Author Topic: Paid off $60k in a year-ish, but at a cost! A rant, and first apt search tips?  (Read 5324 times)

xenon5

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Hey all!

I graduated college a little over a year ago and I've been working and saving since.  I started out the gate with an expensive college diploma thanks to not understanding the value of money at age 17 and voluntary cognitive dissonance until graduation.  I did get a good scholarship but opted for on-campus housing at a university in the middle of pricey NYC.  At least I enjoyed my time and got a good education!


To save up I moved out of NYC after college and into Suburban NJ with my parents.  They're happy to have me here and glad I'm establishing a good financial foundation.  This allowed me to have a huge savings rate with only nominal expenses.  I'm now sitting at -$1k, so I'll be officially net worth positive in 2 weeks!

However, my good fortune to save was not without cost!  To be frank, I really hate the area I'm living in.  I don't have a car and the public transit/walkability/bikeability are abysmal.  The hassle of getting into the city meant I slowly started to see less and less of my friends.  I work from home 50-75% of the time, so I sometimes go days without leaving the house for more than giving my dog a walk around the neighborhood.  I generally don't go anywhere on the weekends because there's literally nowhere and nobody local I'm interested in going to or seeing.  I went from being trim after college to gaining 30 pounds in a year, and it ain't 30lbs of steel.  I take responsibility for letting myself go, but without a dating or social life, working out mostly fell to the wayside behind long days and nights sitting on my ass.  And while I never purchased any form of cookie, ice cream, candy, chinese takeout etc. in my 4 years in college, I eat these things all the time now, because my family brings it home.  The temptation is so much stronger when the junk is already in the house and I would never buy these things myself.  And with grocery runs only happening once a month and being a 15 minute drive away, the vegetables don't stay good for long.  A day hasn't gone by in many months where I didn't think "I can't wait to leave this place, this sucks.  But this too shall pass, and my savings are amazing".



Overall, I think the decision was still a good one despite being expensive in other ways.  I'm grateful for my parents helping me save.  The poor decision was not taking my health and social wellbeing seriously while in pseudo-isolation mode.  I take responsibility for letting everything besides work and money go to hell, but man is it easy to do when motivation escapes you.

It wouldn't be wise to continue on this path any longer.  I've never been in such poor shape and I'm not very happy day to day.  This was a great lesson for me in the difference between Cheap versus Frugal.



That said, I'm thinking about my options going forward.  I can either get an apartment on my own or find a roommate.  I've identified a neighborhood with a short subway ride to manhattan and cheap rent.  The going rate seems to be $800-1100 for a studio, or $500-600 for a room in a shared apartment.

I'm leaning towards the studio on my own.  The roommate route has the benefits of being cheaper and provide more social opportunities.  But out of the 5 roommates I had in college, 4 were terrible matches and the last was awesome.  A home where nobody else has the keys sound like heaven, and I can afford it with a 50-60% savings rate.  On the other hand, I'm slightly worried that without the checks and balances of another person around, my ways might not change or get worse.  At this point I don't truly know how much of my motivation issues are my environment affecting me versus something innately wrong.


I still have $6.5k on a 0% credit card until November (used expense reimbursements at work for student loan arbitrage) and $3k on a 6% student loan.  Originally I was planning to pay all this off, then maximize my HSA, IRA and 401k before thinking about leaving.  Now I'm thinking I should just focus on eliminating the debt, save enough for security deposit and an emergency fund, then move out.  That would put me at move out date around June (which feels like ages from now).  In the meantime, I need to start taking my health seriously and lay out a fitness plan.



So my question for you all is, what are some tips from your own experience when it comes to living on your own/finding a new home?  For example, I'm thinking of making a checklist of things that are important to me in a home or that I want to check for during a walkthrough (signs of pests?  decent water pressure?  How close is the train?).  And hat are some expenses that might be easy to overlook when figuring out a budget to forecast my spending?

Also, has anyone else had a similar experience where you feel being cheap instead of frugal with housing or other expenses had a real negative impact on you?  Would be nice to feel I'm not alone or crazy for not being a bit more happy about $60k less debt in a year :)

capital

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Where is this neighborhood with $800 studios a short subway ride from Manhattan? The South Bronx?

