The exits are....none.
August 4, 2014 9:13 AM   Subscribe

How do people determine that they can just pack up and move out and assume things will work out?

How do they decide they have (and make) enough money to support themselves when they were previously not supporting themselves (i.e. living at home)? How do they deal with having to find a job (which will take god only knows how long) that will pay them enough to support themselves, especially when one does not have the luxury of being able to live off of one meal a day nor of not paying student loans? My experience has shown it is not possible to even get a call-back or interview if one is not local to the job. I am desperate (there isn't a word that describes how desperate, and there doesn't exist html code to emphasize the word satisfactorily) to be out of my living situation. I want to pick up and leave. I feel completely hamstrung by finances and the perceived impossibility of supporting myself financially. My mental/emotional health has suffered greatly and will continue to suffer as long as this situation remains as it is. I've done a budget several times using my current expenses but it still doesn't tell me how much I'll actually need, since I can't predict food costs, little everyday things, HOUSING, etc that can make or break a budget. How do people do this without becoming homeless and starving on the street? (I'm not exaggerating here. This is a genuine, deep-seated fear that, yes, I have brought up in therapy.)
posted by msbadcrumble to Work & Money (31 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
What is inhibiting you from being able to accurately assess the cost of food and daily expenses?
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:16 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Work the budget backwards: You have X, and from that can only spend A, B, C, on housing/transport/food.

In general terms, people do this by racking up more debt: they borrow from friends and family, they put stuff on credit cards. I got a job when I was very much not-local by putting the word out to friends in the place I was moving to, and I think (can't quite remember, it was years ago!) I also used a friend's address as "my" address. Like that.
posted by rtha at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

It can be a leap of faith: I'm going to make things work out, because I have to.
posted by thelonius at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

What do you want to do as a job and where do you want to live? Do you want to stay in the same town as your parents? Your question doesn't give details that make it easy to help you.

You can predict housing and food costs fairly accurately by spending a lot of time on craigslist looking at apartments, and food costs are not usually wildly different from place to place, so you can look at what you'd spend where you live now and then run it through a calculator like this one to see if you should adjust up or down. There are other quesions on askmefi that deal with making a budget and might help.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2014

They look up a lot of this information online.

Say you want to move to Topeka, Kansas. By browsing on Topeka's Craigslist you can find out what kinds of rents people are asking for, and what kinds of salaries people are offering for your type of work.

There's also the web site, which is a forum devoted to people asking questions about moving to a new city and what kinds of details they can expect. And here is someone asking about utilities for Topeka, so now you have that information as well. As for food, while it's true there are some variations in food costs across the country, we're not talking, like, the $1 gallon of milk you're buying where you are now is gonna be $5 anywhere you'd move to.

Knowing how much you would need can help you make a plan, and making a plan can be a powerful first step.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've done a budget several times using my current expenses but it still doesn't tell me how much I'll actually need, since I can't predict food costs, little everyday things, HOUSING, etc that can make or break a budget.

OK, then I would strongly suggest that you don't understand how to budget.

How much do you spend when you go to the grocery store? Or if someone else is currently doing your food shopping for you, go to the grocery store yourself with a calculator and mentally add up all the things that you would need to feed yourself for a week.

Cruise craigslist for a while to get a feel for what a reasonable housing budget is in your area. That is your housing budget.

This is not that hard, you really just have to be determined.

I survived in Chicago for a year and a half of unemployment on a little less than $17,000 total savings. (Savings which I only had because I'm not much of a spender and had saved up from every job I'd ever had, starting when I was 11.) For a year and a half. During that time I made regular payments on all of my student loans to the tune of about $250 a month. I ate enough, but nothing luxurious and nothing that wasn't strictly necessary. I didn't have much fun.

It sucked and it sucked a lot, but I absolutely didn't want to move back home. It was more important to me to be independent than to be comfortable. (Eventually I got a job and things got much, much better.)

So anyway, if moving out of your living situation is the absolutely most important thing to you, you can do it. You just have to decide that you're going to do it, whittle your life down to the absolute necessities, and do it.

