179 comments

Reader Study: Getting Rich in Manhattan… on $65k/year

blackhole_1kNew York City exists in a dimension all by itself. Like a Black Hole that has formed upon the Eastern Seaboard, it is a place where conventional financial rules don’t apply. In Manhattan, you can feel poor after receiving your $3.6 million quarterly bonus because somebody down the hall just made $360 million, and while that larger sum will get you a good apartment, it’s still not enough to retire on.

The near-infinite mass of this concentration of funny money creates a great dent in the fabric of the cash-time continuum, and the gravity can be felt over a thousand mile radius as prices and attitudes are distorted. This has given rise to the urban legend that Mustachianism won’t work in NYC. “You need to make $350k here just to stay afloat – and at that level, you’ll still be far from rich.”

I like to collect stories from people who ignore this legend, and today’s is from a couple who started with a $65,000 income and $100,000 of student loans, and wound up debt-free and rapidly accumulating wealth just 9 months later. It’s a mathematical impossibility, right? Not if you exploit the alternative physics that are always present in financial black holes. Let’s check out the story.

Dear Mr. Money Mustache,

A little background – my husband (then fiance) had been lurking on your site for months and began slipping your words of wisdom into casual conversations and feeling me out. He finally sent me your blog and I was hooked and fully on board for Financial Independence.

As we began to get our finances in order, he asked for my student loan details (the student loan I vaguely mentioned and had been assuring him I was “taking care of”), and he was shocked to see our net worth plummet after adding the $100k (@ 6.8% interest) worth of debt to our Mint account for tracking.

I was definitely in denial over the last few years since graduating, making the minimum payments or simply deferring when I could. I also was banking on Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PLSF) – thinking if I just make my minimum payment every month (which wasn’t even covering the full interest accrued), it would all be forgiven in 10 years! Score! This was my “taking care of the loan”.

My husband quickly poked holes in my strategy: I would be limited to the public sector, wouldn’t be able work abroad, wouldn’t be able to work part-time, or wouldn’t be able to just not work at all.  On top of all this, my denial in dealing with the loan resulted in me accruing over $10k (!) in interest alone in the four years after graduating.

What followed was him presenting me with projections of how much interest we would pay if we instead paid this over the course of 5 or 10 years, which I was arguing for, and him then proposing we pay this off over the course of 15 months.

My argument was that we weren’t earning enough, I wanted to save, and we lived in one of the most expensive cities in the world – Manhattan. However, it quickly became clear that our hair was on fire and we committed to kill off this debt ASAP.

This was our financial landscape in June 2013, when we made the decision to go full Mustache:

Starting loan balance: $99,689.49 (our one and only debt @ 6.8%)
Savings: $32,062.17
Starting net monthly combined income: $5663
Rent: $1,695 for a 2br/2ba apartment in Manhattan. (Partially subsidized housing through my husband’s postdoc).
Spending: we weren’t using any way to track this, so I can’t say, but my guess it was on average $1,500-$2,000 on top of our rent.

Fast fowarding to the end result: By increasing our earnings a bit and tremendously cutting back on our spending, we were able to make payments towards the loan that ranged from $4k up to $10k each month. This graph (showing the loan balance at the end of each month) illustrates the annihilation of the loan from June 2013 to April 2014:

loan_balance_payoff

 

Here’s How They Did it:

 In July 2013, the very first thing we did was dump most of our $32k savings account into the loan, bringing the balance to $67,627.32. We left only a small buffer for monthly expenses. Then, we set out to hustle.

  • Around that time, my first 5% raise kicked in, which didn’t hurt.
  • We set to work renting our extra room on Airbnb, adding an additional $2-4k/month to our net income.
  • I picked up additional work, earning an additional $10k over 6 months.
  • In December, I negotiated another 5% raise.
  • My husband received a modest raise (2.5%) during this time as well.
  • We also reduced our buffer to $1k since we had lines of credit and were growing impatient – some might say we were living on the edge.
  • In January 2014, my mom, who thought what we’re doing was awesome, gifted us her old gold with permission to sell it. Through Midwest Refineries (thanks for the pro-tip on how to sell gold), we receive about $4.5k for it which was dumped directly it into the loan.
  • Throughout this time, we sold pretty much anything we didn’t have a use for – extra furniture, an extra iphone, a guitar, my wedding dress – and it added up!

