Here's a New York story that will definitely make you believe it's possible to get by on a low income in NYC. Meet "Starving Artist":
i am young- 24, female, and i freelance in the film industry. my income hovers somewhere around the poverty line ($10,000 or less per year), but i live extremely cheaply in a great 3-br apartment in an ungentrified brooklyn neighborhood. i attended an expensive private college with nearly no financial help from my parents and have lots of student loan debt, but very little credit card debt.
as a freelancer, my income varies wildly. i can expect to make anything from $500 to $2000 a month, depending on the time of the year and the jobs i get. during a good month, i save anything above my immediate expenses so that i'll be able to make rent and pay my bills in the leaner winter months. i also have a fallback job (substitute teaching) a few months out of the year, which i don't enjoy very much but it allows me to keep my schedule flexible. my monthly spending breaks roughly down as follows:
rent $330 (split with two roommates)
student loans $170
cell phone/internet/netflix $75
entertainment (drinks, dinner, yoga) $60
clothes and books (thrift stores) $40
...but in the truly lean months i cut out the entertainment costs, clothes, and books.
my parents, who've both worked blue-collar jobs all their lives and struggle to make ends meet but are proud to own their home, taught me to be careful with money from a very early age. i was raised to be afraid of debt and to never pay retail!
it takes alot of work and some creativity to live cheaply in a city like , but i value my quality of life much more when i keep my expenses down so i'm not obligated to sell my every waking second. it's not that i'm lazy- film is hard, physically grueling work, and the hours START at 72 a week, with one day off. it's that i value my freedom to pursue creative projects and my ability to set my own schedule much more than new clothes, an apartment in a trendy neighborhood, or dinners out. every dollar that i don't spend on something unnecessary is a dollar i don't have to make at a day job i hate. (and believe me, i've had some jobs i really hated.) i'm committed to making most of what i need myself, whether it's clothing or lunch. i love to sew and cook, and i save money on groceries by foregoing processed foods and making my meals from scratch. my apartment is furnished with fantastic furniture, all from thrift stores or pulled from the trash. my biggest luxury is travel, which i've resolved to do more of in the coming year. travel for me means staying in hostels or crashing on the couches of friends who live in some of the world's exciting cities. i've been saving up for a plane ticket to visit my best friend in berlin in honor of our 25th birthdays.
my goals for the next 10 years include an apartment with a garden and extra space for a workshop (in a city, not necessarily new york), a dog (huge expense!), and the ability to do what i love year-round without worrying about where the rent's coming from. i would also like to have health insurance, but barring a huge change in national policy or admission to a trade guild i don't know how i'd do that.
I asked Starving Artist to talk a bit more about how her blue-collar parents felt about her choices, and how that might compare to the attitudes of her friends' parents:
my parents were very uncomfortable with the idea of me pursuing a career in the arts when i was in high school and college. they refused to let me apply to both the arts magnet high school in our town and the private college that i eventually secretly applied to anyway. the first month of my sophomore year of college, it became such an issue that my parents decreased their financial support of me by 90%, to the same amount they spent on my sister who lived at home and attended community college. i believe their thinking that it was tough love, that i would be forced to move home and learn to do something "realistic", and that i'd thank them later. i nearly had to drop out of school, but thanks to some friends with a cheap place in brooklyn i moved out of my dorm, got a 30-hr-a-week job on top of classes, and was able to take out enough loans to just barely cover my tuition.
i've been extremely jealous over the years of friends and significant others with parents who supported their artistic ambitions from an early age. most of these friends had parents who are photographers or opera singers or college professors, parents who would send their children to film camp or pay their children's rent so that they could do career-making unpaid internships. my parents, even though they wanted me to succeed, would never have been able to afford these things. i've often wondered where i'd be right now if i'd had some of these advantages, or even more of a financial safety net.
recently though, my mother has seen that i've made somewhat of a name and a living for myself, that i love what i do and have alot of personal freedom, and she's come around. she's said more than once that she wishes she had a job she actually liked doing, and i've even heard her bragging about me to relatives.
It all comes down to what you value, and the ability to recognize what makes you happy. I loved this line: "I value my quality of life much more when I keep my expenses down." I am sure all of us have had moments, as we make more money and allow ourselves more comforts, when we see our rising standards as a burden rather than a pleasure.
Starving Artist joked that the name she'd chosen for herself might be a bit of a cliché, but actually, I think she sounds rather satisfied and fulfilled, not starving! But boy is that a tight budget.
Thank you for submitting this great story, and I wish you the best in reaching your goals.
Other posts in this series:
New York Stories #1: Bronx Chica
New York Stories #2: Orange
New York Stories #3: Bama Babe
New York Stories #4: K
New York Stories #5: Frugal Female
New York Stories #6: SandyVoice
New York Stories #7: Escape Brooklyn
New York Stories #8: Comfortable Couple
New York Stories #9: Upper West Sider
New York Stories #10: Debt-Free in Harlem
New York Stories #11: Little Miss Moneybags