(Re)Creating Carly











{May 27, 2013}   Surviving NYC on a Budget

When I moved to New York City a little over six years ago, I had no idea the financial challenges I’d face. Wide-eyed and a bit naive, I believed things would just work themselves out. They always had before. I was blinded by the incredible view of midtown from my living room and Alicia Keys and Jay-Z belting out the city’s anthem from passing cars. Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made, Oh, There’s Nothing You Can’t Do. And even once the music naivety began to fade and I started seeing New York for all of his flaws, like a doting lover, I largely ignored them. Until, that is, about six years later when I opened my eyes and found myself in $21,000 of credit card debt.

The view from my apartment

The view from my apartment

I’m happy to say, I’ve learned some things since then. And although I’m still in love with my gorgeous city, I’ve finally figured out how to manage his less desirable traits.

My top twelve tips for surviving NYC on a budget:

1. Chez Carly. The biggest temptation in NYC is all the amazing restaurants, so eating in (not to be confused with ordering in) is the best way to stay within your budget. But when you do go out, as you are bound to (what would be the point of living here if you didn’t eat out at least some of the time?), replace expensive dinners with cheap (but still yummy) brunches. You can also get great deals on websites like Groupon or Living Social so you can try out some new dinner spots on the cheap. And when you want to splurge at a higher-end place, wait until Restaurant Week. I’ve tried out some amazing restaurants, like The Modern and Giorgio’s of Gramercy, this way. A three course lunch is $25; a three-course dinner is $35.

2. Get to know the parking rules. When I first moved to the city, I got slammed with parking tickets–some because I moved my car literally two minutes past the street cleaning times. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NYC parking, each side of most city streets is cleaned twice per week during posted times. If you don’t move your car, it’ll cost you at least $60. Once, instead of giving me a ticket, they towed me. It cost me hundreds of dollars (and a lot of time sitting at the very unpleasant Tow Pound) to get my car back. If possible, get around NYC without a car. But if you need one, learn the rules. I finally did, and am saving a ton of money.

3. If you drive, do your best to avoid the tolls. The RFK, Whitestone, and Throgsneck bridges as well as the Midtown Tunnels are now $7.50 just one way without an EZ pass, $5.33 with an EZ pass. Yikes. That’s between $10 and $15 per day just to travel over a bridge. Try alternate routes, like the Willis Avenue Bridge to the FDR or Choose the Queensboro or Williamsburg bridge over the Midtown Tunnel. It will save you hundreds of dollars each month.

4. Travel by rail. As you can tell from numbers 2 and 3, it’s much cheaper than owning a car. If you do use the subway, get a monthly pass (currently $112). But if you only use it a handful of times per month, just pay as you go. But don’t lose your card. They now add a $1 surcharge for new cards. Ouch.

5. Live with roommates or find a rent-stabilized apartment. Also, avoid realtor fees by conducting the search yourself and look for apartments listed by owner. I know some people are weary of craigslist, but I found a great, no-fee apartment this way and saved well over $1,000 in finders fees.

6. Don’t pick the trendiest hood in the city. It’ll cost ya. Live in a safe neighborhood with good subway access. Every neighborhood has its charms and you’ll fall in love with all of its quirks and secret little hideaways. As long as you’re near a decent subway stop, everything in the city is right at your fingertips.

7. Cheat on your hairdresser. If you’re just getting a trim, use a groupon. Most NYC stylists are more than capable of giving a good touch-up, so don’t waste a ton of money at a high-end salon.

8. Go to your dermatologist for spa treatments. Some procedures, like light chemical peels to help exfoliate the skin, can be done at your doctor’s office for only the cost of your insurance co-pay. Contact your dermatologist for info before shelling out hundreds at that luxury spa.

9. Find free stuff to do. I was going to write a blog post dedicated solely to this, but the list is long and ever-changing. Fortunately, Time Out New York  and NYC Go keeps up with this for you.

My faves:

Taken while walking over the Queensboro Bridge.

Taken while walking over the Queensboro Bridge.

  • Kayaking on the Hudson or Kayaking on the East River I once kayaked from the Queensboro Bridge to the Williamsburg Bridge at night and it was incredible — and free. I’ve never seen the skyline look more beautiful. (Note: they supply the kayaks and life jackets.)
  • Bank of America customers — Admission is free to select museums (like the Guggenheim) with credit or debit card.
  • Bryant Park — Tons of free things to do here: Ice Skating, Movies, Yoga, Foreign Language Classes, Juggling Lessons, Ping Pong, and countless more. I love this park!
  • Bridge walks — Take a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge or the Queensboro Bridge and see gorgeous views of the city.
  • Governor’s Island — The ferry is free and the park is beautiful. They also offer tram tours of the island’s history.
  • Staten Island Ferry — Bring your camera and take great shots of downtown Manhattan as well as the Statue of Liberty.
  • Free Concerts — This site is in-the-know about free upcoming concerts in the city.

