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Hello.

Welcome! I’m Elizabeth M. Roberts. I produce podcasts in news and culture. I write about careers, lifestyles and personal finance.

How Financial Gym Helped Me Afford Living Solo

How Financial Gym Helped Me Afford Living Solo

Photo by  Colton Duke  on  Unsplash

Photo by Colton Duke on Unsplash

After five years with roommates in New York City, I was ready to take the plunge and move to a new apartment -- alone. As someone surviving but not thriving financially, only hearing one alarm each morning seemed like an unattainable dream. Working with Alicia Lazarto at the Financial Gym helped me realize that financial stability looks different for each person. I don’t have to make six figures in my career to live alone, I can do that now with some smart saving and lifestyle compromises.

It’s not just a question of, “Can I make the monthly rent?” but also, “What kind of lifestyle do I want to live?” Finding a new place was stressful but Alicia helped me save the money to move, as well as gave me the confidence to pick which apartment would help me be financially fit.  

SAVING THE MONEY:

In 2017, I found out that I would be going to eight weddings in 2018 – and I would be a bridesmaid for three. As I saw my bank account achieving new lows, I also knew that I wanted to start saving money to live alone. This seemed like bad timing, but Alicia disagreed. We could do this! We just had to start saving.

High Yield Savings Account:

Alicia and I researched several high yield savings accounts (Capital One, Barclays, Discover) and looked up NerdWallet reviews for how to maximize savings. I’ve had great customer service with my Discover credit card and since Discover offered a high yield savings account with 1.75% APY (Annual Percentage Yield), I registered.

Alicia recommended that I create three accounts: 1) Emergency Fund, 2) Travel/ Weddings and 3) New Apt. After years of saving, I luckily had a fully funded emergency fund ($13,000 based on six months of my living expenses) so now I needed to fund my “Travel/Weddings” and “New Apt.” accounts.

Funneling Direct Deposits:

Did you know that your work earnings can go to more than one bank account via direct deposit? I usually just have my direct deposit go into a Chase checking account, but Alicia informed me that many companies offer the option to split up your money into different direct deposits. I called my HR department to take $350 total from each of my biweekly checks and have it sent into the two new Discover accounts.

The first time I saw less money deposited into my main Chase checking account, I noticed it and felt the pain of what could have been more “fun money”. As each pay period went by, the new amount that went into my Chase account became the new normal and I barely missed it. As of August 2018, I’ve saved $6,500 total in my “Travel/Weddings” and “New Apt.” accounts.

Unsubscribing To Retail Emails:

“The Year Of Less” author Cait Flanders advised unsubscribing from all retail emails as a way to save money. I didn’t think I was that susceptible to email campaigns but after reading her book, it hit me that every time I saw an email headline with “SALE! 30% OFF!” I felt it was too good of a deal NOT to buy it. That exact feeling is how stores make money.

As an experiment, I started counting all of the times that I wanted to buy something new based off of an email campaign. At the end of a month, I had stopped myself from clicking on $360 worth of purchases. That money went into my “New Apt.” account.

Caveat: Of course, some email subscriptions can help you save money for things that you need (not just want!) Once I moved into a new apartment, I subscribed to home goods retailers like Overstock.com and Hayneedle.com to find already discounted furniture deals plus a 10% sign-up discount.

Photo by  Thought Catalog  on  Unsplash

FINDING A “FINANCIALLY FIT” APARTMENT:

A Trustworthy Agent Saves You Money:

I learned quickly that the NYC housing market is cut-throat and not all real estate agents are created equal. My friends’ previous rental experiences told me that many agents see you as a means to an end – you’re a “quick deal” that is treated accordingly with a short amount of attention. When I met Corcoran real estate agent Danielle Nazinitsky, I luckily found the complete opposite – and realized that who you pick as an agent can save you money long-term.  

Danielle is a Corcoran real estate agent who works with renters, buyers and sellers. I met Danielle at a Six Degrees Society women’s networking event where she talked about how finding a quality fit with an apartment you “love, not like” could take time. She proved this when we looked at 50 apartments together in 2 months. (Clearly her patience is godlike and she’s already invited to the housewarming.) I plan on living in this apartment for at least the next 5 years which will save me money on moving as well as another agent fee.

“Must Haves” vs. “Nice To Haves”:

Danielle asked what my “Must Haves” were (monthly rent charges under $1,600, 30-minute commute to work in midtown, more than one train within a 10-minute walk, good restaurants) as well as my “Nice To Haves” (big living room, elevator, good bars.) Danielle also took a deep dive into potential problems that we normally don’t think about until too late, such as the building’s hygiene history (when did it last have bedbugs recorded?) and management company (what’s their reputation for responsiveness to resident concerns?)

After getting an idea of what the rent would be at the places I liked the most, Alicia and I talked through what my monthly expenses would be to live alone sustainably. The Upper East Side had some affordable studios but moving to Brooklyn meant I could live in a 1-2 bedroom for the same price. So I changed boroughs!

Did I get everything I wanted? Nope. My commute is 40 minutes instead of 30 and I don’t live in Manhattan-- but those two factors would have increased my rent by $600-$800 a month. By detailing my priorities with Alicia, we were able to find an apartment that fit most of my “Must Haves” and “Nice To Haves”, while above all giving me my two “Needs” – living independently and staying financially fit.

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