What Does It Take to Make It in the Big City? 3 New Yorkers Bare Their Budgets
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"The idea of going from zero to three months' worth of expenses is really intimidating, so start small."

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"No debt and multiple side hustles are what keep me afloat in NYC."

Darron Cardosa, 50, a part-time furniture salesperson, waiter and blogger in Queens

"My annual income flows from a patchwork of gigs adding up to about $55,000, which actually makes me the breadwinner of my household. My husband Mark works as a Broadway dresser, and together we bring home around $85,000. 

We own our one-bedroom apartment in Queens, where our monthly mortgage and maintenance fees run about $1,600. Becoming homeowners was a huge milestone we hit in 2004 after a decade of saving for a 20 percent ($30,000) down payment. We spend a little more time commuting, but it's a long-term investment. Aside from our mortgage, we are debt-free.

We also have a solid emergency fund, which holds enough to cover a few months of expenses, and I funnel about $200 each month to a 401(k) I have through my part-time job. Mark has a retirement fund as well, but we honestly aren’t sure we’re on track for retirement. The truth is that we look at our apartment as our safety net—when it comes time to retire, we'll probably sell it and move to a cheaper city.

Since eating out adds up quickly in New York, we try our best to go grocery shopping, look for deals and cook at home. When we do go out, we hit up places with happy hour specials. If we want to see a Broadway performance, we look for shows offering discounted tickets. When a new movie comes out, we opt for cheaper matinees and skip the concessions. We've also been known to spend our days off playing Scrabble in Central Park. There are so many ways to live frugally while still enjoying the city."

Expert insights: "I love Darron's budget-friendly approach to food and entertainment. Factor in their emergency fund and I'd say they're doing a lot right.

The one thing I’d like to know more about is their retirement plan because relying on their apartment as a nest egg is risky. What if the market turns when they're looking to sell? Darron's only 15 to 20 years out from retirement, so now is the time to make more of a concrete plan, instead of just socking money away blindly.

I'd first suggest tallying up their annual expenses to learn how much they’re actually spending, which should give them a target savings number needed for one year of retirement. If they want a concrete first goal, they could estimate what they think their apartment will sell for and starting working toward saving up that much now.”

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July 17, 2017

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