(Re)Creating Carly











Less than seventeen months ago, I took the first step toward fulfilling my goal of getting rid of TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS in credit card debt. And, today, I am happy to report that I’ve reached my goal. (YAY!!)

Throughout this journey, I’ve learned a tremendous amount and in celebration of my achievement, I thought I’d share the top ten:

  1. Friends are people who love you regardless of how much money you have, where you can afford to eat, or what clothes you can afford to wear. I’m so grateful to have friends who love me, who root for me, who enjoy popcorn and movie nights and hole-in-the-wall dinner spots—and who understand when I can’t afford to attend certain events. My friends have been so supportive throughout this journey and I really couldn’t have done this without them.
  2. The simple things in life are free (or cheap). And the simple things in life also happen to be the best things. There is a ton of cool free (and cheap)  sh** to do in NYC. And pretty much everywhere. Do some research and find it.
  3. More people are in debt than you think. When you start opening up about your finances, others will, too. Once I shared my debt story, I heard from countless friends and family members who were also struggling financially. Being able to share honestly about what was going on in my life helped relieve so much of the burden. And not one person – not one—expressed any kind of judgment. To the contrary, most people showered me with support and encouragement, and actually looked to me for inspiration.
  4. Things don’t equal happiness. Happiness equals happiness. I lived on next to nothing over the past year and a half. I rarely bought things. And I was happy.
  5. Money matters. I recently read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, a story of a woman who embarks on a yearlong mission to increase her happiness. She devotes one of her chapters to the idea of “buying happiness,” that is, purposefully spending to improve specific aspects of one’s life. In it she states, “When money or health is a problem, you think of little else; when it’s not a problem, you don’t think much about it.” I’ve learned that although having money won’t make you happy, not having it can make you pretty miserable.  If this seems to contradict the idea that the best things in life are free, it doesn’t. The best things in life are free, but if you’re constantly worried about debt, you probably won’t enjoy them much.
  6. Health is more important than everything. Everything. And, fortunately, exercise is free. And healthy food isn’t nearly as expensive as the world tries to make you think. A week’s worth of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins cost much less than a few nights a week cruising through the Wendy’s drive-thru.
  7. Ignoring problems doesn’t, in fact, make them go away. They instead manifest in other ways – stress, illness, unhappiness. When I finally opened my eyes and honestly examined my financial situation, for the first time in a long time, I felt as though I was in control. The stress and worry immediately began to dissipate. I had not yet paid a cent towards my debt, but I knew that I would.
  8. Tracking spending is the most crucial component of debt repayment. At least it was for me. I would’ve sworn on both my great-great grandmothers’ graves that I didn’t have even an extra dollar to put towards my debt. And I would’ve been damned to hell (or wherever you get damned for disturbing the peace of long gone family members) because I was wrong. But I didn’t realize this until I tracked my spending and discovered everywhere I was being wasteful. My debt accumulated over my refusal to accept the limits of my income and my refusal to believe that with a little effort I could, in fact, live within my means. It’s just take-out, I’d say. It’s just a manicure. Maybe my debt repayment wouldn’t have been so painful if I’d been working to pay off a 6-month trip around the world, but instead I was paying off old grocery bills and daily visits to the coffee shop.
  9. Don’t eat your way into debt. I didn’t realize that instead of spending close to $400 per month on groceries, I could spend about $150. I didn’t realize that instead of buying lunch and tea and breakfast sandwiches out every day, I could instead eat the leftovers from the dinners I’d made the night before. I didn’t realize that instead of ordering dinner out, I could actually just eat the food in my refrigerator before it spoiled. The worst thing about eating your way into debt is you have absolutely sh** nothing to show for it.

    My incredible view -- Blue Ridge Mountains

    My incredible view — Blue Ridge Mountains

  10. Debt is just a distraction. One of my favorite books is called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In it, Pressfield discusses the struggle of artists. He calls the obstacles that get in the way of an artist’s work resistance. Resistance, as he describes it, appears in many forms, be it negative self-talk, or life hurdles such as illness or an abundance of obligations. I think having debt, at least for me, was a form of resistance that interfered with me pursuing something that means everything to me – writing my first novel. However, now that my debt is gone, instead of being focused on money right now, I’m at a gorgeous writing retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As I type this, the birds are singing, wisps of smoky clouds are curling around the adjacent mountaintops, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

 

 

I haven’t been the most consistent blogger – I’m so sorry! But to everyone who has read, commented, and offered support throughout my journey, I sincerely thank you. Your interest and support has meant so much to me. Going forth, I will still continue to blog about things that interest me (and hopefully you, too)–like money, writing, and fitness. For now, on to the next goal! Xox



{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?



et cetera