New York City is expensive.
That’s no surprise. Anyone who has ever visited the city can attest to the outrageous prices.
When I moved to NYC I knew that I was going to end up spending a lot of money each month. That just meant I had to do a better job at budgeting.
I’ve been in New York City for two years now and I still haven’t quite mastered the art of following my budget. But, I learn more and more each day.
Even with a competitive New York City salary, I find it hard to properly spend and save my money. And, one of the biggest pressures I face every day? My student loan debt.
Students across the country owe a whopping $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. And, I am one of those 44 million borrowers.
Over my four-year college career, I scooped up eight separate student loans. And, those don’t even include the federal loans and grants I was awarded. And, yes, I’m paying off those too.
In total, I owe a little over $100,000 in student loans. And, I’ve been paying them off for almost six years now.
Still, I push myself each and every day. I pay for an apartment in Brooklyn. I grocery shop at Trader Joe’s. I go to at least one happy hour a week. And, I pay hundreds of dollars each month to pay off my student loans.
It’s not easy, that’s for sure. But, I’m also very fortunate to be able to do the things I want and live in a city I love while still saddled with all of this debt.
But, believe me, it’s not becasue I’m making big bucks. I wish. Here’s how I do it.
How I Live In NYC When I Owe More Than $100,000 In Student Loans
1. I Make A Budget — And Try To Stick To It
The cost of living in NYC is 68% higher than the rest of the country. Everything from coffee to cabs to gym memberships and more all cost a pretty penny.
Luckily, a lot of these things are luxuries, not essentials. So, they are easier to avoid.
But, even the necessities cost a lot. Rent, utilities, groceries — they all cost 68% more in the five boroughs than anywhere else.
I’m serious — cross over into New Jersey and prices drop. It would be funny if it wasn’t so financially, emotionally and mentally draining.
That’s why I take some time at the end of each month to set up my budget for the following month. It’s the only way I can be sure I’ll make all of my payments on time.
My loan payments come out of my account about mid-month. So, I have to make sure I get paid with enough time to pay them off and then prepare for the rest of my bills — like rent, credit cards and the like.
I like to follow the 50-30-20 rule of budgeting. I use my monthly income and divide it down into sections — necessities, bills, and splurges.
This gives me an idea as to how much extra I’ll have each month to allot towards things like nights out, dinners, movies and more.
As a freelancer, however, my income fluctuates. So, it’s not always easy to stick to a budget. And, that’s okay, I think.
I make sure I can make my payments. And, if that means that I live off of crystal light packets, rice and chicken that month, so be it.
2. I’m Always Applying For New Opportunities
I am currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant living in New York City. It’s great because I have a lot of flexibility in when and where I work.
It means I can jump on a plane and be on a beach somewhere.
I mean, I can’t actually afford to do that. But, I sometimes like to daydream that I can.
Anyway, I work with a number of clients on a variety of content types. But, in order to live with this looming debt, I take some time every week to scope out new, part-time opportunities. These might be simple guest writing opportunities, a quick marketing project or more.
Whatever it is, it’s my job to find it.
I live relatively comfortably with the money I make. But, considering how quickly things change in the industry, I never know what’s going to happen.
The only way I can be sure I’ll make my payments on time is to make sure I constantly have work.
3. I Consolidated Most Of My Loans
When I first got out of school, I tried refinancing my loans and consolidating them into one, big loan.
I was immediately rejected.
So, I kept paying the fluctuating rates, making random payments throughout the month.
And, then a year later, right as I was moving to NYC, I tried again.
This time, it worked. I was able to consolidate a good chunk of my loans into one big payment. That makes it much easier for me to track where my money is going and make sure I have the funds in my account when it comes time to pay.
Before, I felt like I was always checking my bank account and signing into my Sallie Mae portal to see when my next payment was due.
But, ever since I consolidated, I sleep just a little bit easier.
4. I Say No, Even When I Want To Say Yes
The hardest thing about living in NYC with overwhelming student loan debt is knowing I can’t do all the things I want to do.
I’m already living in an amazing city with immense opportunities. But, it gets expensive. So, I end up having to say ‘no’ to things a lot.
I have to say ‘no’ to that boozy brunch, that day-trip out of the city and more.
It sucks. And, the FOMO is definitely real.
Just last week I had to turn down what sounded like a truly phenomenal weekend in Philidelphia. I just didn’t have the funds to pull it off. And, it wasn’t worth me trying to scrape by for the next few weeks in order to make it a reality.
So, I say ‘no’. I stay at home. I watch new movies on Hulu and rewatch old shows on Netflix. It’s not the most exciting thing, but it gets me by.
5. I Pay A Little More Whenever I Can
I wish I could pay off more. But, right now, I just can’t financially make that happen. I can make my monthly payments, but every once in a while — when I’m having a really good month — I pay a little more.
This helps me to cut down on the interest and puts me in a better place mentally.
I know I owe an obscene amount — most of the people I graduated with do. I’m no anomaly.
But, those months where I pay a little extra — even if it’s only $100, I feel accomplished.
And, that’s what matters most.
Student loan debt is, obviously, a financial burden. But, it’s also a mental one. And, some days, it’s all I think about, it’s all I stress about.
Those days usually end with me having a complete mental breakdown, eating cheese right off the block and pairing it with a cheap bottle of wine. It’s not a pretty sight.
But, those days when I have a little extra in my account and I can put it towards a financially responsible goal, it makes the struggle just a little bit easier.