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Last week my husband and I had brunch with some cousins visiting from Seattle. One of them looked at me with pity and said “How can you live here – it’s so expensive!” Now, she doesn’t live in some tiny town she lives in Seattle! But still, there they were shaking their heads and thinking we were out of our minds for choosing to live in a city where the price of a 1,000 square foot apartment is the same as a 4 bedroom house in most other parts of the country. Trust me there are days where I shake my head and think the same thing. However, living in Manhattan is vital to my well-being – even though sometimes the trade offs can seem ridiculous. I have 5 city mom tips for keeping up financially and realistically in a city that seems to have a hand in every pocket.
- Create a real budget. Seems simple right? It’s not. Every year my husband creates an awesome spreadsheet with all of our income and expenses in detail, month by month. Yes, it’s as anal and nutty as it sounds and it’s awesome. We can predict and project every dollar and make choices accordingly. For the last two years we’ve been using Mint.com to keep track of every expense and investment in every financial account we have and this has made it even easier to track all of our spending and goals. If you’re a data geek like me (and my husband) this makes financial planning fun – I swear.
- Cook. Another thing that seems simple, but let me tell you in Manhattan this is not easy. Not just because most kitchens are the size of a normal hallway closet, but because everything and everyone delivers. It’s so easy to grab a menu from 30 or so in the drawer, or even easier use Seamless Web, and just order Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Italian, Malaysian – whatever! So cooking is a discipline and though groceries are also expensive in Manhattan it’s still a huge money saver to cook. And I also food shop a few times a week, not as convenient but I find I actually throw out and waste way less food if I buy fresh food rather than one big weekly shop.
- Public Transportation (or better yet your feet) I walk everywhere. Uptown, downtown, to and and from school, if the weather is decent I’m walking. If it’s not or if I have to get somewhere quickly or pretty far then I’m on the bus or subway. By far one of the greatest things about New York City is not driving. We do own a car but we share it, and the costs, with my mom since neither of us use it on a daily basis. Our little co-op car works out perfectly and is really just for getting out of the city.
- Discount Shopping. New York City is the home of sample sales, Barneys Warehouse Sale and (my special secret I’ll share here) the crazy Bergdorf Goodman sales. I can’t imagine ever paying retail in this city. Loehmann’s and Century 21 round out the deals but there is no reason to pay full price for fashion in NYC.
- Saying No. To myself, to my kids. There is a point where I just have to say we don’t need it. The best thing about having our entire budget in our spreadsheet is that I can see the trade offs. It’s not that I can’t buy or do something it’s a matter of knowing if I do make that choice it means it has to come from somewhere else. Sometimes that’s fine but usually it’s not worth it.
I know I’m lucky that I’m not choosing between food or medicine, but it’s all relative and living and raising my kids in NYC is my ultimate choice so I’m willing to base my financial decisions and sacrifices to make that our reality. Though a second bathroom would certainly be nice.