How I Finally Got My Money Game Going After 30

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When I moved to Manhattan after college, I scored my own apartment–and my own bills. But I quickly realized that between clubbing with friends and eating out, life in the city took every dime that I made.

My career as an advertising writer for a global agency was going well, so moving to a more affordable city was unthinkable.

Then, around the age of 30, I stumbled across a book at work about managing your personal finances—and suddenly my outlook changed.

I read about how high interest rates on credit cards sidelined people–especially women, who made around 77 cents to every dollar that a man earned. As a woman, I knew that I had to start being smarter about my money.

I was making around $85,000, and paying my bills, but I wasn’t saving nearly enough to achieve my goal of one day owning a home. So I decided that if I wanted to make an adult life in New York City, I had to get my finances in order.

Even though I’d spent years spending indiscriminately, I began changing my behavior in six key ways over the next few years–and it made all the difference.

1. I Stopped Believing in the Rental Fairy Godmother

For the first ten years of my working life, I thrived on stories of other New Yorkers who’d snagged great, big apartments for super low rents. I checked out listings, and tapped friends, as I clung to the fantasy of fulfilling this dream for myself.

However, I had a back-up plan: Once married, I’d gain both a husband and a wonderful place to live.

But with age comes clarity. At 34, I found myself single again after a one-year relationship derailed, and I had to accept two facts. First, real estate luck probably wouldn’t come my way. Second, I wanted a home–not a pit stop.

No more delayed gratification!

So I stopped taking taxis. I halted the mani-pedis. I dined in restaurants less, and cooked at home more. And I grabbed every freelance assignment that came my way, saving the funds for a down payment on a condo.

RELATED: Rents Are Rising. What Should You Do?

Rather than search in a trendy neighborhood, I scouted up-and-coming areas, with safety in mind. I bought an 850-square-foot, one-bedroom condo for $129,000. Eight years later, I sold it at more than double my investment, and then used the profit as a down payment for a larger home, where I still live today. My mortgage payment for a two-bedroom condo is now less than my former monthly commitment for a one-bedroom rental. 

2. I Stopped Thinking of Work as, Well, Work

Once I let go of the idea that working after hours was a no-no, my writing flourished. And so did my bank account. After years of working, experience had increased my speed, so I could manage my day job, work extra hours–and still maintain a social life.

I plan to stay in the working game at least until I’m 70. (Fortunately, writing is a sit-down gig.) While today’s workers can claim reduced early retirement benefits from Social Security at 62, or “full” benefits at anywhere from 66 to 67,  the Social Security website makes clear that, by delaying retirement benefits until age 70, I can actually receive a bigger monthly check.

Now I regard the national standard for retirement as a suggestion, instead of a mandate, especially when I take into account what my mother’s physician informed her as she approached that golden age: “Most people start to rust once they retire.”

Enough said.

RELATED: Why Retirement Is Harder for Women

  • http://twitter.com/shoegirlinbr Kacie

    Wow. She is exactly who I want to be when I grow up…can we be friends, Jenine? :-)

    • Hailey

      My feelings too!  Jenine seems like the exact kind of woman I aspire to be.  I really appreciated this article, both for the practical advice, and for bringing attention to a great role model!

      • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

        I was happy to write this article. I believer the more information and truth we share, the better all of us can manage our lives and our money!

        Best, Jenine

  • Guest

    Very admirable – great article!

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      Many Thanks!
      Jenine

  • Erin Uncapher

    Great article!   I’m in the same boat and have learned many money lessons as I got older.  The only difference is, I plan on retiring at 60.  You don’t have to work until your 70 if you have enough in your 401K and pay off all debts and obligations before retirement.   If you save enough cash and 401K, you can live off of that and not draw social security until you are 70.  Now if only I could retire at 50.  :)

    • Kristirlee

       I wouldn’t put any hopes and dreams on drawing from social security-false version of “secure”. What you do from now and then with your money will determine your security. I’d rather have my nest in a basket that I know is a guarantee. Who knows is social security will decrease or even disappear.

  • Guest

    Great story and great lessons! Thanks, Jenine!

  • eas

    When is LearnVest going to print a story up that does not entail giving up all recreation and pleasure to save money.  I understand the concept of cutting back and prioritizing but I am tired of all these stories where everyone cuts out the fun in life to meet their financial goals.  There has to be a balance.

    • Mostlywentzel

      I have never seen an article that advocates cutting out all fun. There is a balance. And if you think that you should never have to give anything up in order to be financially solvent, then short of winning the lottery or marrying well, chances are you will never meet your financial goals.