Apply at temp agencies to get yourself started with some income.
posted by phunniemee at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

You find roommates, either on Craigslist or (better) via friends you trust. If you can't find roommates you feel great about, make sure your lease is month-to-month. You get any job you can find--a lousy retail job is still a little more money than no job, and a lousy cafe job will probably provide a meal a day. Temp agencies are great if you're a passable receptionist or secretary. Then keep looking for better jobs with more longterm potential. Google voice will get you a temporary local phone number. Get an income deferral for student loans for six months, or longer if you need to. If you're moving to an area that offers general assistance without requiring you to pay it back, sign up for that until you have a job. Also get food stamps (memail me if you'd like advice on that process). GA and SNAP are a social safety net for folks in the same situation you're in right now. In the meanwhile, learn to cook for yourself. If you're afraid of spending too much money on food, learn to cook rice and beans (add squash and you have a complete protein, right?), add cheese. Tortillas are cheap, and if you make 'em yourself they're delicious and even cheaper (it's just flour and water, and you can trick yourself into having a gourmet project rather than being poor). Make big pots of vegetable soup to last you all week, or extremely boring Japanese curry (rice plus carrots, onions, potatoes, packaged curry mix). You can do it--nothing will ever be perfect, and perfect is the enemy of good (as they say).

Do you have friends who could help you through this process, with advice and ideas? Do you have a sense of how the cost of living in the place you'd like to move differs from the cost of living where you are now? For example, is the price of gas different? Or the price of public transit? If you want to move to Hawaii, groceries will be much pricier than on the mainland. If you want to move to the SF Bay Area, vegetables and healthy food will be much cheaper and more available, but everything else will cost more. If you're moving to Bloomington, you might be able to rent an entire house for $300, but in Oakland that wouldn't have gotten you a closet to sleep in five years ago. Why don't you tell us where you're thinking of going, and what kind of connections you have there, or how well you know the city, and we may be able to give you a bit more advice.
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:29 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Maybe I can help with a simple list.

To live on your own, you need income. At minimum wage (USA, my state is 7.50) working 40 hours a week for 4 weeks a month, that is around $1200 (14.4k/year). You also might have a higher wage, let's say a salary of $40,000 per year. This could be from working 80 hours a week or from having a job that pays $20 an hour for full time. Either way.

Rent in my hometown can vary between $200/month for 1/5th of a house, to around $1000 for a nice, single bedroom apartment in a complex. Utilities are usually around $75-$125 depending on the specific arrangement with your landlord.

Food is usually around $200 a month if you cook and eat at home, or $400 a week if you eat out around once per day.

I pay around $300 in gas for my long commute to work. Many people can live by their work or walk, reducing that to $0. I also pay a car payment of $200 a month, but many people pay much more or much less.

My cell phone bill, car insurance, health care, and renters insurance all totals around $200 a month.

I usually spend anywhere between $100 and $500 on entertainment a month depending on if I play video games (cheap) or go to big events (that big soccer game that just happened).

So, total, I'm looking at a minimum of $875 (doable with the lower income!) a month, to a maximum of $2800 a month (doable with the higher income... sometimes). Living at the lower amount would be well, well below the poverty level, but it is definitely doable. Other things like food stamps/ebt/bridge cards can help in that situation as well.

I like this wikihow on cutting costs.

Basically, if you have a full time job and no dependants, you CAN afford to live on your own.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:29 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

By 1) not being terribly ambitious and 2) having friends who don't mind helping you out in temporary situations, such as offering their couch for you to sleep on. I remember after college seeing a couple of friends just impulsively move across the country, sleeping on friends' couches, not being ashamed to get food from pantries intended for the poor, etc. I like having nice things and don't like being indebted to people (I'm also an introvert and need my alone time, so this kind of lifestyle was never an option for me. But, people do it.
posted by Melismata at 9:29 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

People do default on student loans. It's bad, sure. But html code can describe how bad (for example, someone has written about it, here and here), so it's probably no worse than continuing to live where you live that is exacerbating your mental/emotional condition.

I started volunteering at a homeless shelter, partly so I could see what it was really like because ending up homeless was my worst-case scenario that was causing me a lot of anxiety. Oh my god it was about a hundred times less-bad than I imagined. One thing I learned is that a lot of times people just pick up and move to a homeless shelter until they get on their feet. There is a lot of stigma around it, so they will try not to let other people know that's where they are. But that is the situation for a lot of the calls requesting services.

If you aren't actively addicted to anything, don't have small children, no major disabilities, no criminal record, have literacy skills and a high school diploma, and you are willing to swallow your pride a lot, like a lot, over and over, a homeless shelter might actually give you a better shot at an independent life than where you are currently. For example, where I volunteer, they offer budgeting classes where former residents of the shelter help current residents estimate realistic costs for food and housing and so on that are what they would actually encounter being low-income rather than trying to live middle-class.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:31 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Maybe a little more helpful than my initial answer:

The two times I've made significant moves were both for a job that I'd lined up ahead of time. Both were for an AmeriCorps position, which as an organization is great about hiring people from far away but the pay is crap. Both times I located roommates on craigslist so that I could move in with them immediately and knew my housing budget. I extrapolated my food and other stuff budget from what I had lived on in the past. I loaded up my car and moved. Some of the expenses before I started getting paid went on a credit card, but I paid that off as soon as I had the money. Then, when the AmeriCorps year ended, I was able to apply to jobs locally.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:34 AM on August 4, 2014

All of those costs are predictable with publicly-available information. You can absolutely predict how much your rent is, and how much you need to eat in a day. Before you actually find a place to live, you can estimate a range of rents by looking at ads.

