Thursday, December 20, 2007

New York Stories #4: K

Here's another New York story, submitted by K:

My parents (blue collar all the way) bought a house in the boroughs thirty years ago for 50K (wow!) they still live in that house. Parents mortgaged it 4 times to 6 kids through college. I went to art school. After graduation I traveled around the world for work in the museum industry and made enough to live on, but was not able to save very much. Yet I have no regrets about having the experience of living in Europe, Asia and South America. What an amazing way to live right after college.

I never worked in an office environment until 9 years later. I came back to NYC and realized if I wanted to live in my home city, I would have to get a job that could pay enough. I picked up skills that complemented my art school tendencies and now I am in my late thirties, with an excellent job with full benefits, 401k, health insurance plus 6 to 8 weeks of vacation.

I live in Brooklyn, rent a gigantic two bedroom apartment in an old brownstone with a garden and share the rent with my beloved. My job has turned into a career that I love, helping other people through technology. Yearly salary is around 75k and I freelanced for an additional 5k last year. My goal is to save enough for a down payment for an apartment in Brooklyn, even though I love my current apartment. I am debt free as of last summer and now I want to be able to buy property in NY within 3 years or so. I am very happy with where I am in my life, love living in NYC and look forward to growing old here. I am lucky, I love all the culture in NYC and I try to attend shows, see art exhibits, go to the opera a few times a year while operating within my budget.

I do not own a car and take the subway or sometimes splurge for taxis late at night. My biggest expense is rent. My biggest luxury is the ability to travel to exotic locales twice a year. I combine these trips with freelancing, so I get to fly for free and get hotel paid for by the client. I live in NY because I like smart people, people who read and who are not tethered to reality TV. I try to sock away retirement $ every year, right now I save 18% of salary for that plus any "found money".

I have one credit card for emergencies and stupid hotel incidental charges. Living in NYC for so long, since I was a kid, makes me look at life in NYC in a different light. I remember when the subways were covered with graffiti, when you had to have a "mugging pocket" so you could give some dough to a mugger but save the good stuff for yourself, I remember the crack epidemic and "wilding", I remember when Manhattan had great eclectic Mom and Pop stores. I liked Manhattan before the chain stores took it hostage.

This is why I choose to live in Brooklyn. The newbies to the city can all cram into Manhattan. I will take the light, greenery, brownstones and cute shops and restaurants of Brooklyn. Not overrun with tourists.

I am content with the money I bring in, but I do think that if I was willing to be part of the rat race and work outside of non-profity land I could make around $120k per year. But I would not be happy. I value my time. That is why I will not take a job with less than 5 or 6 weeks of vacation time.

I read recently that "life lists" are in fashion. If I made a life list right now, 80% of it would be crossed off. Most of my dreams had to do with seeing the world. Right now my big dream is to own a home in my hometown. We have no parents who will give us any $ (those NY Times articles about mommy and daddy giving kids $$$$ to buy apartments are pathetic).

Living in NYC is a challenge, but I would not want to live anywhere else. I tried west coast living, but all the driving made me batty. I adore the subway and even with the dirt, it is the best it has been in 30 years. Sure, it takes sacrifices to live here, but if you can find a little nook of your own and a way to make money that doesn't make you is worth it.

Here's another New Yorker who has consciously tried to find balance between being a free spirit and staying grounded financially. This story is inspiring for those of us who might start focusing on money a little later in life, as K took time to see the world and have fun before settling down, but still managed to be debt free in his/her late 30s by finding the right career and living frugally. Good luck with that next step of buying a home, K, and thanks for sharing your story!

Other posts in this series:

New York Stories #1: Bronx Chica
New York Stories #2: Orange
New York Stories #3: Bama Babe


Adrienne said...

I think a lot of that has to do with planning early on. It looks like she started off doing what she wanted and plotted and planned how to make it work financially.

If I had it to do over I too would go to art school instead of my dad's alma mater and get a degree in a useless major. I don't love what I do but I enjoy it well enough. I certainly don't get that much vacation (who does?).

P.S. I love the west coast. Driving is a release and no snow!

Anonymous said...

This is a question for Madame-X and her readers. What's the line between thrifty and just plain pathetic when it comes to taking "extras" when you buy stuff. For example, if I buy a soup and sandwich for lunch, abd taje an extra couple of packets of salt and pepper to use when I cook at home; or take extra napkins & stock up my car so I can have them when needed. Are those things thrifty or just plain sad?

E.C. said...

It's a nice story, but I'd like to point out that there are plenty of people in other parts of the country who are intelligent, read, and don't watch reality tv. They may be a little harder to find in rural areas, but that doesn't mean that everyone who doesn't live on the coasts is an uncultured hick.

Asset gatherer said...

Madame X--

I am loving this series you are doing! And you're helping me discover new and interesting bloggers. I used to live in NYC. I moved there right out of college and started my Wall Street career. I made $25.5k, with bonuses of around $10k, but moved away after 1.5 years. I found my debt creeping up and I didn't have enough discretionary income to enjoy myself. My mother lived down the street, and that was priceless time spent with her. NYC also "polished" me, which definitely helped me with the next company I worked for. I would love to live there again, but I had to bail for financial reasons.

Now I live in DC and visit NYC often. To feel "at home" there is definitely something I am proud of. I *heart* NY!

Anonymous said...

I agree with e.c. and resent the implication that non New Yorkers are ignorant, illiterate couch potatoes. It's this attitude that leads to the stereotype of the pretentious New Yorker.

Anonymous said...

I also am enjoying the letters that are being submitted. It is unfortunate that a comment would be made putting down other areas in this country. As someone who has traveled and lived extensively throughout the United States people in NYC do not have a monopoly on intelligence. Your comment continues the misconception that New Yorkers are insolent. Beyond that, it takes away from the focus of this blog.

Madame X said...

Please note that the opinions expressed in these stories are not my own. I'm presenting them as they are submitted to me.
And I happen to know at least a couple of New Yorkers who actually are pretty addicted to reality TV, and people who live elsewhere who aren't!

Anonymous said...

People also think New Yorkers are arrogant and rude, when the truth is that we are considerate, helpful, and pleasant. Unless, of course, we're rushing to an appointment -- then get out of our way.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. You've helped me a great deal!

Tanya said...

Hi, K,
I assume that you're not lurking around anymore... but if you are, I'd love to talk with you about how you managed to pull this off-- because it's exactly what I'm trying to do. Let me know!