(Re)Creating Carly











Hello all! Long time, no blog!

Thanks to some down time via February vacation, along with some positive debt repayment news, I’m finally back with an update.

It’s been about a year since I made my first payment towards getting out of credit card debt. And what a year it has been. In addition to adjusting to a yearlong sacrifice of THINGS (which isn’t really as difficult as one might imagine), I’ve become so much happier and have taken control over my life.

When I first forced myself to look at the balance on my credit card statement, I was more stressed out than ever, feeling like everything was pretty hopeless. I searched everywhere, fruitlessly, for a simple solution. I felt sorry for myself and was enraged that I worked so hard every day, and still, as an educated professional, could not afford to do seemingly simple things, like order Indian take-out, or see my beloved Jack White in concert. I looked at everyone and everything, except myself, to lay blame. It’s that damn ONE PERCENT. It’s all THEIR FAULT! It’s Scott Walker and his cronies, systematically destroying America’s middle class! It’s NYC! What kind of imperialist city charges its residents $7.50 ONE WAY to travel from one section of town to another?! And when one of my close friends suggested I find a part-time job, I seethed – DOESN’T SHE CARE ABOUT ME AT ALL??? HOW COULD SHE EVEN SUGGEST SUCH A THING??? When I called debt counselors, their advice was the equivalent of a sarcastic eye roll. “Spend less and get another job, lady.” But HOW could I work MORE??? I was already working so much, and was utterly exhausted by the time I got home. And how could I cut spending from my already tight budget?? No more take out?? EVER?? No more coffee house stops in the morning?? THIS IS NOT A LIFE! I MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD!

Yep.

I know.

Pretty pathetic.

But once my tantrum was over, I faced the truth that there would be no easy way out for me, and I was going to have to be a grown-up. After all,*I* had gotten myself into this mess (regardless of what economic injustices may have indirectly befallen me, or what lines of consumerism BS I chose to believe). It was ALL ME. I am no victim. And spending even a moment believing otherwise was only delaying the inevitable: me cutting my spending, increasing my income, and getting out of debt.

When I changed my perspective, that’s when my life changed.

Getting real about my finances and learning to live within my means has made me see the world, as well as myself, in a new way. I am more than THINGS. I am more than EXPERIENCES I CAN’T AFFORD. I am CAPABLE of making intelligent financial decisions. I am capable of being a GREAT FRIEND to others without overspending. I am capable of enjoying the SIMPLE THINGS. In fact, I’d argue that the simple things are far more precious than those that come with a hefty price tag.

Cliché, yes. But the best things in life REALLY are free. (Clichés are clichés for a reason, people!) Listening is free. Exercising is free. Laughing is free. Kissing is free. Sharing stories is… well, you get the idea. Keeping up with the Joneses? Puh-ljoneses2mansionease. I gots no one to keep up with, and all the love I need.

This isn’t to say that it’s been easy, and that I haven’t grown weary of debt repayment. Oh, have I ever. But when I think back to how unhappy I was, living with my head buried beneath stacks of PAYMENTDUENOWs, I am so grateful to claim every last bit of this experience. The saying is true: what doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.

I haven’t blogged a lot over the past many months – mostly because I only feel like I should be blogging when I have something significant to report. And I’ve pretty much said all there is to say about how to get out of debt: you just need to put a plan in place, live within your means, find extra sources of income, and make as big a payment as humanly possible each month until that balance is wiped out. I’m not there yet, but I will be soon.

I’m so happy to report that I’ve gotten my debt down to $4800. FORTY-EIGHT HUNDRED, GUYS!!! And I’m still on schedule to have it paid off by my debt-free date. What is especially fantastic about this is that while I’ve managed to pay off over $17,000 in debt (including interest) over the past year, I’ve also managed to keep putting money away for retirement. I know some people think that saving while paying off debt is counterintuitive, but my retirement account pays a ridiculous amount of interest for this economy and the more I am able to put in there now, the more the compounding interest will do for me later.

Some of you who have been reading this blog over the months may remember my decision to stop dating while I repaid my debt. Some thought this was a good idea. Others, not so much. Well, I am so happy that I made that choice for me. Paying off a ton of debt in a small amount of time requires sacrifice, and I know that having the added pressure of dating would have been too much for me. Now that the majority of my debt is gone, I’ve jumped back into those waters, though, and feel like such a lighter, happier person – no longer weighed down by financial worries and misguided priorities.

I really couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of my fellow bloggers, friends, and family, who have been more than happy to spend cheap nights out with me, and cheer me on throughout this endeavor. I’m not done yet, but that $0 balance is finally just a few short months away.

So… TELL ME! What’s new with YOU?!

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Oh, summer. Buttercups under the chin.  Movies under the stars. Days that go on forever. Time for reading and writing and doing all those things I’ve waited all winter to do. I love summer—and not just because I’m lucky enough to get summers off, although that doesn’t hurt. There’s just something about the scent of lilacs in the air that make me nostalgic for summers past. Being a kid, playing hide-and-seek with the neighborhood crew. Or being a teenager and sneaking out to go swimming with my friends (Sorry, Mom and Dad). Or, as an adult, taking last minute road trips, windows down, singing along to anything and everything that comes on the radio. It’s always been a time for slowing life down a bit, and just enjoying.

Summertime is also a time for renewal. For trying new things. And for getting back to the heart of what’s important in our lives. Earlier this year, I tried my best to kick start a workout routine. I even blogged about it in my first installment of Tea & Inspiration. You see, deciding to pay off my debt isn’t just about becoming debt-free for me. It’s about living the dream—living MY dream life.

Part of my dream life involves being physically fit. And this summer, my focus has been on getting (back) into shape. Between school year madness and getting sick a lot, I dropped the ball on fitness over the past couple years. Sure, I made a few scattered attempts to get it together during that period, but nothing stuck. And my muscles have been hating me for it. I didn’t realize just how much until I recently took a 3-mile walk with a friend and had a ton of leg pain afterwards. LEG PAIN FROM WALKING?! Whoever heard of such a thing?! Not me, that’s for sure. And towards the end of the school year, I was getting pain just from STANDING.

I’m a naturally thin person—my weight hasn’t really changed since high school, so even though I knew I wasn’t as fit as I used to be, I considered myself to be in decent shape. The reality, however, is that I was slowly losing all the muscle in my body that used to make doing things like WALKING and STANDING a snap. Being thin definitely does NOT mean being in shape.  And, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how much debt you’ve paid off or how much money you have in the bank, if you’re not healthy, none of it really matters.

Right now, I’m in Florida with family, soaking up the sunscreen, and hitting the gym for about 2 hours a day. Go big or go home, right? It’s been about two and a half weeks since I started and I’ve gone from barely being able to do a crunch to being able to do over a hundred of these:

Swiss Ball Jackknife. Ouch.

In such a short amount of time, I can feel a big difference. I feel stronger. Empowered. And my legs haven’t ached at all – other than the normal after-workout soreness. I know how lucky I am to have a summer off to dedicate to this, and I don’t want to waste a moment of it. Now I just have to figure out how to keep it up once I’m back to reality! I think I can… I think I can…

In other ‘dream life’ news, I’m excited to report that I just made a $2,000 credit card payment – courtesy of my summer sublet. Yay! It’s been about six months since I began my quest to become debt-free, and I’ve paid off almost one-half of my debt. On my salary, that’s a miracle!

I hope you are all making the most of your summer, and getting closer to living the life of your dreams.

What have you been up to this summer? What are some things you’d like to accomplish in order to be living YOUR dream life?



{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