Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New York Stories #8: Comfortable Couple

Here's a nice New York Story from a young couple, who, like Escape Brooklyn, are helping to buck the trend of what seemed to be all single female submissions to this series so far!

We are a happy couple in our mid-20's who live a comfortable life in NYC. I graduated from an extremely prestigious college and am now pursuing a PhD in the sciences. My stipend is $29K and my hours fluctuate anywhere from 30 to 100 hrs/ wk. My spouse works in the finance sector and averages 45 hrs/ wk. Together, our household income is about $200K.

Despite our relatively young age, we entered our marriage with decent savings. Neither of us had any debt from college, thanks to a combination of parental help, scholarships, and part-time jobs. We have always paid off our credit card balance in full, maxed out our IRA's and 401k's, and lived below our means, even when our combined income was not nearly as high as it is now. After footing the bill for much of our wedding and all of our honeymoon, we still have a net worth in the low six figures.

As a couple, we are extraordinarily "fiscally compatible." Our foundation for communication (including honesty and openness) is rock solid. We share very similar financial goals and spending/saving habits. At times, I am uncomfortable with how disproportionate my current contribution is. My spouse is completely supportive of whatever career path I choose, but I hope to earn a six-figure salary once I finish my PhD. Obviously, I do not plan on staying in academic research. It's just not for me. I plan on working in the corporate world and hope to find a job that is more rewarding both personally and financially.

We currently rent because my department subsidizes our housing. We pay $1400/month for a 750 sq ft one bedroom in a doorman building with a large garden/ courtyard in the heart of Manhattan. Another major expense is food/ restaurants since we rarely cook. However, we offset the splurges by often enjoying cheap eats in Chinatown, Curry Hill, St. Mark's, Spanish Harlem, etc. This is a common motif in our spending pattern. We take multiple international & domestic trips per year, but we minimize costs by staying with friends/ family, finding great deals, or traveling to affordable places (great exchange rate or off-season). We see lots of shows, but also take advantage of any available discounts and student rush tixx.

I would describe our lifestyle as "comfortable," but not luxurious or overly wasteful. Neither of us subscribe to the values of conspicuous consumption. Some expenses that we do not have include: a car, pets, cigarettes, coffee, luxury goods, high-end designer items, or the latest tech accessory (e.g. iphones or ipods). We believe that there's a big difference between spending within our means and spending within our budget. We definitely do not feel "rich".. at least not by NYC standards. We realize that we still have a long way to go, especially if we want to settle down here. We've fallen in love with Manhattan, but it's so expensive. An 800 sq ft condo in a decent neighborhood would easily cost $1 million!

The amount of money that flows through this city is just mind-boggling. Most of our employed friends make six-figures and a few (traders) make seven-figures a year. So far, peer pressure to spend big has been minimal. I suspect that this has much to do with the fact that we also have many unemployed friends who are still in law school, medical school, or grad school. Since there are several students in our circle of friends (including myself), we often accommodate the lowest budget. When we go out together, we choose places with no cover and drink specials. When we travel, we're okay with staying together at hostels. I wonder how this dynamic is going to change after our friends finish their degrees and more of us start making high salaries.

To keep us grounded (among other reasons), my spouse and I devote several hours a month to volunteering. Through volunteering, we've met New Yorkers from many different walks of life. We realize how incredibly fortunate we are to have such great educations, career prospects, and generally worry-free lives. We also understand how important it is to help those who are less fortunate. In the future, we hope to give back even more.

The diversity of people, cultures, and ideas is what makes NYC so profoundly great. We try to take advantage of everything the city has to offer. Between the two of us, we enjoy activities that range from live reggae to chamber music ensembles, from Broadway musicals to improv comedy, from street cart gyros to Jean Georges, from ice- skating outdoors to African dance classes, from burger joints to Japanese izakayas, from the MoMA to the Gallery Bar... To say that we would be very unhappy if we had to live somewhere with a homogenous population and limited choices would be an understatement. We also love the minimal commute and convenience of public transportation from living in Manhattan.

In summary: We currently live a comfortable, but not luxurious, life in NYC. We are completely in love with the city and want to settle down here. It's terribly expensive, but we are fortunate enough to have the means to stay. We hope to close on a condo in Manhattan by the time we turn 30. We want to continue maximizing happiness and rewarding life experiences (e.g. traveling and volunteering) while minimizing wasteful consumption.

Wow. I wish I had had such a clear-headed sense of my goals and values when I was in my mid-20s! Kudos to this couple for taking advantage of what the city has to offer, and staying true to themselves amidst the influences of friends who are on different paths. And, damn, a $1,400 doorman 1-BR in the heart of Manhattan! Enjoy that while it lasts! Many thanks to Comfortable Couple for sharing their story.

Would you like to share your own New York Story? Email me at openwallet1 ---- at----- yahoo --- dot--- com.

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


Escape Brooklyn said...

