Life Made to Measure

As I was signing up for a gym last night and paid a 10 bucks admission fee (each following month will also be $10), I once again reflected on the cost of living in New York. When I moved here, I kept hearing: “You’ll see how expensive NYC is”. But I happen to believe it’s all a matter of perspective you’re choosing.

Let’s say you’re an immigrant who chooses to live here – and, of course, work here. Basic wages in NY is $7.25 per hour (you can obviously get a higher paying job, too). How much you work is really up to you. You can work only one job, or you can start with two – all depending on how much stamina you’ve got. I know people here who worked as much as 100 hours a week (not my case). Renting a flat, or rather a room (let’s be realistic) is around $500 + other costs (you can get a cheaper place, but prices actually often go even higher than that). A monthly MetroCard is $113 (you need it no matter where you live). A phone is around $40 a month.

Worst case scenario, if you’re working a 40-hour week (as I said, it happens rarely), you’ll be making $290 a week (they pay you weekly over here). That translates into around $1200 a month. The cost of living itself is around $700 (not including the food). I can already hear someone saying: “So that’s America? It’s worst than Poland!”. Yes and no. Don’t forget: this is the money you make at the very start over here, with the lowest wages. That means things will get better every month (here, if you are a good worker, you get a systematic raise). This is what you will make working standard hours, but it’s up to you how many hours you want to work. In fact, you will make much more. 

Of course, you will be spending money on food (unless you’re lucky and you work at a restaurant, in which case you usually get food for free). But you will learn very quickly that you can afford many things even with the minimal pay. Stuff like toilet paper and toothpaste starts at mere couple of bucks. Clothes and shoes are dirt cheap, too. Many blouses I got cost me only few dollars and earned me lots of compliments (of course, you can buy a $1000 one if you so desire). A hair dryer is $20, good cosmetics cost around the same. Books at Strand (the most famous New York bookstore) start at one dollar. Good coffee can be as cheap as $1.75, cream cheese bagel is $2, ticket to concerts start at $20 (and don’t forget many cultural attractions are in fact free), a dinner with friends starts at $12, going to the movies at $14, and a beer at a bar at $6. Chinese food (my biggest temptation lately) is around $5, my favorite ice cream Haagen Dazs costs around the same. A six-pack of Heineken is $8 (since we’re discussing basics here).

That’s why I firmly believe that even coming here as an immigrant with no knowledge of English (and there’s an immense number of cases like that), you can function normally with no fear of starving to death. Of course, my point of reference is not the life American citizens live here – their trips, expensive clothes and pricy clubs they frequent. What I’m talking about is the reality of immigrant life, and for an immigrant even the minimal pay can provide the necessary basics.

Naturally, after a while these “basics” stop to suffice, since increase of appetite grows by what it feeds on, but – let me remind you once more – how well you will live here depends on how well you do your work.