I’m 23 and Afraid Full-Time Work Will Kill My Dreams for My Chess Game

A hand moves a small roll of U.S. dollars on a chess board.
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Dear Penny,

I’m 23 and have a part-time job making $15 an hour. I purposely work part time to pursue my passion of chess, which requires hours on end of study. In the beginning of the year, that wasn't a problem because I stayed with my mom — but she moved, and I now have to take on the house bills.

I won't qualify for government assistance, and my part-time job isn't enough to cover the place. Second jobs that pay $10 an hour or more are rejecting me, and anything else won't help either pursuit.

I've had the idea to buy a camper with my savings and live out of it, and then rent the house through Airbnb. Is this a sound idea for maintaining my funds and pursuing my goal of a chess grant worth $42,000? Grant aside, is this a sound money plan?


Dear J.,

Hold up. We need to break this down a little bit. You’ve got a lot of thoughts and ideas swirling in your head, and I wonder if your worries are starting to cloud your judgment. (We’ve all been there.)

Buying a camper and renting out your mom’s house sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. Beyond needing the cash upfront for the camper, you would have to administer to the needs of your frequent short-term tenants.

Could you take on a roommate or two to live with you inside the house instead? Your utility bills may rise from having additional people, but you’d be splitting the tab with your roommates. Plus, you may be able to share some additional expenses, like grocery staples or streaming video services.

Having roommates isn’t always easy — especially when you want to preserve your quiet time for studying. But it may provide a short-term solution to make taking care of your mother’s home more bearable.

Now, for your work schedule. The way I see it, you have two options.

The first is to use some of your savings to supplement your part-time income. Doing so will buy you time to study chess. Because you mentioned chess is your priority, and your love of recreational vehicles did not exactly come up, I’m going to guess that would be a better use of your savings than a camper.

The second is to take on more hours at your current job. I know this will be hard to consider, because you’re dedicated to your studies. But sometimes, having a challenging schedule pushes you to work smarter.

A colleague recently reminded me about Parkinson’s law: Basically, it says that work expands to fill the time you have to complete it. When I’m busy, I might be stressed for a short period, but I can get a lot done. When I don’t have a lot on my schedule, I find that even the smallest tasks can take hours.

What could you still accomplish with your chess studies if you worked five more hours each week at your job? What if you could take on 10 more hours of work? Could you still reach your chess goals and be able to earn that grant?

If there’s little availability at your current job, think about taking up a side gig that has a low barrier to entry. Maybe you could serve as a chess tutor and use the skill you already have to make extra cash.

Map out a few different options — not for the long term, but to get you through the next six months to a year. Where can you add hours at work or add on side gig earnings? How much could you cut back your chess studies and still develop your skills? This seesaw might need to dip to one side more heavily than the other for a while.

And those days when you feel pressed for time and you’re eating cereal for dinner (again) and you’re staying up late because you have to, remember that this is only temporary. This is only temporary.

The inbox is open. Submit a question or send your worries to [email protected], and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Disclaimer: Chosen questions and featured answers will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. I won’t be able to answer every single letter (I can only type so fast!). We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. Don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous. I don’t have a psychology, accounting, finance or legal degree, so my advice is for general informational purposes only. I do, however, promise to give you honest advice based on my own insights and real-life experiences.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.