My first few years in New York, working as an assistant editor, I lived on credit cards. It cost a lot to live in Manhattan and, once again, I’d chosen a career that didn’t promise wealth. Maybe I should have been more financially pragmatic and looked for an apartment in Queens or Brooklyn, but I wasn’t. Those years taught me a lot about cutting corners, which I still do to some extent nineteen years later. If you love to edit books, you can do better than survive. Here’s how:
Breakfast can easily turn into lunch. If you put off breakfast, tada, it’s lunchtime! That’s one meal you don’t have to pay for.
Lunch: If you want to stay healthy and save money, make your own. Most of us give in to the sandwich bar. Reasoning: you’re too busy as a working woman to prepare food. Sadly, this can’t carry through to dinner unless you want to blow all your money. Another way to save money: take out industry people. It’s professional, enjoyable, and it’s a write-off or your company will reimburse you.* Did I just say that out loud?
Dinner: Rice and beans, most nights. Cabbage is fantastically inexpensive, too, and I highly recommend choking down some if you’re worried about nutrients. When the yearly bonus arrives, add chicken.
If you’re craving Fettucini Alfredo, get yourself some pasta at Duane Reade, along with Kraft ranch dressing. It’s a workable substitute and a good 20$ cheaper. Just don’t tell anyone you did this.
Snacking is a luxury you can’t afford unless authors send in chocolate or cookies. Okay, maybe popcorn.
Physical Maintenance and Appearance:
Do laundry by hand. It’s very time consuming, yet therapeutic. Don’t you want to get up close and personal with all of your clothes? Yay, thick denim. Impossible to rinse, but what fun to get clean! Savings: 10$ per week
Fashion: So you dress like a college student. This is why you look youthful (right?). But seriously, a few simple classic pieces can go a long way: black skirt, sweater, heels, repeat. Expensive suit is in the closet for truly serious occasions or needless psychological warfare (“Is she interviewing?”). It is good to have at least one suit, but no need to update your wardrobe every three months. When you’re an editor, most people automatically know you’re broke and won’t ask you to do a runway show.
Pretend to be so busy that you forget to get haircuts except every 5 months. Truth: You’re just cheap and it’s a fortune to have perfect hair! Hey, It’s not as if I’m a model so it’s not a priority to go to a salon every 6 weeks. I save about $300 a year NOT getting haircuts
and, girl, it shows with your dead hair.
Along these lines, do your own nails, even if you’re known as “Chip” around the office.
A gym membership depends on how willing you are to bargain for a lower price, rack up more debt, or live without exercise. The only place I’ll exercise is at a gym and paying for it means I’ll use it. Worth the debt, which I paid off.
Walking cannot be underestimated. $2.75 subway rides add up. Why pay to get to work quickly? I’d rather buy a tin of Altoids. Going to Connecticut? It’s only about 50 miles. You can do that in two days if you get a good pace going.
Otherwise, don’t go anywhere.
Netflix: yes; Hulu: no. I would say get rid of cable, but
the Oscars are too important too many spontaneous events happen that might affect your job.
Lottery tickets are mostly bs.
Staycations: Always. Real vacations: Only if someone else pays for it, i.e. learn to be good where you are, as in your tiny apartment.
You know that crappy furniture you had in college? It’s still sturdy and will carry you into middle age just fine. Since you’re not a real housewife, go ahead and use your cracked plastic bookshelf to hold your reading stash. Futon? No problem, even with your budding back issues. The downside: be okay with not having visitors, ever. Do not bring dates home unless you withhold unnatural light and push him out the door at dawn.
To double your income: move in with your love interest or best friend and split everything down the middle. I only just discovered this when my now husband first moved in with me. It’s fantastic!
Savor your sins because you can’t afford the good ones! I’m blessed not to have expensive sins to feed–or at least not anymore. My first few years, I smoked cigarettes, so I limited myself to two precious packs per week. 1/2 a tin of Altoids a day. Instead of booze, I tend to splurge on Duane Reade cosmetics. Foodwise, chocolate costs less than a steak. When I quit smoking, I rewarded myself by removing the cap on all my sins.
Massages: Not until you make more money and your stresses are over.
You can’t afford a financial adviser, not that you need one, but my mother has some amazing advice for all editors out there (well, she started with me). She told me I’d thank her later. Now it’s later for me and I’m grateful for her. She said to put at least 10% of my paycheck in a 401K even if it really hurts. It really did hurt, Mom, though I forgive you since you carried me for ten months…and 48 years. Now, I see why she asked me to do this. The up side for the future is obvious. The present up side is it makes you feel even poorer, which helps you save.
Final Truth: One of the joys of not having money was that I didn’t really care. I had/have books to read. I’m not a coupon person or one who LOVES free stuff. And if I stew about an air-conditioning bill, the anxiety wafts away by my second cup of coffee. If money were that important to me, I’d have chosen a different kind of work and place to live. Really, with a book, I feel pretty rich.
And now, I’m going to hand wash my clothes. 😉
*agents/authors: I’m just kidding! You know that for me to go to a restaurant, I must really like you!