Welcome to How I Afford NYC, a series that looks at how New Yorkers manage to get by in this crazy-expensive city. Today, we’re talking to Chris, a law student in his late 20s who lives in Downtown Brooklyn. He and his wife are currently getting by on her income as he shells out $30,000 in tuition. Someday they hope to buy a home, but are not sure that’s possible in New York City, even on two incomes.

The Basics

  • Name, age, occupation: I’m Chris and I’m in my late 20s. I’m currently in my last year of law school.
  • Living situation: My wife and I live in a 600-square foot 1-bedroom apartment in a new building in Downtown Brooklyn.
  • Annual salary: At the moment, none. My wife and I are currently living off a her single income. She works at an advertising agency, earning $85,000 annually. Her bi-monthly paycheck amounts to about $2,150.
  • Financial goal: While operating on a single income, I am trying as best I can to live within my means. Although I don’t have a strict budget, I am cautious about spending, as my wife and I are trying to still save on a monthly basis despite being on a single income. Eventually we’d like to buy a house — maybe in the next year or two. We’re planning to move out of state, though, since we wouldn’t be able to afford a house in New York, even on two incomes.

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My Monthly Fixed Costs

  • Rent $2,350.
  • Groceries: $400. We shop mostly at Key Food, Trader Joe’s and Brooklyn Fare.
  • Transportation: I pay $121 for a monthly Metrocard.
  • Utilities: Gas and electrical amounts to $320.
  • Phone: Still on the family plan.
  • Tuition: About $30,000 per year. This also includes $2,000 per year for health insurance. My wife is covered separately by her employers. Thankfully, I’ve already paid off my student loans.

My Biggest Indulgence: Takeout Pho, Three Times a Week

I order food delivery about three times a week, usually pho. Sometimes Mexican. It’s cheaper to cook, but ordering dinner to be delivered is convenient when I haven’t shopped for groceries in advance. I spend about $25 each time for my wife and me. And then I usually tack on a 20 percent tip.

My Unavoidable Cash-Suck: Um, Tuition

Tuition and rent are my biggest cash sucks. I manage to afford the $30,000 annual tuition through a mix of savings from before grad school, support from my family, and a mix of scholarships and financial aid, which total $18,0000. Prior to law school, we’d been living out of state, where I was working as a journalist, making about $30,000.  We were only paying $1,000 a month in rent for a 2-bedroom house, which allowed me to build up some savings for grad school. Before starting grad school, I’d saved about $10,000.

When we first moved to the city, we lived in a smaller, less expensive apartment in a more remote part of Brooklyn. Eventually we decided to spend more on a bigger and more convenient place closer to my school. I spend a lot of time at home studying, so it’s important to me that I have some place comfortable to live.

Ways I Save: Law School Has Put the Brakes on My Social Life

I definitely go out less now that I am grad school. My wife is busy, too, so we typically only go out together once a week. I also try to save the typical ways — eating most of meals at home and opting for public transportation over cabs. I don’t pay for cable — I just stream whatever is on Netflix — which also keeps my monthly expenses low.

How Am I Doing? It’s Been Stressful, But I’m in the Clear

I think I have a handle on my finances right now. I’m almost out of school and soon we’ll have two incomes again. I have a job lined up and won’t have to worry about student debt because I’ve paid out of pocket thus far.

The past three years, my wife and I tried to be careful about spending money mostly by eating more at home, not buying too many clothes or other personal items. It was stressful, but I think we have done a good job of living within our means.

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