It takes money to make money, or so they say. And this doesn’t just pertain to opening a new business — sometimes even a stable job with a salary and paid vacation comes with hidden costs.
Besides the obvious expenses such as a business wardrobe, some companies foster a culture that has its employees exercising their credit cards to either keep up appearances with clients or to simply fit in at the office.
So how can you stay afloat while facing the conflicting demands of these expenses and the reality of a middling starting salary and student loan debt? Below is an examination of the hidden costs of work and how not to go broke building a career.
Unexpected expenses to watch out for at work…
It seems pretty counterintuitive that the place where you earn money can end up costing you money. But sadly, it’s true.
From the student loans you might have taken out to get a degree to land the job, to the price you pay to dress appropriately and get to work, the expenses can really add up. But what about the costs you’re not ready for?
Here are just a few you might encounter:
- Frequent happy hours you feel pressured to attend to show you’re a team player.
- Cabbing home after those happy hours, or after late nights in the office.
- Regularly splitting the bill at lunch, even when you ordered a salad and they all had steak.
- Ordering lunch and dinner because long hours don’t leave you time to shop or cook.
- Buying lots of books or taking expensive courses to improve your skills.
- Feeling pressured to wear designer brands to match your office’s or clients’ culture — and, if you’re female, you might even find yourself spending more on makeup and blowouts.
- Having to drive a certain type of car to show clients you’re at their level.
Sometimes the expenses are clearly required, such as when blogger Kayla Sloan was told she had to buy clothes and shoes from the store she worked at to “show off the products and stay ‘in season.’”
Other times, you might not be explicitly told to do these things, but still feel an underlying pressure to comply.
So what’s a career-minded-but-also-indebted college graduate to do? As financial behaviorist Jacquette Timmons says, “be mindful of expense creep.”
… and how to manage your money amidst the pressure to spend
When you want to succeed at work, especially early in your career, you might feel like you have no choice but to succumb to the pressures to spend your hard-earned money. But if you’re also facing student loan debt, then you could find yourself losing progress in your payoff. Or worse, you could find yourself in credit card debt just to keep up.
Here are a few things you can try in order to creatively circumvent the hidden costs of work:
- If you feel you must go to happy hours, order a soda with lime and nurse it — chances are no one will know you’re not drinking alcohol.
- If you cab home after happy hours or late nights, ask coworkers to split the ride.
- Propose eating outside for lunch on a nice day — that way you can pack and others can buy, and it won’t make a difference. During cold months, slow down on the work lunches or suggest not splitting the bill. (Others might be just as annoyed by the habit as you, after all.)
- If you purchase items such as books or courses to grow your skills, talk to your boss about what can be reimbursed beforehand. If the answer is nothing, save your receipts — that’s a tax write-off.
- If you have to wear designer clothes, only do so on the staples (such shoes, a jacket, or a skirt or pants) and only in neutral colors. That way you can wear your staples over and over again and mix in other clothing items on the cheap — without actually looking cheap.
- If you need to drive a certain type of car, consider leasing instead of buying — that way if you leave the job, you won’t be stuck with the car and its monthly bill for forever.
As for making sure any amount you have to spend doesn’t get out of control, the key is tracking your expenses.
In Timmons’ words, tracking what you spend helps you “get a handle on the ‘hidden expenses’ that may be preventing you from paying off your student debt.” What’s more, it can help you understand if there are areas that really do need cut-backs.
Focus on building your resume, not your credit card debt
It’s not easy saying no to the hidden costs of work, but at some point, you might have to draw the line to save your budget and avoid falling deep into debt.
If you’re getting to that point, cut what you have to, and do the rest in moderation. Once you get used to tracking your expenses and even putting your foot down on extraneous costs, you might find room freed up in your budget for the work commitments you actually want to spend your money on.
Let this be the first lesson of the real world: It’s all about balance when you create a strategy to achieve both your professional and financial goals.
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