Saving money in New York: Some would say it’s an oxymoron. With a partner, you can split some living expenses (and spot each other when funds get dicey), but if you’re single — like the majority of women in this town — then the buck stops with you. Here’s how five different women are stretching their dollars the farthest, on their own.
Deirdre, 24, associate at a nonprofit
Rent: $900 per month for a two-bedroom in Queens, which she shares with a roommate.
Saving strategy: Spend more to save more — or don’t spend at all.
“I recently signed up for a yoga studio membership, which costs $120 a month. That sounds like a lot — and it is — but when I have class, I’m less tempted to go out and buy drinks or dinner afterwards,” she says. “I’ll go to work, go to yoga, and then go home and eat food I’ve prepared in advance, so it actually saves me money overall.” Meanwhile, she’s a devoted fan of Wells Fargo’s Way2Save account, which rounds up all of her charges and puts the extra money into savings. “For example, if I swipe my card for a $2.50 coffee, the bank deducts $3 from my checking account and puts the extra 50 cents in my savings account, which accumulates a surprising amount every month without me even noticing,” she says. She also tries to go at least one day a week without spending anything, period — brewing her own coffee, bringing her lunch, and using her monthly Metro card for transportation. “I get competitive with myself, like, ‘How long can I go without taking out my wallet?’” she says. “That makes it fun.”
Keziah, 34, marketing manager at a start-up
Gross salary: $90,000
Rent: $2,200 for a studio in Manhattan.
Saving strategy: Know your weaknesses.
“Shopping is my ‘thing,’” she says. “I love clothes, and browsing stores online is how I used to relax.” But her expensive habit was also draining her finances, and occasionally putting her into debt. Even when she’d try to set a budget, she had a hard time sticking to it, particularly since she often shopped when she got stressed. She finally downloaded a browser blocker that prevents her from accessing her favorite stores online. “I didn’t realize what a habit it had become until I got hit with the ‘site blocked’ page,” she says. Now, if she really wants to buy something, she forces herself go to the physical store. “I know it sounds time consuming, but in reality, it makes me more efficient because I’m not spending hours in an internet hole looking at random dresses anymore,” she says.
Rose, 32, actor/tax professional
Gross Salary: $70,000
Rent: $1,800 per month for a studio in Manhattan.
Saving strategy: Get out of debt.
When Rose was a grad student, she racked up a bunch of credit card debt (about $40,000 in total); now, paying it off is her top priority. “At the moment, it’s more important than putting money toward retirement,” she says. (She’s right: Contributing to a 401(K) would actually cost her in the long run, because interest rates on consumer debt are so much higher than growth rates for most investments.) In the past two years, she’s almost halved her debt by upping her monthly payments aggressively and sticking to a debit card for expenses. She’s also dabbled with balance transfer cards, which allow you to roll over chunks of debt into an account with zero interest — for a very limited time (after which the APR skyrockets, earning them a “ticking time bomb” reputation).
“I only transferred amounts I could pay off before the promotional period ended,” she says. Meanwhile, she cleans out her closets regularly; bringing things to Goodwill gives her a mental boost (and a small charitable deduction on her taxes). “Giving stuff away makes me realize how much I own, and want less,” she says. She also enlists friends and family to keep her from purchasing things she doesn’t need. “If there’s something I really want, I institute a strict waiting period — usually at least a week, or a month — and I’ll tell people about it,” she says. If she reaches her deadline and is still thinking about the item, she allows herself to buy it — but usually someone has talked her out of it by then.
Amy, 36, managing editor at a magazine
Gross salary: $150,000
Rent: $2,500 for a one-bedroom in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Saving strategy: Make all food at home, as a rule.
A few years ago, Amy went on a health kick and started seeing a nutritionist, who was expensive on the front end but urged her to start cooking at home — which has saved Amy a ton of money since. “Now, my cost of living is relatively low because I make almost all of my own meals,” she says. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner was costing me around $40 per day — or more, if I got drinks after work.” She started banking that money instead, and has accumulated about $50,000 in savings, plus a robust investment portfolio. “I feel like my daily finances are under control, and it’s comforting to know I’d be able to sustain my lifestyle for about a year, albeit with some budget cuts, if things went belly up at work,” she says.
Jennifer, 31, corporate recruiter
Gross salary: $140,000
Rent: $2,300 per month for a 3-bedroom apartment in Chelsea, which she shares with two roommates.
Savings strategy: Keep it simple.
“I was brought up to not spend money on silly, cheap things, and to make enough so that I wouldn’t have to worry about finances,” Jennifer says. To that end, she’s always made saving a priority, and doesn’t overthink it. Part of each paycheck gets funneled into a separate account automatically — out of sight, out of mind. She also uses her credit card wisely. “I put all my expenses on the same card, so I can keep an eye on exactly what’s going in and out every month,” she says. “Then I accumulate as many points as possible to use on flights. Vacations are how I treat myself.”