Entry Level

9 Ways to Live Well on an Entry-Level Salary

Between the excess of beer, the long hours, the rundown shoes you patch yourself and the inability to “go out” or do “anything fun”, existing on an entry level salary is like not existing at all. When compared to living away from home during four, five, six, or eight years of college life, entry level can feel like a punishment for not joining the workforce immediately. Though this week’s episode of Freakonomics proved that college graduates will earn more over the course of the employee life cycle than their less-educated peers, it’s still hard to survive today. Plus, the further away you were from an entry-level salary beforehand (say your parents were supporting you or you lived off student loans), the harder the adjustment.

According to a new study, entry-level jobs are increasing, meaning that more of us are going to start finding work (woohoo!), and less of us are going to start off with great salaries (boo). If entry-level jobs are in demand, and companies can get away with paying recent grads less than those with more experience, it is going to take a lot of flimsy paychecks and hard work to eventually land that leathery, oak finished office you envisioned on graduation day. Do find solace in hearing that the degree is still worth something though, because it means that no matter how far down your current position is on that slippery, gnarled, metaphorical ladder, you are valuable. Plus, you’re doing a lot better than 8.3% of Americans.

But, while an easier future is nice to think about, the fact remains that you are broke right now. I’m not an economist, but I do have some secrets to living well on little.

How to Live on Little

  1. Compare your Bills to your Friends’: After I started working at my entry-level position, I had to get used to making less money a week than what I had been earning as waitress and bartender. In time, I started to ask my roommates and friends what they were paying for car insurance, cellphone service, groceries, etc. I didn’t do this because I’m responsible, I did it because I was sinking. I realized I had been paying $30 a month for a gym membership I wasn’t using, over $50 more a month for car insurance than everyone I knew, and about $20 more a month on my cell phone. So, I quit the gym (because I wasn’t going anyway), changed car insurance providers and joined a family cell phone plan. I saved over $130 a month this way, which was huge. Learn where you can save on your set monthly bills, and then start using sites like Mint.com to set budgets and analyze the rest of your spending.
  2. Stop Going Out to Eat: Okay, not entirely. Try to limit eating out to the weekends, and even then only splurge on two meals or so. You have no idea how much money I saved once I started cooking at home as opposed to grabbing lunch at the office or accompanying my friends to dinner throughout the week. Plus, you’ll appreciate restaurant meals more once they’re a treat and you’ll probably lose weight.
  3. Go to the Outlets: You shouldn’t dress like an Olson Twin just because your salary is low. Well fitting, good looking clothing won’t only help you to feel more confident, but they are absolutely necessary in business. Dressing well at work will help you to move forward and may expedite the process entirely. I should know, I once landed a yearlong freelancing position based solely on my outfit. Visiting your local outlet mall will help you buy designer (or near designer) clothing without forcing you to eat Ramen for the rest of the month. Go online, find the outlet’s website, look up the weekly sales, and shop wisely. Even buying two items a week will help you slowly build up an impressive closet without breaking the bank. Plus, the stores in the malls or the fancy designers in your city are simply not an option right now. In fact, that brings me to….
  4. Be Realistic: I’d love to buy a new car, new pants, and a diamond necklace. I’d love it so much so that I actually have my next few big purchases already planned out. Unfortunately, those are my future plans, because big spending is not currently an option. It’s that simple. Running up a credit card bill just to afford yourself luxuries you can’t actually pay off is as dumb as running up a credit card bill to afford yourself luxuries you can’t actually pay off. You are not only stealing from yourself the chance to feel financially stable, but your also screwing your future self. A good credit score may be all you have right now, and the stronger your credit the more likely you’ll actually be able to one day afford those dream-list items. Think about it: no one is going to give a BWM to someone who can’t afford it.
  5. Look Ahead: Do you need to find a new place to rent in a year? Is your car going to die? Do you have to purchase a new computer? Look at the absolute expenses that are headed your way and never forget them. It’s harder to go to the bar three nights a week when that $1,500 deposit is sitting heavily on your mind.
  6. Drink at Home: Of course it’s important to go out sometimes, but for the most part, do your drinking at home. A six-pack from the liquor store is way cheaper than six beers at the bar. Invite your friends over and make a party out of it. You’ll save money and you won’t have to worry about finding a DD.
  7. Entertain Wisely: I’ll eventually write an entire thing about party throwing, but for now just remember: BYOB. Throwing BYOB parties saves a ton of money and leaves you with the leftovers (usually).
  8. Hang with Broke Friends: If your friends are rich, that’s awesome for them, but don’t expect to keep up with their spending habits. Try to hang around friends in a similar economic situation as yourself. You can plan days around fun, instead of cash flow, and you won’t be embarrassed to say “I can’t afford to eat there/do this/buy that”. If you spend your time with people spending their money, you’re going to want to spend yours too.
  9. Collect Grocery Store Cards: I have a store card to the two groceries stores I frequent and I try to buy store brands and sale items. At the end of the trip, my receipt tells me how much money I saved and I always feel like a good poor person, singing “I win at poverty!” repeatedly in my head. I don’t use coupons and I hate circulars, but if you can stomach such things then go for it. As far as I’m concerned, saving by keeping my eyes peeled for those red “Sale” signs is good enough for me.
Cabinet Cooks