Now, the problem you seem to actually be describing is not being able to pay for those things even if they are predictable (and then anxiety-spiraling). That is a real problem and makes a budget kind of meaningless. It sounds like you do not have a job or a job sufficient to support even a scrawny budget and that you need to get a job in a different location.

Getting calls back due to location can be solved with a Google Voice number with that area's area code, and just don't put an address on your resume (which is frankly a ridiculous thing to do anyway). Put the city:

(555) 555-5555

If it makes you feel better, invent an aunt or a roommate in Omaha.

You need plans in place for how this will work out. Do you have someone in the new city who can couch you for a couple of weeks until you get paid? Even better, would they accept a reduced rent and extra housework for 2 months so you can actually create some savings? If you don't know someone who can do that, maybe you need to rent only a room from someone for a few months (this is how I moved halfway across the country while my husband packed up our house), or take a live-in night and weekend job as a caretaker for a while.

There is no point in wasting brain cells on plans that cannot work, like eating one meal a day. But there is nothing wrong with having at least one version of every plan that has a little hope rolled into it: there's the Plan A where you get a job and have to rent someone's attic for two months, and then there's the Plan B where a friend of a friend has to travel a bunch for work and will take you in as a cat- and plant-sitter for a couple of months just for the peace of mind of having someone there all the time.

If the situation is that desperate, go with the homeless shelter option if you have to. Call your student loan company and tell them you are in dire straits and you're not going to be able to pay for a few months - what they do with that information is up to them, but you at least showed willing to be proactive. Take advantage of any offers to help, ask for the help you need from anyone you can, because all they can do is say no. Is it embarrassing to have to do that? Yep, mortifying. Is being mortified free? Indeed it is. You'll get over it, and so will they. Go on food stamps, get rent assistance, pursue your own empowerment. You can pay it back - and forward - later when you're on your feet.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:43 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

First of all, deep breath. People have been picking up stakes and moving to strange cities for thousands of years and have thrived, or at least survived. It's difficult, but doable, especially if you have no pets or dependents.

Find a city that has a thriving job market and a decent cost of living. Plan to get temp or food-service work while you find your feet in the new location. Use AirBNB or Craigslist to find a temporary place to live. If you are flat broke, do what Lyn Never suggests and find a job as a live-in caretaker or pet sitter (try Sitter City).

Prepare for your move by paring down your possessions to the absolute minimum - ideally, just enough to fit in one or two bags. If you can manage to sell a few things, that will be money in your pocket. Then go. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith and just doing. And, if worst comes to worst, homeless shelters are available, as Bentobox Humperdinck points out, and if you are homeless, you are entitled to use them, college degree or no.

You don't need to have all your ducks in a row, just a decent plan - "I think City X is my kind of place - it has plenty of jobs and housing is not too expensive/hard to find. I'm going to sell or donate as much of my stuff as I can, get a Google Voice number for my new location, put an updated resume on a thumb drive, find temporary housing, and go! When I get there, I'm going to apply to every temp agency and Starbucks I can find and get the money flowing in ASAP. If I hit rock bottom, I will go to a homeless shelter."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:57 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am going to interpret this to say that there is a huge yawning chasm between the resources you currently can come up with and the resources you need to make this move happen. And you feel completely overwhelmed and unable to begin figuring out how to cross that chasm. You are looking at it like it is something that has to be done in one giant leap and you know you can't do that so you envision falling to your doom. But let's break it down into smaller steps.

Here are some practical steps you can start working on today to begin whittling that chasm down to a manageable level:

Look into consolidating or refinancing your student loan(s). If you can do one of those two things, you may be able to bring your student loans down to a more manageable level.

Sign up for a freelance service online like elance, odesk, textbroker, mechanical turk, etc. It probably won't lead to immediate income of the sort that will support you. You can expect a learning curve. But it is possible to begin making some money relatively quickly and if you learn the ropes and get good at it, there are people who support themselves that way. There are also lots of people who use it as supplemental income. Either way, it is something you can start working today and that alone can make you feel less helpless.

