Career, Featured, Hustling, Unemployment

Moving To New York City With Less Than $1000 (The Dire Circumstance That Turned Me Into A Saver)

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I’ve never addressed the circumstances of my move to New York. I’ve rudely kept all you lovely readers waiting with my bare little NYC page in the menu above. I’ve avoided writing the story of how I moved to New York because it’s long winded. A lot happened. And not much of it makes sense even when I look back at it. A lot of financial unsavviness occurred. And for the record, this is definitely not a how to guide. It’s more of a how-not-to guide.

But I also think it’s important to remember what occurred before I found stability. It’s a good reminder where the bottom was, and just how ridiculously hard the situation was to optimize when you’re in the thick of so many things not going your way. Today, I’m finally going to recap what happened. I’ll be posting a separate post with everything I learned because the story is so long.

It’s going to be a lot coming at you in the next couple days. A special warning to personal finance bloggers, some of the decisions outlined are going to make you cringe!

Let me rewind to unemployment post college. You can read about my 3 unemployed summer months prior to moving to NYC at the end of my college story. To summarize, that summer I was in rough shape.

I started the summer out working 20 hours at an internship in New York City even though I lived in Philadelphia, my college town. I commuted 3 days a week to New York, which was about a 2 hour bus ride. The internship brought in about $800 for a month or so of work. I spent the rest of summer job/career searching while working part time as a waitress at a pizza restaurant on campus making paltry tips ($10-$20 a day + a free meal).

Reasons For Moving To NYC

All my job applications were for roles in New York City. I’d like to think that I had more concrete reasons for deciding I wanted to move to New York like it was the best place for a retail career (the industry I arbitrarily chose after deciding I had to pick something), but if I’m honest, these were the real reasons I did:

  1. A large group of new grads from my college end up in NYC so it was already primed in my mind.
  2. More than half my college friends moved to New York and were starting jobs in August/September and I wanted to be near my support system.
  3. I was afraid of living in Philadelphia which now felt like a foreign place without the people I knew.
  4. I couldn’t bear to live in Philadelphia where I felt like a total failure. I had struggled through school and not done my due diligence of finding a job that would take me during the school year because I was afraid of failure and rejection.
  5. I got dumped by my college boyfriend mid summer who lived in NYC. I needed to prove to him and myself that I had the chops to make it even if it was through unconventional means.

I finally landed a 4 month internship making $10/hr shadowing a Buyer at an off price retailer in the city. I had settled on trying to follow the retail buyer/planner trajectory for the sheer fact that there was a trajectory at all.

Considering my sublet was ending at my summer apartment because the grad student I was subletting from was coming back for school, I decided to move to New York about a month earlier than the job’s start date.

Connections Saved My Life

The previous summer while I was interning in NYC, I had met a guy who was friends with my friend from New Mexico. They had gone to college together. He happened to be working for the Peace Corps in Philadelphia my senior year of college. We never met up during the school year since we were busy with life, but we randomly met up during the summer after I had gotten an offer for my internship.

He happened to be moving back to NYC because his family lived in Elmhurst, Queens, and he was going to be holed up applying to med school that year. I was telling him about my internship offer and how I was in the process of looking for housing in New York…VERY cheap housing. It turns out the house his grandparents lived in was actually partially a rental. His grandparents lived in the renovated basement with it’s own living quarters but rented out the other 5 bedrooms of the house.

He was planning on living in this house while applying to school and offered to check whether they had another open bedroom. A few days or a week later, he texted me saying they did! And that they would rent it out for $350! I could not believe my luck. Everywhere I was looking in deep Brooklyn/Queens were $600 at least!

The place wasn’t glamorous, but I’m so grateful I had a place to sleep and store most of my things. The room was probably 96 square feet. It was a converted portion of their living room (but with a real wall). I remember the space was so narrow that the only place a folded futon could fit was still blocking the doorway by a few inches. I bought a freestanding closet shelf unit to hang my clothes on. With just the bed and the closet in the room, I had about 2×4 feet of walking space.

This is literally the only footage I have of the place (ignore Google Hangout face decor).  I was surrounded by…stuff. In a space that was probably not wider than I am tall.

It’s funny looking back at how little I really needed. It’s also astonishing seeing how far I’ve come in 5 years. I think having this super cheap place to fall back to was a huge factor that actually allowed me to escape the paycheck to paycheck life.

Moving To NYC On A Budget

I don’t think saying I moved to NYC on a budget is accurate. I didn’t have a budget for moving there. The budget was just “cheap as possible”. Because my parents thought it was absolutely insane that

  1. I was physically moving to NY by myself
  2. I hardly knew the guy who was subletting to me
  3. I didn’t even have a real full time job yet

They sure had a lot of good reasons to be worried. My bank account probably only had $100 in it. So my parents very kindly topped me off with $900 before I moved to New York. I cringe at the money my poor parents have had to spend on me not having my life together.

