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Trading in the Expense Account: Transitioning from Big Law to Public Interest: Home is Where the Heart Is

I have moved about 16 times since I left my parents house. They weren’t all “big” moves – some were just for the summers during college and law school – but, when it came to filling out my address for the last five years on my character and fitness application for the bar exam, they all clearly mattered. The 75% pay cut that came with my new job meant that another move was on the horizon. I loved my old apartment and probably would have sacrificed a lot to keep it, but there was no amount of ramen that would have made it possible to afford the place.

So I moved, again. (If home really is where the heart is then my heart has been broken way too many times.)

Whether you’re in the market for Versailles or a 400 sf studio, housing is always one of the largest expenses people have. In general, you don’t want to spend more than 30% of your gross income on your rent/mortgage, but it can be very difficult to abide by that standard when you make very little money. It may happen that an amazing rent-controlled apartment comes on the market right as you decide to change jobs, but it’s unlikely. If a move becomes necessary because of your salary (and you don’t have a sugar daddy/momma to make up the difference), there are only a few of options, depending on the lifestyle you want:

  1.  Get roommates/shack up; or
  2. Live alone. 

Roommates

Personally, I could not handle the idea of roommates when it was time to move. I lived alone for a couple years and just wasn’t willing to give up my space and privacy for cheaper rent. A number of people that I work with, however, moved in with significant others or else have one or two roomies on the roster. Obviously, there are many benefits to having roommates – you can usually afford something a bit nicer than you would be able to afford on your own; you can split utilities costs with them; you have friends (hopefully) in house, so you also lower the cost of socializing since you don’t have to go out to have a nice time.

However, roommates do, of course, live with you and that was something that I’ve become less able to tolerate as I’ve gotten older.  I might have considered it more if it was someone that I knew, but all of my friends either were already living with people or didn’t want roommates, so I would have had to go with a random, which was something else I couldn’t do.

This left me with only a couple of other options.

Living Alone

Ode to my one bedroom apartment:

 In the wee hours of the morning

You came to me on Craigslist – one bedroom, one bathroom –

STABILIZED RENT

You had carpet, but beggars can’t be choosy

I saw, signed, and scheduled movers in less than six hours. 

I was lucky. I was trolling Craigslist for apartments one morning when I saw the listing for the apartment I’m living in now. Nine hundred square feet for a fraction of the market price?! Yes, PLEASE. I called immediately to make an appointment and never looked back.

Even though I got lucky on the price, there were sacrifices that I had to make: location, location, location. It takes a little extra time to get to work, but I’m still within the city limits and that was important to me – I have spent a lifetime saying I’m from “outside of Atlanta” so being to say I live in D.C., and really mean it, feels good. Also, it’s one of these cookie cutter buildings that has no character, but there are a lot of amenities, so I suppose it evens out. With my new job, I knew I was going to be home more – both because of finances and spending less time at work – so I wanted to make sure I had a place I enjoyed being.

I saw some cheaper places listed before I found this one, but I found that they were either in even worse locations or just generally seemed unpleasant. I didn’t want to make a “great sacrifice,” but it still ended up being a tad more expensive than I wanted. Ultimately, I think the most important thing is knowing what you can deal with. I’ve lived in dumps and I’ve lived in nice places, and I knew that I didn’t want to deal with a stressful living situation. Some people are okay with living in a dump if it means that they can still go out to eat 5x a week or buy lots of shoes.

I didn’t get everything I wanted and you probably won’t either, but remember – you’re on a budget. If you’ve thought through the things that are most important to you up front – spending time with friends, traveling, dining, etc. – all of the other decisions will fall into place relatively easily.

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