You can do an online search for emergency food pantries, what it takes to qualify for food stamps, resources available to homeless people, etc. You only literally starve on the streets if you really have no idea at all how to access resources. If you can get food stamps, get to an emergency food pantry, do some freelance work online, etc, even on the street, it is possible to cobble together enough resources to eat decently. Yeah, it's way less convenient than walking to the kitchen, opening the fridge and getting your favorite whatever out but if homeless people were all just literally starving all the time, then, hey, the homeless problem would go away because homeless people would all die of starvation after about two weeks or so. And, gee, the homeless problem is annoyingly persistent. So people on the street have their challenges and there is suffering, but they do tend to eat most days.

Start looking at alternative ways to keep a roof over your head other than just paying full rent all by your lonesome. Look into couch surfing. Look into house sitting. Look at what it would cost if you had roommates. Etc.

Also, if you really, truly cannot leave right now and it is destroying your mental health, then just get out of the house as much as you can. Don't job hunt from home. Instead, go to the library and do your job hunting from there. Take long walks. Find a cheap hobby that gets you out of the house in the evenings. When I was 17, I became a role playing gamer. In college, I took a class overload one quarter. So I went through periods in my late teens while living with parents where I was just busy as hell and gone all the time -- without drinking, doing drugs, or getting into some kind of trouble. I just always had some place to be. Even if the parents are nuts and are likely to take offense at you intentionally avoiding them, your answer is "Man, it is really stressing me out that the job hunt is taking forever and I am feeling desperate to solve that, what with the student loans I am paying. So I just need to hit the library, do some research, get this solved. See you later." And then spend all your time at the library. It doesn't cost money to go there.
posted by Michele in California at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree with the Google Voice number and no address. It works! (You can also get numbers in the right area code on Skype).

Other tricks to seem local include renting a forwarding postal box mailbox from afar (though it's difficult -- maybe impossible now?), and setting up a forwarding email address that's something like MyNameCityName (So, maybe, Anything to give the impression of being local so you can get that first interview.

I have done these things, and told them I could be there in two days for a face-to-face interview, then booked the hotel and ticket straightaway at the cheapest rates from the suckiest of companies. (You can give the impression that you'll be "be in town next week" -- because you will be if they interview you -- but never lie about where you are!)

The money stuff is always hard, but when I moved to NYC ages ago, I got the absolute cheapest place I could find (a share) and then I took the first job that would hire me at any hourly rate. Those first years sucked, but I had a place and food to eat and that's all that mattered, and I built up experience, connections, and even managed to save a little bit.

I've moved cross-country and inter-continentally twice with a lot of "sight unseen" things going on. It's really difficult and expensive, so I wish you luck.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

especially when one does not have the luxury of being able to live off of one meal a day nor of not paying student loans?

Can you explain the student loan part? If you have no or very little income, call them up and ask what they can do for you. They may be able to reduce or defer payments. Default sucks, but it is not literally the end of the world. You should absolutely buy food before worrying about student loan payments.

How do people do this without becoming homeless and starving on the street?

Many, if not most, people who are living on the street have severe mental health and/or addiction issues. If you have either one, then address those in therapy. If not (and I'm guessing not, since your post was perfectly coherent), then you will almost definitely not be "starving in the street." You managed to get through college. You asked the question here, so you're resourceful.

Can you crash with someone right now for a few weeks and pick up some day laborer work? A shitty temp job? I worked night shift cleaning offices (mostly toilets) for a few months to save up enough to move to another state. It sucked at the time, but it gave me a buffer for when I got there. Once there, I stayed at a fleabag weekly-rate hotel until I found a (retail) job and a basement apartment. It was not all rainbows and unicorns but it was freedom and independence, and therefore awesome. And really, you get used to ramen or rice and beans if you're getting something else out of it (in your case, being free from your toxic living situation).

You'll be okay. One step at a time.
posted by desjardins at 10:14 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to make sure the OP doesn't miss that you can request income-based deferral of student loans.
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:18 AM on August 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

Study the job market for where you want to move and for the kind of job you expect to do, i.e. waitressing, programming, admin, teacher, roofer, whatever. You need to know what jobs in your profession pay in a given area. Study the housing market for where you want to live, consider the costs for various scenarios - living in a studio, living in 1-bedroom, roommate, multiple roommates, SRO. For food, you set a budget. If it's $50 per week, that's what it is. You figure out pretty quickly what you can buy for $50 that will last all week (beans, peanut butter, eggs, fruit, veggies). You know you can't shop at Whole Foods but can get great produce at neighborhood, ethnic stores or farmer's markets.

