Sunday, September 23, 2012

Moving to New York City

I was born in Small Town, Texas, in the newly built hospital. I was raised in the same house my entire life, and when I picked a university, I only applied to the one in my hometown, which just happened to have 30,000+ students and amazing programs of interest to me. I lived in the dorms my first 2 years, as required (and funded) by my scholarship, and after that, I moved on to apartment-hopping (for 3.5 years), and then back to parents' houses for the last 1.5 years. I would have saved a lot of money if I had lived in my mom's house, but what I spent in money I gained in life experience, and I don't regret that decision.

This past summer, I finally moved from Small Town to New York City. Obviously, this is a big step, especially having never lived anywhere besides ST. I couldn't find too many resources on the internet about moving to New York (I didn't look all that hard), but most of them just talked about how stressful it is and made a big commotion of the whole ordeal. I'm here to say - it wasn't that different than moving <5 miles away from my mom's house, which is the furthest away I ever had a permanent residence, before my move to NYC. You have to go through a lot of the same steps.

1. Find a place to live.
For my first apartment in ST, my roommate Nick picked the place (in agreement with me, roommate Matt, and roommate Joel). I was fine with their choice and the place was great. For the second place with Mike, I picked the apartment. It was probably my favorite apartment I ever lived in, but that's probably a psychological thing, since I picked it. For the third apartment, roommate Donna picked it. Again, I was totally satisfied. And finally, in moving to NYC, roommate Henry picked the apartment.

For my NYC apartment hunt, I scoured the internet via CraigsList, WalkScore, and various other apartment hunting sites. I found brokers in the neighborhoods we were interested in, and I made phone calls and sent emails. Henry visited 4 or 5 apartments that we thought would work, and he ultimately made the final decision, since he was the only one that actually saw anything before I signed a lease. (If you don't want to sign a lease, subletting is also an option. Henry did that for 2-3 months earlier this year. Maybe he'll write a guest post on his adventures in subletting.)

Just as with any apartment, do your research on the neighborhood (we wanted northern Manhattan), know what amenities you're after (we were looking for a 600+ sq ft 2 bedroom, but ended up settling for 436), and be comfortable with the lease before you sign it. I read that thing cover to cover multiple times and had our broker make changes before we signed. I was able to get Henry and Ryan on the lease without having to do background checks on either of them (not that they wouldn't have checked out, but we would have had to pay another $100/person), which was great. And signing the lease was something I did 2 weeks before moving, all via email and FedEx. To this day, I've never met our brokers, but I've had tons of interaction with them online. It's possible to get an apartment in New York without even seeing the place first (not that I fully support that idea) and have it all set to go before you get here.

2. Get yourself and your stuff there.
This is the biggest difference between moving <5 miles and moving 2,100 miles. To move <5 miles, we'd load up my brother's truck 15 times and drive back and forth and back and forth. We'd spend an hour eating lunch and still be done by 3PM. To move to NYC, my husband and I took a scenic route, from Texas to Louisiana to Florida to Virginia to New Jersey to our new apartment, departing on Monday and arriving on Saturday (the places listed are the places we stopped to sleep along the way, in the homes of family and friends). It was a wonderful trip and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I'll be the first to admit that driving across the country with all your worldly possessions on 10 wheels is a little unnerving.

Other friends that I have that have moved to New York have chosen different methods. One drove a smaller moving truck with his roommate, but took the direct route. Another flew up with his father and brought only the minimal number of things to survive, opting to live in a pre-furnished apartment and leave most of his belongings at his parent's house. All are viable options - just keep in mind that moving yourself and your things to New York is a HUGE expense. Well, unless you take roommate Henry's approach; he bought a one-way plane ticket and arrived with a suitcase full of clothes and all his musical instruments... and that was it. He sublet apartments until Ryan and I arrived here, and he's just been collecting things along the way. Most of his belongings are in storage at his parent's house in Texas. If you take that route, it's much less expensive, but most people would have a difficult time taking such a minimalist approach.

3. Set up utilities and update billing information.
This is a given no matter where you move. There are just some... unique aspects about it living in New York. (I say unique, but I really just mean different from ST. I suppose these things could actually be normal everywhere else and unique in ST, but this is just from my perspective.)