      My husband and I live in a very nice, 3200 sq ft home. We have 3 children and a dog. We don’t go out a lot, but we are good with that. We enjoy family movie nights. We have friends and neighbors with whom we enjoy socializing at our house or theirs. And when we do go out, we send our 4 yr old to a neighbor’s or to family, who in turn send their child to us when they go out. This saves us on babysitting costs.

      This summer, we took the whole family to Mexico for a week, and later, to New England. We had a great time at both, without having to spend a ton of money. We saved for the trips, and in the case of New England, combined it with a work trip and visits to friends, so we only had to pay for one night in a hotel.

      Life is a compromise, and unless you are willing and able to understand that, you will likely always struggle to find balance and peace.

    • Em

      How did you get that out of a story that involves the writer travelling the world and going to Broadway shows?

    • Joanne P

      It depends on your view of what is having fun, how much money it takes to have fun, and how to accommodate your monetary goals.  A person can still keep and develop new relationships and experiences while being frugal, setting limits and spending quality time with friends and family.  I don’t see it as an either or situation.

    • http://twitter.com/carlalynnehall Carla Lynne Hall

      I don’t see that Jenine is giving up fun in her life at all. She travels, goes to Broadway shows, and has a large apt in NYC. Many/Most single women living in NYC cannot afford this lifestyle. Her choices also enabled her to adopt a child as a single woman. I know Jenine personally, and can attest that there is no lack of recreation in her life. It  comes down to your perspective. There is nothing fun about scrimping when you don’t have money at the end of the month because you spent it on recreation that only lasted a few hours. 

  • http://www.chicwriter.com/ Shevonne

    LOVE this article! Trying to save to get a bigger place, and so I am quickly learning that I’m going to have cut tons of expenses that are not needed, and start freelancing on the side again.

  • Beth

    I’m all for getting my finances in order but most of the articles lately just advocate working more. At what point to we start talking about cutting back on acquiring “things” or healthy portfolios and start valuing people and family instead. I’d like to see more articles on saving money, ideas for cutting costs, living cheaper and still enjoy my family, not just work more, earn more, be happy when you’re old and hope your kids remember who you are when you finally retire.

    • Anon

       You seem to have missed the parts that talked about how she cut back on travel expenses (but still traveled, making friends all over the world!), cut back on entertainment expenses (but still goes to Broadway shows and dinners), and cut back on lunch expenses (in order to prioritize her adopted child).  It sounds to me  like this article does discuss cutting back, and spending time with friends and family. 

  • Friendly Comments Only

    I have a 70 yr old Aunt who is a working doctor – not a sit down job – so do not  assume 70 means incapacitated. :-)

  • Ana

    Great article! Very inspirational. 

  • NYCer

    129,000?? Where did you buy?

    • shannon smigo

      she reports being over 40 in this article… seems like the $129,000 home was purchased 10 years ago or longer, maybe?

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      Upper West Side, but remember that was in the1990′s!

  • http://twitter.com/MallaHaridat Malla Haridat

    And what a fierce money game you seem to have developed!! Thanks for sharing your story and giving us a real view of how it can be done!!

    And even bigger kudos for #6.  I am a new Mother as well – and since going back to work have created a new love affair with brown bags and frozen food.

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      Totally agree! Frozen food, and buying in bulk from Costco is my salvation and sanity.

      Best,
      Jenine

  • Denny

    The problem with articles like this is that they assume that you’re already spending a lot on housing, entertainment, etc. AND that you earn enough to afford it all.  I earn closer to $30k and my husband earns next to nothing but runs a business that takes a lot of money to run.  We seldom go out to dinner or a movie, let alone an expensive Broadway show.  Our mortgage is $524/month, but we have a hard time making ends meet.  We have a lot of debt – his school debt and credit card debt from things like car repairs.  

    The point is that you can’t always drop expenses.  Sometimes you really need to add income.

    • anon

       I don’t believe this article assumes anything.  It is one woman’s story about how she made her finances work for her situation.  Your situation will obviously differ.  What I love about Learnvest is that they don’t advocate a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter approach to managing your finances.  When I read these personal account stories, they usually don’t fit my situation perfectly either.  But I can occasionally pick up a tip or two that I could apply.  For instance, doing freelance work to pick up extra income is probably not practical in my situation, but I can learn from some of her cost saving tips.  In your situation, the cost saving tips may not apply to you, but you could focus on the part where she wrote about doing freelance work to pick up some extra income.

      The funny thing is, a commenter above complained about just the opposite of your complaint; that their articles focused too much on earning extra income, and not enough on cutting back.  People seem to just pick out the bits and pieces of the articles that don’t work for them, instead of focusing on the portions that could work for them. 

    • http://twitter.com/carlalynnehall Carla Lynne Hall

      In the article, she mentions taking on freelance writing jobs on the side so she could make extra money. This is on top of a full time job. 