Always, set a small amount for miscellaneous. Set a budget for transportation for getting to/from work via bus/subway/other public mode of transportation by checking local transportation website. If a monthly bus pass is $100/per month, that's what you budget for. Even if you can walk to/from work, you shouldtry to set a little for occasional bus/taxi rides. If you have a car, then calculate payments, insurance, gas, maintenance and parking.

Try and defer student loans. Having a friend's couch for a few weeks when you move is great but not always possible. If you know someone in the area where you want to move, use that address on your resume.

If you're coming with nothing, then the minute your feet hit the ground start applying for retail gigs, restaurant/coffee shop gigs, office gigs. Retail usually hires pretty quickly.
posted by shoesietart at 11:10 AM on August 4, 2014

Response by poster: I didn't expect so many replies so quickly! Thank you! I haven't read through them all yet, but to stem the tide of the using friends thing, I don't have friends. I don't have connections, friends, etc. anywhere to help me, so that option is a complete no-go.
posted by msbadcrumble at 11:15 AM on August 4, 2014

Your first step is to save up as much money as possible. If you have federal student loans, your repayment options can be found here. These repayment options do not apply to any private student loans. If you have private student loans than you should talk to your lender.

The next steps are figuring out where you want to live/ what sort of employment opportunities you are looking for. Can you move to your college town? If your college town is in your hometown, what about moving out of your parent(s)' home and getting your own place? If you have previous child care experience, you could become a nanny (and get free housing). Does the career center at your college have any services/ resources for alums? Have you looked for any jobs at your university? Have you thought about teaching English abroad? Have you considered the Peace Corps/ Americorps? Some amusement/ theme parks have employee housing, so that might be another option.

This article suggests that the cost of living is primarily driven by housing prices. However, areas with higher housing prices may be more likely to have shared housing, public transit, and a stronger economy.
posted by oceano at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2014

If you're nervous about the logistics of leaving home, what about National Civilian Conservation Corps, which is a residential Americorps program for folks 18-24? FEMA Corps is similar, but focused on disaster recovery. There are a bunch of Americorps programs of all sorts (I think you can browse job listings on the Americorps website), many of which are non-residential and some of which are very field-specific, such as STEM Americorps. If you have an interest in social justice and are religious, there are programs like Avodah (for Jews), Mennonite Voluntary Service, Lutheran Service Corps, etc. Actually, here's a list of year(ish)long volunteer possibilities. You'll be able to defer your student loans while you're doing this kind of service, and almost all of these should come with a small stipend, and perhaps housing, health insurance, etc. They vary, of course. While you're at it, you might also take a look at Alternatives to the Peace Corps and The Backdoor Guide to Short Term Job Adventures (I'm not sure if this website is related to the book). This last link will point you to a vast mixture of low-paid Americorps-like jobs aimed at recent grads, but also many decently paid overseas positions, some fancy fellowships, etc. It's absolutely worth checking out.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

First, do you qualify for food stamps? Check on this.

Five years ago I made a cross-state move by the seat of my pants. As in, I was literally moving in order to train for a gym, and I had no job, housing, or anything lined up. My advantages were a car, access to food stamps because I was so poor, access to credit cards, and no dependents. Take this as you will. But here was my method:

Troll Craigslist for affordable sublets (that way I didn't have to pay security deposit, etc)

Pick a few, email people to meet, then drive up to the area to check them out. Pick one.

Pack all my stuff into my car and move up the next week.

Troll Craigslist for any and all jobs. Any jobs. I was lucky--sent an email out Sunday, got a response Monday, and Tuesday I was at my new job stocking auto parts. My theory about very low wage, low skill jobs is if you show up looking semi-professional (but not too professional, otherwise it screams "I'm leaving as soon as I get a better deal") and your communications are cogent you're ten steps ahead of the people usually applying for these positions. The caveat is you're at a job stocking auto parts or similar, but when you're desperate you don't get to hold out for sexy positions.

Also, I bought nothing. I did a lot of scavenging to get items I needed and saved up my money to pay for security deposit and rent at a cheaper place. I had roommates. I pretty much did not spend money on anything that wasn't food or gas or essential toiletries. The auto parts job did not require a professional wardrobe (nor did any of the positions I had after) so I didn't have to invest in nice clothes nor worry when they started getting threadbare.

Long story short, it worked out and at the end of this month I'll be starting grad school--and I definitely would not be in this place if I hadn't made the move. It was tough, but it can be done.
posted by schroedinger at 12:50 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I made a 3500 mile move in 2010 from a metropolis to a small town. I had no job prospects, no where to live, no friends, no family, and a 90lb rottweiler/doberman cross. But fortunately no other dependents.

