By Lanie Phillips
Every year, approximately 250,000 people move to New York City. A different road leads each person to the “Big Apple”, but those who stumble across a life in Manhattan say that there is something special about the city that always leaves you wanting more. As I approach college graduation with a move to New York City on the horizon, I began to ask myself dozens of questions that I couldn’t easily find the answer to, and all of them came with a different answer depending on the source. This article will explore six perspectives on transitioning to and maintaining a life in New York City. I asked six people in various walks of life what led them and what kept them in the city that never sleeps, whether it’s the bright lights, trendy nightclubs, delicious restaurants or limitless opportunities for adventure.
Katrine Reddin is 22 years old and graduated in December from Texas Christian University with a degree in marketing. Shortly after, she returned to her home in Stamford, Connecticut where she would live and complete the hour and a half commute each way for six months before moving into an apartment in Manhattan. Katrine’s dad has worked in New York City for years, so for her, finding a career in the city was almost a rite of passage. She discussed how she has grown up wanting to switch her walking shoes for heels before entering the building she works in, something that all women working in New York City seem to be very familiar with. She vividly remembers stepping off the train into Grand Central Station and being forced to run to keep up with the crowd. “That was the moment I knew I was not in Texas anymore,” she laughs. “[It was] also the moment I understood why you wear flats until you get to the door of your office.”
Katrine discussed in-depth how the transition period of living with her parents has made moving to and working in New York City so much more attainable. “I have a huge financial buffer, now, that has allowed me to search for an apartment with substantially less stress,” she said. “It also helps knowing that I’ll be able to explore and adventure in the city without having to worry about paying the electricity bill.” She agrees that while living with her parents for these six months has been beneficial, there is just something exciting about renting your own apartment in New York City. “I think the hardest part has been the commute. I wake up at 4:30 and catch a train and then do it all over again,” she said. “Knowing there is an end in sight definitely helps because my sleep schedule couldn’t handle this situation long-term.”
The Apartment Hunter
For Emma Griffin, the biggest adjustment to living in New York City was the process of getting an apartment. Emma, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Georgia, is a graphic designer for a small company. On the side, she does freelance work to make extra money. She laughs as she remembers trying to look for an apartment six months before she was planning on moving in. “I had just gotten my job offer and was so excited to figure out where I would be living,” she said. “The brokers I contacted politely told me to come back one month before I needed to move in and to make sure I had the necessary funds.” The process to qualify for an apartment does make it easier to ensure you will be able to pay your rent. The usual requirement is your salary equaling 40 times the amount of your monthly rent. She recalls downloading several apps that would help her search for an apartment and getting hundreds of notifications of places that would satisfy her criteria.
In a city that supposedly has a shortage of housing, there didn’t seem to be a lack of apartments coming on and off the market that were possible places to rent. “I think for everyone, the first shock of living in New York is how expensive your rent is going to be,” said Emma. “It’s awful spending a third of what I’m making on the place I sleep.” But Emma wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even though she has only been there for a year, she has zero plans on moving anytime soon. “There’s something priceless about living in a place where you meet someone from a completely different walk of life every single day.”
Zach Richards has lived in Upper West Side for the last three years. He moved there after graduating from Duke University. However, in the past three years, Zach has not only gotten married, but he and his wife recently had a baby. “There is nothing that can prepare you for living in New York with a newborn child,” he confessed. “Everything becomes more complicated.” Whether it’s a screaming baby who is sweaty from the hot subway in July, a stroller that gets caught on a sidewalk bump and almost tips over or finding a place for the baby to sleep in astronomically priced apartments, Zach walked me through some tips of the trade. “Honestly, we converted our pantry into a bedroom for the baby,” he says as he ironically trips over a stack of groceries sitting in the hall with no place to go. “It has no window and absolutely does not adhere to building codes, but it is so worth not sharing a bedroom with a newborn.”
He talks about how no one ever mentioned this transition to him. Everyone stuck to giving advice on first moving there and then adjusting to living with a spouse. “I think most people don’t want to scare you out of having a baby,” Zach said. “If I had known what I do now, I probably would’ve waited just a little bit longer.” Zach has no plans on moving to the suburbs just yet, a practice common with people who have families but still work in New York City. He said that too much of his identity has become wrapped up in living in Manhattan. “My wife and this baby have taken my sleep and my money and even my pantry,” he jokes. “They’re not taking my zip code.”
