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Ramen noodles, regular student dining. (Thinkstock.com)

Ramen noodles, regular student dining.

(Thinkstock.com)

Twentysomethings

Gen Y money: Trying to save on an entry-level salary? Good luck Add to ...

Welcome to our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her real-life journey to becoming a financially independent adult.

“Dad,” I said anxiously into the phone last month as I tried to figure out how to file my first income tax return, “being a real person is hard.”

“You’re already a real person,” he kindly reminded me, “it’s a self-sustaining person you want to be.”

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Nothing like a bit of fatherly wisdom to remind me of the sorry state of my finances.

In the last year, I have graduated from the University of Toronto with an English degree and started an entry-level job. I’ve finally entered the phase of early adulthood where everyone’s concerns - including my own - have shifted from how much money I’m spending to how much I’m saving – and what I’m saving for. Given that I’m chin-deep in student loans, I can tell you that it’s not much.

Thinking that starting my career immediately after my undergrad would put me in the financial fast lane, I had some high expectations regarding the relationship status my bank account and I would have on the one-year anniversary of my graduation.

In particular, I dreamt of a world where I would never again experience the stomach-dropping panic induced by unplanned debit purchases. I thought my days of $10 bottles of wine and ramen noodles would soon be distant memories of my youth. Most importantly, I saw a glimmering future where my savings would just sort of magically grow with my new-found income.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. This past year has undoubtedly been the most financially frustrating of my life.

The first six months immediately after graduation involved a mixture of job-hunting mishaps and massive career hiccups caused by my severe desperation to get a real job (I`ll write more about that later). I felt like I worked harder at my job hunt than I had throughout my entire undergrad, yet all I had to show for it was an inbox full of generic corporate rejection emails.

I considered every option available to me to expedite the transition into “self sustainability.” Temporarily move back in with the parents? Not unless I had to – I wasn’t quite ready to give up all the autonomy I’d achieved over the past four years. Waitress or work in retail? Sure, but only for a couple of months until I found something to fluff up my resume.

Then, by some miracle, I landed a real entry-level job at a digital marketing agency.

The past six months I’ve worked there have allowed me to heave a massive sigh of relief on the career front. But while my career is flying full-speed ahead, my finances have yet to catch up.

This disconnect in pace between my career and my wallet made itself known a couple of weeks ago when my scavenging student ways got the better of me. I was called out for attempting to steal a leftover bowl of couscous salad from an office lunch and learn. In my hungry and confused state, I almost defended myself by crying, “I’m a student!”

Blame it on habit or appetite, it’s miserable and embarrassing that trying to save money on an entry-level salary is a bit like trying to drive across the country on a 5 litre gas tank that can only be refilled every other week.

Don’t get me wrong – I know I’m one of the lucky ones to have a job, let alone one that’s helping to launch my career. I’m also fortunate to have awesome parents who supported me both mentally and financially during my job hunt and still help out with my phone bill (they know they wouldn’t hear from me otherwise).

After the year I’ve had, I simply feel as though my financial status is still overwhelmed with covering basic expenses and catching up on student debt payments – forget about buying a house, car, or starting a family any time soon.

Seriously, an entry-level salary is the best form of family planning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned while spinning the spider web of “self-sustainability,” it’s that small incomes require great responsibility.

By the way, Dad – my tax return went right into my savings. (Well, 90 per cent of it.)

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