I saved as much as I could before the move by drastically cutting my expenses and selling as much of my belongings as I could. I had $7k in the bank when I moved. I only kept what I could fit in my pickup. I underestimated the cost of rent here. I didn't listen when people told me there were no jobs here.

Once I moved here I found the cheapest place I could rent. (Ex: I rented a room from a crazy older lady that had 9 cats and a squirrel. I also lived in a 23' camper on a horse pasture with no plumbing.) When I couldn't find any jobs that fit my comfort zone (computers/tech or kitchen work), I had to step out of my comfort zone and do a job that I really had no business doing. (Driving a truck across the country). 3 years later, though, I got out of that racket and back into tech.

One thing's for sure.. making such a move is an adventure.
posted by herox at 1:07 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read through a few of your previous questions, and the first thing that leapt to my mind when I came back here is that you're psyching yourself out, and limiting your own options because you're completely terrified of the giant, unpredictable world. It is very difficult to see the forest for the trees and take meaningful steps to move forward when you have such severe anxiety -- is your treatment working for you? If not, I would definitely recommend seeking out more/different assistance to that end before you take any kind of leap into the unknown.

How do they decide they have (and make) enough money to support themselves when they were previously not supporting themselves (i.e. living at home)? How do they deal with having to find a job (which will take god only knows how long) that will pay them enough to support themselves, especially when one does not have the luxury of being able to live off of one meal a day nor of not paying student loans?

I had to move out at 12:01 AM on my 18th birthday -- the last day my mother was legally required to provide me with food/shelter, so if I didn't leave, she was going to call the cops to evict me -- with about $100 and absolutely no idea what I was going to do to prevent myself from starving or being tossed out on the street, but it turns out that sometimes, when you're out on your ass with zero resources, you can become the resource.

Me, I moved into a tiny flophouse/crash pad with a rotating cast of acquaintances and strangers, never fewer than six but usually no more than ten or so. Don't get me wrong, it usually wasn't very pleasant at all. Randoms were coming and going at all hours, there was always someone I didn't know sleeping on the couch and the floor and sometimes in the bathtub, the kitchen sink and counters were always filled with dirty dishes, the fruit flies multiplied with abandon, and the garbage was perpetually overflowing. But! I had a roof over my head and I was not starving, so... victory!

Budget: Here are some templates you can use. The USDA says the average food budget for 1 person is ~$300/month; I'd hack that down to $50/week maximum for your purposes (food budgeting tips). To get an idea of what you might have to pay for housing, just Google "[your city] + average monthly rent" and pick a number somewhere in the middle, or do some quick and dirty averaging using numbers gleaned from Craigslist room share ads.
Relocation: I was not aiming to get entirely out of dodge because I knew very well that I could not afford it. Sometimes that's just the way it shakes out, sometimes bowing and scraping and begging and pleading still doesn't add up to what you need, and sometimes collecting every bit of everything you can muster does not translate into a cross-country move. Or even a cross-city move. Rome wasn't built in a day, and wherever you want to relocate will still be there in a year or two.
Food: I worked 50-hour weeks at Burger King, so I was able to get one or two free meals there every day. They provided a uniform so I didn't have to worry about clothes other than scrounging up quarters to do my wash every other week or so -- hanging your clothes outside will freshen them up in between launderings. To fill the gap, I ate stuff out of the trash. Tons and tons of perfectly good food gets thrown away every day, you just have to dig around a little to find it. But if I am ever this poor again, I am going straight back into food service, because you get free meals, even if you have to eat other people's leftovers.
Home: My share was only ~$75/month because there were so many of us splitting the rent and bills. I am well aware that I was incredibly lucky to stumble into a situation like this, but there are a lot of unconventional living arrangements you could explore, some of which are bound to be within your budget. WWOOF, for starters.
Accoutrements: Rummage sales! Bust out your change jar and hit the streets with your shopping list. Hit up the well-off suburbs if you can, sometimes those people will let their fancy-pants high-quality brand-name stuff go for a dang quarter. Put your negotiating hat on!
Fun: N/A. I either sat around chatting with friends, hitched a ride to attend any/all rock shows for which I had been put on the guest list, or spent hours at a diner nursing a single 75-cent cup of coffee. It wasn't exactly a blast, but again, I wasn't starving or homeless, so... victory!
Student loans: I couldn't afford college, but I do know that you can get hooked up with an income-based repayment plan, as more helpful MeFites have outlined above. And defaulting on a debt isn't the end of the world if it all gets to be too much.