Definitely get yourself out of suburban New JerseyŚ being isolated from anyone remotely in your age group doesn't sound fun, and it certainly seems like it's been bad for you. As you can see, as well, the automobile-only lifestyle that outer suburbs promote is pretty awful for your health.

Beyond that, the point of having money is to be happy, and it doesn't seem like you're terribly happy where you are.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2015, 12:03:51 AM by ehgee »

MDM

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So my question for you all is, what are some tips from your own experience when it comes to living on your own/finding a new home?  For example, I'm thinking of making a checklist of things that are important to me in a home or that I want to check for during a walkthrough (signs of pests?  decent water pressure?  How close is the train?).
Good idea to list pros/cons of various options.  And, reading between the lines of your post, it seems moving out on your own is the right thing to do.  Check with peers about their recent (and local if possible) renting experiences.  And, believe it or not, your folks might have some ideas too. ;)

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And what are some expenses that might be easy to overlook when figuring out a budget to forecast my spending?
You could read through the How to Write a Reader Case Study thread.  There's a spreadsheet there with more expense categories than any one person is likely to have, but it should help you anticipate what yours might be.

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Also, has anyone else had a similar experience where you feel being cheap instead of frugal with housing or other expenses had a real negative impact on you?  Would be nice to feel I'm not alone or crazy for not being a bit more happy about $60k less debt in a year :)
You've done great work on debt reduction - serious congratulations!  As you've observed, there is more to life than things financial.  Pat yourself on the back for the great financial things, and follow through on the plans you described to improve other parts of your life.  Good luck!

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Yep, time to move out.

thd7t

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Congratulations on a big achievement (60k in one year is great!)!  I think that you'll find that the sacrifice that you've made was worth it in the long run, but I agree that it's probably time to get out of there.  Do you have friends living in NYC, still?  Ask them about trouble they've had with apartments and about stories they've heard.  It's anecdotal, but could give you some things to look for/look out for. 

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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If you can work from home mostly, you could consider moving to a denser and lower-cost area like the Lehigh Valley cities.

Bracken_Joy

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Just wanted to say good on you for recognizing that your situation isn't working for you anymore. I say "move ASAP", but then, that's what I did. In my opinion, health is the ultimate investment (physical and psychological). The longer it's gone, the harder it is to get it back. All the savings in the world won't solve it if you develop a chronic illness from lifestyle choices.

Good luck finding an apartment, and congrats on breaking even!

Jenga

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So my question for you all is, what are some tips from your own experience when it comes to living on your own/finding a new home?  For example, I'm thinking of making a checklist of things that are important to me in a home or that I want to check for during a walkthrough (signs of pests?  decent water pressure?  How close is the train?).  And hat are some expenses that might be easy to overlook when figuring out a budget to forecast my spending?

Congratulations on paying of the $60K!  That is impressive. :D

A few things I (as a devoted renter and non-car-owner) look for in an apartment, in case it helps:

1.  Where is the nearest grocery store?  Within walking distance is preferable, or no more than 1 short bus ride.  Is the closest grocery store one with reasonable prices?  If you're looking to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables, does it have a good selection?  Does it have hours that work for you? If the grocery store is not easy to get to, you'll likely incur more expenses - e.g.  Taxi twice a month

2.  Walkablility - You can often find a walkability score online, but it is usually better to just try any walk you are planning to do.  Ask the rental agent or other tenants how well the sidewalks are maintained in winter. 

A couple things I keep an eye out for:  Crosswalks and stoplights - are they in logical places, or do you have to walk an extra block to safely cross a busy street?  If you have a long walk, are there long sections with no shade/trees?  That can make it miserable in the summer.  Hills are well and good (and great exercise), unless they are uphill on the way back from the grocery store!

If you are planning to commute by biking, I'd imagine you're looking at similar things, focusing on the bike paths rather than the sidewalks.  There's a whole section of bike path along my walking route that is useless in winter - it doesn't get plowed. 

