Budgets are like pokémon. They are great tools to help us through our journey and reach our goals. This four-part series takes a look at my budgeting history and my journey to finding my current budget.
In Part One I shared my experiences of how my budgeting developed over the decade before moving to New York City.
In part two, I look at the challenging battles from my first year living in New York City and my close wins and loses.
Moving to New York City was the beginning of a new game generation of my life and my first year was really exciting and had a lot of wins. I made a whole new batch of friends. I fell in love with my now fiance. It was my first year out of school where I got to put my master’s degree into practice and live life as a grown-up. I worked 11 out of 12 months shopping, assisting and designing. I designed costumes for a total of eight shows and assisted a costume designer on a Broadway show.
My budget was fighting an eventually losing battle. I knew moving to a very expensive city and I would have to adjust my lifestyle for a higher cost of living. However, my budget wasn’t able to adjust and evolve fast enough to counter the challenges that were to come.
September through November
After finishing a summer theatre job as the costume designer and shop manager, I moved to the city. It took a day or two before I was hired as an overhire shopper in a costume shop. Once that show was complete I was switched out to another costume shop as another overhire shopper. It was great! Being a shopper was the perfect first step for my career.
My “just moved” mentality was sure my budget would adjust as I adjusted to my new home. According to my bank’s budget tool, I was living outside of my means, so I adjusted it to accommodate for the city’s prices. I stopped using fun money because tracking my spending was easier online. I tried to be frugal and bought cheap groceries, but I also bought the “occasional” lunch at work. I was spending money on going out with friends and dates as I was falling in love.
When I moved to the city, my savings had some leftover student loan money and the money from selling my car to give me a fur coat to half the damage from the new cost of living. I also didn’t have to worry about car insurance or keep track of separate utilities. The only bills I had were my cell phone, my Parent PLUS loan and my credit card bill.
By the time I had moved into my third apartment in three months, my savings had been leech seeded. Small amounts of money were leaking somewhere. I didn’t know where or how, nor was I concerned. It was barely noticeable and I figured it would fix itself. My budget was on autopilot and would eventually run as efficiently as it did before.
Then, in November my student loans from both undergraduate and grad school entered repayment. After never really paying attention to my student loans, I was surprised at how expensive the payments were. I missed my first payment for my grad school loans and had to pay over $1000 for a first and second payment combo, along with the late fees. In response, I quickly applied for an Income-Driven Repayment plan. While in grad school I developed a bad habit of making payments to my Parent PLUS loan with money from savings, which newer student loans were coincidentally replenishing each year. This habit instantly kicked in as I began repaying all of my student loans in the same fashion.
December through March
My successes in the job market continued. After working as a shopper with two costume shops, I got the opportunity to work as an assistant for a costume designer on Broadway. That led to shopping for two other theatre companies. Meanwhile, I had also been designing small shows in Brooklyn and uptown. I even managed to take a week in February to move the rest of my stuff from Alabama.
Although I was winning battles in the job market, my budget was losing steam. Repaying my student loans with money from savings was a big root boosting the leech seed, absorbing more and more money each month. All of the sudden I found myself using a cash advance from my credit card to pay March’s rent because my paycheck was arriving after the first and I didn’t have enough in savings. My credit card then giga drained that paycheck to repay the advance and the 20% interest. I started to realize that I had grown accustomed to having my savings available and that I didn’t really pay attention to how I spent my paychecks.
My credit card was taking a lot of damage. In December I spent about $300 on a day-long romantic date. I rationalized it saying, “December is usually the month I spend the most anyway, might as well spend a bunch this year too.” Yes, it was romantic, memorable and well worth it (I'm marrying him in August), but it was very irresponsible. I couldn’t afford it, but I didn’t care.
Then in March, after being denied two years earlier, I received an American Express Delta card in a call for help. I was extremely happy because I wanted the extra “money”. Plus, if I spent $1000 within the first three months I would get bonus rewards points. This was a false victory for me, but I wouldn’t recognize that for a while.
My budget had become a weak substitute about to break.
It broke after seven months living in the city when I didn't have any income and I had spent most of my savings. I didn’t have a job lined up for April so I decided to take a week off to bulk up my portfolio. After I didn't do anything that week, or the following week, I started contacting people and looking for work. I managed to work a few single-day jobs, but it wasn’t enough to cover bills. I paid bills, bought food and other necessities with my credit cards. I took another cash advance for April’s rent, without a check to restore the balance. I remember thinking I was so clever and I still had it all figured out. My pride also stopped me from checking if I was eligible for unemployment. By the end of the month, the light screen of disillusionment faded away as I started to realize that I was losing the battle.
May through August
In May I was called for overhire costume construction at the first costume shop I worked at. Then I got a call from the second costume shop to cover for their shopper. Since the second shop had limited week schedule I was able to balance working at both shops. Then I got an e-mail from the summer theater I worked at asking me to start in June. After seeking advice from the designer I worked with, I took the job and headed back to Oklahoma.
This was my chance for my budget to regroup, train and get back on track. I didn't have to pay rent, utilities or transportation and was working 14 hour days so there wasn’t much going out. I was paid a pretty reasonable amount which helped revive my savings. I also managed to develop a system for tracking my student loans in a notebook that assisted me in understanding more about my student loans and remove that big root. However, by the end of the summer, I had somehow maxed out my new American Express.
I returned to New York City with a job lined up and knew I needed to reconfigure my budget strategy or I would not survive another year in New York City. I began researching budgets and personal finances by reading personal finance blogs. They helped me analyze my own habits, practices and discover what was working for me and what wasn’t.
In Part Three I will share how I took what I learned in my research and about myself and bred to two to hatch my baby budget with max IVs.
To be continued…