Photo: Richard Brew/Shutterstock

6 Signs You're Broke as Hell in Manhattan

Student Work
by Isabelle Martin Apr 21, 2015

1. Your apartment comes with a free exercise routine, and it isn’t a home gym.

At the end of each day, you drag your sweaty, cranky ass up six flights of stairs because you’re too broke to live in a place with an elevator. When you first moved in, you reconciled yourself to the situation by thinking about how athletic you were going to get from this perpetual workout, but it’s been months and you’re still ready to throw up when you reach your door.

Many times, you’ve reached the top of your ascent only to remember that your laundry has been moldering in the communal basement dryer for four days. After briefly considering going back down to retrieve it, you inevitably become overwhelmed by the thought of such exertion and just leave it down there for another day.

It’s gotten to the point where you plan your weekend activities to involve as few entries and exits as possible. More often than not, this means lurking around your apartment all day to avoid an unnecessary trip down and up.

2. You decorated your apartment with the finest used furnishings.

The focal point of your combined living room / kitchen is a piece of furniture you procured at your friend’s mom’s divorce-related yard sale for free — this was the only way you were getting anything a reasonable adult would want to own.

Paying first, last, and security blew out your bank account for a while, so you couldn’t afford to buy plates or cups for at least several months. That’s fine, though: You have an old saucepan your mom gave you that’s worked great for both food and drinks.

To save on furnishings, you scoured Craigslist for a giant TV from the ’90s for $15 (vintage!) that nearly broke your back when you dragged it up the stairs. It doesn’t have a remote, so you just use a long stick to change the channel. You initially planned to upcycle all your beer bottles and jars into fancy cups and vases to impress all your new hipster friends, but somehow all the bottles just wound up in a corner of your apartment.

3. You found your roommate on Craigslist.

Living alone is a completely unattainable luxury, so you needed to find a roommate. If you were like me, all your friends in New York had well-paying jobs and thus were not interested in moving into a rat-infested closet with you, so you had to take to Craigslist. This is New York, so you got the full spectrum of personalities — luck of the draw determined whether you moved in with your best friend or your worst nightmare.

4. You know where all the free stuff is.

New York is both a terrible and awesome place to be broke. Living expenses are out of control, but there’s enough great free stuff going on to sort of make up for it.

You know when all the “suggested donation days” are at the museums, and you know that means you are actually going to give no donation and endure a judgy side-eye from the lady at the entrance. You know all the breweries offering free tastings and where the “open bars” (read: free well drinks until 9pm) are across the city. You know you can hang out at one of the largest and most beautiful public libraries in the world for free, and in the summer, you can go to free movie screenings behind the library in Bryant Park. Even when you don’t have enough money for a cup of coffee, you can spend the day wandering around the Harlem Meer, having a picnic by Belvedere Castle, and walking through groves of flowers in the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park.

5. And you know where all the sympathetic rich people are.

You know that Manhattan is full of rich people — rich people who, more often than not, love having a witty, down-to-earth new friend to shower with gifts and showcase like an exotic animal. Milking these connections has gotten you into some swanky parties where you can regale a group of equally horrified and fascinated socialites with a story about the gritty experience of buying your own groceries.

6. You’ve sometimes thought that being unable to afford bottle service makes you poor.

In Manhattan, the idea of “poor” gets pretty screwed up. If you’ve got a place to live, a job, and decent health insurance, you’re doing better than most people.

The relative income hypothesis states that people decide whether they’re rich or poor based on how they stack up against their neighbors, not how well they’re doing on any objective or absolute scale. Manhattan has the greatest income inequality in the United States, and so a college grad making $30k a year winds up feeling broke as shit compared to all the bankers and stockbrokers she lives shoulder-to-shoulder with, particularly if many of them are friends from college.

At the same time, when you remember that nearly one fifth of Manhattan residents live below the Federal Poverty Line, you wind up being a little more thankful for the shitty apartment and boring job.

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