3.  If utilities are not included in rent, then you want to get a rough estimate of what it would cost. I usually add another 1/3 of the estimate to my initial budget, as buffer in case the estimate was inaccurate.   Chances are it'll be lower, and you can adjust the budget after a couple months of seeing the actual costs.

4.  If there's en-suite Laundry, then the cost figures in under utilities, but if you will be using the building laundry room or local laundrymat, you need to find out:
     a)  Does it take coins or use a card? (And if it takes coins, do you use cash enough to get the required change, or will you need to head out to a bank every couple months to get coins?)
     b)  How much do the washers and dryers cost?
     c)  How many loads of laundry will you be doing in a month?
     d)  Will the washers and dryers accommodate bulky items like a comforter, or will you have to take those somewhere else? (Additional cost)

Almost everyone moving from a house to an apartment underestimates the laundry costs. LOL  Another thing you might want to check is the hours the laundry room is open;  make sure it will not be closed during the times you would want to do laundry.

Good luck with your apartment hunting! :)
 

cashstasherat23

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Wow, I could have written the entire first part of your post! You hung on a little longer than me, but after graduating I found myself living in Suburban NJ, working from home, gaining weight eating my parent's take out food, but similarly saving up quite a bit. Eventually the boredom of sitting on the couch all day sending emails wore on me, and I found a job in the heart of NYC that I love, and that allows me to interact with people every day.

Your situation is a bit different. I didn't have many friends in the area, so was looking for that interaction with my job. For you, it definitely sounds like most of your friends are in NYC, so you could probably keep that flexible work from home job and still get the social interaction you are looking for! 

Not sure where exactly you were looking when you found the apartments you mentioned above, but just want to toss the Weehawken, West New York, Guttenberg area into the ring.They are right next to Hoboken, and much more affordable. I was living in Weehawken, in an apartment with two other roommates, and had about a 15 minute bus ride right into Midtown Manhattan, for a much more affordable price. Again, like you, I didn't have much luck with roommates, so have just moved into my own one bedroom, in the same area, and am loving it!

There are plenty of options in the area, and it seems like it will be a good change for you!

rmendpara

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The past year was good from a financial perspective, but can't continue indefinitely.

Like many things, I like to have a goal for most items. For example:

- "I want to have NW of "__" before moving out".
- "I want to have intended positive savings of "__%" including my expected expenses when I find a place on my own"
- "I will target to achieve the above in "__" months"

It's easy to get lazy and unmotivated when things aren't on any type of plan. You just start going with the motion of things and inertia has its way. Perhaps try thinking out to the next 6-12 motnhs and set a goal.

The remainder of the year may not be so bad if you can expect to hit your goals and reward yourself by getting closer to the city shortly. Being 60k ahead is a HUGE advantage, and something that would have likely taken 2x or longer if you moved out right away.

CestMoi

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This isn't a fun suggestion, but ask landlords/supers/building managers if the building you're interested in has ever had bedbugs. It's a good idea to ask some tenants the same thing as well. Since you're concerned about your well being, you don't want to live in a building with a bedbug problem. I've known people whose Manhattan buildings had that problem, and it was incredibly stressful on them.

frugaliknowit

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Great job on the debt reduction and the goal to move out on your own.

Get your health in order now, not waiting until you move.  Stop with the overeating and get some exercise.  Buy a bike, run or join a cheap gym.  You can afford $20 per month for your well being if you actually use the gym.

lpep

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Don't think that moving will solve all your problems. It might help, but thinking everything will get better as soon as you move is going to lead to a letdown once you do. You have to motivate yourself to make changes to the habits that you don't like.

(Source: tried it twice. Once across the world.)

xenon5

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Don't think that moving will solve all your problems. It might help, but thinking everything will get better as soon as you move is going to lead to a letdown once you do. You have to motivate yourself to make changes to the habits that you don't like.

(Source: tried it twice. Once across the world.)

I definitely agree -  that's one of my main concerns with moving, that it won't help as much as I expect.  I've already signed up for a meal and fitness tracking website to make myself accountable in the meantime, and I'm looking into possible solutions for buying a sit/stand convertible desk that I can also use with a treadmill if working while standing turns out well.  The problems I have with health are the worst part of my outcome this year but also the most actionable.

