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A Year in Paris

How six twentysomethings trotted the globe on entry-level salaries.

After Rebecca Glantz graduated from Northwestern University in 2003, she got an entry-level job as a compensation consultant, advising companies on how much to pay their employees. But she didn't let her entry-level salary deter her from her real dream -- to live in Paris for a year.

To pay for the move, she made automatic monthly deposits to an account earmarked for Paris. She had accumulated close to $2,000 by the beginning of 2005, when she applied for a job as an English-language teaching assistant at a Paris high school. She was offered the job that spring, for 750 euros per month -- roughly $900 -- the lowest salary she'd ever made.

Glantz ramped up her saving, paying off $1,000 in credit-card debt and adding $200 a month to her kitty. She had about $7,000 last September when she left for Paris, where she and a friend lived in a flat near the site of the Bastille. To cut costs, she relied on public transportation, cooked most of her meals at home and stayed with friends when traveling throughout Europe. When Glantz ran low on cash toward the end of her eight-month stay, her father advanced her a small loan, which she's now repaying.

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The city lived up to its reputation. Glantz found romance with a fellow American -- and she also found a job by networking over the Internet. On her first Monday back in Chicago, she started a position at a different compensation firm -- for a higher salary than she was earning when she left.

Travel the world

Two years ago, when she was 23, Lauren Cole bought a round-the-world airline ticket for $2,700 -- a belated college graduation gift from her mother. She cleaned out her life savings -- $7,000, accumulated from her bat mitzvah and summers spent working as a waitress -- and with two college friends set out on a three-month-long journey.

The trio climbed Mount Kenya, went on a safari, lived on $20 a day in Thailand and trekked across New Zealand. To conserve cash, they traveled by bus and stayed in hostels. But they still came up one short of their six-continent goal; a flight to South America would have cost an additional $1,000.

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So Cole and her friends decided to complete their quest by hiking the Inca Trail in Peru this past August. To prepare, Cole, a junior-level employee at a public relations firm in Bethesda, Md., cut back on shopping trips and eating out, and saved $300 a month in an online savings account paying 4.25%. By the time she left, she had about $1,500, enough to cover her expenses.

To make the most of her money -- and her time off -- Cole maintains four separate checking and savings accounts, each with a different purpose. "It helps to spread my money around so that I know what I can use and what I can't," she says. "Spending money to see the world gives me so much to look forward to, and more to look back on."

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[page break]

Be a ski bum

Like many young people, Jonathan Bryan wasn't sure what he wanted to do when he graduated from Carleton College in 2003. So Bryan, who's from Champaign, Ill., chose to share a place with six of his buddies in pricey Breckenridge, Colo.

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And share they did. For $275 a month per person, they rented a restored three-bedroom barn. They crowded their beds into one room, packed their skiing, snowboarding, biking and rock-climbing gear in a second, and stored their clothing in a third.

Bryan, now 25 and a law student at the University of Virginia, worked full-time at a ski resort, where he got a discount on snowboarding passes. "It was such a treat to do everything on the cheap," he says. "I saw parents shell out thousands of dollars to do in a week what we were doing on a shoestring for an entire season."

Hike the Appalachian Trail

Jessica Wachob decided three years ago that she wanted to conquer the entire 2,175-mile length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, in 2006. Because she gave herself three years to plan, she was able to fund the adventure without a big money crunch.

Even as a college senior, Wachob, now 25, put away her summer earnings and gift money. Rather than going out on weekends, she hung around at home with friends.

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About eight months before lacing up her hiking boots, Wachob shifted her savings into overdrive. She cut her housing costs by $300 a month by downsizing from a room in a plush three-bedroom house to a bare-bones apartment. She was able to store her bed and some of her furniture in the basement of the sports club where she works as a personal trainer. She put in 50-hour weeks and picked up a two-day-a-week babysitting assignment that covered her rent payment.

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By the time she set out from Georgia's Springer Mountain with a friend earlier this year, she had saved $7,000 -- enough to support her wilderness lifestyle for six months and to give her a cushion for her return to the real world. She purchased $300 worth of gear before leaving and lived on a little over $20 a day.

For a long-term adventure that will take you away from the job, "start planning early," advises Wachob. "You'll be fine."

Spend the summer at camp

Ever since they married two years ago, John and Elizabeth Eugene have lived on John's income as a high school English teacher in Baltimore and saved everything Elizabeth earned, first as a research intern at the National Institutes of Health and then as a teaching assistant. "We knew we wanted to have a family someday," says Elizabeth. "It's not clear how much I'll work then, so we wanted to get into the habit of relying mostly on what John earns."

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Because they love cooking at home, they rarely eat out at expensive restaurants, and they take inexpensive camping vacations. With their simple lifestyle, they've easily avoided credit-card debt.

 

SUCCESS WITH YOUR MONEY

 

This article appears in Kiplinger's special issue Success With Your Money. Order your copy today for more advice on how to make the most of your money -- and make a seamless transition to the next phase of your life.

Far from feeling like they're missing out, John, 27, and Elizabeth, 25, are content. They can afford to spend their summers in the mountains of New Hampshire, at a camp on Lake Winnepesaukee where they teach swimming and supervise water activities. The gig doesn't pay much, but it comes with free lakefront housing. (That's where John proposed three years ago.)

Last year, they embarked on another dream. Both John and Elizabeth returned to school -- John for a PhD in education and Elizabeth for a master's in social work. By attending nearby schools and paring expenses to the bone, they were able to cover their first year's tuition without dipping into savings.

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