We had to set up our internet in New York. We called Verizon and ordered the modem, and waited. Then, it arrived and we went to plug it in. But... there was no phone jack. No phone jack. Anywhere. In the entire apartment. I didn't know that was still possible. Did the previous inhabitants not have a phone line or internet? Doesn't that seem just wild?? Anyway, we had to call Verizon again and have them come install a phone jack so that we could hook up our modem. Installing the phone jack was a sizable expense we had not budgeted for, but the cost of internet per month is comparable to ST.

The electric company was as easy as a phone call (the previous tenants had electricity, at least). Apparently, it had never been shut off, so it was just a matter of putting a start date on our billing cycle. Easy enough, and the cost is comparable to ST - we have a LOT of electronic equipment in our apartment, so I knew it wasn't going to be cheap.

No water bill. There's no water bill in New York - is this the case in other cities? In ST, they would sometimes make customers put down a $300 deposit to have water set up, but here, we don't even pay for it. I take longer showers just because I can.

We also had to update our address with our banks and cell phone bill. This was easy enough, but if you forget, you could find yourself without a functioning ATM card, under suspicion of theft.

4. Explore your neighborhood and become familiar with the places you will frequent.
This will happen on its own eventually, but it's nice to make a day of seeking these things. Our laundromat is directly across the street and open 24 hours, which is about as convenient as it gets. The grocery store, subway stop, dry cleaners, and nearest Chinese restaurant are 3.5 blocks south of us, which is also very convenient. I quickly discovered that a cold grocery store produce section is one of the best places to be on a hot August day. Starbucks, the supermarket, and a few more fast food places are 5.5 blocks south and 2 blocks east. This is a bit more of a hike (especially considering that coming home is all uphill), but I'm glad to know that they're there when I need them (like right now, since I'm out of shampoo).

Take some time to get to know where the things you need are located, and keep in mind it might be in a direction you hadn't considered. Even though we live in Harlem, which is in Manhattan, the nearest mall (including the nearest Target) is in the Bronx, one D train stop northeast of us. Knowing facts like this about your neighborhood could also affect where you choose to live (see item #1). The fact that the laundromat was right across from our front door and open 24 hours was a BIG plus to me. Also, living near an express stop vs. a local stop can make a big difference in New York. I've only lived in one apartment in my 1.5 months here, but express stops are amazing.

(I didn't have to explore in ST since I lived there my entire life, but living in different parts of the city did open my eyes to different amenities and places to visit.)

5. Set up a budget and find a job.
These are both major things that must be done, but I group them together because one will affect the other. Once I set up a budget for me and Ryan (estimating food costs since we didn't know what they'd be - more on that later), I knew that we needed to be making a combined income of at least $35,000/year (pre-taxes) just to pay our bills each month. This showed us where to set the bar as far as requesting salaries for "real" jobs, and knowing how minimal we could go on wages for "survival" jobs. Our monthly bills include: health insurance, internet, cell phones, electricity, transit, rent, food, a monthly medical bill I have from surgery last year, laundry, and credit cards (we're carrying a small, <$500 balance that we're chipping away on and not adding to). We will soon add renters insurance and student loans to the list.

Transit is a bill you may overlook when first arriving in New York, but it's one to keep in mind. A monthly, unlimited MetroCard is $104. We each have one of those. I also ride the PATH at least 16 times a month for school (16x$2=$32) and Ryan takes the train to National Guard drill one weekend each month ($22). All this combined (~$252) is obviously less expensive than car insurance, oil changes, maintenance, parking, gas, etc. that come with owning a car, but it must be accounted for nonetheless.

Laundry is a bit more expensive than I anticipated. We spend ~$60/month on laundry-related expenses, including restocking the soap and dryer sheets.

Food was an expense I did not expect to skyrocket the way it did, especially considering that we eat at home for nearly every meal - every breakfast, at least 6 lunches/week, and at least 5 dinners/week (which was quite the opposite in ST). When living in ST, we spent about $200 for food each per month, or $400 total. I estimated this in moving to New York and budgeted accordingly. As it turns about, based on our September numbers, we actually spend ~$800 a month on food... double the original estimate! This expense really jumped out at me, and if you're on a tight budget when you move, this is definitely an area to exercise frugality.

