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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"I'm all about Manhattan life on a Brooklyn budget."

Aly Walansky, 36, a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn

"My income fluctuates since I'm a freelancer, but after taxes, I'm bringing home about $3,000 per month, which works out to about $50,000 above the line. I've traded living in the heart of the city for Brooklyn, where my rent is considerably cheaper. I currently pay $1,375 for a small studio—and can still be in Manhattan in 20 minutes.

I divide my pay between rent and bills; whatever's left over goes to food and entertainment. I really want to build up my nest egg—my Roth IRA has about $8,000—but it's tough. My emergency fund is pretty much nonexistent, too. I know I could save more easily if I moved out of New York altogether, but my family and some work obligations are here.

One way I curb my spending is by batch-cooking. On Sundays, I usually whip out my slow cooker and prepare huge portions that I freeze for future meals. This saves me a ton of money, especially after a long day when I'd otherwise be really tempted to order takeout.

I also go to budget-friendly bars and restaurants and opt for public transportation over cabs and Ubers. Making an average income stretch in New York really comes down to compromises, but I consider them small sacrifices to live in the greatest city in the world."

Expert insights: "It's great that Aly curbs her food spending so well, but I’d really encourage her to focus on her emergency fund. If she’s hit with a slow work month or other pop-up expense, how will she handle it? She’d debt-free now, but most people without a safety net would have to rely on credit in that case.

The idea of going from zero to three months' worth of expenses is really intimidating, so I say start small. If she can build up just $1,000 and make that her floor, she'll be much better equipped. Hitting that milestone will also stoke her motivation to keep going; it's all about baby steps.

This all comes down to prioritizing saving. If Aly finds this challenging, I'd recommend tracking her income and spending to get a clearer idea of her inflow and outflow of money. This is the foundation of creating a budget that works. Also, since her income fluctuates, doing a yearly cash-flow projection can be a game changer because it'll reveal the big-picture peaks and valleys of her income. This way she can plan ahead for slower months."

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