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      I totally agree…we all aren’t in the same parts of the boat but we are in the boat. Try start an at home business to make extra money, some people have had success on Ebay, but I know me, I’d shop more than I sold items. And hopefully your husband’s business will turn around soon!

      Best,
      Jenine

  • Stacy Simms

    making $85k as a 30 year old and complaining about it? wake up sister.

    • Denny

      I agree!  Plus that was over 10 years ago, so after inflation, it would be much more.  i am 30 and know many 30-year-olds, but very few people I know make that much.

    • http://twitter.com/carlalynnehall Carla Lynne Hall

      It’s all relative. Living in NYC, $85K doesn’t go as far as you think.

  • Ms_Mac

    “… I stumbled across a book at work about managing your personal finances…” What is the name of this book?

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      I wish I could remember…I but I can’t.. : ) all I remember is that it had a credit card on the cover and was written to women….but there are great books out there now, if take a whirl through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

      Best,
      Jenine

  • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Budget & the Beach

    That was inspirational! Thank you! 

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      Thank you for your time.
      Best, Jenine

  • Amanda

    Great tips! Thank you!

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      Thank you for taking time out to read my work.
      Best, Jenine

  • Ebony

    Love, love, love this article. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      Thank you for reading!
      Jenine

  • amp

    I won’t argue that this is very impressive but could you please feature someone who manages to get out of debt or accomplish something…anything—without making double or triple a normal salary? I do not know a single 30 year old let alone a 30 year old writer who makes $85k.  Where do you find these people?

    • Guest

      I’ve got to agree, LearnVest. While the author’s efforts are admirable, and kudos to her for taking control of her financial life, the days of 129k Manhattan condos and 85k salaries for writers at 30 years old are likely over for good. It’s disheartening to read about someone’s success following simple money rules and then find out it all took place years ago in a very different economy. How about more articles on what we can do today, with today’s business climate, when everyone and their sister is clamoring for those freelance, on-the-side jobs to supplement income?

  • Lucille Austero

    Thank you for this article! 

  • evr

    What year was it when she got the condo in NYC for less than 200k? I’m just wondering….

  • Kristen

    While the authors financial triumphs are admirable, I would love to see an article like this from someone who makes less then 40k/year. For example, I’m 27, newly married, I make just over 25k and my husband makes less then that. Because of the fields we have chosen to work in, odds are we wont be making much more then that (maybe if we’re lucky, a combined income of 60k at some point, but im not holding my breath). I know the main issue is where we live (Jersey Shore), however until we have some money in savings moving is not an option. I would love to see how someone in a similar situation can successfully get out of debt, save for retirement, a house, starting a family, etc, without cutting all the fun out of life. At the moment we never eat out, rarely see friends and family, all because we work ourselves to death and are too exhausted by the time we come home to do anything but sleep. And what do we have to show for it? A cramped living space and barely $500 in savings.

  • Susan

    What book was that book that you mentioned that caused you to chance your approach to your finances?

  • Rikdragon

    I was surprised to see the $2500 secret was to bring your lunch and quit eating lunch out. I went on a diet and began doing just that about a month ago. The thing I found out is that eating out is mostly habit and laziness. I enjoy the extra money, and now I read those magazines I buy then never get around to reading. Double win.

  • Mbrumbach

    What was the title of the book you read regarding finances? Sounds interesting. 

  • Trm218

    I find the can do spirit of this narrative very compelling. However, isn’t there something to be said for achieving a balanced life? And, I don’t mean just deciding to “love” work. I truly love my job but, I want/need/deserve a life outside of just work. For me, this has meant scaling back on what I need and just living within my means. I may never own a home, but I will have lived a full, rich and rewarding life.

  • Ollivander11

    Correction: White women make 77 cent to a white man’s dollar.

    Black women make 66 cents.

    Non-Black Hispanic women: 55 cents.

  • http://twitter.com/Katz_Communicat linda katz

    Kudos to your insights, planning and action in achieving a life worth living (along with your baby – congrats!).  I write and do workshops on luxurious living on little and will definitely be using your story.  Thanks for sharing!

    • http://twitter.com/jenine_holmes Jenine

      And thank you for reading!

      Jenine

  • J Lawrie

    I commend this woman for what she did for herself. That is a great accomplishment. The problem though is this: As a single woman, no kids, no spouse, you can take on as much work as possible. But there are people out there like me: Single mom. No husband. Luckily I only have 1 child. His needs are great though as a child with learning difficulties. I wish this site would find woman like me who have paid off debt and show us how. That would be something I would be proud to read.

    • J Lawrie

      And I do own my own home in a small rural neighborhood so those bill add up.