I rented a giant Uhaul for $80 and packed everything into the truck myself. Even back then when I was truly living paycheck to paycheck (though I didn’t even have a paycheck actually…), I was still obsessed with my stuff and not having to get rid of it. At the time, it felt like that was all I had in the world. I had no money, no job, no permanent housing, no relationship. The impermanence of it all made me cling even harder to the tangible goods I had acquired.

When I finished driving by myself in my enormous Uhaul, can you guess where I landed? At Manhattan Mini Storage. My sublet was still being rented for another 2 weeks, so I had to get a temporary storage unit for the time being.

I was crashing temporarily with 4 close college friends in NYC who all lived together in the East Village until I could move into the room in Queens.

I Got A Second Job But Made Terrible Financial Decisions

Over the summer, I had bought a beautiful pair of mary janes from Nine West with my friend in DC. Even though I probably shouldn’t have spent any money on them, I justified them as breakup shoes (bought them right after getting dumped). I was convinced these shoes landed me my internship.

After moving to NYC, I made up my mind randomly that I was going to try and get a temporary job at Nine West where I could sell beautiful shoes (and possibly buy a super discounted pair). I had asked the associate during my trip in DC how much their employee discount was. It was 40%!

Looking back, I have no idea why I thought I should be buying shoes as someone who needed a second job. It makes zero sense to me now the rationale of 22 year old me. At least I had the random sense that I needed a second job. My narrow minded focus to get these shoes on a discount ended up spurring me to get the second job. Who knows if I would have had the good sense to do that otherwise?

I don’t think I realized just how dire my situation was. It’s an interesting look back at just how bad your financial situation can be without even realizing the full gravity of it. I was more concerned about optimizing spending if I wanted to spend as opposed to completely cutting out all excess spending. I’ve been reading The Millionaire Next Door, and they have a great term for this type of optimization–penny wise, pound foolish.

Either way, I got dressed up in those mary janes and pretty much just asked for a job at the counter. I remember alluding to the shoes I was wearing saying how much I loved their design. I vaguely remember maybe having a resume on me or getting a brief interview later the same day or the next day. Within a few days, I was on the schedule, selling shoes at $10/hr + a minor commission.

A couple weeks later, my internship started, also paying $10/hr and promising 40 hours a week. Once the internship started, I started working 9-5 pm there and 3/5 weeknights, I would start a shift at Nine West from 5:30-11:30 pm. I generally worked a full 8 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. If I was actually working 70+ hours a week for the whole year, I would be making $50k!

Reflecting back on this makes me realize how much MORE hustle there was during this time of my life even compared to the 6 months I was hustling before, during, and after Hack Reactor when I moved to SF. I just love moving to high cost of living cities with no job and very little money. I have so much respect to those who pay for school themselves and work through school!

This Personal Finance Blogger Has Lived Paycheck to Paycheck

During the time I was working at Nine West, I got sucked into quite a few great deals. I think I must have acquired at least 10 pairs of shoes (or more…) during this time. It was a terrible decision that I would 100% do over. Holding down this job through the holiday season was prime time for seeing big fat deals everywhere.

At least I can say that during this time, I rarely ate out and cooked most of my meals at home. I ate a lot of yogurt, oatmeal, spaghetti, and congee (rice porridge). These were pretty much my staples that were on regular rotation. I can’t remember if there was ever a handful of spinach thrown in there every once in a while. My grocery budget was as cheap as you can get!

I had a ton of anxiety about getting a full time position at the internship I was working. I just didn’t feel like I belonged and also felt my buyer arbitrarily didn’t like me. I overslept for work twice and 80% into the internship in December, they ended up firing me stating that I just wasn’t professional enough for the environment. They cited the two times I was late as well as the fact that I wore headphones while working.

I was totally devastated, especially since I was living paycheck to paycheck and had no liquid savings to speak of…unless you could count all the shoes I was buying. I had put all my eggs in one basket and hadn’t even been looking for other full time work because I had so much hope that the internship would turn into a full time offer. Talk about putting your eggs in one basket.

I was tired and because I was tired, I hadn’t committed my free time to additional job applications. Everything was overwhelming, I had no idea how to prioritize. I continued to work at Nine West and immediately started looking for other full time buying/planning jobs at other retailers.

The Nine West I worked at was right next to NBC Studios and Radio City! Great touristy spot.

I Opened A New Credit Card

After I lost my internship, I was seriously worried about cashflow. I had a small amount of money left but because rent was my only cash expense, I wanted to save all my liquid money to pay rent. I opened a Discover card that was offering $100 cashback after $500 spend as well as 0% APR for 12 months. I planned upfront on only paying the minimum balance and hopefully finding a job that would help pay off the balance soon.