But I do think there are multiple issues with my current living arrangement that will be made better by moving.

1) Living alone means I control the food coming into my kitchen.  No random cookies lying about for temptation.

2)Better access to grocery stores.  Right now I have to tag along with my dad on grocery runs once a month.  I'm now more focused on getting a good selection of frozen vegetables so it lasts, but junk food my family eats takes up a large portion of the freezer.  And when I've asked "do we really need pizza bagels, Ellio's AND hot pockets all at once, as well as 3 varieties of ice cream?" they get quite defensive.  I'm living here free after all so I don't feel like I have much push here.

Now, there is a small IGA grocery store I can get to on my own.  But it's a 20 minute bus ride + 15 minute walk and the bus comes only hourly and never on time.  Also, the prices there are quite high.  So while it's a potential stopgap when I run out of veggies, I can't rely on it much.  Having a walkable grocery stores means I have the option to shop for only a day or two of food at a time rather than weeks.

3)Laundry.  When I say "my family" I really mean my father and brother - my parents have been separated for years but only sold the house where my mother and brother lived in the past year.  She moved to CT and the 3 of us (dad and brother) got an apartment with no laundry.  The closest laundromat is now a 20 minute walk away and costs about $10 per week of laundry.  Manageable but not ideal, especially with snow everywhere.  I usually wait to do it with my dad so we can use his car, but sometimes I need to go on my own.  Walking distance means I can drop off my stuff and run errands or go back home while my clothes are washing or drying.

4)A much better commute when I work in Manhattan or want to visit.  I don't need to work in Manhattan very much, I mostly work from home and sometimes travel (by plane to other states!).  But while on Manhattan projects, I'd need to go every day.  The commute is 1-1.5 hours one way here versus 20-30 minutes in the neighborhood I have in mind.  The bus only comes hourly during offpeak and the schedule is merely a suggestion of when it might show up.  If I move, the train headways are much shorter all day and delay problems are rare and less severe.  Also, I would be more inclined to go into our company office on some of my work-from-home days for the social benefits.  More opportunities to visit the city on nights and weekends and visit friends, and not have to worry much about how I'm getting home if we stay out late.

5)Much better dating prospects, especially as a gay guy.  I had little problem scoring dates with the likes of lawyers and investment brokers while living in the city.  Now the guys I run into are doing jobs more along the lines of "29 year old ticket ripper at AMC for several years".  I'm not saying that I have pie in the sky career expectations from a potential mate, compatibility and shared goals are what's important to me. However, the average intelligence is lower and career/financial/future aspirations are markedly more aimless.  I just gave up after a while.

xenon5

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Where is this neighborhood with $800 studios a short subway ride from Manhattan? The South Bronx?

Definitely get yourself out of suburban New JerseyŚ being isolated from anyone remotely in your age group doesn't sound fun, and it certainly seems like it's been bad for you. As you can see, as well, the automobile-only lifestyle that outer suburbs promote is pretty awful for your health.

Beyond that, the point of having money is to be happy, and it doesn't seem like you're terribly happy where you are.

Journal Square in Jersey City, NJ.  3 stops to the world trade center and 4 stops to 14th/6th.  A year ago I went to look at a $1000 apartment and I've seen multiple listings for under $1000 since.  Under 900 is somewhat rare but I've seen it a couple times - not 100% sure if they're legit until I see one in person.

  The downside is that sometimes I will have to pay for transit twice when transferring from PATH to MTA, and New Jersey also taxes tIRA contributions and treats HSAs as fully taxable.  But New York has higher income tax, sales tax (only 3.5% in JC), and a NYC resident tax, so it probably evens out.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2015, 06:14:51 PM by xenon5 »

xenon5

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So my question for you all is, what are some tips from your own experience when it comes to living on your own/finding a new home?  For example, I'm thinking of making a checklist of things that are important to me in a home or that I want to check for during a walkthrough (signs of pests?  decent water pressure?  How close is the train?).  And hat are some expenses that might be easy to overlook when figuring out a budget to forecast my spending?