In terms of spending, we cut back a lot and, in retrospect, this had a much bigger effect than the additional income we were able to bring in. We live in Manhattan because my husband has a 2 year post doctoral work contract, so couldn’t change that situation just yet.

  • We cut down eating out/going to bars, which has been the biggest challenge since that’s just what people do in NYC (drinks, brunch and drinks+brunch).
  • My husband switched his cell carrier to a pay as you go (luckily, my employer pays mine).
  • Our transportation costs are super low since we don’t have a car, my husband lives walking distance to work, and I have employee discounted transportation (~$80/month for unlimited subway/bus use), and taxis just did not exist for us (exception: Costco runs).
  • Absolutely no unnecessary purchases (clothing or otherwise).
  • All our expenses were placed on cash reward cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, AmEx Blue Preferred for groceries).

Usually our monthly spending (apart from rent) fell between $800-$1k/month. We could have probably done better, but we still managed to pay the loan off 6 months ahead of schedule and never once felt deprived of anything, so we’re happy with that. During this time we also had a small, simple wedding (my dad generously paid for this), took a honeymoon (using wedding gift income), and went back home to California for the holidays.

After all of this, I can’t stop looking at the “loans” section of my Mint account, it’s unreal:

 final_balance

We couldn’t be happier to be free from that 6.8%! From here on out, we plan to maintain our lifestyle and spending and looking forward to seeing those loan payments go into savings and investments instead!

The Happy Ending

I get stories like this all the time. Efficient living works anywhere in the world. In expensive areas, the higher base costs are offset by the increased presence of weird anomalies that you can harness to your advantage. This couple used AirBnB to leverage the value of their partially-subsidized housing. They had a large unproductive savings account that they put to work by dumping it into the high-interest loan. And they took the incredibly rare step of combining Costco runs and home cooking with Manhattan, the place where most people don’t even remember if their apartment has a fridge in the kitchen.

There is always a way to live better and prosper in your own system, as long as you acknowledge this truth and set to work finding it, rather than wasting any energy explaining why these tricks could never work for you.

 

Efficient Living notes from within this article:

  • For great (and cheap) phone service, I’m still a big fan of Republic Wireless (and Ting)*.
  • Our NYC friends leveraged several reward credit cards because of signing bonuses of up to $400 and reasonably high cash back percentages. The cards they used are among my own favorites, I maintain a list of them here.*
  • The place I discovered to ship unwanted gold and silver artifacts for recycling (with a high payout) is called Midwest Refineries, I described  the experience in this post.
  • Does Costco really save money? For me, it’s almost a 50% discount on my most expensive grocery staples – see article here.

*Those first two things are also the main source of this blog’s income, so I make a point of including a link occasionally to keep the lights on here, to allow the rest of the site to have minimal advertising. Thanks again for your support!

 

  • Josh April 8, 2014, 3:04 pm

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned before, but my wife and I took your advice and got the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Amex Blue Cash cards in my name with my wife as a secondary card holder (one gives extra $$$ for this–can’t remember which). Then, when I realized we would go past the $6,000 spend limit on the Amex for groceries that pay back 6%, I called them and asked if my wife could get a card in her name too. They said yes, so we get 6% back on up to $12,000/year and got the $100 and Amazon Prime sign-up bonus again. This worked so well that I did the same thing with the Chase, so that was another $450 in bonus. So, this year we got over $1000 just from the sign up bonuses.

    Reply
  • Dice April 8, 2014, 5:58 pm

    I got REALLY excited when I read the headline, because I too started with $100k student loan debt with my wife. We also only make $65k (gross) combined in the San Francisco area. I must admit I was a little disappointed when I noticed they actually pull down twice the amount we do (not because they earn that amount, but because I thought I’d find the holy grail to paying off the loans). I’ll just keep plugging along paying $35k per year. Started 2 years ago, and while there is no way we could have paid it off in 9 months, we are now down to $25k left! -Love the blog MMM, been here since ERE gave a shout-out many years ago.