Wow, I need a job in finance! Great story.

Anonymous said...

Wish you all the best in achieving your goal of getting that dream condo!

I always knew living in NYC was expensive but thanks to these series I realized how crazy it can get. Thanks Madame X for the fascinating series!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story. Although I live in Chicago, not New York, so many PF bloggers are in small town, that I enjoy the city perspective in this series.

Anonymous said...

Madame X,

I don't live in NYC but am fascinated by the NYC stories and am always looking forward to the next one.

Your blog has inspired me in so many ways. I recently started selling a food product (one of those in-home demonstration type things) on top of my day job. I had to open my own checking account to keep expenses separate from the household finances (I'm married with two children, ages 11 and 8). My husband is the financial manager in our household, and he suggested this. I am loving having my own account, and am now determined to SAVE just about every penny I make from my business for the year. (I did spend most of the profit I made toward the very end of last year indulging myself just a bit too much. It was only about $200, but still...) I also am on an "allowance" -- $120 every other week -- and I am banking about half of that as well. My husband knows nothing of the details of my meager checking account, but I love knowing it's there and I am loathe to spend money anymore on something I just don't really need or truly love. I need to set a goal for myself for the end of the year, but I'll have to spend a little more time in my new business (I've only been doing it since the beginning of November) to know how much I can expect to average monthly.

I will keep reading your blog and following your financial journey. Thanks for your honesty and insight.

Anonymous said...

What kind of a turd describes their college as "extremely prestigious." How is that college even relevant to the post?

DogAteMyFinances said...


"extremely prestigious" = "extremely expensive" = Bank of Daddy paid. Incredibly relevant.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I would consider this couple "rich" at $200K a year. I'm a grad student who is planning on staying in academia, so I can hardly sympathize.

Anonymous said...

yeah i don't see anything inspiring in this story. they make a ton of money already and once he's out of school, they will be making over $250k a year. Big deal that they don't own an iPhone when they are going to probably purchase a million dollar condo. You seem to keep interviewing the same demographic in New York. I live here and along with 80% of the city, I don't make nearly that amount of money.

Anonymous said...

To some of the other commentators:

$200k is NYC is not a lot of money, I'd call it the middle of middle-income in Manhattan. Anyone that works in finance and is a few years in is making over $200k, and that is across any area of finance pretty much, even the tons of dinky jobs. And NYC is full of finance people. Same with lawyers, a 25 year old first year associate at a big firm is making $200k in year one. I agree that the girl saying she went to an extremely prestigious college is retarded. First of all it must be Columbia since they live in Manhattan, and while Columbia is a great prestigious school it isn't Harvard, Yale, Princeton. The girl seems to have an air of cockiness about her and her husband and the funny thing about it is it isn't even warranted given their relatively meager financial profile (especially considering daddy paid for college).

My guess is this is the kind of couple that will one day be living in a modestly upper-middle class suburb (but they'll think its a bastion of wealth), they'll drive a Volvo at best, and think they're worldly because they make a trip overseas every now and then and check out all the tourist sites. Classic douchebags.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. If I were "Comfortable Couple," I'd be regretting my decision to share my story...which would be unfortunate for those of us who actually WANT to read all these NYC stories. The personal attacks are a little uncalled for, in my opinion. Madame X asked for "real life" stories of people working and living in NYC, not just stories from people who are struggling and barely making ends meet. I don't make anywhere near $200k in Manhattan, but it's still interesting to read about people who do. I like how all of the stories she compiled complement each other and show a different aspect to finances in the city. But maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the variety in the stories that you share.

I agree that $200k/yr isn't so much for someone in finance or law, but I still think that it is a LOT for other people. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that there are many more non-finance and non-law people in NY than there are financiers and lawyers.

In the non-profit world that I'm involved in in Manhattan, starting salaries are about $30k/yr, mid-level managers make maybe $80k/yr, and top-level, experienced execs with an advanced degree (PhD or equivalent) make maybe $150-$200k/yr. This six-figure salary is for people with 30 or 40 years of experience!

Anyway, just wanted to share this other experience. Whether $200k/yr is a lot or not depends on where you're looking at it from. As a 20-something, single, non-profiteer with friends in public education, social work, nursing, library science, academia, and pastoral work, $200k sounds like an awful lot!

Anonymous said...

Dear Madame X,

I am avid reader and I don't normally post but I wanted to add another positive comment to balance out the nasties.

Thanks for posting this, Madame X. Great to read the variety.

Comfortable Couple, thank you for sharing your story. It sounds eerily similar to mine. The line that got me was "At times, I am uncomfortable with how disproportionate my current contribution is." How true that feels, and I'm feeling it now more than ever as I face the daunting prospect of writing my dissertation...and it seems so much easier to just go back to the world of business and make 6 figures. I won't let myself quit now that I've come this far...but it *is* nice to know that I have corporate experience to fall back on. Good luck with your plans and congrats on being successful so far!