I knew a comic who would joke that it cost her $17 just to spend no money at all in New York City. I still laugh every time I think about her saying it, because it’s true. Except with inflation, that price has gone up since the first time I heard my friend say that almost ten years ago – to about $40, according to Terri Trespicio of Daily Worth. She says, “I’ve often said that if you leave your New York City apartment, you might as well pay someone $40 to walk out the door because you’re likely to spend that much before you return.” As someone who works from home but still (thankfully) manages to leave the house every day to take the kid to school or at least walk the dog, this can be a major problem. How can you curb your spending in a town that is designed to bleed you dry?
First let’s talk briefly about why NYC bleeds you dry of spending money. It’s because New Yorkers lead very outdoor lifestyles. You wouldn’t think so, and I obviously don’t mean “outdoorsy” in the natural sense, but I do mean that we are typically out of the house more than we are at home. It makes perfect sense, of course; our apartments are small so when we want to see people, rather than have them come over, we meet out at the park or a cafe. A conversation with a friend or a playdate for your child will usually cost you a minimum of $5. If you need to take a train or bus to get there, add $2.50 each way. If you take a cab or car service, add a minimum of $7. (Some trips require both modes of transportation plus a water taxi or ferry! Add in a bridge or tunnel toll and foggetaboutit. Don’t even get me started on parking.) You can see where all of these little expenses really add up.
For those of you who live in settings that require you to drive long distances and spend tons of money on gas, these piddly expenses might not seem like much, but you’re probably not paying the same premiums a New Yorker would in mortgage or rent. But let’s say you are. Let’s say no matter where you live, you end up spending $40 every time you leave your house. If that’s wrecking your budget, how can you curb your spending? Trespicio says a good way to do so is by only allowing yourself to use cash for discretionary spending. At the beginning of each month, take out in cash whatever amount of “spending money” you want (and let’s face it, probably need) to stick to, and only spend that amount. When the cash is gone, you are done buying stuff. Period. Not only will that force you to be really picky about what you spend your money on, it’ll help you better track your spending for further analysis, too. (Trespicio says to keep track of your cash purchases by writing them on the envelope you keep your cash in. The cash envelope is a great idea, because your wallet is full of credit cards, anyway, isn’t it?)
Trespicio says using cash instead of debit helped her save on dinners out, forced her not to buy that random scented candle while she was in the drug store for something else (okay she said she didn’t buy face scrub, I’m the one with the candle problem) and it made her appreciate being home more. As a parent, and a single woman at that, I know from personal experience that it’s sort of easy to curb my personal spending, but what about when you’re out with the kids? Curbing spending on kids isn’t just about saying no, you can’t have a new toy today. It’s about saying no to the bottle of water and the ice cream cone and the soft pretzel and the ride on the automated horse in front of the bodega, too. Sounds like no fun, right? So maybe you can say yes to one of those things per trip, but not all of them. That’s where I get stuck as a parent. I tend to parent like my father, who always said yes to all the little microthrills daily life had to offer, which made my childhood enjoyable sans family vacations on a grand scale. The flip side of that type of instant gratification, though, is that you can never save up for that big family vacation if you let all your trip money go toward a million popsicles, gumballs and plastic doo-dads from the 50 cent machine at the laundromat. Save your quarters for washing the clothes and tell your kid her patience will be rewarded when she’s at Disney World.