    Reply
  • Jeannie Stith April 9, 2014, 7:57 am

    We did something similar – paid off $50,000 in student loan black cloud in 5 months by socking $10,000 a month at it. We had no idea we had been wasting so much cash! To have $10,000 in surplus was a happy surprise. Anyone who is considering doing this – go for it! It feels freakin GREAT to tackle a loan like this kamikaze style!

    Reply
  • Stacey April 9, 2014, 8:00 am

    Just a clarification: I believe the highest rent area in the country right now is in western North Dakota.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 10, 2014, 7:32 am

      Awesome – because of the oil towns? I’d love to pay a visit to one of those to see the amazing financial conditions (and how the young lads are squandering their potential freedom fund on booze and jacked up trucks :-))

      Reply
  • Troy April 9, 2014, 8:49 am

    I feel let down. Again.

    Sure it’s possible to live cheaply when you…uh…live cheaply. It’s possible to pay off debt when you have 1/3 of it in a chunk of cash and utilize an existing asset for the other 1/2. This isn’t news. People rent out rooms, sell blood, unwind financial positions, offload possessions or other assets, pick up extra jobs, etc. They do it all the time, and have for centuries. Why does this warrant a new post.

    This type of post is the same recycled bs found on every other blog that exists and it is unoriginal and boring. You are better than this. Seriously, a blog post about a high income debt laden childless suddenly enlightened couple who buckle down, use existing cash, and get out of debt in a short time after they finally wake up from being stupid. If I wanted to read that, I would click on you harvard debt link or just about any other.

    Post about the stuff that others don’t. The funky and innovative home building techniques. The interesting ways that we can live smarter and better. The way you maximize your time and money. How you barter skills into items, trips and experiences. That is what makes your blog unique.

    Please also lose the obsessive fascination with bashing SUV’s…because there are extremely successful and smart people nationwide that drive them every day and it makes you look like a dipshit when you keep focusing on it.

    This is your punch in the face. You can certainly dish it out. Question is…can you take it?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 10, 2014, 7:30 am

      I hear ya, Troy. Your logic would be flawless if every MMM reader had exactly the same tastes as you, and everyone was a long-time reader. Then we could make an increasingly esoteric and self-referential blog that just says, “Meh, look at the earlier posts if you want to see the more basic stuff.”

      Unfortunately, we’re a more diverse lot than that, and about 30% of people are new at any given moment, and while this story doesn’t contain any amazing tricks from a Mustachian perspective, the very concept of living in NYC and not automatically spending $250,000 blows the minds of many people.

      And those basic concepts of “don’t keep a big savings account when you have debt, don’t become a slave to student loan forgiveness for a decade just to try to save $100k, and earn more money whenever possible” are useful to see applied in practice.

      Also, we need to make fun of SUVs much MORE around here, not less, you crazy fool! Successful, smart people are ditching the stupid trucks by the THOUSAND because of the scorn we give them here. I get to read several SUV-ditching emails before breakfast every day. That is a highly worthwhile result.

      That’s the reasoning behind the flow of articles. But they could obviously be much better and more frequent, if I wasn’t so damned lazy and would actually put more work into this blog – acknowledged, and it may someday happen (but don’t hold your breath, because it’s springtime in Colorado!)

      Reply
      • Jacob April 10, 2014, 9:14 am

        “don’t become a slave to student loan forgiveness for a decade just to try to save $100k,”

        Really not understanding the PSLF bashing going on here in this thread. If one can do work for ten years that one finds meaningful, and can afford to do that work at a lower salary because of a program that will forgive student loan debt, how is that un-Mustachian? My law school loan payments would be $1300/mo without IBR; with it, after maxing my IRA and 457, they are about $250. In the meantime I get to build my ‘stache, instead of shoveling money at the Fed.gov. If there is such a thing as Good Debt, how is this not it?

        As to the concern that the Fed.gov might yank out the PSLF rug, read your promissory note. The program is written into the contract that you signed, and they signed it too. Any changes will be prospective and will not look back retroactively.