During this time, I spent relatively moderately on the card, probably $200-$300 a month for everyday living expenses including transportation, groceries, and very occasionally eating out with friends. I was seriously lucky I had nothing like student loans to deal with or I would no doubt be in debt.

After the holidays, January was a tough month. Retail was super slow and I hardly had any hours at Nine West. I went from working 70+ hours a week September – December to 35 hours in December to 10-15 hours on a good week in January.

I didn’t try to find another temporary job to supplement my income because I decided this time, I needed to be completely focused on the job search.

My Friendships Kept Me Sane

During the time I was subletting my Queen’s room, I was actually in reality, spending 70% of the week at my friends’ place. The 4 friends I had stayed with when I first moved to NYC. I spent many nights too exhausted to commute all the way back to Queens, so instead I would commute after shifts to East Village and crash on their couch. I was pretty much there 6 days a week after I lost my internship.

I was their unofficial fifth roommate. A total couchsurfing bum. They never once made me feel like I was intruding and always worked out a way for me to stay over even if other friends needed to crash on the couch for the weekend. I kept extra clothes and toiletries in their hallway closet.

In fact, they would text me on nights I ended up commuting back to Queens to ask why I wasn’t coming over. I cannot emphasize how grateful I am for them and their kindness. Even though everything was chaotic and just plain shitty, at least I had a place I felt like I belonged.

My friends helped me so much beyond just listening to me during my stressful/tearful freak outs. They hooked me up with classmates who could help me with leads on my job search, they coached me for interviews, and they looked over every terrible version of my resume.

There Were Still Good Times

I don’t want to paint the picture that everything was doom and gloom during this time I was hustling and working my butt off. Note when I refer to home, I’m talking about my friends place. Here are a few good times:

There were obviously the good times of me indulging my irresponsible shopping habit!

This time was like a pure extension of college in the real world where my friends and I stayed up on weekends having heart to hearts. We went out at midnight to grab dollar slices of pizza and watch HGTV or other mediocre tv at home, including an MTV series called Teen Wolf.

I also found some time to go on some hilariously bad OkCupid dates during this time, and there was plenty of fodder for night time stories with friends. I somehow managed to convince all my friends despite these stories to make OkCupid profiles, and we spent a great many nights crafting perfect profiles and ogling people on the internet.

There was the time we all buckled down and disaster prepped the apartment with Trader Joe’s snacks when Hurricane Sandy hit New York. We all hung out together pondering the end of NYC in the black out.

While I was working at Nine West on Black Friday, we had a giant cupcake vending machine where little cupcakes were stored in these plastic balls like the toy gumball machines. There were a ton leftover at the end of the night, and I got to take about 50 of these home. I walked in on a bona fide Black Friday pre-game, and everyone was so blissful over the cupcakes!

I Got A Job (FINALLY!!!)

At the end of March after being unemployed and only selling shoes for 3 months, I finally got an offer to be a retail allocator at Macy’s after a rigorous 2 day onsite with a bunch of other candidates. Thankfully they paid a $2k signing bonus which got taxed near 50%, but it was enough to cover the 3 months worth of spending on my credit card. I immediately paid off the entire balance.

After almost a year of job searching, dead ends, panic attacks, and countless questionable financial decisions, I was able to start living in stability. I made a budget and even allocated a healthy portion to savings! If only I had done it sooner!

Sometimes it feels like that life was so long ago. It feels as though I don’t even know who that person 5 years ago was. I look at my money management and job search strategy, and they feel entirely foreign! It feels like I wouldn’t be able to slum it like that ever again.

Looking back today as a personal finance blogger, I feel judgmental of not only my younger self, but of people who fail to recognize the severity of their financial situations or those who recognize way too late. But I also understand where they’re coming from. I was judging those who lived paycheck to paycheck and wondering how is it possible? But actually telling this story made me realize I was doing the exact same thing. We all find our way to the realization that having your finances straight is important, and I’m glad I learned earlier than later.

Though I do wish I had managed my finances better when I was working 70+ hour weeks, I don’t really regret anything that went down. I certainly feel like a stronger person for having “survived” that time.

I had actually forgotten just how much hardship and emotional turmoil filled that period of my life. By recounting the time, I’ve regained perspective and empathy for those who are just realizing they need to do something about the hole they may have dug themselves into.

Do you have a story of financial turmoil? Have you always been good/bad with money and when was the moment you realized that needed changing?

Jing is currently a software engineer based in Oakland, CA. She left her job in New York, moved to San Francisco unemployed, and more than doubled her salary in 4 months.

14 thoughts on “Moving To New York City With Less Than $1000 (The Dire Circumstance That Turned Me Into A Saver)

  1. You know, old rural boomer gen guys like me are the worst at criticizing the metro-snowflake millennial bloggers in this space but you and your story mess me up. I mean I don’t think I could have sailed through all that uncertainty in a place like NYC at that age with that little drama! Some of you guys are super tough after all. Impressive Jing, I’d say good luck but you really aren’t going to need any. You’ve got this.

