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Lessons from NYC: Four Expenses that Add Up Fast

As a recent college grad making my way into the “real world”, I knew I’d have to budget for life’s little (and not so little expenses). Still, there are a few things I didn’t count on being as costly as they are!

Moving to New York after graduating from college, four expenses are adding up way faster than I thought. Moving to New York City after my college graduation last June has put every financial lesson I’ve learned from my parents or Money Under 30 right into perspective. That might sound like I’m brown-nosing, but it couldn’t be more true.

Every cliché I’d heard about college graduates is suddenly resonating. Being away from my friends and a familiar environment is difficult emotionally. And to say that living here has been hard on the wallet is an understatement. It should be called “the city that never saves!”

Four expenses, in particular, are on my radar right now. They’re sort of the little things that separately, would be easy to handle. But I’m getting into a bad habit of just swiping the debit card and then having a little sticker shock when I look at my bank statements.

So I’m giving myself a wake-up call. Four things are eating up my budget, and it’s teaching me a lesson in moderation.

Paying the rent

Full disclosure: My parents are helping me pay rent on my apartment now as a graduation gift. But that’s going to be changing soon, and I’ll be attempting to find an affordable but safe apartment. A few weeks ago, I went to a friend’s housewarming party. She has a really nice apartment on the Upper West Side. Inside, it looks a lot like our apartments in college. Except she’s paying about $500 more — a MONTH — than it would be in Evanston, Ill. Ugh.

Restaurants and bars

I didn’t truly know the meaning of “New York is expensive” until I was charged $4.50 for an iced tea. Just … how is that possible?! Still trying to figure that one out. I’m hesitant to go out to dinner here because every time, it’s a huge expense. But I can’t help thinking a bigger cost would be a nonexistent social life. So that’s where the moderation comes in. Sometimes I can suggest just drinks instead of dinner. Or sometimes I can just say “No.” Not all of my friends are in the same place financially, so I need to remember that and draw personal limits.

Another place I can cut back is on lunch. At first, I was buying lunch almost every day from shops around my office. It’s convenient, but I’m really trying to limit my days of spending $11 on a mediocre salad. Bringing lunch requires planning ahead, but I never regret the saved cash.

Work wardrobe

My office now is the most formal newsroom I’ve ever worked in. It’s also in Midtown, so every day on the subway I’m commuting alongside people in the finance industry. I always feel young and underdressed, and I’m trying to bridge that gap.

I told some college girlfriends in a recent email that Anne Hathaway in the “before” segment of “The Devil Wears Prada” is hitting a little too close to home. My friend Seana told me at her advertising agency in Chicago, she feels the same way. It’s hard not to feel talked-down-to when other women are literally looking down at you from five-inch heels. My solution has been to buy a few key items gradually. Instead of throwing out everything I owned (which I must say, is tempting), I’m limiting myself to one or two “investment” items every few weeks. I’ll let you know about deals and other strategies I find in an upcoming post.

Student loans

Pretty soon, I’m going to have to start paying them off. I’m already brainstorming for how I’ll be able to do that the best way, without completely ruining my (already pretty modest) lifestyle. And I’m happy to share what the experience is like.

Moderation is going to be key. It’s not about completely cutting myself off from enjoying life. But it is about setting a budget and sticking to it, so I can enjoy without guilt and worry.

If I can (financially) make it here, I’ll make it anywhere.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey! I would love to hear from you about your first jobs, and how you made it work financially.

Published or updated on August 28, 2013

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About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.


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  1. Amber says:

    Good luck Maria! I was in the same place 4 years ago, living in DC. I’m not sure if this is a MoneyUnder30 validated approach, but when I was strapped and trying to balance paying off loans with paying for an apartment with having a decent lifestyle (and eating decently), I focused first on building up an emergency fund (just 3 months worth of total living expenses at first). Then absolutely anything saved at the end of the month (including the entirety of my first bonus) went first to credit card debt (which went fast), then to student loan debt. I was debt free within 2 years. For me, being realistic about what I would miss and what I wouldn’t was key in sticking to a plan – I was less likely to “break” and blow the budget if I was treating myself here and there. You can do it – look forward to seeing more posts about your experiences.

  2. Jason says:

    Yep. I found budgets never work for me, so I used to just set aside a fixed amount to savings and spend the rest on whatever I want. If I have to dip into my savings to pay my credit card bill, I know I would need to scale discretionary spending the next month. I’m a bit more comfortable now, but I always made sure to pay back my “savings loan” on the 1-2 times when I needed to dip in

  3. Laura D says:

    I’m a former New Yorker currently living in Pennsylvania. For clothing, try consignment or thrift stores. They’re fabulous in NY and if you can find a good one you can score really good deals on work clothing. Century 21 is also great for getting designer clothing at a more resonable price.

    • Maria LaMagna says:

      Thank you Laura! Those are great ideas, I’ll definitely scope it out and keep you posted.

      • Kate says:

        I also wanted to agree with Laura; thrift shops in higher-earning neighborhoods tend to have better/name-brand/etc items (I’ve spoke with people at Good Will and they state they do select such items to go into the higher-earning neighborhoods).

        I started selling my entry-into-the-workforce clothes on ebay as I was needing to nicer looking/better quality clothes. That way you help the next generation and it provides you with some cash for the clothes that you need. You may be able to sell your clothes and perhaps even find some other outfits that may work for you now, but cheaper!

        • Sarah says:

          Try HousingWorks locations in Gramercy or Chelsea, or the Goodwill on the Upper East Side. They have amazing corporate attire often with the tags still attached. I bought a suit at Ann Taylor and saw the exact same suit, tags still attached, at Goodwill two weeks later.

  4. Phew, New York lifestyle sounds quite expensive!
    IMHO, the best way to afford that kind of life and still do it in a financially prudent way is to up your earnings/income game. In short, you’ll really have to really work your butt off :)
    Secondly, you can always find areas on which you can cut back or cheaper quality alternatives to those for expenses that dent your wallet over time.

  5. Sasha says:

    What a great post! I’m 27 y/o and live in Florida. I have been out of college for a few years now, but completely understand how you are feeling right now. You are on the right track with the budget and things you need to watch for that adds up. My advice is to set a monthly amount for entertainment and food. I do this monthly. Once that amount is done…IT IS DONE! I take out the cash for both categories and spend it accordingly. Best wishes to you and your future.

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