$6K seems like a lot of money when you’ve been earning $1K —per year.
Peace Corps Volunteers take home about $6,000 at the end of their term — broken into two payments. You may travel with that money, and take an around-the-world kind of flight path home. You earned the money and you deserve to have fun with it if you want.
But if you are coming straight back to the States, haven’t gotten a job lined up, and want to use the money more strategically, consider:
- The cost of an apartment in the place where you’d like to live. Triple the monthly rent to estimate how much you’ll have to plunk down for deposit, plus first and last months’s rent — that’s typically what you’ll owe your landlord when you sign the lease if you are going to live alone. If you don’t have a car (and I don’t recommend buying one till you have to, to save money), remember that rent prices tend to be higher on bus and subway lines. (If your rent is $700, plan to use $2100 to get yourself into an apartment. That’s a third of your readjustment allowance—just for the keys to the apartment. Then $700/month thereafter.)
- Also consider monthly utilities — which will depend partly on your tastes and the time of year. ($100/month.)
- New clothes. The clothes you took with you into Peace Corps may be pretty threadbare by now (and you may have abandoned them overseas). If you disagree, please ask a trusted friend to give you their opinion — sometimes a person can wear an item too long to notice the holes and nubs themselves. Invest in some good interview outfits (think plain and conservative so you can wear them in a variety settings depending on how you accessorize). You may feel rich — but it’s best not to overspend. If you have clothes in storage see if they still fit — it may be more cost effective to have some items “taken in” rather that buy all-new. Although, some basic fashion trends may have changed in the past two years. ($200, if you buy a few good pieces from discount and consignment stores.)
- Groceries and transportation costs for the duration of your job search. How much do you spend each month on groceries? Eating out? (You may need to do it once or twice to remember.) If you have a car, how much will you spend for a tune up initially, and gas? If you don’t have a car, how much will you spend on mass transit? ($500 during the first month.)
- Finally, think about the things you need to make your job search possible: a cell phone? A laptop? If you have to buy these things, include them in your budget. ($1300, plus monthly internet and phone charges, about $100/month.)
- Need new glasses and/or contact lenses? ($200)
- Paying for Corps Care—Peace Corps’ health insurance extension? It’s free your first month, and $140 thereafter.
- Student loans — deferring was fun while it lasted. (You will also find joy in paying the loan off, but that is for another blog post.) ($300/month)
Taken together, you’ve spent $4600 — just for your first month home and a few essentials. After you’ve taken care of the priorities, save as much as you can: you just don’t know how long the job search may last.
As you can tell, you don’t have a lot of room for shopping sprees, but at least you won’t have to go into debt. If you think that spending for extras on a credit card is a better answer — oh, you’ll be able to pay it off just as soon as you get that job — remember that we are (officially) in a recession, unemployment is high, and you may not want to play Russian roulette with your credit health. Spend what you can pay off right away and you’ll be in good shape.
For ideas about living on the cheap, check out my post on financial management for corps members. Also check out the book Idealist.org and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) partnered on: Making a Difference: A Guide to Personal Profit in a Nonprofit World.
This blog post has been adapted from a section of the forthcoming Service Corps Companion to the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers, due out this coming spring from Idealist.org.