Monday, May 10th, 2010
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How To Not Spend Any Money In New York City

buzz buzz buzzSure, it was basically a glorified ad for the author's overly precious personal-finance site, but that doesn't mean that Alexa von Tobel's recent Huffington Post piece on living in New York City on $0 a day wasn't offensive and dumb. Von Tobel's giggly guide to keeping it real could have been retitled "The Well-Off Person's Guide To Playing Pauper For A Day" — the hold-on-to-your-wallets flip side of all the "aspirational" dreck that clogs too much media even to this day. She walked to work, which just happens to be a mere 20-minute hike from her apartment, instead of taking a cab! She gave up Le Pain lattes and made coffee at home! She had some friends over for a potluck, and even conned a pal into bringing the wine! "I recognize that this experiment is unsustainable for a long period of time," she wrote, but god dimmy, that doesn't mean she's not going to try and piggyback off it for her own personal gain.

Anyway, here is my No. 1 tip for not spending any money in New York City, based on empirical research and also being broke now and again! Arianna, if you're reading this and you want me to, you know, expound further, give me a call.

Never leave the house. Even if you live in a expensive apartment that's right by a very tasty restaurant, you should try to have a homebound job (like, say, blogging! although if you're doing so for HuffPo, you probably won't get paid, whoops!) so as to minimize your need to go out, because that is when the money starts coming out of your wallet like it's attached to strings. Yes, being homebound day in and day out might over time drive you into a semi-feral state where you're unable to make eye contact, much less talk to people who exist in a form more corporeal than a screen name. But just think of all the money you'll save by going it alone — no MetroCards, at-home lunches that never existed near a deli counter, no need to dodge the fundraising attempts by the brats who belong to that annoying person from accounting!

And there's a domino effect, too: The longer you stay at home, the less people will call you to go out. Bye bye, cell phone; see ya, land line! And if you keep up the hermitude for long enough, you'll eventually shed the need to do things like groom yourself — which means you save money that would be spent on frivolities like soap and shampoo! The whole "food for sustenance" thing is something that has to be navigated through, unfortunately, but if food and Internet are the only big-ticket items you're spending money on, grocery-delivery charges shouldn't be all that bad to manage. At the very least, seeing the person who brings over your provisions now and again will give you a little bit of the face time that you're missing during the other 23.75 hours of the day!

(In all seriousness, the art writer Geeta Dayal has put together a pretty great guide to cheap living for freelancers and other creative types that isn't as giggly or gimmicky as von Tobel's piece, but that is full of sound advice. No. 9 in particular, which is the one that I always seem to forget, is key!)

32 Comments / Post A Comment

growler (#476)

Amen! NYC has this damned $20 Leaving Your Apartment Tax that I am, frankly, tired of and can no longer afford.

Baroness (#273)

It really is like a taxi meter, stepping out your door in Gotham. Which comes from the Dutch, "Goddamn, this place be expensive!".

Never trust advice on thriftiness from someone with "von" in their name.

C'mon, Zsa Zsa Huffington. I like you, but enough with the aristoblogger welfare here. Taki already does that, and I scarcely look to Greeks for fiscal tips these days. I imagine soon there will be HuffPo tips on cadging a ride to Cannes on a yacht because of that fiscally irresponsible Icelandic volcano grounding all those private planes (never say "jets", that's nouveau).

BadUncle (#153)

I've managed to sustain that lifestyle for close to 20 years, now. Except for the walking to work part – which is impossible to do from an outer borough.

jfruh (#713)

However, if you usually take a taxi to work, find the nearest subway and walk the extra 10 minutes to your destination.

Are there really people who take a taxi to work, like, every day? That seems, um, spendy. Not if you're a rich Wall Street douche, obviously, but surely that's not the target audience of this stupid HuffPo article, is it?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

More to the point than spendy, it's slower than other means of transp, in mumble percent of cases.

MaryHaines (#3,666)

"If you usually charter a flight to get across town, try helicopter-pooling instead! If you like to scatter hundred-dollar bills as you're lifting off, replace them with tens and twenties. You'll be surprised how it adds up!"

karenjeannette (#2,499)

i recommend not living in new york as a frugality tip.

Trilby (#3,897)

Moving out of Manhattan is a start. Besides the rent I save, I am not constantly bombarded with ways to spend money here in far-off Queens.

HiredGoons (#603)

I can spend twenty dollars a day on WATER walking around the city.

Louis Fyne (#2,066)

Free ice water at Starbucks, and a bathroom. Damn the dirty looks it isn't like they own the place.

sox (#652)

the geeta post is great though, no matter where you live. good things to be reminded of every once in awhile.

Astigmatism (#1,950)

She will never understand
how it feels to live her life
with no meaning or control
and with nowhere left to go.