If you've already dismissed the above possible solutions as somehow unacceptable or beneath you, you're not as desperate as you think you are. That's not a diss, it's perfectly OK! It might even be a good thing, in that it shows you still have some unacknowledged breathing room to spare. All it really means is that you can't act as though you're being held hostage by some invisible malicious force, you've just decided that taking a very low-wage job, living with a dozen strangers, and sometimes eating out of a dumpster are not acceptable solutions for you. But you'll need to draw your line somewhere if you want to make it out. If you really are desperate, there will come a point at which you're willing to eschew every single comfort you currently enjoy and dive right into the "barely tolerable, but still breathing" zone.

It's rough, it's a grind, and sometimes it doesn't ever let up. You just have to take it in stride, one day at a time. It took me about five years to get head and shoulders above where I was when I first started out, but 15 years later, I have a good job and I own a freaking house. I never could have imagined coming this far. It's hard, hard work but it's so worth it.

There are exits, they're just hidden or obscured from your current view. You can do this! Grit your teeth, knuckle down, breathe, and keep your eyes on the prize. Good luck!
posted by divined by radio at 1:29 PM on August 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

I moved to L.A. all the way from Baltimore without any job lined up, and without knowing anyone here, back in the late '90s.

I ended up staying at this weird student co-op since I was taking a few classes. They charged very low rent in exchange for pitching in doing odd jobs or working in the kitchen. It was a weird place, and I doubt you'll find exactly that situation, but odd situations like that do exist.

I worked at temp agencies and bounced around to various roommate situations until I finally got established. I left most of possessions with my parents and had them mail them when I found a more permanent place.

It was scary, but it is doable.

One thing I wish I had known: Working at a temp agency is W2 employment. If you work for a while and then they don't have any more work for you, you should be eligible for unemployment just as if you had lost a "permanent" job. It's a great security blanket when times are tough, but I had no idea back then.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:21 PM on August 4, 2014

When I finished college (in the heart of the recession) and decided that I was not yet ready for grad school, but did not want to move back home, I bounced around a bit. At one point I was living with three other people in a one-bedroom apartment (two of us divided up the living room/kitchen area, the person actually on the lease lived in her bedroom, and the last person slept on a mattress in that bedroom's closet). It wasn't the most comfortable I have ever been, and the person who invited me ended up being full of drama, passive-aggression, and spread lies about me to all our mutual friends, but it was a place to sleep at night for a few weeks while I got together a better place to live.

Most of us dumpster-dived. At some places they actually put some things next to the dumpster so it doesn't get too messed up for people to take. Even in the small Midwestern town where I live now, there is a single thrift store and it gets day-old bread deliveries (nice stuff, too, that I usually deem too expensive to buy even though I get a salary now) that anyone and everyone can just come and take, no questions asked, no purchase necessary, no need to prove that you are poor. Sometimes they get vegetables, too. It's summer and there are vegetables and fruits for the foraging--depending where you live, there might be mulberries, blackberries, raspberries, ferns, ramps, scapes, nettles, dandelions, and on and on. Every grocery store also has marked-down products--meat, cheese, vegetables, boxed things that are about to expire; if yours isn't easy to find, ask about it. There are also places (they're usually called "liquidators," or something involving "lots" or "4 Less" in the title; see if your area has one) that sell perfectly-good food that is close to expiration, or is dented, or there was too much of it, or whatever, for super cheap.

Won't lie, I lost a fair amount of weight. A lot of that was probably walking a lot to get around and dealing with the aforementioned drama, though, not actual starvation. I was quite healthy and usually ate decently--I'd put on extra weight from college stress and it did me good to lose it. I learned a lot about cooking and became a decent cook, and I learned a lot about new foods and ways of cooking.

A lot of volunteer opportunities provide food. Don't discount that meal. There are also free fun things to do, I promise.

When I was living in another house with housemates, we interviewed a new housemate via Skype. He lived over a thousand miles away, but was planning to move to our city and saw our Craigslist post. He took a chance on us, and we ended up liking him the best of all the people we interviewed (most of whom were local) and taking a chance on him. He was great, it worked out really well.

I scraped enough to pay something toward my student loans most months, but the times I couldn't, I...just couldn't. Yes, I got calls from collectors. It wasn't fun. But they could not actually take anything from me that I did not have. Request every option you have--deferral, income-based repayment; check your grace periods. Pay what you can.

I know people who sell plasma, but I wouldn't advise it if you have any other option.

What does your therapist tell you when you bring up this fear?

I understand that it looks scary. I'd like to offer to help you figure out a budget. If you memail me your location, I'll look up a few numbers and throw together a quick rundown for you. Your "food costs, little everyday things, HOUSING, etc." can be estimated, don't worry. If you want, send some more details about why this is difficult for you and I'll try to give you some ideas.

