Living well in NYC

Funny how quickly you get used to changes in what things cost. When we lived in the Tokyo area at the height of the bubble, paying ten dollars for a bottle of a water was not unusual, but after a day in Indonesia, we were negotiating down to the last dime, though usually happy to be overcharged (usually at a dollar or so).

Of course, a lot of it isn’t how much things you buy cost, but how much you buy costly things. Yes, there are melons in most supermarkets in Japan that — at the time — cost US$80 or $100. And, strangely, we didn’t crave melon. On the other hand, kiwi and mikan were cheap and plentiful, as was pasta, and so we ate that. We did spend more than we should on some things, but that happens everywhere.

On arriving in New York (erm… you know… “the city”), we find ourselves with nearly double the food budget, quadruple the rent, and lots of other little bits and pieces that we never would have spent money on before. Despite going from a single income to (at least for now) a double income, our lifestyle has not changed all that much. It’s clear that there are a lot of other places we could move and live like kings if there were some way to maintain the same income level. The trick is, the places we want to live are nearly as expensive.

How much does it cost to live “comfortably” on the Upper East Side? Forbes does a little homework for us and comes up with a number: $483,800 a year after taxes. To live at the same level of grandeur in Wichita would cost only $190,000. It seems outrageous, and yet, in only the short time I’ve been in this city, my outrage levels have had to have been adjusted.

Clearly they have some things wrong here. No need for two cars (or any cars, really) in the city. Both the tuition for private school and college, on the other hand, seem low. And $3.9 million for a home in the city? Sure, but that barely buys two bedrooms in much of the swankier parts of town.

I guess it really begs the question: does comfortable mean that you need a second home? Does it require three vacations each year? “Comfortable” means different things to different people. I suspect (hope) that those who do have six million dollars worth of housing and two cars and are living in the city actually make a lot more each year, and are spending more wisely. For me, living comfortably would mean making that $483,000 each year and living roughly like I do now, developing the sort of nest egg that would give me the freedom of choosing my own comforts.

I don’t see hitting anywhere near the half-million dollars a year teaching, or even the half of that I would need to hold up my end. And so, I guess we are doomed to the uncomfortable for a while. But I’m comfortable with that. And praying for the day when the housing bubble bursts.

(Oh, and any kids of ours that may read this in the future — any hopeful twinkles-in-eyes — I hope you saved for your own damn tuition, because you are on your own.)

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