How to live in New York City on an intern’s budget

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Nisha Stickles
Me, enjoying my pre-packed lunch on the
roof.

Nisha
Stickles


Right after I graduated college, I landed an internship
in New York City, debt free. But there’s a cost to this
opportunity: living full-time in the city on an intern’s salary.

Considering New York is one of the most expensive cities to live in, being
financially independent isn’t an easy task, especially after you
pay for rent, a MetroCard, and a brunch or two. Honestly,
it’s almost impossible to live without support or a second job
unless you consciously plan ahead. Miraculously, I’ve pulled it
off. 

I have to preface by acknowledging I’m privileged to have
graduated college debt-free. I’m forever indebted to my parents
for giving me the opportunity of not having student loans burden
my already tight budget.

Here’s how I spend — and save — on my intern salary in New
York, which comes out to more than $10 an hour, but less than
$15.

I record fixed expenses for months in advance, so
I know how much money I actually have to
spend.

Before I go into the month, I budget my expenses for the
month on
this spreadsheet
. I deviated from the original a bit
but it still lets me visualize how much I can spend on food,
entertainment, and shopping, after I pay for
necessities. 

When you do the math for how much income you’re making with a
full-time internship, the numbers can be
disillusioning. For example, if I make $15 an
hour, 
I should make $2,400 a month, right?
Wrong. After factoring in taxes, that hourly salary drops to
about $11.25 an hour, or around $1,780 per
month. 
(You have to remember that New York City also
has a city tax!). You’ll have to wait for your first pay
statement to properly calculate your real per-hour salary,
unfortunately. 

I got lucky with a $1,000-a-month apartment in
Brooklyn, which costs less than dorm housing. Even then, I still
have to lock a certain amount of my paycheck to other fixed
expenses each month, including transportation, internet,
utilities, and my monthly Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I’m
still mooching off a friend’s Netflix, so I save $20 from
that.

For what money you have left to spend, separate
it into categories and create maximum spending
caps. 

From budgeting, I know that for the entire month, I can
only spend about a week of my paycheck.
 My biggest
fear is overspending to the point
where all I can afford to eat is instant ramen.
To navigate my limited disposable income, I
 assign
maximum spending amounts to each category. The
parenthesis show how much I’ve budgeted per category, while the
right column records up-to-date numbers of my spending.

This way there aren’t any surprises near the end of the
month — like how I will need to find a new apartment once my
sublet ends. No stress.

Since I just moved in, I had to buy a lot of oils and spices for
cooking, making my budget for groceries higher than I’d
like. Zara sales are also, unfortunately, a
thing, and I didn’t have the willpower to walk
away. So I’ll compensate by limiting
my eating out and bar budget. Prioritize!

Numbers are dizzying and terrifying, but you need to confront
your spending with a reality check.

I track every penny I spend and hoard all my
receipts.


file
All
of this cost me less than $12.

Nisha
Stickles / INSIDER


I record everything I spend on the same Excel spreadsheet
to keep myself in line with my budget. This habit
has four benefits:

1. You see how quickly your expenses add up.
Oftentimes, you’re mindlessly swiping your card, so you don’t see
how much you’re really spending until after the fact. Recording
everything — even that pack of gum — will make you more aware of
your habits. Trust me, keep all the receipts from your bar tabs
and Uber rides, and you’ll realize that going out in Manhattan
will cost you around $15 if you limit yourself to one drink,
which you probably won’t.

2. You’ll be more conscious of your purchases.
You’ll feel silly when you see you blew $15 on a Vitamin Water
and measly sandwich that didn’t even fill you up. 

3. You begin cutting down your spending. When I
see what I spend frivolously on, I actively avoid making the same
purchase I’ll regret later. See Vitamin Water example
above. 

4. You can identify your spending habits.
Everyone spends money differently. Knowing where your money goes
to will help you prioritize your money on certain things and cut
back on others.

Avoid expensive grocery stores like the plague and moderate how
much you buy.

I, too, will not spend $13 billion at Whole
Foods
 or Dean & Deluca.

I also stay away from packaged, pre-washed
vegetables
, and opt for veggies sold at my local grocery
store where I can get a bushel of kale for $1.


Untitled 1
For
three pounds, these vegetables only cost $3.

Nisha Stickles / INSIDER

In addition to buying cheap, don’t purchase anything perishable
in bulk quantities. You run the risk of having your food
spoil, and in turn, waste money. This is especially important if
you live in a dorm with a communal kitchen. You’ll be less
incentivized to cook and more likely to let your neglected
vegetables rot. You can always go back to the store. You can’t revive moldy bread. 

Aside from vegetables, buy grains like pasta (whole wheat is
affordable), bread, and brown rice as bases for your meals
because they work well with a lot of dishes and can be
stored without going bad. You won’t have to meal prep several days in advance
(and you won’t get sick of your lunches).

I cook almost every single meal, that includes
brunch. 

The minute you sit down at restaurant in New York you
might as well rip $10 out of your wallet right then and
there. Cooking my own meals usually is healthier than eating
at a restaurant anyways because I can control the ingredients and
portion sizes.

Every time I cook dinner, I prep my breakfast and lunch, so I
don’t “accidentally” forget to bring food to the office. I don’t
have to cook early in the morning before heading to the office
and I save money. I also don’t indulge in coffee or
drugstore snacks ever, thanks to my daily home brew and free
coffee at work.

That said, I don’t completely isolate myself from the restaurant
scene. It’s an important part of socialization, so I splurge once
in a while, but mainly at restaurants whose food I can’t
easily replicate.

I try to hand-wash all my clothes, except for sheets and
jeans. 

Laundromats near me charge $4.25 to just wash my clothes, and
$0.25 per seven minutes to dry. Because of the cost, I
dedicate Sundays to hand-washing clothes, especially delicates,
to avoid paying the laundromat fees. I’ll air dry the clothes on
a drying rack or hangers in my room in front of a fan, so they’ll
dry by the following morning.

I can’t get away with washing jeans and my bedding,
sadly, so I have to suck it up to wash them every two
weeks.


File_000 (2)
Combine millennials’ favorite past times, brunch and
looking hip, for an outdoor lunch in the park.

Nisha Stickles

When it comes to activities, find cheaper
alternatives.

I’ll schedule meeting with friends according to my weekly budget
because friendship often comes at the cost of meeting over food
or drinks. Based on my budget, I
allow myself one happy hour or dinner with friends per week, at
most.
I’ve even turned down invitations because a
friend’s dinner request didn’t “fit into my budget.” (If
you’re wondering, yes, I actually say that.)

This behavior sounds antisocial but those happy hour specials do
add up. What I’ll do instead is invite friends over for a
home-made dinner and a glass of Two-Buck Chuck. I don’t need to
spend $15 I don’t have on drinks, and drinking alcohol isn’t a
necessity to have fun. 

The beauty of New York City is that you can make a day of free
activities. Kick it back in the park with friends or learn to
cook. Enjoying yourself shouldn’t be contingent on the amount of
money you spend. 

Again, everyone has different priorities and spending habits.
My frugality on some activities isn’t the only way to
go.
As I mentioned before, I’m fortunate enough to not
have a good portion of my already strained budget go towards
paying back student loans. I acknowledge not everyone can afford
to live in NYC, but this budgeting advice applies around the
country. 

Develop smart money habits now at a young age, not only when you
have an internship. It’s an essential life skill that may be
tough for the time being, but developing financial insight now
only has benefits. 

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