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Traveling consultants opt for homelessness

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Traveling consultants like Tom Hart often are allowed to work from home on Fridays. Hart works in Boston Monday through Thursday, is based out of Chicago, and travels to visit friends most weekends. On Friday, Feb. 9 2007, home was Boulder, Colorado. (Jacob Giehl/courtesy Tom Hart)

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Traveling consultants like Tom Hart often are allowed to work from home on Fridays. Hart works in Boston Monday through Thursday, is based out of Chicago, and travels to visit friends most weekends. On Friday, Feb. 9 2007, home was Boulder, Colorado. (Jacob Giehl/courtesy Tom Hart)

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Traveling consultants like Tom Hart often are allowed to work from home on Fridays. Hart works in Boston Monday through Thursday, is based out of Chicago, and travels to visit friends most weekends. On Friday, Feb. 9 2007, home was Boulder, Colorado. (Jacob Giehl/courtesy Tom Hart)

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Traveling consultants like Tom Hart often are allowed to work from home on Fridays. Hart works in Boston Monday through Thursday, is based out of Chicago, and travels to visit friends most weekends. On Friday, Feb. 9 2007, home was Boulder, Colorado. (Jacob Giehl/courtesy Tom Hart)

Stacy Goodman was working with clients in multiple cities for Deloitte Consulting and paying $2,500 a month for a Chicago apartment she used only five nights a month. Tired of wasting money, she rented a storage locker, changed her permanent address to a friend’s place and became a drifter.

The way Goodman figured it, when she was home, all she would do was run errands and pay bills. Now, she stores two weeks' worth of business clothes at the homes of her parents and a friend in Philadelphia, and leaves one of her nearly 15 suits at the dry cleaners at each of the hotels she frequents.

“I’m a high-class homeless person,” the 33-year-old said with a laugh. “I’m a homeless person who lives in four-star hotels.”

Like increasing numbers of young analysts at consulting firms, Goodman opted to become nomadic.

Consulting has become a popular vocation for recent college graduates, a group for whom the memory of ever-changing dorm rooms is still fresh. “Consultant” was listed as one of the top 10 jobs based on the number of employment offers made to college graduates, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks graduate employment information.

Frequent flyer miles, free meals and cash for “incidentals” like toothpaste make consulting a money-saving experience for graduates eager to start paying back college loans.

When assigned to projects, consultants typically arrive on Monday and stay through Thursday. Then they fly home or wherever they can find an equivalently priced airline ticket for the weekend.

In their quest to live cheaply, these gypsies are changing the concept of home.

“Home is wherever you can plug into the Internet,” said Anne-Marie Jeannet, a first-year analyst at Accenture. She originally thought her $1,200-a-month Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment would give her roots, but then decided not to renew her lease because she felt no ties to that community.

Jeannet does cost-benefit analyses for work, and did the math on her lifestyle, too.

“I ran the numbers, and you just don’t get enough of a return on your investment," she said. "It’s not worth setting down roots.”

Consulting firms recognize that hitting the road full time can be attractive financially for recent hires, but they frown on a vagabond lifestyle that fosters “disconnectedness,” said David Paulsen, human resources director at Accenture.

“We don’t encourage the nomadic, no-home, live where you work” lifestyle, he said.

Experts agree that lacking a stable nest to return to can complicate an already precarious work-life balance. Twenty-five percent of these young workers already say they are dissatisfied with the lifestyle, according to the employment Web site CareerBuilder.com.

“While these consultants will wind up with a hefty bank account, they'll be paying in other areas,” the Web site’s career adviser, Laura Morsch, said in an e-mail interview.

“Spending five days a week hundreds of miles from home makes it hard to spend time with friends or maintain your personal life,” she said. With starting salaries above $50,000 a year, these young professionals could burn out more quickly than their more settled colleagues, she added.

However, some consultants choose to be rootless because they have already given up finding that balance.

“It's hard to maintain two lives as a consultant, one at home and one on the road,” said Shelby Clark, who worked as an analyst for Mercer, the consulting business of Marsh & McLennan Cos.

He should know. After getting posted to a project in Mexico City, Clark crammed his “life” into two suitcases and rented out his Chicago apartment.

“Traveling on the weekend lets you have just one life, the one at work, and then do some amazing stuff on weekends,” he said.

Jie Yu is based out of Accenture's New York office. She is currently assigned to a project in Des Moines, Iowa. So she stored her furniture at her parents’ home in Brooklyn and travels nearly every weekend to visit her boyfriend in Chicago or to relax in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. She said many of her colleagues were likewise traveling full-time rather than sinking money into rent.

“We call ourselves the nomads,” said Yu, 23, a graduate of Northwestern University. “You get addicted to accumulating free points for flying, hotels."

The result is a more “portable” lifestyle and a travel savvy that only comes with experience.

“You learn you never use the comforter or the big pillows on the bed, even if they look clean,” Yu said.

The travel is exciting, though, and she is seeing places she never expected to.

But for people like Tom Hart, 22, who is assigned to a project in Boston, his $900 a month Chicago rent is worth it, for sanity’s sake.

“The idea of not having a central location to come back to and regroup really freaks me out,” Hart said.

Aaron Lasher, 23, agreed.

“Everybody needs a home,” said Lasher, who spent a year working and traveling for Boston Strategic Partners, a small consulting firm.

For Goodman, however, being a nomad isn’t just about saving money. Not having a home also relieves her of the burden of dealing with bills, cleaning and neighbors.

“A lot of people say they have to have a home, and that’s their sanctuary,” Goodman said. “For me, its just one more thing to worry about.”

E-mail: csv2113@columbia.edu