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.
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.
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.”
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