Friday, February 08, 2008

Rachelle's Question: How Do I Move to New York?

Here's an email I got from a reader and have taken way too long to answer, mainly because my answer was "I don't know!!!" Readers, give me your ideas!

I just discovered your blog and I’ve been slowly working my way through all your archives. I really appreciate your honesty! I’m a 22 year old recent college graduate, currently working at my first “real” job in alumni relations at my alma mater. I grew up here, went to school here, and now I’m starting my adult life here. The thing is, I’ve always wanted to live somewhere else, especially NYC. I visited when my best friend lived in New Jersey but other than that, I haven’t spent much time there. Maybe it’s naïve to want to move to a city I barely know, especially one like New York. Then again, maybe it’s just adventurous. Anyway, my question is: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to move to New York , but doesn’t really know the city or anyone there? I’d most likely be in another entry level position, not making much money, so I’d need to find affordable housing and roommates. I don’t even know how to go about that! On top of that, I’d imagine conducting a job search from across the country is going to be really difficult. This is more of a life question than a personal finance question, but if you have any advice, I’d really appreciate it! Thanks for your time, and for the time you spend writing a blog that is so interesting to read.


Of course, to me there are no "life questions" that aren't also "personal finance questions!" Before I came to NYC I was very intimidated by the scale of the place, and the dirt and the crime (though a lot of that was already getting much better by the time I moved here). I might never have moved here if I hadn't done it for a relationship, and I already had other friends here too, and family, and a place to live. I was very lucky. And money was also a factor in that-- I knew what my rent would be, and knew the job I found would cover it. I'd already been out of college and working for a few years, so the job was above entry level-- of course this was still publishing, and my salary was only $25,000, but I also got a big bonus on top of that, which made it easier to save.
If I'd had other reasons to move to NYC without the kind of support network I had, I think I would have been much more daunted by the financial aspects of living in the city, and I probably would never have done it. But people do it all the time, and most of them somehow make it work.

About 10 years ago, I had an assistant who came to NYC from a very small town in the mid-west. She'd never lived anywhere outside her home state. When she arrived here, knowing no one, she rented the cheapest studio apartment she could find, in a remote part of Brooklyn. Money was tight, but she was making ends meet. But she was miserable, and very quickly decided she wanted to go back home. But since good assistants are hard to find, a few of us in the office wanted to talk her into staying.
My main piece of advice to her was to find roommates and live in a more central neighborhood where there were more young people. The neighborhood she'd been in was total culture shock, and bore no resemblance at all to the romanticized New York you see in movies. To me, if she was going to make it here, she needed support from her peers, and she needed to feel like she was experiencing some of the fun of NYC. People in the office gave her tours of different neighborhoods and contacted friends at various other publishing houses to try to find her a roommate. It worked and she ended up living in Prospect Heights in a building full of people her own age who'd have parties on the roof every summer weekend. She made friends, did well at work, got promoted, and today, she lives in a penthouse in Trump Tower.
Ok, that last bit about Trump Tower isn't true. You know what she really did? She ended up moving back to the mid-west after a few years. She'd made her life in NYC a success, but she'd had enough: she really wanted to live in the suburbs and have kids. But she'd had her adventure and I think she found it worthwhile.

But I digress... does anyone else have any advice for Rachelle on how to move to NYC?


Anonymous said...

Madame X - where is Rachelle staying now? She should be aware that she will need about $5k or so available (hopefully, she'll need much, much less!) - for deposit, rent, any broker fees she might need to pay. I'm definitely no expert on what are good neighborhoods, but certainly, posting on Craigslist to look for roommates - and meeting them first, doing some background search on them (and allowign them to do a similar one on her) will help.

Maybe talk to her colleagues at work about:
1. Any new joinees who are also out looking for a place to live - always a good place to start looking for a roommate
2. For an intranet website with postings by people for sublets? I found one like this through my then-company's website, stayed for 2 years and still count those two as my best roommates EVER!!!

My one advice would be - if you're staying somewhere half-way decent, DO NOT give up the place until leases on a new place have eben signed and keys handed over!!!! It might just be worth it to live somewhere temporarily (just don't make it a not-safe neighborhood. If it's a little more run-down, that you can handle, but safety comes first!) and keep the search going for a better place.

Little Miss Moneybags said...

1. Find a job and/or save about 3 months worth of expenses before moving here. She definitely needs to have money available to get set up, or know that money will be coming in. I moved here with an internship that paid only my rent, and I worked at Starbucks to buy food and necessities until I found a "real" job.

2. Find a share on Craigslist. Move into a furnished room in an apartment. Try to find one with people her own age instead of living in some crazy old lady's spare room (trust me). This really is not hard. It's easier for young women than guys, because most shared apartment situations won't consider a guy looking for a place. (It's not legal, but it's true). Moving into a share this way will cost usually only first months rent and security deposit, $1600 for a place with $800 rent (totally doable, even in Manhattan). These places often don't have leases, so you can take off quickly if it doesn't work out. I know it sounds crazy and risky, but I've done it twice, as well as had a dozen people move into an apartment I was living in, and I've never had a situation that was any worse than slightly uncomfortable. I'm still really good friends with several of the people I lived with.