For job hunting in New York, I highly recommend CraigsList. It got me 1 temp job, 4 interviews, and 2 job offers. In the end, I got an interview through Henry for another job and we both, along with Ryan, earned positions with the company. Ryan also found restaurant employment through CraigList, and is working with a staffing agency to find more permanent/degree-related employment. Other ways to find work include: looking for "Help Wanted" signs in your neighborhood or neighborhoods you'd like to work in (this can be effective but very time-consuming) and telling friends you're looking for a job (Henry got his catering position through a friend and is happy there).

Mine and Ryan's experiences in the job market really helped our job hunt move quickly. I have ~4 years of retail experience at the mall in ST and 2 years food experience delivering pizzas for Dominos. Ryan worked in restaurants for summer jobs during college and in retail during his final year. It was only with this background that we were able to find employment within 15 days of arriving in New York. We have friends with more degrees than us in less competitive job markets that are struggling to find employment. So, if I can make one recommendation - work some menial jobs. The experience will help you later, especially if you can't find employment in your field, at your dream job, etc.

My intent was to show that moving to New York should not be too intimidating - it's not that different from moving anywhere else in the country, as near or far as it may be from where you currently reside. When you move, make sure to keep in touch with old friends to keep your sanity. Work and school are great places to make friends and meet people, but if you arrive in the city without a job and you're not in school, it can be an incredibly lonely place (actually, it can be lonely even when you have a job, school, a husband, and a roommate, but it's definitely not as bad as those who come alone). Make an effort to reach out to people you love - they will want to hear about your adventures in the big city and you will want that human connection, so just give them a call.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How To Gain Weight And Waste Money

In case you have any doubts, this is written in pure jest. I do not have any sort of medical background and I am not giving advice. What I do have is experience in weight loss (and gain), and a desire to do the former. Unfortunately, with my current habits, I have been very unsuccessful. I write simply to highlight my poor choices and motivate myself to try harder.

(I have lost about 5 lbs since I've moved to the city, but given the amount that I need to lose to be in the normal/healthy weight range, I have a lot of work to do.)

1. Limit physical activity.
I've tried to set up goals for myself (walking/running 15 miles/week, walking/running on days I don't have school, etc) but I haven't met any of those goals (which, at one time in my life, were quite reasonable and easily accomplished). I have meager strength training goals, and I haven't been keeping up with those in any way either. I'm lucky I live in Manhattan and have to walk to get places, and I go to school in Newark, which is a 1-mile walk from the train station to the campus. Without those built-in safeguards, I probably wouldn't fit in my tiny little apartment (which is a 5th-floor walk-up... another minor source of movement).

2. Consume Starbucks every day. ($)
Though some people are capable of losing weight with this methodology (see: The Starbucks Diet), I have a special place in my belly for things like the White Chocolate Mocha and the seasonal Salted Caramel Mocha. Even though I order them with skim milk, small or medium, with extra shots of espresso and no whipped cream, it's an additional 150-300 calories that I don't need. To make matters worse, my new job is in Times Square. There are at least 3 Starbucks in a 2-minute radius.

3. Cook at home and eat too much.
We eat dinner at home almost every night - at least 6 nights a week. I make things like pasta, nachos, shepherd's pie, tacos, steak, baked potatoes, eggplant parmesan, chicken, etc., usually with a salad or vegetable-based side. These things sound great, cut costs, and keep our diets varied, but when I eat 2-3 servings, I'm consuming too much food. Period.

4. Drink diet sodas and sweet tea. ($)
Just because it's diet doesn't mean it's doing me any favors (see: Obesity Epidemic and Diet Sodas). Sweet tea, a staple drink of the South, is full of sugar - at least it's the real stuff instead of the chemical subs. Either way I slurp it, these drinks increase weight.

5. Eat out for lunch during work. ($)
I recently started a new job with my husband and our roommate, and unfortunately, in the transition from lazy bum to gainfully-employed citizen, I haven't bought anything to take for lunch (and since I scarf it all down at dinner, it's not like we have leftovers from last night). This has resulted in: burgers, fries, pizza, gyros, etc.

6. Keep an irregular sleep schedule.
Being a student, a newlywed, and living in a different city for the first time in my life (never mind the fact that it's New York City), sometimes I have things that come up that prevent me from going to bed at the same time every night. And, given the irregularity of my day-to-day activities over the past month, I don't always find it necessary to wake at the same time each day. I can't explain how or why, but the type of sleep schedule I keep stresses the body and prevents weight loss... in fact, I think it encourages weight gain.