        Sure, my pants may be on fire. But they’re Nomex pants, man. They don’t burn.

        Reply
        • JN2 April 11, 2014, 2:46 pm

          >> instead of shoveling money at the Fed.gov <<

          You mean repaying your debt? That you voluntarily acquired? "Just pay the man" – quote from the movie Don Juan de Marco

          Reply
      • Mike April 11, 2014, 7:24 pm

        I, for one, thoroughly enjoy SUV bashing exercises. For the record, I don’t know any “smart” people who drive comically oversized SUVs/trucks. What’s smart about driving your 165 lb ass to the movies in a 7000 lb dually? Clue in car clown and prepare for an Escalade sized face punch.

        Reply
        • Doug April 21, 2014, 9:14 am

          My thoughts exactly. I weigh about 150 pounds, so if I drive myself around in a little 1 ton econocar that’s still an efficiency of only about 7%. Multiply that by that only about 20% of the chemical energy in the petrol which actually goes to mechanical energy to move the car and the efficiency is down to a depressingly low 1.4%. If it’s that bad with an econocar, why the HELL would any sane person want an SUV? On that note, it’s a nice day out so I’ll be biking around town instead!

          Reply
      • Matt April 20, 2014, 2:47 pm

        MMM – if you can find a couple with a child that can do it in NYC with student loans that would be PHENOMENALLY helpful – not suggesting it is impossible but we are about to be jumping in – have been super aggressive over the years w/ student loans and just need to further buckle down.

        Thanks!

        Reply
      • Leslie July 31, 2015, 7:50 pm

        When I see someone driving a huge, brand new, SUV with no one else in it I wonder what is wrong with their math skills. As just one example, it is a huge waste of money to spend so much for a trip to the grocery store. Add the purchase cost, insurance, gas, etc. onto your grocery bill and see what that adds up to on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. Deduct the costs of a year of operating the SUV from your gross income and see what that works out to. Then do a side by side comparison with a smaller, economy model. Hello, Khan Academy, you can do a tutorial on this.

        Reply
  • JessL April 10, 2014, 10:39 am

    Great article. I would LOVE Mr. Frugal Toque to do a new post.

    Reply
  • Josh April 10, 2014, 3:46 pm

    What a great article to end on! It’s been about 2-3 weeks ago that I found debt emergency article and have read pretty much every blog post from start to finish. It has been a huge help. I found it on YNAB. Wife and I have been making substantial student loan payments and hope to have a positive net worth by Jan 2015! We are in our 20s so feel fortunate to have found a mindset that is different from our peers. We figured there had to be a better way and glad we found a great philosophy other than the craziness of over extending yourself by ones 30s. This is a great article because we live in the southeast with very cheap rent for the size so we should really kill the debt by the end of the year. Thanks MMM.

    Reply
  • T.L. April 10, 2014, 7:13 pm

    Mr. Money Mustache,
    I would love to show you western North Dakota. I’m a native of Williston, which is the heart of the oil patch. It’s insane, both the money to be made and the squandering happening. Not to mention the cost of living.

