The 50 Dollar Experiment
After rent, tons of bills, and a wedding on location at the DC Mandarin Oriental last weekend, I took what was left of my Economic Stimulus Package and had to go it a week on just 50 bucks. New York is supposedly one of the most expensive towns on the planet, but I figured I could employ my wits and some of that Naija charm to get by. In the process, I learned a few things, and realized that this city has a real shot at being one of the cheapest places to live -- if you're willing to work for it.
So here's my playbook:
1. BUY GROCERIES
Eating out is one of the biggest money drains no matter where you live. So I went to Key Food to buy my groceries for the week, making sure I picked lots of healthy vegetables, fruit, yogurt, grains, and fish (I don't do meat). If you plan a good menu for the week, even if it gets boring, you're sure to save tons of money just by cooking your food. Not to mention your energy level stays even from having planned out regular meals, so you don't have to deal with those pesky blood-sugar dips and attendant mood swings. Grilling a piece of tilapia over some kale greens cost me about $1.50 at home compared to $14 at a local restaurant. And for those of you who love iced tea on those hot summer days, stick a few bags in a pot of hot water, chill, and serve.
I usu tote my unlimited MetroCard, even being so bold as to take a bus three blocks to avoid walking, but this week I was on a strict "pay-as-you-ride" regimen. As much as I was dreading it, I actually had the most fun putting on my sneaks after work and walking around to do my errands. I saw so many people and places I usu miss in the rush of my day, plus I burned a few extra calories that gave me more energy. Tons of my friends have been repping the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and, though I haven't tried it yet, it's beginning to sound enticing.
3. DID SOMEONE SAY FREE SHOW?
Time Out New York has one of the most comprehensive listings of free shows around town and the summer is the season. On Friday night, at Tompkins Square Park, there was an indie film, "Wesh, Wesh, Qu'Est-ce-qu'il Se Passe?," about Algerian immigrants living in the Parisian ghetto. On Saturday there were free music concerts all across the city, a music and art show at Mocada, a free yoga event in Times Square, and a Bklyn Tech Alumni Association BBQ near my house (I bummed a veggie burger). And tonight, Salif Keita & Haale perform at Prospect Park for Celebrate Brooklyn. Good thing it's in walking distance from my apt! ;)
4. GO ON A DATE
Sorry guys, but unless you're dating a different kind of sista, you'll probably be paying. That said, women, I have no qualms about letting a guy shower me with dinner and attention. Not that I can't pay my bills, bills, bills, but in a tight corner like I was in, dinner out made my week.
5. DANCE LIKE NOBODY'S WATCHING
Even when I have money I can't understand paying 20 bucks to get into a club and hang around mostly strangers with bad rhythm. That's why I went to Libations on Thursday night at The Sullivan Room. Guest DJ Carlos Mena of Bembe fame was in town spinning with resident DJ Ian Friday. For the two men I have the hugest DJ crushes on, I couldn't have been happier to hand over 5 bucks for six hours worth of amazing music. And last night, my roomie went to Baraza for some free Latin music and dancing.
So, the long and short of it is, you CAN live cheaply in this city. Good to know in case I ever find myself in a sticky situation again. But mos def summer is the best time to be broke and fabulous -- as long as you don't have any medical catastrophes. ;)
The AFRican Blogger
P.S. And in case you're too timid to try any of these, dinner at home and a free movie (c/o nabolister.com) can make any night.
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