In conclusion - these are the 6 main areas I seek to improve to have a healthier lifestyle. They are manageable goals that I hope to accomplish and maintain in my weight loss journey.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

don't rain on my job hunt

I've been job hunting in the city for about 15 days now, and I'm happy to report I now have a job. Unfortunately, my hunt was not without its darker points. This is a fraudulent response I received to my response to a craigslist ad. I would not have known it was fraudulent (though I had inklings) had I not google'd the email and seen that others had received the same response... in 2009. This is an update, per se, to show that this is still being used. This was in regards to a babysitting gig. The ad seemed legit and looked like most other ads for a babysitter/nanny on craigslist. Here's the email I received:

Am glad to receive your letter and also very happy to let you know that the position is still very much open. Am not sure how best to go about this nanny choosing, as you should understand that a child is not what you just leave in the care of anyone as there has to be trust and love as very good parent would give to a child. Will be nice to have a personally interview so as to create a concrete ground with the hope of all best expectations. I did lose my mom about two weeks ago and only had her funeral some days back here in England and we should be back in states in a week from now, hence, we have been for a look out for a nanny even before the death of mom. It will be nice if we find one before we get back home and if it happens to be you then we would be the happiest people as myself and my husband will be so occupied by work in the coming week and we just seek to have the best person to look over our child. We can kindly get on with all formal interview before we arrive back States and it will be nice if you could come on Instant messenger  so we could have a formal chat and of course conduct some interviews and exchange a few questions so as to prepare ahead of our coming home. You can meet me on yahoo   IM on this ID:( or you can simply text me on: (646) 494-5160 as I can not receive international calls here cos the tariff is ridiculous on roaming but i can send sms messages and also receive. Just fix a time and i will make out some time within the next 24hours.Thank you so much and i do hope for a better communication and look forward to having you as best of family and friends. 
If you have to know a little about my family, my name is Venus Clemons am 32 years of age and a mother of a wonderful boy Jamie who is 1yr 6months old. We live in New York just recently moved from W. Sacramento. My husband's name is Artis, he is an Engineer and job mostly takes him out town so he mostly away from home. I work as an interior decorator and work from home, so you certainly will have me at most times but am always occupied with work in my home studio and the time we need a nanny is for Mondays-Fridays from 9am-6pm each of these days.
I have listed some questions from for you below as i was advised by the nanny site that these questions should be the basis for  for us to make a choice of a good baby sitter.Our kid mean everything to us and we would do all withing our best of efforts to give him the best of things in life.I hope the questions are not so breath taking , we are only trying to act as we have been directed by the nanny site so we can know we are having someone with enormous experience when it comes to baby sitting.

Questions are listed below:

Do you smoke?
How well do you like pets ?Any allergies?
Do you drink alcohol?
Do you speak any languages other than English?
Would you work in a position with a mom how far? how long?
What are your education goals?
Have you ever been treated for mental illness/depression?
How many children do you feel comfortable caring for?
What ages do you prefer?
Are you CPR and first aid certified?
What are your weaknesses/limitations?
What are your strengths?
What do you like to do your free time?
How many people are in your family?
What is your relationship like with your parents and siblings?
What jobs have you had in the past?
Have you been a past nanny ?where do you get a job?
Are you interested in taking classes?
How assertive are you?Do you feel you communication?
How much do you charge and what hours are you available?
I hope to get your response back soon enough so we can get on with this.

Thank you and stay blessed and lastly kindly send at least one of your reference (s) so we can contact them and know more about you and also you send me a text on  (646) 494-5160  if you need to get a hold of me but I can not receive calls here in England due to international roaming cost.

Upon investigating (google-ing the questions, actually), I read that, had I responded to this email, I would have been given the run-around, eventually resulting in "Venus" wanting me to transfer money because she's overseas, etc. I'm glad I never responded and internet people set me straight. Hope this helps someone else in the future.

The job I did find is pretty close to a dream job, and I'm quite excited about it. My husband and roommate are also now employed at the same place, in the same capacity. We have a very exciting week ahead of us, and many paychecks in our future. I'm looking forward to it!