    Reply
  • KateM April 11, 2014, 11:55 am

    I’m another New Yorker, and want to chime in to say it’s entirely possible to save and really thrive in this city. I’m in my mid-thirties, married, my husband is in his early 40s. We are both working full-time in creative fields ( i.e. jobs that are not and never will be that high paying) and we both started out with debt — I had student loans ( just over 10K and he had almost 20K of credit card debit when we met). Even still we’ve managed to save a lot since since we’ve been together ( the last 10 years or so). Most of our efforts are habits at this point — we’ve really never kept a budget or spreadsheets. A few things that really worked for me?
    1.) hustle – when I moved to NY I got two jobs right away, a full-time and a part time job on the weekends working in a coffee shop. My full-time job paid $30,000 + benefits. This is not a lot of money in NYC ( even 10 years ago) but I was also eligible to make overtime which helped. I also babysat a lot. Free dinner, free cable, and cash money.
    2.) I grocery shop a lot. It helps that I enjoy healthy food and cooking. I also buy what I can carry on my person ( no car!) It has become so rote that I do things like soak my own beans regularly and know who has the best prices on the foods I like to eat — like organic vegetables ( I go through a 5 lb bag of organic carrots from Whole Foods — prices at $4.99 which in Nueva York is awesome — in a week). I also love Trader Joe’s, Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester, and Manhattan Fruit exchange ( even though all of Chelsea market is a tourist nightmare now). I really love coffee and will never give it up, but we make it at home every. single. day. I also have the freezer filled with home made vegetable curry, carrot ginger soup, and vegetarian cassoulet.
    3.) A strong relationship. Being with someone takes a lot of work. but when you do work at it, it is amazing and two people working towards similar goals (financial or otherwise) is huge.
    4.) Walk. We recently moved to Brooklyn from the East Village, but before the move I could walk from our 340 square foot one bedroom to my office. free transportation is awesome.
    5.) I buy really nice clothing. This might seem contradictory but I work with WASPs and artists and it helps me too look good and I also LIKE nice things. What works for me is buying things a I love and wearing the F*ck out of them. I have a shirt on today that cost me $170. It is make of wool/silk, machine washable and doesn’t wrinkle ( yaaay no dry cleaning no ironing) and I’ve work it 3 times to work already this week. It also helps to have a uniform of sorts — for me thats lots of black.
    6.) invest. I started doing this when I was in my early 20s — after putting something in my 401K and after maxing out my Roth IRA. Now, more than 10 years later, the few thousand dollars I was able to squirrel away at age 24 is growing. Broad based mutual funds. Vanguard. Compounding interest is an amazing and very powerful thing. I don’t know a ton about money or finance, its not that hard or that scary.
    7.) this is controversial but here goes — I’m not going to have a kid if I can’t raise it myself. I like kids but I don’t understand working like crazy to hire someone else to raise your child. Lots of people seem to do this successfully and happily, but it doesn’t make sense for me so until one of us can be a stay at home parent we’re not having kids, even if that means we’re never having kids and that is something I’m ok with.
    8.) Be yourself and know what you like. For me that means not highlighting my hair, or getting a blow-out. It means not having cable and not caring. It means running in the park instead of going Gramercy Tavern with my coworkers to drink $20 cocktails – or SOMETIMES running in the park SOMETIMES going out for drinks. It means going to bed early and getting up early. But is also means when I want something I can have it — nice wine, a good meal out, new shoes, a manicure. The important thing is to do you.
    I know I’m not saying anything new, but I am another voice saying it is definitely possible. New York City isn’t just for people with a ton of money — investment bankers or kids with trust funds — smart hardworking people can make it work.

    Reply
    • KCuevas April 15, 2014, 9:05 am

      Great post, Kate! My husband and I are both musicians and we just bought an apartment in manhattan 9 mos. ago. It was a daunting task, for sure, but we managed by using a lot of the same strategies you named. It’s nice to know there are other like-minded people in a very “spendy” city! Perhaps we should plan a mustachian meet-up (potluck, in the park of course!).

      Reply
  • Rob J April 11, 2014, 9:22 pm

    A really interesting and inspiring article, and great to see another example of people challenging society’s accepted norm.

    I completely agree with the sentiment echoed in many comments so far that people need to find a route to financial freedom that works for them. My wife and I live a 30 minutes commute from London, England. Although a relatively expensive place to live, this enables us to hold down decent salaries and by combining this with choosing to buy a small house that meets our needs rather than what we could afford we’ve avoided the trap that I see so many people of our age around here make.

    We’re not perfect by any means, but I am managing to save around 60% of my salary at present (not every month I admit, and my wife a bit less), so going in the right direction. The point I’d really like to make is that once you’ve set a goal to achieve financial freedom it becomes incredibly addictive. The feeling from overpaying our mortgage each month (our largest debt having cleared our student debt) with some of our savings and knowing it’s making us 1-2 months closer each time we do to clearing it forever is exciting, and gives much more pleasure than spending similar amounts of money on material items.

