The Month of “No”

I realized recently, as I’m rapidly approaching the end of my second year in this apartment, that this is the first time in my adult life I’ve managed to find some semblance of a routine. I’ve adjusted to my budget, created a schedule that (mostly) balances work and life, and I have my little rituals that make me happy, like yoga every morning and weekly food prep on Sundays. I mean sure, I’m still pretty broke most of the time, and much as I always intend to prep food on Sundays, sometimes that doesn’t happen till Monday. Or Tuesday. Or okay sometimes I forget to grocery shop and then blow the rest of my budget eating Seamless meals all week. But for the most part, at least, I’ve found a way to live comfortably in the life that just now looks to be settling down. This routine, and the new-found responsibility* (*appearance of responsibility), all fit nicely into a goal that my lovely friend M and I set for ourselves all the way back in 2014 (aka two weeks ago). January is officially the Month of “No.”

The last year has been one of the most enjoyable times in my life. I went to multiple concerts and festivals, planned last-minute mini-vacations and day trips outside the city; I’ve been to more crazy restaurants and bars and parties than probably the previous three years combined. I indulged my Free People obsession on way too many occasions and all-too-happily handed over cash at a few tattoo parlors. And I don’t regret a single dollar spent in this year. I started 2014 newly single, slowly expanding my group of friends, trying new scenes, taking what I thought I knew about the city so far out of my comfort zone that it forced me out of the shell I’d been in for so long, challenging me to be Someone, to be LB.  The routine of my last year was there was no routine. I could plan ahead by a few days, or maybe a few weeks, but anything after that just seemed ridiculous, like I wouldn’t know enough about my life in two months to commit to saving money for that hypothetical time when I’d really need it. Things continued on this path during the holidays, spending money with little more than reckless abandon, but only because I knew it was the last time I’d really be able to do so. So once the madness of New Year’s (e.g. the hangover) calmed down, I sat on my couch with a notebook and a calculator, and planned my budget for the next year.

When you’re still in school, you plan things by the semester, or even by the month. Things are so up in the air, they’re so variable at that age; you could choose to switch a class or take a weekend road trip on a whim and a daydream. In the early years of life on your own, budgets are more like “helpful suggestions,” since as long as you can pay the rent and bills on time, why not have a little fun while on your own for the first time in your life? It’s easy to say “Yes” to everything: Yes to going out two nights in a row, Yes to taking a cab home even though it’s not creepy-subway hours yet, Yes to buying that extra dress just because it’s on sale, Yes to peanut butter and frozen vegetables for a week just so you can buy that last-minute ticket at Webster. Yes feeds into FOMO, convincing you not to skip that happy hour just in case something great happens while you were being responsible. No is a scary concept, when you’ve spent so long trying to avoid it in favor of fun.

In order this year, I will have: Nickname Posse trip to Atlantic City, annual mama/Twinster Boston trip, 5-year college reunion, the annual 403 trip with my anchor G and my soul sister E, bachelorette parties/wedding showers for Twinster and my partner-in-crime R, plus oh ya know THEIR WEDDINGS. This is in between birthdays for everyone, spontaneous nights and roadtrips, weekends where at least one day I’ll eat nothing but Seamless food and one or two Free People indulgences. This year already has so many amazing things planned that I’m taking January, my one month with absolutely zero plans, to say “No.” No to nights out, No to spending money on things for myself that aren’t workout classes or essentials (e.g. coffee and wine), No to buying new yoga leggings even though they’re on crazy sale at Rue La La (which was the hardest thing I’ve had to do ALL YEAR). I need a month to save money, staying in on Saturdays to finish whatever’s on my Netflix queue and spending Sundays buying groceries and prepping food all week. It won’t last forever – my FOMO is pretty freaking strong – but for at least a few weeks, it’s a small step towards making me feel like a real adult.

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Two Broke Girls

I pulled my credit card out of my wallet last week and punched in the numbers, trying not to memorize them as I’ve done with most of my other cards, and rationalized as the website check-out loaded: I’ve been eyeing this dress for weeks. It’s a quarter of the original price! THEY ACTUALLY HAVE MY SIZE. I don’t know what else I could wear to H the Scot’s birthday celebrations this weekend! Despite that last one being horribly untrue (e.g., already had something in mind), I hit “Submit” and then immediately checked my credit card statement and mentally subtracted what I’d need to cut out of my budget that week to cover the dress. “Welp,” I thought as I happily shared the link to the dress with a coworker, who agreed it was totally worth it, “looks like I have a long week of frozen veggies and canned tuna till pay day.”

I am in the unfortunate position of being a fashion-obsessed 20-something with a decent salary living on my own in New York City. “Unfortunate?” you ask. “That sounds ideal!” But no, it’s unfortunate, because that sentences really translates as this:

  • Fashion-obsessed 20-something = Talks about saving money and then spends it on shoes.
  • Decent salary = Enough to cover rent and bills like 65% of the time.
  • Living on my own in New York City = Okay this part is true. And also rocks.

Usually, I find myself in one of two positions: it’s within 24 hours of payday and I feel like a millionaire, or it’s more than 24 hours after payday and I’m reminded that being an adult, and especially a New Yorker, is expensive and hard. My fashionista C and I bond over this in particular on the weeks after paying rent, swapping “I’m so broke until payday”s and “I’m serious, I can’t even afford dollar oysters this week”s, and yet our conversations frequently end up leading to “LOOK AT THIS NEW DRESS” and “Should I buy this purse? Just kidding I already did.” Last week in particular was a doozy of budget discussions, as we had a whirlwind weekend ahead, birthdays, bachelorette parties and a fast-approaching trip to Maine. With big Saturdays on the books for both of us, and C and I going on vacation in a week, we decided to spend Friday at her place, a low-key night of wine and on-demand movies.

Saving money is not fun. Sorry, but it’s just true. I know I can’t pull $600 out of savings for an impulse buy, but when that new Marc Jacobs purse is emitting a siren call while I’m “just looking” on Net-a-Porter, it’s so, so hard not to listen to it. It was more difficult in the early city days, the unstable months adjusting to the city, to biweekly paychecks, to the constant pull to buy every meal on Seamless and overspend on accessories, but even now that I’ve got my feet under me, it’s really hard to budget. I wonder sometimes, looking at an uncertain future, if I’ll regret going to that concert last-minute instead of putting that money towards my upcoming bedroom redecoration, wonder if I’ll berate myself for taking all those cabs over the years without sucking it up and taking the subway. I wonder sometimes if I’ll be the person that is always broke in the city, taking care of myself alone, or if someday it might get easier. Wondering all of this all the time can be overwhelming, anxiety-inducing even, when I’m trying to figure out if I really can survive on a can of tuna and salad greens until Wednesday this week. But a quick ping on Gchat from C makes me laugh and calm down a little, because whether it’s a 20-whatever thing or a New York City thing, at least I know I’m not the only one.

Friday night, for a grand total of $60, C and I got very drunk and stuffed our faces with what may be my new favorite pizza in the entire city, shrieking at the television when it stalled during a crucial scene in Belle and reciting along to Gone with the Wind until the third bottle of wine put us to bed. It was the kind of Friday we both needed after long weeks, a chance to forget our dwindling bank accounts and just enjoy a night of gossip and girl talk. It sucks to be broke most of the time, sucks to be the kind of person that will impulse-buy a dress she probably doesn’t need without realizing that money could go to groceries down the line. But I don’t think I’ll be too angry with myself in 40 years for spending that money now. After all, I may be a broke girl trying to make my way in New York City, but all things considered, I’ve made some pretty rich memories along the way.