If you’ve never been to New York City and I asked you what comes to mind when you think of it you’re likely to picture things like shopping, penthouse apartments, cabs, Wall Street, celebrities, fancy restaurants, law firms, more shopping, start ups, and fashion. This is what you see in movies, on TV shows, in books and magazines and these have shaped what you see NYC to be. I’m not writing this to correct that image, there’s nothing false about it – these things are everywhere in New York. What I want to talk about is what all these things have in common. What is the main thing that people associate with New York without necessarily realizing it?
All these things relate to or require lots of the green stuff. If you live in New York it’s assumed that you must have money. If you work in New York – you must be rich. If you’re thinking of going to New York – you’d better have savings. To do all the things New York is famous for you need to have money. Want to go shopping? Want to rent an apartment? Want to go out to eat? Want to go to a broadway show? Guess what? It’s going to cost you. In line with this is the New Yorker’s obsession – making money. They work long hours and take little time off. Everything they do seems to revolve around increasing their earnings whether this be through a promotion or obtaining a new job entirely. I always overhear people on the phone or chatting with someone in the street about how they’re going for this new job or how they’re trying to close a certain client etc. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a businessman or a retail manager, they’re always obsessing over their financial situation.
When we moved to New York we knew it was going to be expensive, we’d heard this many times from many people and so we made sure to have enough savings to keep ourselves afloat until we had jobs and a place to live. Man are we glad we did this. Things in New York are expeeeensive. Back home we rented a room in a house with one other person. This other person generally kept to herself and spent the majority of her time in her room when she was home. This meant that we had run of the kitchen, lounge, our room, the spare room, and the garage. For all this we paid about $700USD per month. Now we live in Brooklyn, in an apartment that we share with two other people for which we pay close to $1500 per month. It’s a great apartment and we love it, but the point I’m making is: we have half the space and pay twice as much. Welcome to New York!
Food. Food in New York is nothing like anywhere else. Food is readily available to you EVERYWHERE and at ANY TIME. I’m used to going to the grocery store once a week and stocking up on everything for the next 7 days. Occasionally I might grab some fast food here or there. In New York however, there are barely any grocery stores. People grab food if and when they need/want it. For breakfast you grab a bacon and egg roll from the deli or donut and coffee from the cart in the street. Almost every lunch is bought from a different place each day and dinner can easily be ordered on your phone and delivered right to your door from almost any restaurant! Food is so accessible here. As great as this is, it comes at a high price. To keep things simple let’s say you grabbed a roll and a coffee each morning ($5), a wrap or a salad for lunch ($12), and ordered some dinner through a delivery app ($15), you’d likely be looking at around $30 a day (give or take) and this is being modest because it accounts for no extras, no drink with lunch or dinner, or eating out at a restaurant etc. This comes in at around $210 per week. Back home my weekly groceries averaged at around $50. That’s a BIG difference. However, In NYC it’s not practical to do a weekly shop because you’d have to carry it all home, and then you live in an apartment with little space to store it all. Here it is MORE practical to eat on the go or do several smaller shops throughout the week, leading to a higher food bill.
Being surrounded by shops and consumer goods at every turn, there’s a constant pressure in this city to spend money and buy goods. The sheer choice of everything can be overwhelming. There are new releases of things almost daily and having such easy access can a real temptation. I’ve always been a big fan of shoes, mostly sneakers. When I first came here on holiday in 2014 I was absolutely amazed at the variety and options, not just of stores but of the shoes IN the stores. I loved it! I ended up purchasing 9 pairs of shoes on that holiday! I just wasn’t used to having so much choice! My point here is that with all this choice, again, the City coaxes you into spending money.
Something else that I think contributes to New York being expensive is the inhabitants. New York City is filled with a really diverse set of people. There are plenty of working class people, homeless people, struggling people, and wealthy people. Everyone overlaps though, with seemingly little separation. Sure you have ‘wealthy neighborhoods’ and ‘poor neighborhoods’ but walking through the streets you’ll see everyone thrown in together. Even these rich or poor neighborhoods are quite often separated by only one block. When you’re constantly surrounded by fancy goods and people with these goods, you feel the want for them too and can be tempted into making purchases. With people of all levels of wealth constantly mixing with each other, this exposure to fancy things is much more prominent and so the temptation is a lot stronger. You’re surrounded by big brands and expensive items so much that they start to seem familiar and then ‘normal’. Once they’re normal, they no longer seem unattainable and so you consider buying them. *Cue sound effect of a shop register opening*
So what has being surrounded by all this obsession with and need for money taught me? I’ve always been one for buying designer brands, dressing fashionably, buying the latest gadgets and goods. I’ve always wanted to get some sort of job that pays lots of money so that I can be rich and buy whatever I want. However, it’s taken me coming to New York, where I am surrounded by all these goods, all these jobs, all this MONEY to realize that – they’re actually not important at all. They mean nothing. So your clothes were really expensive, so you have lots of money…great…so what? How does that improve your life? Does it make you happier because your clothes are expensive? Does it directly benefit you in any real way? I’ve come to realize that the answer is no.