    I think it’s also worth considering paying down debt as part of a wider plan to financial freedom. We’re also making regular investments (splitting them between a couple of ETFs that track the UK and world (ex-UK) stock markets for anyone that’s interested to know) and considering property investment when I’ve got a better feel for the net ROI we can expect to make locally and we have enough for a deposit. Paying down debt is great, particularly near the outset on a mortgage where reducing your LTV enables you to cut your interest rate and de-risks you from the shear size of the debt, but I think it’s important to not lose sight of the relative rates you’re paying or earning on debts and investments. Not putting all your savings in one basket also just seems to make sense and, for us, will still allow us to repay our mortgage over 10 years rather than the 23 and a bit it would otherwise take us. Not coincidentally, this 10 years is also the time horizon over which we’re aiming to have built up enough passive income (through investments and potentially property) to be financially independent.

    Our plan may change and there will no doubt be bumps along the way, but at least when this happens we’ll be in a better position than we’d otherwise be. For us, what this financial independence question really comes down to is finding a route, and balance between that route and the destination, that works for you.

    MMM, I only recently discovered your blog, so thank you for the inspiration your blog provides to so many and for reminding us that it’s actually ok to be different – the search for financial independence would otherwise be a much more lonely route to take.

    PS – fewer expletives in my post than your own posts, but I am English after all!

    Reply
  • FastStash April 12, 2014, 7:40 am

    I love this! My husband and I live in Brooklyn are working on becoming financial independent. We are cooking at home, selling unwanted stuff, negotiating for raises, saving like crazy, and riding bikes to work.

    I’m surprised to see that no other commenters mentioned anything about home ownership in NYC. We are currently trying to buy our first home in Brooklyn using a loan program called NACA. We are hoping it will turn out to be one of those “cool advantages” that will help us get a leg up. It allows you buy a house with no down payment, no closing costs and the ability to buy the interest rate down to less than 1%. Crazy good deal if we can manage to jump through all their hoops.

    One more tip for New Yorkers and everyone else: join a CSA (community support agriculture) program to get affordable fresh, local veggies every week. We never go to the grocery any more! We just pick up our veggies and meat every week and supplement that with amazon prime orders for staples like pasta and rice.

    Reply
    • KateM April 14, 2014, 3:49 pm

      My husband and i just bought a place in BK about 6 months ago…we were renting a very tiny but fairly cheap ( started at $1450 in 2006 or so and ended at $1850 in 2013) apartment in the EV. The building was sold and the new owners were renovating the apartments and raising the rent by a ton so it was time to move. We never thought we would be able to afford to buy, but we were so wrong. We ended up finding a a great place for less than our rent was in the EV. It’s totally possible. Good luck with the home loan!

      We were part of a CSA, but when I did the math ours ended up being fairly expensive so I don’t think we’re going to do it again, or maybe look for a new one….

      Reply
  • catherine April 12, 2014, 9:46 am

    I was so impressed with my daughter who made 28k/year working for a non-profit in NYC a couple of years back. I never gave her a dime. She lived in Brooklyn with at least two roommates at a time, used public transportation or walked everywhere, and ate very frugally. In fact, at one point her income qualified her for food stamps, so she applied for them and told me that she felt like she was eating like a king because the food stamp budget was so much more than her personal food budget.

    So it can be done.

    Reply
  • kayonyc April 14, 2014, 3:38 pm

    New Yorker and first time commenter. I just paid off my student loans last year – I had $45K remaining at nearly 7 pct interest. I used my savings and a small 401 K loan (at less than half the rate) which I will finish paying off next spring. Nothing beats the feeling of being freed from your loans. But now I have recently incurred over 10K in medical bills, which sets me back a bit from the saving. It’s a struggle, being a single person in NYC. Kudos to the couple for paying off their loans, but there’s definitely strength in numbers.

    Reply
  • Carolyn April 15, 2014, 8:42 pm

    I’ve been in NYC for 11 years, and I know no one who is paying subsidized rent. They’re one of the incredibly lucky few who are affiliated with a university, and that won’t last forever (how long is that postdoc going on?). The average rent in NYC is $3,816.
    http://www.mns.com/manhattan_rental_market_report

    I’d love to see an article by someone who is paying a much MORE realistic amount of rent in this city discuss how they save and invest WITHOUT AirBnB subletting. Also, I’d like to hear from someone who is single and doesn’t have a dual income. That would be a much richer story, so to speak.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 16, 2014, 8:06 am

      But it would be a less Mustachian one – I liked this one because the people worked the system, gained unusual advantages for themselves, and made the most of them.

