Monday, April 19, 2010

Big City Living Is Expensive

Over the weekend I left Podunk for the first time in nearly a year to visit a friend, a PhD student, in the big city. I've lived in big cities before, New York and DC to name a few, but it is always a shock to my wallet when I leave for a while and come back to discover that while prices in Podunk remain relatively cheap, prices in the big city continue to skyrocket. I did a double take when I walked by a gas station and saw that regular gas was $3.29. Want a nice dinner that isn't fast food? It'll cost you as much as I spend per week on groceries in Podunk. Organic over processed and canned food? Don't even think about it. And who has money to afford gym membership in the city when you can't even afford a place that isn't infested with cockroaches or pay for books and school supplies?

At the end of two days, I had spent over $50 in the blink of an eye just to have lunch and dinner with friends. And this was me penny pinching, choosing not to have any alcohol and once having to eat in the park rather than have a sit down meal in the restaurant where I'd be obliged to give the waiter a tip. I chose to spend around $15 for the entire weekend taking the bus and subway rather than spending $15 on one cab ride. Angel has already written about her experience taking the bus and riding her bicycle as her way of commuting into Manhattan.

I was looking through Angel's posts from last year since I did not have a chance to read every single one. I came across this post about Angel's friend who lived off of PB&J sandwiches for years while making $100k/year in order to pay off his student loans:

I have a good friend that buckled down from the time he graduated (2004) until last year, and paid off his private loans. He's not done yet, of course. But he is close to it. In order for him to do this, he was frugal. He rarely/if ever went out to eat. He brought a PB&J sandwich to work daily. He did not engage in frivolous spending. I think his social life was somewhat limited by how much he was willing to spend, which was nothing. He didn't have a girlfriend during this stressful time. I know he went on dates, but I'm sure he was somewhat constrained on what he could do with any girl. Having fun costs money, right? He lived in a studio apartment with hand-me-down furniture. Ran instead of joining a gym. He collected cans from co-workers to recycle for cash. Wait... the kicker. This was all while he was earning $100K. That's how you pay back your student loans, folks. I'm very proud of him. I'm not sure that many people could make the same sacrifices. Afterall, he basically handed one biweekly paycheck a month over to the Lender.

I had the chance to meet up with another friend during my visit who was smart enough to only attend college. Nonetheless, she still lives at home with her parents while she pays off her student loans and works as someone's assistant for a little more than minimum wage. And these are considered the lucky people in this recession who have a job. These stories should be a warning to all the law school lemmings and high school or college students (and their parents) who believe everyone with an elite degree or graduate school education lives in Soho and shops at Whole Foods. I went to top schools only with the belief that it was my ticket out of Podunk and now I'm back to where I started and have turned into the Coupon Queen to save money on groceries. I still feel fortunate that I still have a place in Podunk to return where the cost of living is cheap enough that I can still eat healthy and nutritious foods without breaking the bank.

When I see the constant criticism of the poor and obese in our society on television, it really makes me wonder whether any of these critics have experienced anything close to poverty or being an indentured student with six figure debt. I highly doubt it. I've never been obese but I have put on weight since being unemployed. I've forced myself to go jogging at least several times each week to maintain my weight and I receive enough financial support from my family that I can afford to buy fruits and vegetables or the occasional salmon or tuna. But I also find myself eating more microwave dinners and fast food while I'm out to avoid spending too much at a sit down restaurant.

Going back to the big city and not being a full-time student or having a job really made me think about these issues on my way back to Podunk. What it is like to be poor in the city for the unemployed graduate, or someone like Angel's friend making a good salary but trying to pay off his law school debt, or the single parent making minimum wage. How is it possible to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle let alone think about superficial things like their physical attractiveness when they have bills to pay, kids to feed, or are dealing with depression and unemployment. Instead of criticism and finger pointing, maybe the people in power should try to help these people find good paying jobs to buy healthy food and give them affordable education and health care that would allow them to live happy, active lives.


  1. Big city types have themselves convinced by an enabling left wing media that they are somehow better, somehow smarter than suburbanites and those living in "flyover" country. The hard fact is that folks living in cities marry later (if at all), have fewer children, have higher divorce rates and live embittered, cold lives. They are an affront to American society, not the other way around. Don't ever fall for the big city lie. I grew up and lived in New York City for most of my years and living there was a disease from which I suffered for far too long.

    Through my experience, I've come to believe that big city dwellers are the true idiots, not their suburban/podunk counterparts.

  2. There are parts of big city life that I absolutely love and parts of small time life that I love. I know people who can live in the city and never leave. I like to live in the city but I need to get away every once in a while where the air is clean and there aren't people bumping into you wherever you go. My goal is still to leave Podunk eventually because the jobs I want are in the city but I agree that many city dwellers feel that they are smarter or better than people from small towns. I think the attitude has much more to do with elitism and social class than with politics. A lot of the people in the "left wing media" also supported Bush II, invading Iraq, and corporate bailouts.

  3. I personally cannot wait to leave my big city. I am so over spending twice as much on practically everything and getting very little in return. My plan is to get more and more country the older I get- eventually when my school loans are paid off maybe I will have a small house in Podunk somewhere with a small organic garden, a couple of chickens laying me eggs and a goat or two for fresh milk.

  4. Maybe some of YOU don't belong in a big city. Not everyone does. I know for a fact I'd be miserable in a Podunk area or a small town; I grew up in a small city & was miserable. When I visit, I can tolerate it for about 2 weeks before wanting to leave.

    I actually wrote a rant entry about how career advice websites are trying to tell EVERYONE to live in small towns & ignoring personal happiness factors. Here's a newsflash:

    1. NOT EVERYONE wants to have babies. That's certainly not something I want to do w/my time. My husband & I have sisters who have done that multiple times; I also happen to LOVE my career.

    2. NOT EVERYONE wants to get married. Some people don't. I figured I'd be single since no one would be able to really put up w/my non-traditionalism or make me happy for life. Luckily, I met someone who felt the exact same way. If I didn't have him, I wouldn't want to be married w/a marriage just like the typical ones I hear about.

    Sounds like Anonymous #1 didn't live in the South b/c you'd rethink the comment about idiots if you saw & heard some of the things I have. There's no cutesy way to endorse racism, banning of abortion clinics by busybody religious hypocrites, religious discrimination, being "friends" w/someone then trashing the person behind his/her back, etc.

    Different strokes for different folks. When YOU have the privilege of seeing someone's spirit & soul die day after day from living someplace (s)he hates, THEN you may talk to me about how where you live doesn't matter. Until then, do what makes you happy & stop trashing big city residents for not joining you on that journey to that farm in Kansas.

  5. I would never choose to live in a rural area over a city BUT living in the city isn't always what it's cracked up to be either. There are definitely parts of the South that I would never want to pass through because of its obvious racism, homophobia, right-wing religious beliefs, etc. BUT I have met plenty of people from the South and the Midwest who are as sweet as can be, very hospitable, and friendly. What I'm saying is that we shouldn't always rely on stereotypes to characterize everyone who comes from a city or a small town. There is good and bad anywhere you go and living in Podunk could be great for someone depending on the personal and religious beliefs. I want to have a family someday but I don't want to be in a place where they believe all women should stay home barefoot and pregnant nor do I want to be in a place where no one values marriage and family either.



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