Making it on a budget in New York is never easy, what with the fun rents, high public transportation costs and that damn $5 beer. But one writer’s been able to survive in Manhattan for $1,000 a month, and she’s willing to share some of her secrets in a tell-all she’s penning about living life on the cheap in the big city.
Amy Hayden moved to New York from Chicago last year, and despite having two Masters degrees and full-time editorial jobs under her belt, she struggled to find a job that paid the rent. So, with $52 in the bank, Hayden crashed on a friend’s futon in Harlem and went to interview after interview. “Everybody thought I was nuts,” she said. “My situation was really grim. There was really nothing here for me except for possibility.” But that possibility was enough for Hayden, and, having already mastered a frugal lifestyle in Chicago as editor and founder of bygone website cheapfreechicago.com, she learned to make do with little cash over here. She networked, and signed up for every focus group and paid gig out there to pay the bills. “I got to the point where I was earning about a thousand dollars a month,” Hayden said.
YES, YOU CAN STILL DO THINGS
But that didn’t stop her from experiencing all that New York had to offer: “The advantage of being in a really big city is that there’s always something going on that you don’t have to pay for,” she said. Her favorite activities? Int he summer, the free movies, “they’re all over the place, in every borough” and kayaking. “In Brooklyn and along the Hudson River, you can kayak for free.” In the winter, instead of hibernating, she hits up free days at the city’s museums, Friday nights at MoMa being a favorite. She also leverages the power or an email address to see movies. “Sign up for free movie screenings, which you can do at sites like the thecinemasource.com, or there are a few Meetup groups that are for free movie screenings. They let you know how to get your name on the list.”
But don’t think she stays in every night counting pennies: like any good brokester, Hayden’s got an active social life. “I’m on a lot of e-mail lists,” she said. “There’s an e-mail list that’s got all sorts of intellectual events going on, I’m on another that’s got concerts, I’m on Twitter all the time, where I follow music venues that sometimes offer free tickets. I tend to seek out events that are free, but I feel like I’ve cultivated a knowledge of the city and I’m on the right e-mail lists that I know what’s going on for free.” A few email lists Hayden recommends are Platform for Pedagogy, which lists free lectures and readings around town, in addition to lists for music sites like Oh My Rockness. Then again, Hayden doesn’t spend all her hard-earned bucks drinking champagne or even the champagne of beers. “Part of what has been important to me is putting things in perspective, and what it means to make it in New York City. To me, being able to go out drinking in New York City every night isn’t what it means to make it.”
YOU CAN ALSO STILL HAVE A ROOF OVER YOUR HOUSE
After living rent-free with friends for a few months, she scored a cheap apartment in Washington Heights for $135 a week. “That includes a furnished room, television, internet, every utility. It’s a really inexpensive living situation I’m in, but it’s not unusual in the city.” Hayden still lives in the apartment on a month-to-month deal and shares the space with her landlord. And though she’s since picked up better paying freelance gigs over the past year, she still maintains that $1,000 budget.
Almost one year later, Hayden’s frugal city style’s going strong, and after a friend suggested she share her experience with other budget-hungry New Yorkers, she decided to pen NYC: Ten Lessons in Frugality and Faith, a part memoir, part how-to guide on getting through life on the cheap. She’ll be self-publishing the book using SoHo bookstore McNally Jackson’s self-publishing software, but she needs a little help financing it: a $5,000 Indiegogo fund set to expire at the end of the month aims to give her the cash to keep it going, so consider making a contribution to keep this important project in the works.