      The “luckiest” people are the ones most worth profiling in my opinion, because unusual advantages become commonplace when you realize they are everywhere rather than complaining about others who have them.

      Reply
      • Carolyn April 16, 2014, 11:52 am

        I totally disagree that advantages are everywhere in Manhattan, especially regarding housing. There’s a less than 1% vacancy rate here. Great for this couple who essentially hit a housing lottery that almost no one else in NYC will ever have, but it’s not something that 99.9% of the people in NYC can aspire to or learn from who also wants to work towards saving. I’m just asking for a bit more reality than these dream-scenarios that pretty much no one can attain. Truly, good for them, but it’s of no help to the average Jane.

        Reply
        • Andrew April 22, 2014, 12:15 pm

          I have to agree with you Carolyn on the point about housing. There are many restrictions in NYC when it comes to subletting. Even if you OWN a co-op, you are restricted from subletting. But I do understand MMM saying that you have to look for opportunities…it might not be subletting, it might be something else. I live in Queens and have a bit more affordable rent. My wife and I did live briefly on a single income, but we’re back to dual income. I think we could make due on one income though. Other than housing, most other expenses aren’t too much higher in my opinion.

          Reply
    • KCuevas April 16, 2014, 9:21 am

      One of my favorite “life hacks” here in the big city is to go to trader Joe’s about once every 6 weeks or so (if my schedule allows) and totally stock up to get my money’s worth out of the delivery fee. I’m talking $300-400 worth of dry, canned, and frozen goods here. It’s worth it just to see the look on people’s face in the checkout line. My favorite is when they are bold enough to ask me if I have kids, and I nonchalantly answer “no, just me and my husband.” Hehe. Since it’s Spring break, I’m headed there now!

      Reply
  • Kevin in BK April 16, 2014, 1:31 pm

    It is absolutely possible to live frugally in NYC.

    A quick look at the income demographics of Manhattan or even north Brooklyn shows millions of people on very low incomes.

    In my experience, the biggest challenge is not housing. It is self-discipline. You need to take control of your social life and be prepared to ask for water when your friends are ordering $20 “artisanal” cocktails.

    On the upside, the opportunities to earn phenomenal amounts of money in a variety of industries are unparalleled. If you are intelligent, hard-working, and have good social skills, the sky is the limit.

    Housing is often the big question….

    Most buildings anywhere in NYC built before 1974 with six or more units are rent-stabilized. There are a LOT of them. Most people who are willing to put the effort into finding one eventually win.

    I have one friend who diligently applied to every single affordable housing opportunity that was available, and with some patience, wound up with a brand new rent-stabilized apartment in Midtown.

    Brooklyn and Queens are full of affordable neighborhoods. Transit into Manhattan (or anywhere else) is affordable with a Metrocard, and free with a bicycle.

    In market-rate apartments, you are legally entitled to charge roommates whatever the market will bear. Move into an up-and-coming neighborhood, get a three-bedroom apartment, live in the smallest room yourself, and make money on the other two.

    Airbnb can be insanely lucrative if your lease permits it. Currently, it is legal in market-rate units when done as a short-term roommate and not whole-unit rental.

    The outer-outer boroughs have plenty of housing for sale at reasonable prices. Sure, property taxes are high, but in 10-20 years you’ll make your money back handsomely.

    For food, Chinatown in Manhattan and ethnic neighborhoods everywhere have very affordable restaurants and groceries. You can also get ingredients in NYC that are nearly impossible to find in most cities.

    For entertainment, there is a bottomless glass of cheap/free good times on offer if you make even the smallest effort to look around.

    In short, not as easy or affordable as well, anywhere else with the possible exception of SF. But! The opportunities are giant and if you know how to play the game it’s a magnificent place to call home.