Congratulations on paying of the $60K!  That is impressive. :D

A few things I (as a devoted renter and non-car-owner) look for in an apartment, in case it helps:

1.  Where is the nearest grocery store?  Within walking distance is preferable, or no more than 1 short bus ride.  Is the closest grocery store one with reasonable prices?  If you're looking to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables, does it have a good selection?  Does it have hours that work for you? If the grocery store is not easy to get to, you'll likely incur more expenses - e.g.  Taxi twice a month

2.  Walkablility - You can often find a walkability score online, but it is usually better to just try any walk you are planning to do.  Ask the rental agent or other tenants how well the sidewalks are maintained in winter. 

A couple things I keep an eye out for:  Crosswalks and stoplights - are they in logical places, or do you have to walk an extra block to safely cross a busy street?  If you have a long walk, are there long sections with no shade/trees?  That can make it miserable in the summer.  Hills are well and good (and great exercise), unless they are uphill on the way back from the grocery store!

If you are planning to commute by biking, I'd imagine you're looking at similar things, focusing on the bike paths rather than the sidewalks.  There's a whole section of bike path along my walking route that is useless in winter - it doesn't get plowed. 

3.  If utilities are not included in rent, then you want to get a rough estimate of what it would cost. I usually add another 1/3 of the estimate to my initial budget, as buffer in case the estimate was inaccurate.   Chances are it'll be lower, and you can adjust the budget after a couple months of seeing the actual costs.

4.  If there's en-suite Laundry, then the cost figures in under utilities, but if you will be using the building laundry room or local laundrymat, you need to find out:
     a)  Does it take coins or use a card? (And if it takes coins, do you use cash enough to get the required change, or will you need to head out to a bank every couple months to get coins?)
     b)  How much do the washers and dryers cost?
     c)  How many loads of laundry will you be doing in a month?
     d)  Will the washers and dryers accommodate bulky items like a comforter, or will you have to take those somewhere else? (Additional cost)

Almost everyone moving from a house to an apartment underestimates the laundry costs. LOL  Another thing you might want to check is the hours the laundry room is open;  make sure it will not be closed during the times you would want to do laundry.

Good luck with your apartment hunting! :)

These are all awesome and I'll incorporate them into my list.  I want to reduce the chances of thinking "ugh, why didn't I look out for X while looking for this place?" I've had that kind of buyer's remorse for purchases that weren't as practical as expected, and I would hate for that to happen with the most expensive thing I need to pay for.

xenon5

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This isn't a fun suggestion, but ask landlords/supers/building managers if the building you're interested in has ever had bedbugs. It's a good idea to ask some tenants the same thing as well. Since you're concerned about your well being, you don't want to live in a building with a bedbug problem. I've known people whose Manhattan buildings had that problem, and it was incredibly stressful on them.

Good point.  In college I had friends in my building whose dorm was infested with bedbugs.  They ended up moving to the for-show unit while it was taken care of.  I never saw any bugs while living there but they had an awful experience.

But how exactly do you go about asking tenants these questions?  Do I just wait around at the front door and say "Hello good sir, I might be moving into your building soon.  Have you had any bedbug or roach issues?"
« Last Edit: February 07, 2015, 06:21:27 PM by xenon5 »

Hotstreak

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This isn't a fun suggestion, but ask landlords/supers/building managers if the building you're interested in has ever had bedbugs. It's a good idea to ask some tenants the same thing as well. Since you're concerned about your well being, you don't want to live in a building with a bedbug problem. I've known people whose Manhattan buildings had that problem, and it was incredibly stressful on them.

Good point.  In college I had friends in my building whose dorm was infested with bedbugs.  They ended up moving to the for-show unit while it was taken care of.  I never saw any bugs while living there but they had an awful experience.

But how exactly do you go about asking tenants these questions?  Do I just wait around at the front door and say "Hello good sir, I might be moving into your building soon.  Have you had any bedbug or roach issues?"


Knock on their door and say something like "Hi, I'm moving in to the neighborhood and considering living in this building.  Is there anything I should know about living here?"  Then after they answer, you can ask specifics like "have you ever heard of bed bug issues in the building?"