Cabinet Cooks: Baked Zucchini

zucchini, healthy, easy, fast, parmesan, recipe

Prep Time: 5 Minutes

Cook Time: 30 Minutes

All Together: 35 Minutes

This baked zucchini recipe can be used as a fancy side dish or as an entrée itself if your cabinet is bare enough. I’m not above eating zucchini for dinner, but I’m not above a lot of things.

Things You Definitely Need

  • Zucchini (think 1/2 per person)
  • Bread Crumbs (Preferably panko)
  • Oil (Preferably olive)

Things That Would Be Nice to Have

  • Black Pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Parmesan Cheese, 1/4 cup
  • Fresh Basil

Prep

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a teaspoon of olive oil. Slice zucchini into quarter-inch pieces. Set aside. Mix panko breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mix together until crumbs are coated.

Cook

Overlap zucchini slices in baking dish. Thoroughly cover with the breadcrumb mixture. Cook for 30 minutes. Once finished, zucchini will be tender and the breadcrumbs will be golden and crispy. Add some fresh basil on top and serve.

Money Saving

Money Saving Ideas: Farmers’ Markets

farmers markets cheap living entry level

I don’t know how to stay happy and shop for food on a budget. I hate coupons and the circulars give me a headache. I also require variety in my meals or else I’ll waste money by ordering in. These are my truths.

I’ve tried to save money by buying only one type of meat each week and creating new meals around, say, 7 days worth of tilapia. But by day three I’d always rather move back home than cram one more fistful of lemon soaked fish into my mouth. Unfortunately, I also can’t swallow spending more money just to give myself a variety of pork, chicken, and beef each week.

As a compromise to satisfy my thin wallet and irritable taste buds, I continued to buy one package of meat a week (along with tuna fish for lunches) while splurging a bit on a large variety of produce. Tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, onions, garlic, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, string beans, mushrooms and zucchinis were used each week to liven up my dinners, lunches and morning eggs. At first it seemed like a great solution, but eventually I was spending just as much each week as I would have had I just bought the meats I wanted.

Fortunately, life handed me an easy solution. My company paired with a local farmer’s market, Stony Hill Gardens, in order to help reduce everyone’s weekly shopping bill. For $115.50, I receive a delivery of fresh produce to my office every week for 14 weeks. This equals $8.25 a week for produce. What I most like, other than the overall savings, is that you never know what you’re going to receive until the day before. Since the veggies and herbs change every Thursday, I’ll have the opportunity to test out meals and taste new veggies that I would have never otherwise tried. This week we received string beans, cantaloupe, peaches, garlic, bell peppers, sweet purple bell peppers and eggplant. Since I split my share with 3 other coworkers (each paying the initial $115.50 fee), we have to divvy everything up and compromise on some products. For instance, I didn’t take home any of the eggplant today because I think I hate eggplant, and I left the garlic to another because I have too much garlic at home as it is.

I didn’t get enough to last me an entire week like I had originally hoped, mostly because I eat veggies like a monster, so I’m going to curb the amount I’m eating and try to stretch what I do have as far as possible. My weekly requirements are simply lettuce, onions and garlic, so if I only buy those and leave the rest of my greens to my weekly delivery, I’ll still be saving at least $20 a week.

Farmers’ Markets are a great way to support local farmers while also supporting your bottom line. I’ve always been a huge fan, but found it impossible to make the time to visit the one twenty minutes from my house. Having the market deliver to me for so cheap is beyond reality, but I bet a lot of local growers would jump at the opportunity to make money off of a big office filled with lazy shoppers, so long as you had enough buyers to make it worth their time.

I suggest looking into your local farmers and seeing if any are interested in dropping their weekly crops off to your business. It’ll put more money in their pockets while preserving your own.