    If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere…

    Reply
    • Sheila April 16, 2014, 2:06 pm

      NYC also has many large housing projects and subsidized, Section 8 housing. Families may also be living in hand-me-down rent stabilized or even rent-controlled apartments.

      Reply
  • Doug April 17, 2014, 8:16 pm

    As I read the comments here I see a lot about people blowing insane amounts of money in expensive places like New York City or Williston, ND. That’s so counterintuitive. If the cost of living is so outrageously high, wouldn’t that mean people there have LESS disposable income so they would all be penny pinching and living lower cost and more mustachian lives?

    Reply
    • M.L. April 21, 2014, 1:05 pm

      The cost of living here in Williston is extremely high. If you don’t work in the oil patch, you are working with very little disposable income. Many of the men that come here to work have their housing paid by the oil company they work for, kind of college dorm style. If they are single they basically have no bills- no housing expenses, a work truck, and there are even cafeterias with gourmet chefs in the man camps. They make insane amounts of money which many of them are sending home to their families. Many of them are also spending as fast as they get it. You see super expensive cars, campers, trucks, and if they want to move their families here, well that will cost them $2500 a month to rent a decent sized apartment if they can find one at all. Last week milk was $5 a gallon and cream $9 a quart. My brother is a directional driller and he’s making $32000 this month with his bonus. He’s set to retire next year at the age of 36 with 3 kids and a wife. I’m a college professor in this town and I am struggling. If I wouldn’t have bought my house for $54000 before this boom I would have left town.

      Reply
  • Jeff April 25, 2014, 4:01 am

    MMM,

    The video about retirement in the following link was just on my local news. I found it very interesting in that the “expert” goes against almost all of your beliefs. Take a couple of minutes to watch if you want to laugh/get frustrated.

    http://fox17online.com/2014/04/24/financial-fix-planning-for-retirement/#axzz2ztFiwcDc

    Reply
  • rob June 1, 2014, 10:05 am

    financial Samurai’s take on (almost) the same subject, oh yeah and be sure to read the (now) 172 comments) as well

    http://www.financialsamurai.com/how-do-people-to-live-a-comfortable-life-making-less-than-100000-in-expensive-cities-like-new-york/comment-page-2/#comment-149744

    Reply
  • HD May 5, 2015, 6:19 am

    First, I have to say I love your website. I am a new follower, but there is a wealth of information here that is extremely useful for present and future use. My question connects to this post; this will be my situation very soon. 65k, renting at about $1400 per month in NYC and a new student loan of 10k–no other debt. I have 12k in savings–which I may need for a rainy day, correct?
    What is the solution for keeping some money in my pocket if I cannot increase my income, and how can I continue to save? Thank you!

    Reply
  • Josh Jordan May 30, 2016, 7:46 am

    The subsidized apartment for Post-Doc is a real thing. I know a lot of people on the upper west side in NYC who are actually suspending their careers to start, or intentionally extending, PhD studies at Columbia to get cheap housing. A positively luxurious 2BR with space to hold an indoor track meet is $1800 subsidized… it would be $3500+ otherwise.

    While this can be chalked up to recognizing opportunity and taking it, it starts to get back to issues of achievement and privilege. One can say “yes, take the opportunities that you can” but doing a PhD at Columbia is not an opportunity that’s open to anyone who just “wants it bad enough.” It means that you are at the top of the top of academics, which is hard work, but correlates strongly to which race and economic class you were born into. And if “take post-doc apartments” is a suggestion for an opportunity, one might as well suggest to someone hoping to increase income to simply “become a doctor or lawyer” which is clearly silly advice for those who simply can’t compete.

    I’m new to this site. It seems like there is a ton of great, inventive, intuitive, and lucid advice about saving money and strategizing your financial life. But how do we generally address the idea of privilege? Do we believe in it? Is “bootstrapping” the name of the game here? Or is it just pointless to talk about because it starts leading to excuses and negativity?

    I would start to worry that such a singular, mantra-based focus on “opportunity” can make us lose perspective. Perspective on the more nuanced tradeoffs between money, comfort, and self-actualization. The world has a lot of people in it, and it seems dangerous to group them into “doers” and “complainers.”

    Reply

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