One year ago to the date, I made my big girl move halfway across the country to Chicago, Illinois. Three addresses and three jobs later, I am somehow still standing on both feet. Since I was 9 years old, I dreamed of moving to Chicago, and that dream became a reality exactly 3 months after I graduated from college.
I had my fair share of growing pains, I will tell you that much. Everyone says your first year is the toughest but damn, the first month alone was the most I struggled in my first 23 years of living but thank goodness I was living with my gracious family in the Loop. I originally came out here for a dream job involving my two passions: children and nutrition. I had a job lined up in pediatric nutrition sales with a pharmaceutical company – a literal dream come true (or so I thought). Let’s just say I came in contact with a very mean and hurtful person. The Wicked Witch of the Midwest is in fact a real life person, ladies and gentlemen, and I came to the conclusion that I would not succeed in a job environment like that. My commute was an hour and a half long each way – that was not working for me. None of it seemed worth it. I was being set up for failure. Thank goodness I was contacted by another company and was freed from a toxic environment.
After paying a Grand and a half (yes, you read it right, grand – with a capital“G”) for my first month’s rent, move in fee, application fee, and another grand for miscellaneous items such as a bed frame, utility bills (fun exercise: if you want your hand at seeing how reliant you are on electricity and wifi, try living without it for a few days), a CTA card, and some cookware – I was left with about $50/week to live on until my first real paycheck in a exactly one month. Just to clarify, this was 2016 we were all living in – not 1950. Game on.
Happy to say that one year later, I am still alive but I am barely breathing… just kidding. I have never been better. So much has been gained and lost, I have changed and grew into a stronger person I never thought I could ever be. The Real World is a challenge and though I will continue to learn, here are 12 things I have learned in the last 12 months in order to survive as a struggling soon-to-be 24 year old:
1. First of all, grocery shop once a week like it is your ritual with a list of only what you need, and STICK TO THE LIST. Whole Foods and Mariano’s are the Chicago go-to’s, and you can shop there if you really play your cards right – but they pretty much ask for your first born in return for a box of cereal so that is my last resort. I have found my new home at Trader Joe’s to get the staples without having to go bankrupt. I get things I can make lots of meals out of like pasta, frozen vegetables (if you know me at all I’m sure that one’s a given), eggs, and rice. You are not going to live like royalty, but hey at least it’s food.
2. Utilize reusable bags. Illinois, I love you but I hate you for making us pay for bags at all of the stores now. $0.07 per bag doesn’t sound like much but it adds up. It is saving the Earth so it is hard to be upset but any time I forget my bags, I kick myself because my $0.21 could be going towards rent or student loans.
3. Make your food last. By this, I mean don’t just eat out of boredom. I had no idea how much food I went through just eating out of boredom in college. Do not do that, you are so much better than that. If you don’t make it all the way to the end of the week with the food you bought, get used to Google searching.
4. Speaking of food, I recently discovered my love affair with slow cookers. Yes – I said slow cookers, those giant appliances our mothers tried sending us to college with insisting they will save us time and money, but I found myself brushing the dust off of when I came to Chicago. I am telling you guys, slow cookers are a time saver, money saver… lifesaver. Throw a few meat cubes and veggies in before you leave for work, and by the time you get home you have lunch and dinner for the next three days. So easy a guy, or not-so-domestic girls like myself, can do it.
5. Give me all of the coupons and store loyalty cards please. If this makes me a dork, then so be it. It all adds up people, trust me. I think of it like the clubs at the orientation fair the first week of freshman year – sign up for all of them. No shame.
6. Fitness memberships: No you actually do not need an Equinox membership or a FlyWheel package right off the bat. Nothing against either one of these places, they are great gyms but at this point, it is between that or food. What would you choose? Buy a cheap set of hand weights and Google some home workouts or better yet check out my Workout Wednesday section for great at-home workouts from the CHAARG Fit Plans, BBG, and marathon training workouts. Also, get used to running 🙂 You can make anything work for a few months. There are also an insane number of free fitness/yoga classes in Chicago!! Just Google free fitness classes in Chicago [or wherever you are] and try to contain your excitement.
7. Do the math on your CTA card. Do the math on everything, actually. Does it make more sense to get a monthly unlimited or pay as you go?
8. Another note on travel – you got a pair of legs, use them. Get used to walking. Everywhere. I hit my 10,000 step daily goal on Fitbit every damn day. I have Chicago to thank for putting me in the greatest shape of my life.
9. Have good friends. Thankfully for me, Chicago is filled with a lot of nice people, including a lot of young people and I clicked with pretty much everyone I have met here. Having good friends and/or a boyfriend/girlfriend who are willing to go explore the city makes it all the more exciting.
10. Piggybacking off of that, finding fun Chicago events to go to. I see Facebook events for different things going on every weekend that I would not get to experience anywhere else. Chicago is always throwing down.
11. Never stay in a place you are not happy in. I would classify myself as an expert in finding subleases: I had 3 Chicago addresses in one year. I also had 3 jobs in one year. Definitely not my proudest fact about myself but hey, I have seen people force themselves to stay in toxic environments and I never understand why. You only get one life to live – I choose to live my life happy and not miserable – even if it means taking time to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life.
12. And finally, if all else fails, just call Dad or Mom. Not a day goes by where I don’t talk to them or miss them. I still get emotional every time I say goodbye to them – something I will probably never grow out of. I am so grateful for them every day.
Moral of the story? It was not easy, it was anything and everything but easy, but it CAN be done. There is definitively nothing more exhilarating than becoming a Chicagooo? ..Chicagonian? …Chicagoin? ….whatever you call us…. during your early 20’s. I am looking forward to seeing what new lessons Year 2 will bring for me learn.