I was not quite used to. I had to fend for myself in regards to food, and I had to budget my time, get to sleep at a reasonable hour, and somehow find time to hang out with friends.

School is nothing like that. There’s free (read: already-paid-for) food everywhere, friends are right down the hall, and the idea of keeping a normal sleep schedule is nothing short of a miracle.

I joke that I lived like a “real person” this summer. I did my morning and evening commute to and from work, I paid rent, I bought groceries, and I did laundary. The most difficult part of that is maintaining a budget. And I’ve come up with a few key strategies.

First, when it comes to transportation in DC, MetroBus is usually your best bet. They only cost $1.50 wherever you’re going, and transfers are free if you have a SmarTrip card. I can take a single bus from the house I’m living in to where I work, and it only takes about half an hour. During that time, I’ll read a newspaper, magazine, or book, play games on my phone, or listen to music. It’s easy, and it’s much cheaper than Metro, especially at rush hour. Which reminds me: if you can avoid rush hour, do so. Arrive to work early or leave late if you have to. Or you can hang out where you work on either end of the work day. Either way will save you money and time and guarantee you a seat on your preferred mode of transportation.

I’ve also saved money on food. It’s easy to just go out to eat for lunch and dinner, but that get’s expensive after a while (speaking from personal experience. It can hurt your wallet big-time). Leftovers have been my best friend. I’ll make a few containers worth of mac & cheese, pasta, sandwiches, etc. and eat those for a while. When you do go out to eat, getting a bigger meal an saving half of it for leftovers isn’t such a bad idea.

Twice a week, the bureau will pay for my dinner since we are typically working later than usual trying to close stories for the print issue. In those cases, I try to stick around to take advantage of those free meals. It’s another great way to save money on an otherwise expensive food bill.

Grocery shopping can be annoying, but it’s crucial that you look at portions. I’ll try to buy enough food to last me for about a week or week and a half. Beyond that, food can spoil or just won’t be as fresh anymore. I made a big mistake when I first moved in. While I had my parents’ car, we stocked my refrigerator with all sorts of perishable goods…and then I didn’t eat them right away. It was a huge waste of money. Please don’t make that mistake. For the sake of your wallet, your stomach, and your housemates’/suitemates’/roommates’ noses.

Sometimes, I’ll want to treat myself to avoiding the hassle of making food, and I’ll go to a restaurant. I try to vary it and try a new place every time. Services like LivingSocial, Groupon, and UrbanSpoon are any city-dweller’s best friend. Cheaper prices for quality goods is not a bad gig.

Living in any city has options open for those willing to do a little research.