When our then-22-year-old daughter told us in the fall of 2008 that she intended to move out of our house and live in New York City on her own, we told her it would be tough。
She didn't believe us。
Mariana proved us wrong. She not only lived in New York on a salary of less than ＄30,000 from a publishing-industry job, she managed to save ＄5,000 over the course of a year. On top of that, she stashed about ＄1,000 in her 401(k) account。
How was that possible in one of the most expensive cities in the world?
She shared an apartment with three other youths, her main transportation expense was an ＄89-a-month subway card, and she ate a lot of beans and rice。
Oh, and she pulled a few stunts like smuggling a bottle of wine into a nightclub to enjoy a cheap night out with her friends. The things kids learn in college these days。
The ability to live cheaply is a very valuable skill, and I'm glad my daughter has shown some mastery of it at a young age, even if I can't endorse all her tactics. Mariana views saving money 'as a sort of game' instead of something oppressive。
Cheap living always starts with keeping the big expenses small. For most of us, that means housing. Amid the real-estate crisis, Mariana and three friends were able to lease a four-bedroom apartment in the upscale Park Slope section of Brooklyn for ＄3,100 a month. Mariana then volunteered to take the tiniest bedroom (plus a small studio so she could paint)， so her share came to only ＄750 a month。
Her next biggest expense was food. She joined a nearby food cooperative to slash her bill. When she did go out, she'd hit cheap restaurants. Once she ordered a ＄9.99 whole chicken at a local BBQ chain renowned for its big portions and cheap prices. She then took the chicken bones home and made soup out of them。
A couple of times, Mariana says, she did some Dumpster-diving when she spotted a local market throwing out 'big bags of bread perfectly packaged.' But for the most part, she saved money by eating lots of whole grains, beans, lentils, peanut butter and fresh vegetables from the food co-op. She ate meat a couple of times a week。
Young people often spend big bucks on entertainment. By contrast, Mariana says she spent most of her time in New York doing things that were free. She went to museums that have suggested donations, not a fixed admission price。
'The things I enjoy most aren't very expensive,' she says. 'The thing I love most about New York City is walking around.'
When she did go out with friends, she would encourage friends to share a bottle of wine before so she wouldn't feel like drinking much at the club. And, yes, a couple of times she smuggled in a bottle of wine under her coat instead of buying drinks. Nightclub owners: You have my apologies. This is the daughter I raised。
Did Mariana feel deprived by living on the cheap? Not really. She even managed to take a couple of trips, one to the Netherlands, the other to Portland, Ore., staying with friends both times. The two trips cost her a total of ＄2,000.
While I'm proud of Mariana's thrift, I'm not trying to hold her up as a model for the masses. She came out of college with no debt, thanks to some big scholarships and help from Mom and Dad. Many youths can only get through by borrowing money, and it means they have to earn more money when they graduate。
Other young adults her age already have started families, and Mariana's game plan wouldn't work for them either. Nonetheless, her ability to live cheaply gives her more freedom to do what she wants to do。
Perhaps too much freedom. A couple of months ago, Mariana informed us she planned to quit her publishing job so that she could move to Asheville, N.C., where she will share a room with a friend. Her rent: just ＄350 a month. She figures by working part-time and drawing on her savings, she can devote more time to her new passion: painting. And she thinks it will be easier getting showings in Asheville than in the hypercompetitive New York art scene。
Both my wife and I told her it was crazy to quit a job with health insurance in the middle of the recession. But once again, Mariana is following her own star. That's the way it goes. Our kids live their lives, not the ones we want them to live。
As for Mariana, she has already made one change since quitting her job in early December. 'I'm living more cheaply since I don't have an income,' she says。
That's my girl。