Aspiration & Struggle

Living the New York Lifestyle: How One Millennial Is Making Her Dreams Come True

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New York–based actress Stefanie O’Connell recently moved from the East Village to Harlem. After looking for an East Village apartment to rent with her boyfriend, she realized that the neighborhood she’d called home for the past 10 years was now out of her price range.

The Price for Staying in Manhattan

A successful actress and Millennial finance expert, Stefanie knew she didn’t want to go too far. She was determined to stay in Manhattan and maintain her lifestyle in the center of the action—with a $2,000 monthly budget (achieved by combining her finances with her boyfriend’s). “I chose to live in New York City because it’s the center of the professional theater world,” she says. “If you’re serious about making a career on stage, there’s no better place to be.”

Stefanie recalls on her blog:

As I grew increasingly frustrated with the [apartment-hunting] process, I thought more about the city and where I might be able to find better value without sacrificing convenience. The reflection brought me back to a moment in my New York City marathon run. I want to say it was around mile 22 or 23. After crossing the final bridge from the Bronx, I found myself in a peaceful neighborhood of stunning brownstones on tree-lined streets just north of Central Park … also known as Harlem.

Big (Apple) Sacrifices

Stefanie has had to make some sacrifices to keep living in the Big Apple, including her recent move. “I’ve always had roommates,” she notes. “It might be nice to enjoy my own space for a change.” Just a few years ago, Stefanie worked many survival jobs, the positions you take to pay your rent and buy necessities while you look for that next dream role, to get by when acting work dried up.

To some, New York’s high cost of living, sacrifice in space, and busy lifestyle would make it a difficult life. For others, the city is the center of the universe when it comes to art, finance, and travel, which is more important than its challenges.

If you’re considering moving to an expensive city or state, do your research on its cost of living, its employment opportunities, and what you might pay in income and sales taxes. You want to know what you’re getting into. New York, whether upstate or in New York City, charges hefty taxes.

Some More Advice

As a long-time resident who’s “never really lived anywhere else,” Stefanie is an expert in New York living. “If living in a particular place is a priority for you,” she says, “there are a million and one ways to reduce expenses and make it work within your budget. You only have to decide if the trade-offs are worthwhile for you.”

Stefanie offers some simple ways to reduce city-living expenses:

  • Get roommates.
  • Move to a cheaper part of town.
  • Take advantage of city programs and free resources.
  • Walk, ride a bike, or use public transit instead of driving.
  • Go to the library for books and DVDs.

When you live in an expensive or high-tax location, you typically have to make some sacrifices to get by. Stefanie notes that places with a higher cost of living tend to offer a greater amount of free cultural resources and low-cost entertainment options than cheaper locations.

Stefanie, at least, can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s where her dreams of being on stage are coming true. For more information about Stefanie, check out her site, The Broke and Beautiful Life, as well her book, “The Broke and Beautiful Life: Small Town Budget, Big City Dreams.”

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and passionate debt fighter who writes at DearDebt.com. She is currently climbing out of $81,000 in student loan debt and is often dreaming of her next adventure. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Rockstar Finance, GoGirl Finance and more. She has her M.A. in Performance Studies from NYU, loves karaoke, is obssessed with the Wizard of Oz, and is a ceviche connoisseur.