Book Review

Mid-book Review: Everything is Going to Kill Everybody by Robert Brockway

While my book shelves are gorgeous, perfectly cascading like stairs down the length of my bedroom wall, and the initial focus of conversation after one stands atop my matted carpet for the first time, any praise I’ve received over my library has been completely undeserved. I stopped reading two years ago.

While I should blame myself for this lost interest, I’ve found it much easier to blame my English degree. After declaring my major and being suddenly rocked over the head with a convoy of “required reading”, I lost a lot of the pleasure I once received from leisurely afternoons with a novel in hand. With graduation I found that though I was no longer scored on the novels I consumed, I still wasn’t able to differentiate reading from the feelings I associated with obligatory work, and so I stopped. Compare the present to a time when I used to electively read a book a week and you can understand the tragedy of my situation.

But, I still love the idea of reading and I’ve continued to collect novels, self-help books, memoirs and the like without ever moving my gaze past their attractive covers. I feel like a hypocrite and am tired of avoiding the eyes of those fawning over my collection, not to mention my creativity and brain development haven’t soared much, so I’ve decided to read all of the bound pages adorning my bedroom walls. Or at least the majority of them. A third, perhaps.

I’ve started with, and am halfway through, Robert Brockway’s Everything is Going to Kill Everybody.

I became acquainted with Brockway, the webmaster of iFightRobots, from his work on Cracked. I enjoyed his comedy there and fell hard for the marketing campaign Cracked ran right before the book’s release.

Everything is Going to Kill Everybody consists of well researched articles all focused on one theme; it’s a miracle our race still exists but we’re constantly seconds away from extinction. The book is roughly broken up by three sections; real ways the world almost ended, real aspects of present day life that are killing us and real ways future developments will end the world. It’s basically a terrifying account of how, say, science has proven that what we eat is leading the men of our generation to infertility. Or, did you know we were once seconds away from poisoning all of the plant life on Earth? Basically, Brockway points out that the human race is nothing more than a drunken toddler teetering on the edge of a busy highway. It’s a miracle we’ve lasted this long, but it’s only a matter of time…

While the articles are well researched and filled with scientific and historical facts, they are also riddled with curse words and dick jokes. The tone is what I would call “Dude Humor”. Think almost out of college, or just recently out of college, early to mid-twenties male humor. While I don’t mind cursing and am always up for a good penis riff, Brockway often comes off as trying too hard. I think any Cracked fanboy would be thrilled with Brockway’s delivery, but once you get past the excitement of reading a book by your favorite web writer, you may realize that a good chunk of the humor falls flat. For instance, Brockway aligns one or two sidebar boxes containing “humorous” “facts” with each article. They’re as funny as Snapple’s “Real” Facts, which I doubt have ever left you rolling in your kitchen. Unfortunately, I can’t help but to read them, just as you will always follow a foot note to its margin. Since some of the humor is delivered with mediocre timing and halfway decent wit, I have at times had to fight to keep from scanning past those bits.

However, not all of the humor is a bust and  on occasion I’ve laughed out loud to Brockway’s inflated descriptions and colloquial speak. Regardless, the articles themselves are addictive in that they’re packed with horrifyingly factual terror. I’m a fan of strange history, which Brockway delivers, as well as the truth behind conspiracy theories. The only difference here is that the conspiracy theories are less crazed ramblings and more science-pack inevitabilities (save for human intervention).

If you’re looking for an easy read that will keep you hooked (amidst some flat humor) by detailing the impending doom of humanity, you have really dark taste, and you’ll probably enjoy Brockway’s first attempt as an author.

Entry Level

Entry-Level Woes: The Company Photo

There’s nothing as nerve wracking as your first company photo shoot (except for your first company meeting, first company presentation, first company review, etc.). You may try to dress well on a budget, wear tall heels to command respect or present yourself solemnly and seriously in response to your age and inexperience, but all of that hard work can be stripped away with the flash of one poorly placed camera. Your greenhorn status will be revealed without proper preparation and unlike the Facebook digital world you’re accustomed to, you won’t have the luxury of erasing your least flattering poses or demanding a do over. These pictures won’t go away either. Hiring a photographer is expensive, and your boss will be sure to get her money’s worth by parading the proofs all over the office. Be smart and plan ahead, or at the very least, avoid looking stupid by learning from my mistakes.