C_Webb (#855)

It's like Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid, except I'm a couple centuries too late to punch Marie. (And punching a face no longer attached to a body seems damn unsportsmanlike.)

sox (#652)

also? the thing about the food in your house? it's not "free". you bought it. and once you eat it, you have to go buy more.

HiredGoons (#603)

you don't have people for that?

sox (#652)

dear god if she has people for that i hope they can come up with something better than penne with a jar of sauce.

C_Webb (#855)

Hey, the Food Fairy has recession issues just like everybody else.

C_Webb (#855)

Everybody except Alexa, I mean.

I have people who take care of the eating it part for me. But I economize by buying it all myself. Whee recessionomics!

Kakapo (#2,312)

Ooh, I meant "thank you," here. But this is the main thing I kept thinking throughout.

Bittersweet (#765)

Yes, being homebound day in and day out might over time drive you into a semi-feral state where you're unable to make eye contact, much less talk to people who exist in a form more corporeal than a screen name.

That would explain a lot about me lately. Maybe I should head to the office (or at least the local diner) every now and then.

amockingbird (#2,015)

I forced myself to leave the house the other day, promising myself a burger at my favorite diner as a reward. It was closed for filming something. I think even the universe feels I should stay home.

Bittersweet (#765)

The day they film a movie in my little 'burb is the day I keel over in surprise. Another benefit of not living in NYC!

How about CVS or Duane Read? You get out of the house, get to interact with someone in person and get your toiletries fix, all at the same time…

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Yeah but the part about seeing the person who brings over your provisions now and again will give you a little bit of the face time?

What about the tip? Hmm?

Well here's a tip, which I learned from a stingy investment banker who lives on Park Avenue with his dogs: "Can't open the door, have big mean dogs! Just leave the bags on the floor and run for your life! Thanks so much!" And of course his big mean dog food is not in one's creative-underclass daily budget, so get yourself an MP3 file of big mean dogs. Signed, Hints from Heloise.

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

First, Alexa von Tobel is hilarious. How can't she be? Look at her name! It's like the name of some fancy lady in a silent comedy who gets the vapors because something happens.

Seriously, do look at people like this. And realize something: There are tons of folks like this in NYC who will throw $20 away for minor tasks all the time. And without thought! So my advice for anyone readying this site-which means you have a brain-is to come up with some cool part-time gig that you might not ever pay for, but someone else who is lazier (and has $$$) will.

Also, Geeta Dayal's tips are great, but very focused on being a freelance writer. Here is my advice: Don't feel bad about taking a job to pay the bills. Seriously, anyone judging an artist or writer based on what their day job is in 2010 is ridiculous. So just do it.

Past that, remember this: When trustafarians leave NYC, they often dump their stuff. Either at a thrift store or even just on the street. And I'm not talking dumpster diving level hunting. If you work at home during the day, make it a habit to hit up thrift shops. And on the weekends keep your eyes peeled for folks tossing out perfectly good stuff.

And past all of that learn to use eBay to sell off old stuff. I routinely sell off old computer equipment to buy new. You won't make a profit, but at least you get some of your money back.

Oh and as far as cooking goes, don't learn how to make showcase dishes. Good lord is that useless unless you are on some reality show. Learn how to make the bare basics. Seriously.

And on food, just eat better. Buying cheap crap seems like a decent deal for the moment, but the crappier you eat, the crappier you feel and in the end you got what you paid for. I'm not going to preach organic food or anything, but 2 slices of pizza a day is a crappy diet; get a falafel at least. Or a salad. Or whatever.

Also, if anyone still uses a film camera nowadays DITCH THAT. Get a digital camera. Depending on what you do, the initial cost might be more but it lasts longer and the amount you save in film and developing will more than make up for the distance.

And finally, Ernest Borgnine should be everyone's practical saint. When the guy couldn't get a gig as an actor, he had no problem taking regular work-a-day work despite the fact his agent warned him against it. Who is that agent? NO IDEA! Who is Ernest Borgnine? He is Ernest Borgnine! Don't be prissy about work; that if anything is what will make you a New Yorker.

Kakapo (#2,312)

Thank you.

Number one way to save money:
Stay off Craig's List!

Unless you are a chick. Because that is the best place to score some free meals from suckers looking for free sex ;)

Crantastical (#4,127)

I bought my furniture on craig's list! why buy ikea new?

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

I prefer my furniture to not have bedbugs. Seriously, Ikea is cheap enough that unless you are 1000% positive it's clean, just buy it new.

But…

I have been able to score some nice West Elm stuff for practically nothing. Thank you again folks with decent tastes!

Helio (#4,187)

For the people with lotsa friends, who are themselves incredibly social, invest in an unlimited metro card. It's a chunk of change at the beginning of the month, but there is no guilt for hopping on the subway to see some friends.

scrooge (#2,697)

Geeta apparently takes off on a whim for a month in Berlin. And advocates a gym membership. And has a Roth IRA. And pleads poverty. GMAB!
(Not sent from my Blackberry)

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