10. Find cheap stuff to do. Again, Time Out New York is your go-to for fun on the cheap.

My faves:

  • Bingo in Brooklyn — Old school bingo at its best. But be prepared to keep up or you’ll miss the numbers. They don’t mess around.
  • Yoga — A list of cheap or free yoga spots around the city.
  • Meditation — Cheap or free meditation spots in the city.
  • Happy Hours — These cheap spots will make you happy.
  • Pot luck nights with friends.

11. When clothes shopping, choose classic over trendy. As cute as I think peplum tops are this season, I know they have a shelf-life. Classics survive fashion shifts while helping your budget survive, as well.

Update: Today in Central Park. Perfect Day!

Update: Today in Central Park. Perfect Day!

12. When shopping for groceries or personal items, use the club cards and shop the sales. Once I got $42 worth of items I use regularly for a mere $9 at Rite Aid. Also, try not to be too tied to a name-brand. Oftentimes the store brand is made in the exact same factory and the difference in taste is negligible. The difference in your wallet, however, is not. Lastly — once the weather is warmer you can find countless fruit & veggie stands on the streets where you can get your produce for less than half of what you’ll pay at the grocery store or bodega.

13. Yeah, yeah. I know I said 12, but this just occurred to me as perhaps the most important of them all. Don’t be afraid to say no to invites that you can’t afford. Temptation is everywhere in the city. And, let’s face it, a lot of people make more money than you (and by you, I mean ME). Don’t commit financial suicide by trying to keep up, impress, or live a lifestyle you can’t afford. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but trust me, it’s a long, hard climb out.

Whether you’re a a city-dweller or just someone trying to save money, I hope these tips inspire you to make the most of your life — and your money. (And now I’m off to a FREE picnic in Central Park. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!)

How do you survive on a budget? Any tips on free or cheap things to do in the city?



When I embarked on my quest to become debt-free, I decided that dating couldn’t be part of the equation. You see, when I’m dating, I have the tendency to spend a lot of money–on clothes, on my hair, on my nails, and if I really like ’em, on the guy. In fact, when scrutinizing my past credit card statements to try to figure out how the !$%@ I got myself in this mess, I noticed a GIGANTIC spike in spending during my last relationship with Mr. TooGoodToBeTrue.

So for the past few months, I’ve been lying low, focusing solely on paying down my debt. But ya know what they say — it’s lonely on the bottom. And sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I recently read two posts–Budget and the Beach’s, Confessions, lamenting singledom, and My Everyday Power Blog’s, Start Before You Are Ready, which had this little gem in it:

credit: everydaypowerblog.com

credit: everydaypowerblog.com

They got me debating the age old question–to date or not to date?– all over again.

I’m turning 39 in a few months. I should feel some sort of pressure about that, right? I don’t really — partly because I live in the Singles Capital of the World, and partly because I’ve loved and lost and loved and lost and… well, you get the idea. I’ve been there, done that. And I’m freakishly okay with not doing it again.

Sort of. Every now and then that little meddler inside my head starts whispering things about how nice it’d be to be in love again. How nice it’d be to have a life partner to share all the highs, lows and plain ol’ middles with. She also has no problem reminding me that I’m not getting any younger. Asshole.

But I’m afraid of a couple of things. First, I’m worried that dating will keep me from reaching my financial goals. For me, trying to date while recovering from debt is a little like a recovering alcoholic getting a job as a bartender.  I just know I’m going to spend a lot more money. And, second, I hate the idea of having to tell a potential love interest that I’m a financial disaster (for the moment, anyway). When you meet someone you like, you just want it to be all wow-you’re-so-awesome and i-can’t-believe-someone-as-amazing-as-you-exists. Or something like that. But when you also have to slip in, “By the way, I’m in massive amounts of credit card debt and my fun for the week consists of Swiss Miss and microwave popcorn,” suddenly, awesome-and-amazing takes a sharp dive towards he’s-just-not-that-into-you. Or so I’d imagine.

If I woman up and wait a year until I’m happily in the black, I can step back out into the dating world a financially secure love-seeking machine.  But, if I wait until, as the quote above says, “I’m ready,” maybe I’ll be waiting for the rest of my life. And, just maybe, I’ll miss out on something awesome-and-amazing right now.

What’s a broke girl to do?

I’m still leaning towards not dating for the moment–mostly because I’m pretty happy on my own, and love being focused solely on lil ol’ me for a change, but, I’m curious–What would you do? Have you ever dated while on a budget? How did you manage?



It’s been about three months since I set out on my quest to become debt-free. And in that time, I’ve managed to pay off almost $6,000 of debt. (Yippeeee!) I’ve clearly gotten okay at sticking to a budget. But I’ve learned a lot more than that since becoming admitting I’m broke.

