Monday, February 25, 2008

New York Stories #13: Cheap Healthy Good

Here's another blogger contributing a New York Story: Cheap Healthy Good blogs mostly about food, but she's also very aware of finance:

The Basics
I'm a freelance writer living in Brooklyn with my boyfriend, two roommates, and the biggest backyard squirrel you've ever seen. His name is Samson. He likes walnuts.

The Background
After graduating in 1999 from a SUNY, I lived at my parents' home on Long Island and commuted two hours each way to my media job in Midtown. The commute was ... not fun. A year later, bolstered by a raise (to a staggering $28,000/year) I headed for Brooklyn to shack up with three good friends. Added together, I think we just broke the $100,000 salary barrier, but funds didn't seem to didn't matter. New York offers so much, and we had each other. (Also, our beer tastes were way less extravagant at 22.)

One breakup, three boroughs, six apartments, and eight years later, I'm freelancing (mostly) at the same place, making in the mid-to-high five figures, and living comfortably with my current S.O. When I have work, that is. Media jobs are mercurial beasts, and the recent economic shifts (particularly in pay and hiring structures) mean I'm without steady work for the first time since I was 17. Good times.

The Brand New
To combat bouts of unemployment, I go on austerity, kind of like a human school district. Since I share an apartment with a trio, my rent is a highly reasonable $575 (though I've coughed up $1150 for other places). That's not a huge problem. Everything else ... I'm working on it. I rarely shop for clothes anyway, but I'm cutting back on retirement savings, entertainment, food, etc. My old job still covers my health insurance, though I'm not sure for how much longer. That's an issue, and it will become a much bigger one as my personal life settles down.

Speaking of (and I wouldn't mention it if it wasn't significant to my economic standing), I turned 30 last year. While I don't necessarily feel the pressure to get hitched and spawn (yet), I'm surrounded by people who have done both. Since graduation day, I've been to over 25 weddings and 32 showers (baby and bridal). Last August alone, I had 11 pregnant friends or family members. ELEVEN. If I did the math (which I won't, because it would be scarring), I'm fairly certain I'd find these travel/dress/gift expenditures are behind only rent and food. I don't regret it. I love my circle. But, man ... that's a lot of onesies.

Fortunately, I keep a strict budget and am debt-free. After that first year at home, I haven't relied on financial assistance from my parents, either. I don't own a car, rarely carry a credit card balance, and in September of last year, paid off my undergrad and grad school debt to Sallie Mae ten years ahead of schedule. In fact, I accidentally overpaid by $4, and for a few brief and shining weeks, THEY owed ME money. It was heavenly.

I've always been fairly frugal, but do have to restrain myself on occasion. Travel, good food, ballgames, and nights on the town are super-tempting. Yet, as I grow more aware of discounts and my finances, these don't cost nearly as much as they used to. Food, in particular, has become an economic strong point since I started cooking, blogging, and paying attention to how I shop.

If I could give a new New Yorker (or an old one), one piece of advice, I'd caution him/her to beware of lifestyle inflation. (It's when your social and material expectations inflate along with your salary.) When you're 23 and pulling in $30,000 for the first time in your life, it's like a goldmine. Five or six years later, when you're making twice that, it may not seem like enough, since your tastes have matured. If you can keep lifestyle inflation at a reasonable level, New York is a wonderful place with tons of opportunity. If you can't, it's just the opposite.

The Beyond
Honestly, I don't know what's next. Though I crave job stability and want to save more, I expect to keep freelancing for the next few years. I'm done with school, though. If I never write another paper, it will be too soon.

I guess I'll be done with New York someday, too. I love it, but would like trees and a backyard for my kids. Until then, I'm pretty happy with things the way they are.

Ah, the New York life: 6 apartments in 8 years! And she's another freelancer who has to worry about fluctuating income, though living with a significant other can help ease that worry sometimes. Cheap Healthy Good also makes a great point about lifestyle inflation being one of the greatest dangers in this city, where there is always such temptation to have a slightly bigger apartment, or to eat out for one more meal a week! Thank you to Cheap Healthy Good for submitting this story, and good luck finding your next gig!

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
New York Stories #12: Starving Artist

This is an ongoing feature at My Open Wallet, so if you'd like you submit your own New York Story, please email me at openwallet1 [at] yahoo [dot] com.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I think you are right that lifestyle inflation is a big problem here. I fell into that problem myself, until I got smart a couple of years ago. Thanks for the reminder!

Escape Brooklyn said...

That's great she's debt free and able to live frugally in New York. An ongoing struggle, for sure! But it sounds as if she's got her priorities straight and has a clear plan for her future. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

Do only LI schools go on austerity budgets? I use that phrase a lot and my husband claims his school never had austerity budgets every other year.

VixenOnABudget said...

I'm so glad she contributed. Her blog is absolutely amazing.

Gosh. Eleven pregnant people. Oy.