I didn't tell you all of those things to scare you about how bad it is out there, or to make you feel bad about the difficulties you are having. I absolutely realize that anxiety and depression and all of those things make the world harder. I'm just saying that there really are a lot of options, and that taking those options isn't all that terrible, and it certainly doesn't make you a failure. I've got a good job now, I'm doing OK. That was an interesting period in my life and it wasn't all gloomy, it was actually a lot of fun. I'm probably a better person for it. I certainly understand more about others in tough circumstances, and about my own capabilities.
posted by spelunkingplato at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most of us cobble together three or four part time jobs so that we have enough money to make the rent. It helps if one of those jobs is in a place with food, so we can eat.

You should have some dough in savings, so you may as well get 4 jobs while living with your folks.

Is there some reason you can't move out of your parent's house to some other place in town? You don't have to go to New York.

Trick for getting the call back when you're out of town...leave your address OFF YOUR RESUME!

Apply to Development Programs, where the expectation is that you're applying from out of town:


USA Jobs


Those are some places to start.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:37 PM on August 4, 2014

I have found the software and methodology of You Need A Budget (YNAB) to be completely invaluable when learning to budget. The software isn't free, but they do have a lengthy trial period and lots of free resources (videos, podcasts, user guide) and very friendly, supportive forums. Highly recommended.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:23 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I do understand how to do a budget, though I will check out the links provided. After reflecting on the issue, I think I'm wanting an exact budget because I'm so paranoid that I won't have enough money to eat, and that's why I'm having issues with it.

RE: student loans, the federal loans are consolidated under IBR, and the two private ones are as low as I can get them. I've already used up my forebearances/deferments, so those are not options for me.
posted by msbadcrumble at 11:39 AM on August 5, 2014

I think I'm wanting an exact budget because I'm so paranoid that I won't have enough money to eat, and that's why I'm having issues with it.

Eating is not about some specific budget. When I was 3, my dad retired from the Army. He made a big down payment on a house, so the house payment was about 40% or so of what the neighbors were paying for essentially identical houses. He was suffering PTSD from fighting in the front lines of two wars and often was unemployed for months at a time. So money was often tight. But there was a garden out back, he hunted to put meat on the table, and my mother cooked from scratch. As a child, I had no idea at all when my dad got paid. There was no relationship whatsoever in my mind between his military retirement check (or any other pay checks) and what we ate for dinner. Meanwhile, the entire neighborhood knew when my next door neighbor got paid. He had 8 kids and the night before payday they ate mayonnaise sandwiches and, then, on payday he came home from his job at a grocery store with a mountain of meat and conspicuously spent 2 or 3 hours grilling outside to feed everyone.

If you have a roof over your head and, thus, access to cooking facilities, you can garden (even in an apartment you can do container gardening on the patio or in a sunny window), you can shop farmer's markets or buy in bulk or accept fresh veggies from friends or do any number of other things that will put food in the kitchen for very little money and then you can cook it from scratch. Even if you are homeless, you can get food stamps, you can go to a soup kitchen, you can go to an emergency food closet, and you can accept gifts of food from total strangers who have figured out you are homeless and decided to take pity on you. Food can be gotten, often even when you cannot come up with any cash.

While homeless, I had my bank account locked up by a creditor for an entire month. Cash was extremely hard to come buy. The only cash I had was basically from found money and it was super valuable because I needed it to cover non-food items not covered by food stamp benefits. I ate no hot food all month. You can get cold sandwiches and the like at the deli with food stamps but you could not, at that time, buy hot meals of any kind with them (that is changing). But I did not go hungry, even though the fact that I had almost zero access to actual money all month was a huge head fuck.

I assure you, humans ate long before humans began inventing fancy things like money. And, really, it wasn't that many years ago that most humans (more than half) worked on farms and many were growing their own food. (This statistic changed within the lifetime of my children -- so it is only in the last 2 decades or so that most humans do not work on a farm.) I suggest you hit the library and look for the following titles or something similar:

How to survive without a salary

The Complete Tightwad Gazette

How to get out of debt, stay out of debt and live prosperously
posted by Michele in California at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2014

After reflecting on the issue, I think I'm wanting an exact budget because I'm so paranoid that I won't have enough money to eat, and that's why I'm having issues with it.

This is what food stamps are for. If you are making so little that eating is an issue then you should qualify.
posted by schroedinger at 8:44 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Help me be safe in this driving situation! (USA...   |   I stupidly paid someone to convert my CV to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.