#1 Carly’s Computer Repair–At Your Service.

When my laptop recently stopped working, I feared it might become a gigantic financial roadblock for me. In the past, I would have used it as an excuse to buy a new one.  But this time around, I knew that just wasn’t in my budget. Neither was a gigantic invoice from the computer repair shop. When I consulted a techie friend of mine, he told me he thought it might be the motherboard. So I headed to one of my favorite stores–eBay, and was psyched to find new motherboards listed for one-sixth of the price it would cost for someone else to fix it. My inner computer geek’s hard drive started humming and I thought, hey, people repair computers all the time–how hard can it be? So I ordered a new motherboard–$60 including shipping–and let a YouTube video guide me as I performed my first surgery. When I finished and my laptop flashed awake for the first time in days, I felt as if I had just saved the world. And I had. Well, at least my little world.

My living room floor mid-surgey

My living room floor mid-surgery

#2 How to eat all meals plus snacks for only $5/day.

I used to spend almost twice this amount just on lunch every day. But now I cook all of my meals, am eating much healthier food, and am saving a ton of money. Here are some pictures of my latest creations. (I’m not sure the pictures do them justice, but trust me–they were really good. And keep in mind that these are from the girl who used to burn bagels regularly.)

Avocado, tomato and mushroom omelet

Avocado, tomato and mushroom omeletty thing

Breaded and baked tilapia with chickpea/spinach salad

Breaded and baked tilapia with chickpea and spinach salad

Slow-cooked barbecued chicken with sauteed zucchini and brown rice

Slow-cooked barbecued chicken with sauteed zucchini and brown rice

Vegetable stuffed peppers

Veggie stuffed peppers

For other recipes, a blog I follow called Drinking the Office Coffee recently posted some great–and cheap–recipe ideas in her post, Finding the Joy in Packing Lunch. Check it out.

#3 How to make extra cash.

In the midst of coming to terms with my financial situation back in January, I contacted a credit counselor. I had high hopes this phone call would provide me with some sort of financial panacea that would allow me to continue living exactly as I had been. But after hearing every detail of my sob story, the counselor paused for a moment and said unsympathetically, “There’s nothing I can do for you. You just have to make more money.”

The thought of getting a second job at the time made me miserable. I already worked so much and got home most days completely exhausted. But there was just no other way. So I started looking for extra work and found out I could pick up extra hours at my job. I also sold things. Websites like eBay make it so easy to turn stuff you no longer want or need into cash. Additionally, instead of giving up some much-needed relaxation this summer to a full-time job, I decided to sublet my apartment and am going to visit friends and family in CT, Boston, and Tampa. All of my home expenses will be covered while I’m gone and all the extra money will go straight to my debt. (And as a bonus–my ticket to Florida cost a whopping $10. Thank you, Delta Skymiles!)

I also recently finished an application to TaskRabbit — a website that matches people who need errands done with people willing to do them for a fee. I’m hoping this will result in some extra debt repayment money over the next year.

I’m constantly looking for new ways to increase my income, so if anyone has any other side-work ideas, please share!

#4 Friends love me for me—not the restaurants where I eat or the clothes I wear.

I mean, I knew this, but I also worried that people wouldn’t want to spend as much time with me because I can’t afford to do as much. It turns out everyone has been incredibly supportive. I’ve even inspired a few friends to get a bit more proactive about their own financial situations. The old saying is true–real friends don’t care if you’re broke. Or maybe I just made that up. But it’s still true.

#5 Bloggers are really cool – yes, that means YOU!

Since I started writing about this journey, I’ve received a tremendous amount of positive feedback and support from other bloggers. It goes such a long way in helping me stay motivated. Thank you so much! And an extra special thank you to the following three who recently mentioned my blog in their posts:

Brigitte’s Banter — Brigitte’s blog is uplifting and thought-provoking. Her latest post, Monday Musings and Motivations –Wishes, is all about the importance of making wishes–no matter what age we are. She is also the writer of the wildly popular and Freshly Pressed, A Gracious Guide to Benevolent Blogging. Every blogger should read this. Seriously.

Noted in Nashville — Anita is talented and insightful. Her latest post is all about that dreaded “Blogger’s Block.” What do you do when you just can’t think of something to blog about? Check out Whatever Am I Doing? Whatever Am I doing? for her take on this common experience.

Budget and the Beach — I’m so glad I stumbled across this beach lover’s personal finance blog. It’s been a huge inspiration to me. Please wish her a Happy One Year Blogiversary and enter to win her raffle for $50 cash and a $15 Starbucks gift card. (How cool is that?)

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This journey is just beginning for me, but I’ve already learned so much. Can’t wait to find out what the next 14 months have in store for me.

What lessons have your recent journeys taught you?



et cetera