Dear YPG: How do you survive in NYC on a publishing salary?
Are you secretly still not sure about the difference between an ARC and a galley? Do you cringe at the thought of someone asking you what a kit mailing entails? Are you curious about how a sales call actually works, but too afraid to ask?
Have no fear—Dear YPG is here! Like your older sibling who has all the answers, YPG experts are ready to dish out the knowledge in our advice column. Whether you’re wondering about the ins and outs of acquisitions, how to survive New York on a publishing budget, or anything in between, send us your pressing publishing questions via this anonymous form or Tweet them to us @YoungtoPub using the hashtag #DearYPG.
How do you survive in NYC on a publishing salary? Is it even possible?
My friends ask me this all the time. They are mostly bankers, traders, consultants, and other titles that mean nothing to me except that their salaries are generally almost three times mine. So when they complain about expenses and get picky about Venmo-ing, I expend a lot of energy trying not to punch them. That said, those of us making in the realm of 30-35K a year do what we gotta do. We are still alive, we still have all of our hair, we still have all of our friends. Are we eating mostly Kraft dinner? Yes. Did my coworker Kelsey actually get scurvy last year? Nope, false alarm. We are making it in the big city.
The first and most obvious thing is to find the lowest rent possible in an area where you will be at least within an hour of your office, on a good day. You’ll probably have to live with lots of people—I live in a 4 bedroom that was a 3 bedroom before we happened. My room fits my giant princess bed in it, and really only that. But what more does one need? I recommend living off the G—everyone hates the G, so property values are lower.* There are doable rents in Bed-Stuy, Harlem, and Bushwick, as well, and even some on the Upper East now, because that’s how uncool it’s gotten.
After you make rent, add to that a monthly unlimited metrocard. Many employers offer a pretax commuter benefit, so be sure to ask the HR department about that! It saves you in the realm of $400 in taxes per year, which is probably almost half of one month’s rent! Rollin’ in it!
Then add laundry costs, utilities, grocery money, and a miscellaneous $100ish for toiletries, doctor copays, etc., and there is your bare minimum monthly budget. Now that you’ve spent an hour warring with your English-major brain over all this basic addition, you will likely realize, these costs are about equal to your salary. So.
You might wonder: no room for going out with friends? No concert tickets? No museum admission or emergency cab rides when I’m drunk and lost? What happens when I inevitably lose my prepaid metrocard and have to shell out another $116.50? Well, sorry for a bit more math, but anything extra has to come from the budget for something else (or birthday money from your grandma). Here are a few ways I’ve learned to shave dollars off the bare necessities (of life – sing it!) to put toward entertainment and new shoes:
- Order anything possible online, from sites with standard, nation-wide prices and free shipping. Everything you buy in NYC is at a markup, especially at drug stores like Duane Reade, so avoid! I get all my nonperishable groceries, paper products, and toiletries from Target.com because it’s free shipping if you spend $25 and everything is the same price it would be if I was still languishing in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
- NEVER take cabs, unless it is a matter of safety, and in that case, hail a real cab—try to avoid Uber. Surge pricing is not a joke. When you first move to the city, there will be a temptation to take cabs because you feel lost, but the sooner you master the subway and your local bus lines (or just get used to walking, if it’s safe), the better.
- Invite your friends over for happy hour and get a cheap bottle of wine rather than meeting at a bar. Better yet, get a Bota box – it will last FOREVER. Even at those bars that clearly target the under-21 intern set with $3 pitchers of “beer” and just-for-show bouncers, you will end up spending more money out than in.
- Avoid the temptations of Seamless and “just grabbing a salad” for lunch at work. I know this sounds impossible, but if you actually buy groceries, pack your lunches, and “cook” dinner, you can live on about $40 in food money a week (I do). This means you’ll save enough money to actually eat dinner in a restaurant with friends once in a while! Also, pick the groceries that are on sale. They are not poisonous. Probably.
- In a similar vein, MAKE YOUR COFFEE AT HOME. Consider the cheapest possible coffee drink—a small, black coffee. At Starbucks, that is $2.12. Even if that’s your jam (it’s mine), and you don’t prefer some venti caramel chai magic syrup redeye Redbull smoothie frap, that’s almost $11 a week, or $44 a month. Think of all the shoes you’re not buying with that money!
- Share Hulu/Netflix/magazine subscriptions with roommates or friends. Maybe you all do this already because you are resourceful, but it recently occurred to me that I can split all my digital news subscriptions and the internet doesn’t even know we are cheating.
- Before you pay for anything, think about your friend network, ask around, and make sure someone couldn’t do it for you with their hidden talents. You might be surprised to learn that one of your friends cuts hair, another could hem your curtains, another gets free makeup samples every day at work, and some even get free books (ha).
In the end, some good old counting your blessings (this is hardly math, guys) goes a long way. We do what we do because we love it, and how many people can say that about their jobs? When I start to get jealous of my friend’s Bank of America salary and holiday bonuses, I remind myself that he gets three hours of sleep a night and I get free books. And when the dentist says you need three new fillings and you really want the white kind, not the cheaper but scary looking silver kind, there are always kids trying to improve their SAT scores. You got this.
*this is not based on any legitimate real estate information**
**I just now learned that “real estate” is two words, probably because I will never own any.