  1. Wear Makeup/Do Your Hair

    Even if you don’t normally wear makeup to the office or run a comb through your mane before settling at your desk, picture day is the perfect day to put forth a bit of effort. Without foundation and a nice shield of hair product to hide behind, you will absolutely look tired and unprepared for your close up. I don’t care if you think your complexion is perfect, or organic beauty is the best beauty, or whatever else the latest Dove commercial has you believing. The truth is that your image is your everything and until you can prove how capable you are, you’ll at least want to look halfway decent in the picture gracing your company website.

  2. Dress Flatteringly

    If your outfit looks okay in your bedroom mirror, it will look downright horrific in a photograph. Worst of all, that picture will be around for a very long time. Companies don’t shell out money for a new picture every year, so you need to be comfortable with your outfit representing you for the next 24 months. Yeah, that’s a big commitment, and since I’m not even sure I want the shirt on my back to represent me for the next 24 minutes, you can understand the importance of proper wardrobe preparedness. That is unless you don’t mind your entire office forever believing you’re club-footed and fifty pounds overweight.

  3. Don’t Look Drunk

    Entry level bad alcohol drinking picture

    Try not to be the only one holding alcohol in your company picture. “That’s just common sense,” you’re thinking. So you’d think, I’m responding.
    And again, let me reiterate the importance of taking the time to do your hair. Here’s more proof for good measure, in case you think I’m being a bit harsh.

  4. Stay Aware

    When your company is taking pictures of an event, it’s easy to lose track of the cameraman in an attempt to enjoy socializing with your coworkers. Don’t do this. Always know where the camera is aimed, and be sure to either a) stay out of the reach of the lens or b) look perfect. There’s really no such thing as an “attractive candid” and the sooner you dash any illusions of how accidentally beautiful and fun loving you’ll appear, the better your chances of actually working hard enough to come off as those things. That is unless you’re cool with being caught sitting at the buffet table. No, not near it, or standing gracefully beside it, but sitting directly in front of the food as if the entire spread is your personal feast.

  5. Be Confident

    Ultimately, if you feel beautiful, your puffy suit jacket, champagne, gelled back hair and blush-free face can’t stop you from looking it. As soon as you stop caring about who everyone else thinks you are, you’ll have the chance to actually show them. Also, thank God for Photoshop.

Cabinet Cooks · Ché's Guide

Che’s Guide To Domesticity: Cooking!

Hey ladies! Ready to take that plunge and become a woman? Well, don’t worry. I did that already. I have bright red lipstick on, curlers and a silky negligee draped over my soft shoulders because a real woman always looks good. I’m also drinking a Cosmo! How scandalous! 😉
The first step to being a domesticated woman is to get a house. Either marry the first man you kiss or be “independent”, stop shaving your legs and get a place of your own. Have you done that? Great! Now let’s move forward.
Everyone knows that a woman has to cook. Luckily for you, I’ve broken down what you need to know to save face and to make sure you stretch that 5% less you’re making than your male counterpart.

  1. Plan Ahead!

    So before you go shopping, look up what recipes you want to make that week. For instance, decide if you’re going to eat sandwiches. If you’re only eating sandwiches, buy a 1/2 pound of meat and cheese. If you’re only eating sandwiches a few times that week, buy a 1/4 pound! Also, invest in some tuna. That won’t go bad and it’ll keep you skinny. After you think about your sandwich consumption, choose another lunch option. Like a healthy salad. We are so prone to changing our minds, so two options are necessary. What do you want in your salad? Write it down! Now you won’t forget anything when you go to the store. Now, Google some dinner recipes. Lemon chicken? What do you want on the side? Don’t go crazy and buy lots of vegetables. Just choose two or three vegetables and use them in your salad and in your dinner. Wow, now you’re really being smart.

  2. Splurge Where It Counts!

    Are you cooking for one? Wow, you are? You do know you’re only getting uglier, right? Well, while you’re looking for a husband, be smart. Instead of buying potatoes and using one potato to make mashed potatoes every night, just get Country Crock potatoes! Now you have delicious mashed potatoes whenever you want them and you don’t have to feel silly smashing a single one. Plus, that never works. Also, buy the more expensive boneless, skinless chicken breast. You’ll get more and it’ll be tastier. Remember it’s lasting you ALL week.

  3. Portion, Portion, Portion!

    You’re only one person. And you’re probably also lazy. So, while the chicken is still soft, wrap it up in plastic wrap! Now you have the perfect size of frozen chicken to thaw out instead of having to thaw it all out and eat it super-fast. No one likes a lady who eats fast! This goes for veggies as well. You don’t need 2 onions and three cloves of garlic. You only need of each silly!