Rachelle, you can do this if you really want--I'd do it all over again 100%. If you want to email me about this, you can do so at littlemissmoneybags (

Anonymous said...

This is coming from a person who decided to move NYC in 6 (six) days five years ago. I was the real life version of Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal. I barely understood the language, I had no idea of the money, I literally had no place to stay.Quite frankly I wish I had as much as Rachelle. She doesn't have to worry about learning a new language, she doesn't have to worry about getting a social security number, she doesn't have to worry about credit history, she doesn't have to worry about adapting a new culture and food, she doesn't have to worry about calling home because it is not going to cost her a fortune, hell she doesn't have to worry about getting a cell phone! These may not seem to relate personal finance, but you need to have all of those things to make money.

Worrying about finding an apartment or a roommate , there is craigslist for that, worrying about finding a job, that is the easiest thing to do, she can work in part time jobs until she finds the one that suits her. I wish those two things were my only worries 5 years ago:) I highly recommend her to take the risk and do what she wants to do. The worst thing that can happen: she cannot make it (eventhough I don't see how) and moves back and cross off moving to NYC from her list. There is nothing for her to lose, and financially the worst thing (if she doesn't make it) she will lose $5K-$7K tops in couple of months. But frankly I don't think that will be the case, I don't see a reason for a recent college graduate to not to make it. Afterall all recent graduates don't make much money and over the years her salary and bonuses will make living in NYC more comfortable.

Rachelle best of luck to you in your decision.

Anonymous said...

My "advice" is laughable, but here goes (based on my own experience):

I went to college in DC. At age 22, during finals week, my friends asked me, "Hey, I'm moving to California in two weeks, wanna come?" I said, "Sure." And with that, I got rid of many possessions and loaded her truck up for our drive cross country.

I had zero plan; I had always fantasized about living in San Francisco, so I just went and did it. I had a few thou with me and that's about it.

As I've done a lot of my life, I just winged it. My lack of planning was a good thing, since it left me open to possibilities.

When I arrived, I stayed in a sleazy, but cheap, hotel and applied for temp agencies. Within one week I found an affordable and tiny studio and signed a 3 mn lease only. My first temp job started the day after I applied. I made roughly $820 a mn, and my rent was $400. I was able to make it, and I will say, SF is a pretty easy town to be poor in vs NYC. This helped greatly, and I never felt I suffered having a low income.

I say she have a loose plan and then just DO IT. Waiting for all things to be lined up and perfect will hold her down. Being young has its advantages and I hope she follows a dream while things can work in her favor. Mostly why I just jumped in and did it - and refused to play it safe - was that I wanted to be much older one day and know I didnt have regrets.

JCap said...

I don't have too much sage finance advice for Rachel, but as an employee of a university in New York, I would suggest looking for a similar position to the one she has now at one of the many universities in New York. It could be a good stepping stone, the money's decent, and the benefits are awesome. Also, working at a university can sometimes give you the sense of community that's immediately lacking when you move to NYC.

beth said...

I did something similar - different city, but I wanted to be there, and moved with no job/friends/place to live. I had week-long cheap hotel room for the first 2 weeks. I took a crappy job and crappy apartment (in a good area) and went from there.

It was SO worth it! Do it! My main advice is: get rid of your excess stuff, and have an escape plan.

I moved to my city in September and had a round-trip ticket back home for Christmas. I told myself that if it wasn't working, I just would never go back to the city after Christmas, but by then I was thriving.

Escape Brooklyn said...

Don't do it! (Heh, you know I have to say that.)

Actually, I'd suggest not expecting to secure a job before you move. Instead, plan to temp initially while you look for something permanent.

In terms of housing, just make sure you have a chunk saved for at least one month's rent and security deposit, and probably an extra month's rent to pay the broker's fee, too. (Unless you live in Manhattan in which case you'll need a gazillion dollars up front.) But you should be fine in the outer boroughs.

Lastly, have an exit strategy -- just in case. You may not need it, but I've met many people who lasted less than a year in NYC. They simply hated it and knew right away it wasn't for them, so they left. But you'll never know unless you try, so good luck!

Anonymous said...

Do it. Do it now or you'll regret it. It's a million times harder if you have a spouse, kids, pets, two cars and high standard of living.

When I first got out of college I started working for a big corporation...after about two years I decided it was not the life for me. I called everyone I knew in the NYC area for advice. Friends in Jersey City (right across the river) knew someone who's roommate was moving out at the end of the month, so I handed in my two week's notice, mailed a check to my new roommate, and posted all my furniture (except bed) on the for sale bulletin board at work.

It was interesting. I'm back living in a small town now, but I lived in Jersey City and worked in NYC for four years and if I could do it over again the only thing I'd change is leaving the pre-NYC corporate job six months earlier, before I burned out. It did take me a month and a half to find a job, so be prepared to take temp work and make sure you have a place to crash and some cash.

Free From Broke said...

I'd say don't feel like you have to live in Manhattan! I know a part of the thrill of NYC is Manhattan but you are going to pay a premium rent for that thrill. You can get a much bigger apartment for less by checking out the other boroughs or even New Jersey.

guinness416 said...

