It took me three years to realize I was living below the poverty line during college. Sure, I had a few nice things and decent clothes, but these were holdovers from an earlier time in my life when I was less financially independent. I grew up in a household that wasn’t poor, but wasn’t too terribly well-off either. I never went hungry, and always had (whether I liked it or not) a fairly balanced set of meals each day.
When I got out on my own, and was faced with the prospect of paying my own way as far as I could, I found out that without the help of others, I really couldn’t afford the things I needed. I only made it because I had the help of others—and annual gifts around Christmas time and birthdays often made key differences in my quality of living throughout the years. Here are three things that I was given that can make a world of difference to a low-income millennial like me, college bound or otherwise.
A low to mid-end smart-phone, and access to shared data plan.
Having a decent mobile device isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s essentially a necessity. I didn’t get one until a few weeks ago, but it has already streamlined my life, and provided access to (almost) everything I needed a full computer for at a fraction of the price. Amazing free apps like calendars, weather, GPS navigation, and email, as well as a myriad of other offerings give unprecedented bang for your buck—so long as self discipline is involved.
A shared data plan allows families to split costs and keep your overhead manageable. I wouldn’t have been able to afford a regular phone plan at all without this, yet I was able to benefit while helping slightly cut costs for everyone else as well.
Personal grooming supplies.
I know it’s inglorious, but one of the hardest things to do in a monthly budget was toiletries. I’d use the same shaving razor for weeks and sometimes more beyond the point I should have—this also inspired me to shave less and take less care of myself. Instead of stocking-stuffers, if someone gave me a massive supply of razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as deodorant, a reasonably priced gift bought me six months of personal care. It freed up a chunk of my tight budget because they could afford to buy in bulk what I never could. Plus it was a holiday gift that still warmed my heart months later.
A few good pairs of shoes.
Shoes cost money. This leads to buying poor quality shoes, and buying poor quality shoes leads to suffering. Having at least one good pair of shoes for my work and class made my life much more enjoyable, and people do judge you by the way you dress. Having shoes that weren’t falling to pieces was a big help. If possible, help build a decent professional wardrobe. Being interview ready is a huge part of helping someone land a better job where financial independence can be attained.