Budgeting Tips for Surviving on an Entry-Level Salary

September 27, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

Entry-level positions come with entry-level salaries that may seem too low for new veterinary graduates saddled with debt and other expenses to survive on. Here’s how to build a budget that allows you not only to survive, but thrive.

We’ve all been the new one on the team, the new hire and the recent graduate. We’ve all been so excited to receive our first paycheck, but then stunned when we saw how much money our entry-level salary leaves us after taxes and other monies are extracted.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, new graduates earned an average annual salary of $73,380 in 2016. And a 2016 report from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges reported an average salary of $33,262 for first-year residents in training programs in the United States.

No matter what your starting salary is, you are likely burdened with student debt and other expenses while trying to gain a foothold in your career.

So, how can you stay afloat? Take these three steps to build a budget that works for you.


  • Budgeting: Tracking Income and Expenses
  • Managing Your Finances: Tips and Tricks for Going It Alone

Determine How to Spend Your Earnings

While the word “budget” can bring an unsettling feeling to many, it doesn’t have to. The important thing to remember is that everyone’s budget is personal, so you need to build one that works for you. If you just graduated from veterinary school and you’re still living at home, your budget will be different from that of someone who just opened a new practice. Understand your own personal costs and plan for them accordingly by splitting your income into specific groups for specific expenses.

Know Your Monthly Fixed Costs

Print out your debit and credit card statements from the past three months, and determine exactly where you’re spending your hard-earned money. Make a list of things you have to pay for — like housing and food — and things you wish you didn’t have to pay for — like your cellphone bill and health insurance. These are your fixed costs.

While your budget is yours alone, these guidelines from the College Board offer an easy formula for mapping out where your income should be spent each month:


Percentage of Monthly Income

Housing and utilities

30 percent

Student loan repayment

8 percent

Credit card, auto and personal loan repayment

12 percent


5 percent


10 percent

Food (includes groceries and eating out)

10 percent

Transportation (includes car payment, insurance, gas and maintenance)

15 percent

Medical and dental expenses

5 percent


5 percent

Build an Emergency Fund

What you’re left with after calculating how much you earn and how much you need to spend each month is what you’ll use for your emergency fund, retirement fund or just for a rainy day.

It’s important to see how far your take-home pay can go each month, especially with a relatively low starting salary. As you get a feel for your budget, you can start thinking about how you may be able to reduce some expenses and increase your savings for the future.