Kim Emmert has lived in the city for five years and recently moved across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. She moved to New York City after completing her undergraduate degree at Boston College, which gave her a leg up in handling the cold weather. She gave great advice on budgeting for living in a city as expensive as New York City and practical tips that she has picked up along the way. Her self-proclaimed best advice for anyone moving to the “Big Apple”? Make a spreadsheet with every expense you can think of and stick to it. Leave room for unexpected expenses that you can’t prepare for. “I can’t express how important it is to stick to the budget you have,” she stressed. “There is no worse feeling that seeing your credit card bill pile up and know that you won’t be able to pay it at the end of the month.” Kim has personal experience with this. Her first two years in New York City were a financial whirlwind of overspending and she is still paying off the silly expenses she justified in order to keep up with her roommates who were making significantly more money than her.
“I also would tell you to live with people in similar financial situations,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to stay in and cook breakfast together than sit at home while everyone else goes out for bottomless mimosas and brunch.” Her last piece of advice for transitioning to life in Manhattan was simple. “Prepare to not drive a car,” she said. For her, it felt like a loss of freedom and she felt trapped. Kim said it took her close to a year to adjust to relying on public transportation. She did acknowledge that the presence of Uber does make getting around significantly easier. “But don’t forget to factor that into your budget” she said.
Julie Fendler is 36 years old and is contemplating leaving New York City after being there since attending undergraduate school at Columbia University. “New York is absolutely a way of life,” she explained when I asked her why she had been there for so long. “It gets in your blood and convinces you that nothing will be as exciting as the life you have here.” She said her best advice for anyone moving to the city is to just jump in 100 percent. If you don’t commit to enjoying the life you have in New York City, you’ll constantly be thinking if it would be better to just live somewhere cheaper. Julie, who grew up in a small suburban town outside of Atlanta, thinks that living in New York City has opened her eyes to different ways of life and broadened her horizons more than she could’ve dreamed. “Maybe that’s why I’m so biased about this city,” she admitted. “I think that a life in New York is out of a lot of people’s comfort zones, but I can’t begin to convey how important it is to expose yourself to different types of people.”
For those moving from the south, Julie warned of the complete absence of southern hospitality and the cold weather. She laughed at a story she remembered of bumping into someone getting out of an elevator and then apologizing and asking them how their day was going. “That man looked at me like I had killed his first-born child,” Julie said. “I realized that New Yorkers don’t care why you’re in their way, they just want to be at their destination 15 minutes ago.” Her final words were to warn me as well as other people who consider a 55-degree day to be cold that I had no idea what was ahead. “There’s nothing that can prepare a southern girl from stepping out into her first snowstorm,” she said. “The way the cold hits you in the face the second you step outside is something I would not miss at all.”
For the final perspective on transitioning to life in New York City, I talked with Miles Garrison, a man who has lived in countless apartments across Manhattan for the last 20 years. Out of everyone I interviewed for this story, he spoke of New York City with the most fondness. “New York is absolutely more than a place for people in their 20s to figure out how to be an adult,” he said. Miles admitted that there is a huge adjustment period though. In a somewhat crass manner, he detailed an early career in finance that allowed him to have financial flexibility, which might not have been a good thing. “I had more money but not nearly enough time to explore this place,” he admitted. “Maybe that’s why I’m still here. I’m finally getting to experience what everyone talks about.”
His advice to me was simple: Don’t look at New York City as a stop on the way to a final destination. Give it a chance to be everything it can be. If you do, maybe it could end up being your home, just like it is for Miles. His parting words: “I’ve raised three kids and had two marriages in this city and wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Several people have told me that New York City is a place that you can still feel lonely in, even though 8 million people surround you. It is my hope that the accounts given in this story by six very different people living very different lives in the city will make life in Manhattan a little more attainable for those who encounter it. It’s expensive, it’s loud, it’s bright, but as you read in this story, there’s something just a little more special about the years you spend in the “Big Apple”.
Edited by Avery Williams