SpaghettiOs, Mom's Credit Card, and Centipedes in the Basement

Hungry grads make a shoestring assault on New York

That thumping sound you hear isn't the city's air conditioners kicking in for the summer. It's our share of the nation's 1.2 million new college grads hitting the pavement, scrambling for a job, an apartment, a futon, and a clue. A few of these eager young men and women, with some prodding, bared their financial souls to the Voice.

Shanna Zell, 20, and her friend Amy Gottlieb, 21, just graduated from Brandeis and are planning a move to the city from their hometowns of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Dobbs Ferry, New York. Shanna's looking for a job in advertising, while Amy has picked public relations. Neither woman has student loans. Bryan Camphire, 24, a Pittsburgh native, completed a degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice after six years; he has $20,000 in student loans and works as a nanny part-time. Audrey (not her real name), 23, came to New York from Illinois three years ago to attend Pratt Institute, where she majored in industrial design and racked up a total of $31,000 in debt; she's looking for work in design, licensing, or retail.

Hoping the growth in jobs includes them: Amy Gottlieb (left) and Shanna Zell
photo: Jay Muhlin
Hoping the growth in jobs includes them: Amy Gottlieb (left) and Shanna Zell

What's in your wallet right this minute?

Shanna: I just bought a new purse ($13) and a new wallet ($6) at Target for my job interview today. I've got my parents' credit card, my debit card, and $28.85 in cash. My health insurance card, which expires June 14. Also a pack of cigarettes—eight freakin' dollars! I should really stop.

Audrey: A friend who designs handbags gave me this one. I've got a winning $1 Lotto ticket. A weekly MetroCard. Six dollars in McDonald's gift certificates—I can't spend them after seeing Super Size Me. And $46.11 in cash.

Bryan: I've got $50 right now, which is really rare. A weekly MetroCard, since I can never afford a monthly one. My student ID, which gets me $10 ballet tickets. And a tattered old Access Arts card from when I worked at Merrill Lynch doing data entry two years ago, which gets me into museums for free with a guest.

Amy: My mom's a principal, so she gave me some gift certificates she got from students: Banana Republic, Pier 1, and the Gap. A single-ride subway card. A one-way ticket back to Dobbs Ferry, where my parents live. Dad's credit card for emergencies. A bunch of receipts. $19.10 in cash. Oh, and my lucky $2 bill.

How often do you go to the ATM and how much money do you take out?

Audrey: $60 to $100. I've gone twice this week.

Amy: $20 or $40. Maybe two times a week? I just closed out my account—I'm waiting till I get a job.

Bryan: Twice in the past month, my balance has gotten below $20, so I have to go to the bank during work hours to get out money. That sucks.

What's the job market like?

Bryan: Being a nanny is the greatest job ever. I work 20 hours a week for $12 an hour, hanging out with a kid and sometimes his little brother. This summer I'll be spending three days a week in the Hamptons. But I'm really tight for money. Now that I have a college degree, I want to make it work for me a little, but I really don't want to work 40 hours a week—I want time to play music. My friends who work 40-plus hours a week say, What planet are you on? Stop being poor.

Amy: I'm looking for jobs in PR, but I don't have too high expectations. I would take an unpaid internship at this point to get experience. I've had trouble even getting interviews, since I majored in history, not marketing. That puts me behind right from the start.

What will your parents help out with?

Audrey: My parents are cutting me off. I got $1,200 for a graduation gift. They'll buy me plane tickets home, and that's it.

Bryan: Nothing. They're pretty tight.

Shanna: On my parents' credit card I charge emergencies and things they only find out about once they get the bill—like meals, and a suit I just bought for my interview. It has to be justifiable or I get shit from them. I can spend maybe $300 a month.

Where are you going to live?

Amy: I just looked at an apartment in Stuyvesant Town. It was $2,100 for a convertible one-bedroom—I'd be living there with my twin sister. For rent it seems like paying less than $1,000 is not really feasible.

Bryan: I just moved into a new apartment in Bushwick. It's the best ever. It's got rehearsal space for both of my bands, so my rent's $825; they pay $225.

Audrey: I just moved into the basement of my brownstone in Fort Greene. I'm now paying $350 a month. I decided I can live with the bugs and the centipedes. I have a really sweet deal.

What's the most money you'll spend without thinking about it?

Bryan: No amount. Even $3, I'll think twice.

Shanna: $10.

Amy: Over $10, I'll question whether or not I need it.

Audrey: $40. But only on design projects, never on clothes.

Have you ever dated for a meal ticket?

Shanna: I never am attracted to men with more money than me.

Amy: I would be uncomfortable in a relationship if it didn't even out in the end. Like I was regressing. But ask me in a year when I can't afford sushi.

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