I agree with the commenter who suggested waiting for the stars to align will mean never moving. I moved to NYC on the spur of the moment at 22, from Ireland. My husband did the same, from Bangladesh, at 18. Don't be intimidated - people move to NY every day! New Yorkers like to play up the difficulty and toughness of the city, but I've always found that to be somewhat self-inflating more than anything else.

Saving some cash prior to moving anywhere if of course good advice. And I know nothing about your field, so would suggest you make some contacts and ask questions about opportunities before moving. If you search through the archives over at you'll find many questions and great answers about finding housing in NY - that's a must port of call in my opinion, for comprehensive advice.

But I would emphasize that (in my experience) I always found the city a very easy place to live for a younger person - it's easy to be fit in NY, easy to pick up extra work, easy to get around, easy to get delivery (of everything!), easy to use a very active craigslist, easy to meet people from your home country/state, easy to be entertained, and so on.

I moved on after the guts of a decade in NYC, and have now lived in Toronto for a couple of years - another major city, to be sure, but nowhere near as easy to live in as New York.

guinness416 said...

Gah, that should read up above

Amy K. said...

I don't have NYC advice, but for what it's worth, when I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan I knew no-one and decided to sublet a student apartment for the summer. It's a very college-centric town, with lots of empty apartments in the summer, so I got my place cheap.

Hopefully "sublet for cheap" applies to NYC too! It was a great chance to get settled, learn the town, and decide which neighborhood I wanted to move to.

Anonymous said...

So much fantastic advice - I might add one tidbit. Working in a restaurant (or similar business) is a great way to get to really know the city and its people. Plus, that leaves you time to do the search for your "real" job. Even that will change as you see how much possibility there is here.

I'm from NY, but made a spur of the moment move to DC when I was in my 20's. Scary stuff, but really exciting. And you will be surprised how helpful folks can be -- even NY'ers :-) The people on this board are a shining example of this. My husband (now in his mid 40's) moved here from a small town in Oklahoma without ever having visited. He said he hated it for the first year, but once he got some solid footing, really loved it. And still does.

Take a flying leap, and the net will appear!

Good luck :-)

Anonymous said...

Do it, do it, do it! You're at the perfect age to try something new and fun, and hopefully you can roll with the punches and enjoy life. Other commenters have offered great advice about having a few extra dollars in the bank first as well as a back-up plan.

My other note is that has been very helpful for various friends to find accomodations in new cities.

Have a great time!

Font Finder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Font Finder said...

Hi Madame X, I live in Brooklyn too and also was making 25k when I moved here. I was lucky enough to know exactly 1 person when I moved here.

As far as Rachelle goes, I say do it. But you must understand you need to be prepared to work hard at simple sustaining and survival. NYC has a way of wearing you down sometimes, but the energy of it all is also electrifying. I had no job when I moved here and barely any money. I also had no sense of direction and was bad at making friends. I've now been living here 7 years, pretty successfully.

I recommend perusing and finding a sublet studio apartment, or a roomie looking for someone to share short-term. This will give you a chance to get to know the city a little bit before signing a lease. When possible, try your hardest to avoid renting through brokers. Sometimes it's necessary and you will definitely find better apartments in better neighborhoods this way. However, expect to pay 10-15% of your annual rent on a broker's fee. Just to rent.

Start networking before you go and save your money. Find NYC groups you'd like to join or find out where a cheap or free event is being held in the city. If you're interested in a particular field, start sending out resumes and emails. It's unlikely you'll get hired before you move, but it's important to get yourself out there and put yourself in the frame of mind to make it work.

Start making a list of free and cheap events in the city. You can see loads of free concerts in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and Central Park. It's important for you to get out and about and not hole up in your apartment.

If you're prepared to do anything to get settled and forge your path here, you'll make it and be happy. But be very, very clear about your goals with yourself before you go and be aggressive about them when you get here.

Anonymous said...

Do it, Rachelle! And if you have a little money saved when you arrive, so much the better, but really, I moved here 7 years ago with something like $1,000 and a suitcase (how cliche!).

My best advice is to get some kind of job in the first few days so that as you're negotiating the city you're not just constantly draining money, you have a little coming in too. Temping is likely your best bet, but if you have any waitressing or especially bar-tending experience you'll make more and it'll make being able to go on 'real' job interviews during the day a little easier. I seriously would take any job in the first week or so just to keep that income coming in -- it can really set the tone for your life here.

Oh, my other piece of advice is to sign up with temp agencies that you know are contracted to work with companies you're interested in. Addecco works exclusively with Scholastic, for example, and I know Conde Nast has the same deal with a temp agency but I'm not sure which one. I know three people who've gotten their CN jobs that way.

Maybe do the temp thing AND the service thing and then you'll have cash and job prospects...and you'll meet a ton of people.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I suggest that Rachelle save some money while staying at her current job until she has been there longer than one year at least, two years would be better. During that time she can shop her resume around to universities in NYC. Regardless of whether she gets a job before the move, she can plan to go once she has an emergency fund of 5K? to cover moving expenses. Good luck!