  4. Practice Makes Perfect!

    If you make a steak and it comes out leathery, you’re going to eat it and be kind of sad and probably call your mom and cry about how lonely you are. But, you can’t do that when you bring a suitor home. So, practice until you perfect it, and then move forward. No one will hang out with you if you’re serving wilted broccoli and overdone chicken. Yuck!

  5. Lastly, Never Stop Cooking!

    Are you frustrated? Just want to run to Taco Bell and eat your feelings away? Well don’t!

    Remember, you’re not making a lot of money as a switch operator and you’re spending the rest of your cash on clothes, probably. So skip the Taco Bell, go home, and cook some more. To make it easier, buy a few luxury items like refried beans and Uncle Ben’s Ready Made Rice. Now you’re hungry AND excited.

There are your rules. If you follow these you’ll be on your way to domesticity and one step closer to having a fulfilling relationship, because everything boils down to starting a family.

Cabinet Cooks

Cabinet Cooks: Veggie Stuffed Bell Pepper

easy recipe, quick recipe, vegetarian recipe, stuffed bell pepper

Prep Time: 5-35 minutes, depending on whether or not you use rice.

Cook Time: 15-25 Minutes

All Together: 20-40 minutes

Stuffed bell peppers are fantastic, but they’re usually filled with some uncommon ingredients that you may not have around the house, the most popular being ground beef. If you do have hamburger meat, definitely throw it in. But this all veggie dish is so delicious that you won’t even notice the lack of freezer burnt filling.

Things You Definitely Need

  • A Bell Pepper
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Bread Crumbs
  • One Additional Vegetable

Things That Would Be Nice to Have

  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • More Bell Peppers
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • An Onion
  • Your Favorite Veggies (I like broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, etc)
  • One Tomato
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • ½-1 Cup of Rice

Prep

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook rice.

Cut off the top(s) of your bell pepper(s). Scoop out the insides and rinse the hallowed pepper out to ensure you’ve cleansed it of any bitter seeds. Finely chop up any of the vegetables you have except for your tomato, if you’re using a tomato. Cut your tomato up into small chunks. Finely chop up the parsley after removing all stems.

Cook

Heat 1tbsp of olive oil in a pan with the minced garlic and chopped onion. Sauté for one minute or until garlic starts to brown.

Throw tomato sauce (at least 2 cups if cooking for two), chopped veggies and chunked tomatoes into the skillet. Let simmer for three minutes. Add salt, pepper, basil, and oregano to taste. I like to add red crushed pepper too, but my mouth is a masochist.

Add rice. If you do not have rice, slowly add bread crumbs instead, stirring in between pours to ensure they are soaked up by the tomato sauce.

Let simmer for five minutes.

Scoop mixture into bell pepper. Add bell pepper to a lightly oiled baking sheet/pan.

Generously sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Cook for 15-25 minutes, depending on whether you want the cheese to be melted or browned.

Sprinkle fresh parsley on top and serve immediately.

Family

My Message to the Kids

I’m house sitting for a week as my parents ride a Harley half way across the country to attend the Sturgis motorcycle gathering, like some freak show rebels. I’m house sitting because I have three, 17-year old siblings (triplets no less); they’re wonderful, funny and cunning teenagers who would absolutely love to throw a party every single night for the next two weeks. Also, I was paid in wine, this room is way nicer than my entire house, and I have my own private bathroom that is as far as possible from the tub and toilet I share with my two dudemates.

I’m simply here to make sure 200 underage kids don’t puke in the daisies, and that someone can pick up whoever the first to get arrested is.

I know I’m kind of ready to be a parent, because though I only live 10 minutes away and would love to sleep in my own bed, the idea of anything happening rips my conscience apart and forces me to sleep at this house each night until Friday, when my relief comes.

I know I’m not ready to be a parent because, as I walked into “my” room with an entire bottle of wine and a plate of assorted cheeses and crackers, I realized I was setting a terrible example to the babies. My wit kicked in, I turned to the crowd of 15 young men playing poker and said, “First of all, don’t judge me. Second of all, know I’m getting paid to write right now, and write I will do for the next several hours. Go to college, and you can do this too.”

My Message:

Hello teenagers! College=paid to drink.

Actuality:

Hello teenagers! College=pay to drink.

Regardless of my accidental lie, they all opened their wide, innocent eyes and, with the faint sound of naive optimism whispered, “You make money in bed?”

I hate teenagers.