It’s taken me coming to New York, being surrounded by all of these shops, goods, jobs and all this money to realize that, you know what? I don’t NEED all of these things. Initially when we planned to come to New York, I thought I’d try to land a corporate job which would look impressive on my résumé and hopefully bring in some decent money. Well it wasn’t quite so easy landing one of these jobs on my limited time frame so I had to widen my job search, and I ended up working in a dermatologist’s office in SoHo. This wasn’t the corporate position I had intended on getting but it couldn’t have been better! It was a small friendly team, had good hours, paid the bills, and came with no stress or pressure. Having this job meant I never had to worry about work when I was at home, or stay crazy hours to meet deadlines. It allowed me to enjoy my time in New York. However, as it wasn’t a corporate role in a big company it didn’t come with the high salary that NYC seems to require and this meant that I wouldn’t be dining out all the time or shopping up a storm. Throughout the year Tammy and I have seen and done SO MUCH here and we’ve done most of it without spending that much at all. Our time here has taught us that you really don’t need luxury items or an abundance of cash to enjoy yourself and have a good time. With us having modest jobs in such an expensive city we’ve had to stretch our money and we’ve learnt its true value. We’ve used our money for experiences and to go places instead of on buying things. As surprised as I am, we’re actually at the point where we no longer have any desire to go into the shops we used to love because their contents hold no real interest for us anymore. I used to love going into sneaker shops for a ‘browse’ which would inevitably result in me seeing a pair I HAD to have and I wouldn’t be able to get them out of my mind until I bought them. Now, I see a sneaker shop and simply choose not to enter because I know where it’ll lead. If I don’t see the sneakers then I won’t want them, therefore I won’t buy them and my life will be no worse off. This last bit is they key. If you purchase these items you’ll life will benefit in no real way, but you’ll now have less money. If you DON’T make the purchase, your life will be exactly the same but you’ll still have the money. So if you live with this mentality of not needing to buy frivolous things all the time it means that you can live a happy life with a lot less money.
I think the trap people fall into, and it’s one that a lot of people fall into, is that more money equals more happiness. If you can have more money then you can buy more things which will make you happy. I used to be the same. The way I saw it was; I’d rather cry in a Lamborghini that smile in a Honda. Like my shoe example above though, buying those things doesn’t really bring you happiness. You may initially feel a little joy after the purchase but it’s short lived. Most people don’t stop and think about HOW money will bring them happiness because it’s just assumed that it will. We all live with the assumption that we should work hard and make as much money as we can, but rarely do we stop and question why. Why do we need so much money? The quick and easy justification is because if you can buy things then this’ll make you happy, the more you make, the more you can buy, the happier you’ll be. Yes, money means you can buy things but this DOESN’T mean happiness. How many elderly people look back on their lives and say “I wish I had made more money” or “I wish I had gone further in my career”. No, they say things like “I wish I had spent more time with my family” and “I wish I had travelled more”. These are the things they regret, the things they see in retrospect that would’ve made them happy. It seems that when you reach the end of your life you realize that the chase for money has gained you nothing. Picture yourself being at the end of your life, sitting in a huge mansion surrounded by all your possessions. Are you happy BECAUSE you have all those possessions? What has a lifetime’s worth of accumulating those items brought you? My guess is not a lot. I’d imagine you’d be thinking “Was all this worth it?” or “What was the point of getting all this?” Obviously I’m not old and not nearing the end of my life (I hope) but I have also realized the same sort of thing. I’ve come to realize that money is not the be all and end all. I don’t want to spend my life chasing something pointless, something that provides no real meaning. I want to spend my life being happy in the here and now, doing things, not buying things. It’s taken coming to New York City, a place where you can buy almost anything you want to realize that that’s NOT what I want. People come to New York to make money, they work tirelessly day in and day out, put themselves under immense stress and pressure, they spend their whole lives earning and accumulating wealth, only to turn around at the end of of their lives and wonder “what was the point on doing all that?” When I look back on the happiest moments I’ve had here over the last 12 months, NONE of them involve purchasing things. Some of the happiest moments were day trips that cost us absolutely nothing; catching a train out to Coney Island, taking a stroll through central park or the New York Botanical Gardens, staying with a friend’s family for Christmas.
I’m truly grateful that I’ve learnt this lesson so soon instead of when I reach old age because it means I can alter my life’s direction now and hopefully not end up with the same regrets.
Tammy said it best to me recently, she said “collect memories, not possessions” and this is what we intend to do from now on. Thank you New York, you’ve shown us the way. Unfortunately, it’s just not your way.