What's the book about?
NYC: Ten Lessons in Frugality and Faith is an exploration of the ways I've figured out how to live in Manhattan on a budget of $1,000 a month. It's part memoir, part how-to guide, and part inspiration for anyone who wants to move to New York City but thinks they can't afford it. It offers practical tips (both spiritual and fiscal) for creating a rich life for yourself on a poor man's salary -- and it's 100% proven by my personal experience, which can give anyone hope that they can follow my footsteps as they pursue their own passions and goals. And even though the word "faith" is in the title, it's not a religious book but, rather, one that teaches people how to have confidence in themselves and the world around them. It's also a rejection of what many people think it means to "make it" in New York City (which usually involves a version of consumer culture on steroids and lots of conspicuous consumption).
Where will the money go?
What most people want to know before funding a project is how the money will be spent. Things are pretty simple for this project. Labor costs are low, as are production costs. Rewards fulfillment is a big chunk of the budget, but a non-negotiable one. We want to make sure people get something special and unique for participating in funding.
- Initial print run of 200 books = $2,600
- McNally Jackson Self-Publishing Package = $349
- Time off freelancing for me + editing services from Claire Potter = $850
- Costs of fulfilling rewards = $1,700
- Total funding goal = $5,499 (rounded up to $5,500)
Another thing people want to know is how I can be trusted to be telling the truth about how I live. Short of sharing my bank statement -- which is a bit outside of my comfort zone but not entirely out of the question -- there isn't much I can say other than offering up the basic facts.
I grew up in a working-class family and was always taught the value of a dollar. We always had what we needed while I was growing up, but it was definitely a struggle as an adult to figure out money management and how to make do on limited resources. Over time, the ability to "make do" turned into an awareness of a different dimension of experience, one people who have money (or at least enough that they never have to worry about whether they can afford new socks) can't even attempt to perceive. Meanwhile, I finagled myself into a journalism career, beginning in 1997 and continuing to the present day, taking a break only to earn two MAs (in rhetoric and linguistics).
As a result, I was able to run my own website -- cheapfreechicago.com -- for almost three years before shutting it down after I landed a job as Kids Editor for Time Out Chicago. Before I even started working there, though, I wrote freelance articles for the magazine about entertainment on the cheap and had long since become a resource for friends about how to live within limited means. Vocalo interviewed me about my skills, and I developed a reputation for being the world's most active and interesting cheapskate.
Meanwhile, I've become an "expert" on NYC -- even before moving here I'd visited so frequently that I knew more than many natives when I finally arrived (via Amtrak). I'm a NYC Scout for Citysearch, the resident NYC blogger for BlockAvenue, and a freelance writer for NewYork.com. So the things I know about how to live a great life on a small amount of money? They're things that are interesting, exciting, and fabulous no matter how much money you might have. [I still do it, though, on about $1,000 a month, because while freelance writing keeps me busy, it doesn't pay all that well.]
My graduate school writing mentor was Luis Alberto Urrea, and earlier this year he was in town for a panel discussion at the Center for Fiction. After the panel, we got to talking. He mentioned he'd been following my challenges on Twitter and asked how I was managing to survive. When I started sharing inside information I'd gathered, and how most people are completely unaware of the things that exist to help support a money-poor existence, he immediately told me I needed to write a book. And within 48 hours, I started doing just that.
How do you know I'm not lying?
Even with that all being said, how can you be sure that I know how to live in Manhattan for $1,000 a month? Here are a few things that are addressed in the book, just to give you a general idea.
- How I pay only $540 a month in rent... that includes a furnished room, all utilities (including wifi), kitchen and bathroom access, and only one other person in a two-bedroom apartment;
- How I've minimized my food costs by streamlining my diet, getting healthier in the process;
- How I have an active social life, going on out average three or four nights a week, paying as little as $3 for an entire night out;
- How I've learned to avoid certain parts of Manhattan, not because they are inconvenient but because they disturb my serenity;
- How I've gotten low-cost medical (and mental-health) treatment without applying for Medicaid;
- And many, many others... all in the context of a narrative of my own experiences and principles that allow me to face life cheerfully and contentedly 98% of the time. [The book also addresses the 2% of the time when things are difficult.]
Is there a timeline?
The set deadline for funding is April 30. The book will have been finished by then, and once it's been edited and we receive the funds -- about 10 days after the deadline -- we'll send the digital files to McNally Jackson. They have a 48- to 72-hour turnaround between when files are submitted and when books are able to be picked up... so unless there are unforeseeable problems, the books will be printed and ready for sale and/or reward distribution by mid- to late May.
Why should you fund this project?
Because people need to know that it's still possible to move to New York City with nothing but a suitcase and an idea that it'll all work out somehow. Because for every trustafarian and hipster or Ivy League grad being supported by their parents in Brooklyn, there are a dozen struggling writers and artists and cabinet makers and musicians and comedians and even secretaries and answering-service operators who came to this city not because they love the way it can grind a person down but because they had an idea that they'd be able to pick themselves off the ground no matter how many times they might get knocked over. And, most of all, because it's time to stop buying into the idea that having a lot of money is the only way anyone deserves to follow their dreams.