The Broke-Ass Middle Class

The first time I felt like a New Yorker was subtle but significant. It happened when I went out to buy ice cream and refused, for the first time, to walk the extra two blocks to the next bodega, where the ice cream was cheaper by a dollar. Finally lulled into the seduction of hyper convenience, I was suddenly more likely to hop in a taxi, order my groceries online, and rationalize a $12 cocktail. The city’s sticker shock had finally begun to wear off and New York agreed with me much more thoroughly.

But you know what? I just got my first paycheck of 2013 and I might have to rethink the wild abandon with which I’ve been purchasing my pint of Ben and Jerry’s Americone Dream. My paycheck was lighter by a small but noticeable amount: think about that $20-30 that you sometimes use to coast until the next paycheck—that figure that can take you from Monday to Friday, if not in opulence at least not in total depravity. Depending on your current salary, that’s about what you can kiss goodbye each week. The middle class will feel it more, since the increase is based on a salary percentage.

The explanation is this: Congress’s New Year’s Day tax package has seen to it that only the wealthy will have to pay higher taxes; however, the 2 percent Social Security tax reduction that the non-rich have been enjoying for the past two years has officially expired. That means that if your first paycheck of 2013 is light a few dollars, compare your pay stub with your last one, and there it is, under Social Security tax, the noticeable chunk of negative financial space that will occupy your paycheck from now on.

For example, if someone makes $40,000-$50,000 they’re facing a tax increase of about $600 in 2013. This is not momentous, but it’s enough to consider walking that extra couple of blocks for the cheaper ice cream. Here are a few ways I’m planning to save money in 2013. The rules are fluid, subject to change, and open to interpretation.
Broke-Ass-Middle-Class
Practice Self Grooming
Like late-night pizza delivery, I had considered a bi-weekly manicure/pedicure my constitutional right as a tax paying New Yorker. A good one can easily be found mid-week for around $20 in almost any neighborhood, which feels like paying close to nothing for walking out of a nail spa showing off perfect cuticles and over-moisturized feet. But alas, $20 isn’t nothing, is it?

I was actually scrolling through my online bank account, looking for some money I could use to get a manicure, and it actually took me several minutes of staring at my overgrown cuticles to realize I could give myself one. That’s an easy monthly savings, so my new guideline is that I can only get a salon mani/pedi if my toes will be on public display. Yoga class doesn’t count—you should be looking at your own bendy poses in the mirror, not checking out your mat neighbor’s pedicure. Also when summer returns, so do the bi-weekly salon trips.

Avoid Idle Eating
You can never take the small town out of the girl; hence buying delicious comfort food from hip food trucks will enamor me for the rest of my life. I often buy something just because I can, not necessarily because I’m hungry. Almost anything on the menu at Gorilla Cheese NYC makes me drool. They’re often parked at Astor Place, Union Square, or other places indicated on their website or via Twitter. If I’m not particularly hungry, I’ll go for the tater tots, but if I’m peering into that stretch between lunch and dinner, during which I have to finish work, do some type of exercise to offset the tot binge, and then go home and spend time preparing a healthy dinner, my snack choice is a warm, gooey grilled cheese sandwich. Okay, before I’ve completely talked myself into tracking down Gorilla Cheese right this moment, I’d better set my food truck rule: Only when I’m actually hungry, and maybe no more than once a week. And seriously, lay off the grilled cheese already. I’m a grown up woman who lives in the culinary capital of the universe and I crave tater tots and grill cheese for snack time?

Enjoy Cheap Entertainment
I won’t insult my fellow penny pinchers by listing the bounty of cheap entertainment that infuses our lovely city, but sometimes I have to remind myself how much fun can be had for so little. My current favorite cheap entertainment is the storytelling scene that bounces around the boroughs. For example, the great Kevin Allison hosts a monthly show at the People’s Improv Theater, and the story topics, which can range from death to dildos to sex with vegetables, are bold and true, and seriously, they go deep. $8 and totally worth it.

Be Nice to My Super
Not knowing the sophisticated ways of the city when I first moved here, I didn’t tip my superintendent when the holidays rolled around. When I finally came to my senses and slipped a cash gift under his door the following year, he seemed to shed his usual gruffness and actually articulated his words in his indistinguishable Eastern-European accent, occasionally even smiling at me as he arrived to fix my latest apartment calamity. While tipping my Super doesn’t sound like it added up to great savings, it paid for itself many times over recently when I locked myself out of my apartment. Upon sheepishly knocking on his door—at dinnertime— to ask for help, the dear man scaled six stories up my fire escape, broke into my bedroom window, and let me back into my own apartment. The only sign someone had been there was the faint lingering smell of L&M premium cigarettes and a barely perceptible boot print on my bedroom floor. A bit disturbing, sure, but he saved me at least the $200 a locksmith would have charged me.

We’ll see how it goes with this new set of rules. My cuticles stopped bleeding soon after my first self-inflicted manicure, and I haven’t had tater tots yet this week. Here’s to a frugal but fun 2013!

Photo Credit: Michele DeBella

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About the author

Michele DeBella - Cheap Chick

Michele enjoys discovering interesting stories in people and places around the world. After many years of living a nomadic lifestyle, funded mostly by teaching English in foreign countries and U.S. cities, she has made New York City her home base. While she loves to travel, she also has to pay rent, so realizes that unique experiences sometimes have to be found close to home.

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