    1. Thanks Steve! I’m flattered! Thinking about doing all of that again feels exhausting, I’m definitely not planning on having a do over like that any time in the future!

  2. I loved reading this, Jing! Reminded me when I was young and hopeful, haha. If it makes you feel better I bought $300 Marc Jacobs shoes when I was only making $12 an hour. I don’t regret it at all, because I was frugal in other areas. Would I have a higher net worth now if I didn’t? Of course! But I also think there’s a time to be young and carefree. I don’t want to be someone who’s never taken a risk or played by the rules all the time.

    A time when I got myself into financial turmoil. I was in my early 20s and thought getting a full-time job was just about the uncoolest thing to do. I started my own online store selling stuff I found at thrift stores. I somehow convinced myself this would be my full time job, even though I crunched 0 numbers and I didn’t make enough to pay for my expenses. So, I moved into a studio apartment (increasing my rent), and quit my steady job to do my online business. Well, I wouldn’t regret it for the world. I learned so much about how to do things in that period. But it was super stressful in terms of money. I opened up the Chase Freedom card because I had run up CC debt to pay for expenses. I needed a 0% balance transfer card to fix the problem. At some point, I remember wondering how my rent was going to be paid one month. Like you, I did eventually get a full-time job and course-corrected, though.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who decided they absolutely needed shoes even when it made little financial sense to buy them. I was definitely frugal in other areas, but still probably not frugal enough…

      Oh my gosh, Luxe, that is a great story. I’d love to hear how running the business went. It sounds like you could’ve been the next Sophia Amoruso!! So THAT’S why you’re the ebay selling expert! There really are some things you can’t learn and intuitively know without making your own mistakes, especially when it comes to running a business. I’ve always wanted to start a product business but I get stuck every time at the number crunching part, so to this day it has barely got off the ground. I admire the gusto of just going for it and seeing how things played out! How long did it take you to course correct?

  3. I think almost everyone has experienced being young and irresponsible with money at one time…seems like a rite of passage somehow lol. Like you, I moved to a new city on my own (Atlanta), only I had $0! Crazy, right? I started attending a university down there to finish my bachelor’s degree and I “thought” I would be able to find employment upon my arrival but I was sadly mistaken. I ended up using a credit card to pay for my expenses, and on top of that my car broke down and was impounded, and I had no money to get it out. I think the impound fee was about $150, which seems like nothing now, but I couldn’t even scrape that together at the time.

    Eventually I moved back home, then joined the military, where I slowly but surely starting learning about getting my finances together. I’m in a much better place now, but that experience stays in my mind as a reminder of a life that I never want to go back to.

    1. It does seem true that being young and stupid is a rite of passage! I know plenty of people who at the time were my age seemed to have it all together! But at the same time, even today, I know people who are much older than me and STILL don’t have their finances together. I think it’s because many of us do need that one terrible scary experience to realize just how much we need to be socking away to have some stability. I’m in the same camp as you…”Never again!!!”

  4. I was actually confused half the time because the word retail keep pops up while I know for sure that you are a software engineer! It really felt like it was a different life. Did you do any software related work when you were still in NY?

    1. Haha indeed! It feels like a life time ago I was working in retail! I did some software work after my first corporate retail job (the one at Macy’s!) where I made excel tools for buyers and planners to make projections on. Basically they would click a button, and some code would run to pull in all this data and run custom calculate things. Those numbers generally helped them decide how much of each style to buy for upcoming seasons!

    1. Thanks!! I think it was seriously just survival mode because if I actually stopped at the time and realized how far in the deep end I was, I would’ve freaked out!

  5. I don’t know if I would have survived financially especially living in NYC with what you went through. When I was going through my financial crisis, I lived with my parents which at least cut down on living expenses and had a steady full time job.
    You sure were tough and able to survive during that period. Great read Jing!

    1. Thanks Kris! I was definitely afraid to move back home. For some reason I felt the security of home would really take away any motivation for me to succeed. I felt I was already in such a vulnerable position psychologically feeling like an imposter that having the safety of home would make it too easy to give up!

  6. Phew! My blood pressure rose just reading this. My childhood was one framed by living paycheck to paycheck, but thankfully I have not had the experience of doing it as an adult. We have lived leanly, but never had to worry. Reading your story reminded me of watching my parents.

    I love the perspective you bring to the pf community!

    1. Thanks Ms. Steward! That’s amazing you were able to move past the way your parents lived. I feel so much of what kept me going was just the knowledge that there was a different way of living and that this was all temporary suffering! I was only able to have that perspective because my parents had provided a non-luxurious but financially stable childhood.

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