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Salary scrounge

A recent New York Times article reported that young, fresh-out-of-college office-goers in New York resort to innovative measures to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Calcutta may require more modest means, but it also coughs up less cash than even other metros in India. t2 finds out what Calcutta’s newest professionals are doing to stretch that last rupee…

Scroungers and the city

For no one else is the measly first-job salary as big a problem as it is for those living away from home. With no parents to fall back on, after paying the rent and keeping the kitchen stocked, there is little left to settle the soaring mobile and credit card bills.

That means every rupee is spent with the greatest care. This isn’t an easy task — specially when the urge to spend your new-found money is so high!

Tanya Mehra is now on her third job, is married and brings home a “decent” salary every month. But the 24-year-old public relations executive shudders when she remembers her days as a trainee, earning Rs 4,000 per month. “I lived in a small room in a rundown building which cost me a bomb, ate at cheap places from the fifteenth of every month and even walked to work to save on taxi fare,” says Tanya, who consistently refused her Delhi-based family’s offers of financial assistance. “The going was tough, especially when I saw my other colleagues who lived with their parents using their salaries as ‘pocket money’. But all I can say today is that it has taught me so much more,” smiles Tanya.

But not all young people manage to make ends meet. Towards the end of the month, it is parents who often come to the rescue. Close to 70 per cent of Rashmi Chatterjee’s (name changed on request) salary goes towards “surviving in the city”. The marketing executive is left with no option but to take help from her parents every month. “My dad takes care of my bills and even pays half my house rent. Even if I like a top or a pair of shoes and can’t afford it, I send an SOS to my parents,” laughs Rashmi.

Gaurav Gupta (name changed) started working at a five-star hotel five months ago and is feeling the pinch of a low starting salary. “After taking care of fixed expenses, I hardly have anything left out of the Rs 3,000 I bring home every month,” rues Gaurav, whose “major cost cutting measures” include giving the multiplexes a miss and shopping for clothes only once in six months. He allows himself only one indulgence: a cup of steaming mocha at Barista every day after work. “I miss my student days when I could look forward to a cheque from my father at the beginning of every month,” he admits.

Save all, spend nothing

A low first salary may often translate into just window shopping

Living with your parents and bringing home a pay packet yourself should mean that you have the best of both worlds. But it seldom means you are spending what you want and saving enough to keep Dad happy.

So some parents choose to take over. Take 23-year-old content writer Dipannita Ghatak (name changed). Out of the Rs 5,400 she brings home every month, Rs 1,000 goes into a recurring deposit account, leaving her with precious little to spend. “It could be worse,” she says. “At least I am not paying for rent and food on this salary. But I’d like the luxury of taking a cab back from work at times.”

How does Dipannita make the biggest bang possible with her buck? “I try to keep expenses down to a minimum. I don’t eat out unless my friends come down to Calcutta. I rarely shop. I meet most of my friends at their places and I depend on SMS and reduced call rate schemes to stay in touch.” A recurring deposit account is not the only reason for Dipannita’s misery. Getting her paycheque more than two weeks late on most months compels her to put something away for a rainy day.

Moving out of home or just supporting oneself in case of unemployment are common goals a lot of people are saving (or starving!) for. Research associate Paulami Gupta (name changed) is saving as she much as she can as she plans to quit soon. Her Rs 12,000 salary does not go an awfully long way. “I have to save more than half my salary as I intend to join a management course in a few months. I live on about Rs 3,000 a month.”

What does she deprive herself of? “Little things like doing pedicures at home instead of at the salon, shaving instead of waxing, not getting a haircut until my mother offers to pay for it. Eating out more than once a month is out of the question. And I never order take-out at work and always get mom to pack lunch. I survive on Rs 20-a-day budgets most of the time. I am actually poorer than I was in college,” she laughs.

On the side

For many first-timers, one job alone does not pay all the bills. Fashion photographer Kaustav Saikia manages a design firm on the side. “I don’t know how other fashion photographers who don’t have an alternative source of income survive in this city,” he shrugs.

Mrinalini Mitra (name changed), a 24-year-old schoolteacher, freelances as a content writer to supplement her income. She earns about Rs 7,000 a month and is dependent on her freelance projects to see her through. “But since such projects are hard to come by, I have to curtail expenses. No cab rides and no long phone conversations. I depend on a Rs 333 cellphone prepaid card. I withdraw very little amounts of money so I am not tempted to spend more. I just live like a complete miser,” she rues.

Future tense

Sometimes you have to give some to get some in the future. After completing his management course, 26-year-old Vivek Sengupta gave up a lucrative job offer to set up his own garments business. With the entrepreneurship only a few months old, he draws a certain minimum salary based on his expenses the previous month. “My B-school friends who now draw seven figure salaries have all bought luxury cars and high-end apartments. I can’t afford such luxuries yet,” says Vivek.

What can be worse than having a dismal pay packet? Not knowing when the money is going to come in next. The lack of a steady source of income can compel many a spendthrift to slam the brakes on spending. Models, actors, writers, freelancers — they all belong to the “I don’t know when some money is going to come my way” group.

Freelance writer Prakriti Mehra gave up a steady content-writing job a year ago and sorely misses the perks. “I have to think twice before I do anything — even something as trivial as ordering take-away. I have cut down on eating out, I rarely party and am forced to commute on crowded buses. I don’t even remember when I went shopping last,” says Prakriti.

City model Rohini (name changed) lands about two assignments a month, pocketing between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000. “Being a model means maintaining a certain lifestyle and my entire income goes towards shopping for clothes and eating out. The end of the month sees me borrowing money from parents and friends. I long for a regular job with an assured income. I have been working for more than a year now but have no savings,” she complains.

And if you thought that some jobs were a ticket to instant financial stability, you may be mistaken. Lawyer Anshuman Sinha (name changed) makes decent money handling two-three cases a month but is insecure about not having a steady flow of cash. “I have been planning to buy a new house for a year now but have been putting it off fearing the prospect of EMIs. Even Rs 8,000 may prove too steep on a bad month,” says Anshuman.

Daddy cool

It’s not like everyone is scrounging around on their starting salaries. Pallavi Ramadoss, a 24-year-old educational consultant, manages to get by with her Rs 15,000 quite comfortably. Living with parents means that she doesn’t have to pay for rent, food or transport. “I eat out three times a week and go shopping every weekend,” smiles Pallavi. Software professional Samik Ray, 25, who rakes in a cool Rs 25,000 a month, splurges on his car and high-end musical gear. And his girlfriend. “I have struck the right balance between saving and spending,” he feels.

If only we were all so lucky!

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