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

Hungry grads make a shoestring assault on New York

Audrey: Last night I went out to the meatpacking district with a guy friend who would undoubtedly like to be more than a friend. He spent $133 on dinner, and tipped $30. The reason I don't mind getting a lot of free dinners is that, in my opinion, in New York, if you are a not-unfortunate-looking young girl, no matter how bright you are, you'll always be a piece of ass first. Besides, I just tend to be attracted to older men, and to Manhattan. In the past year I've dated a lawyer, an ad exec, and a guy who made a lot of money on the Internet. But I'm not a gold digger. I would rather have a real relationship than just have some guy take care of me.

Speaking of dinner, what are you planning to do for groceries?

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

Amy: SpaghettiOs. Lots of frozen veggies. I make this stew with chicken breast, canned tomatoes, and frozen peas. I buy a family-size thing of chicken and freeze it in portions. You're always very happy about finding that last chicken breast there in the freezer. Grocery-wise I'd like not to spend more than $20 a week.

Shanna: Eggs. Also tofu. I'm on this diet, and the basis is meat, so it's expensive. I'm thinking maybe I'll go home once a month and go shopping in Jersey. I like eggplant—you can get a big one for like a dollar. Canned tomato sauce is key. I'm hoping not to spend more than $100 a week on eating, including restaurants.

Audrey: Ramen noodles. Four-for-$5 Celeste frozen pepperoni pizza. I make this bean salad with limes and cilantro that I can throw in the fridge for a week. Generic sugary cereal in a bag for $1.99.

Bryan: I eat out a lot. I can tell you at least five meals off the top of my head under $5: the taxicab Indian place on 1st Street, North Dumpling on Essex between Hester and Canal, dollar slices on Eighth Avenue and 36th Street, falafel.

What was the last thing you bought?

Shanna: I bought the whole outfit I'm wearing right now at this huge sale at Express on the way back from my interview: Two pink tank tops for $10, a black skirt for $10, plastic earrings for $2.90, a bracelet for $1.90.

Audrey: I was just shopping on Canal Street for a freelance design project. I got two yards of fake grass for $14.95 and a big roll of iridescent material for $17.95. Then I found 100 feet of coaxial cable, for my basement, for $14.01. And two fiber-optic glass balls for these necklaces I make and sell, for $5 each.

Where do you see yourself in five years? How much do you need to survive in New York?

Shanna: Right now, I've decided I can't work for less than 30K, which I know is pretentious. If I'm making more than 50K when I'm 25, I'll be very proud of myself. If I'm making 25K, I won't be living in New York City anymore.

Amy: I hope to be at the top end of entry level: $40,000. I don't expect to be above that.

Bryan: I love scraping by here. I like the contradiction of living in the most expensive city in the world and getting by the way I do. Realistically, I'll be paying off my student loans for another 10 to 15 years, and that affects how I make decisions. Still, in five years I'd like to have a master's degree in either forensic computing at John Jay or early childhood at Hunter. I want to study music internationally, in Southeast Asia or Estonia. Maybe have a couple records under my belt. And I definitely want to settle down and have kids. Although it's tough to be thinking about how many kids I want versus how many I'll be able to afford.

Audrey: I know I can live on $575 a month, plus ramen and cocktail appointments. I have no idea where I'll be in five years. I have options. Hopefully I'll have paid off my $22,000 in loans and $9,000 in credit card debt. I carry around a fortune-cookie fortune, "Fame, riches, and romance are yours for the asking." Yeah, baby! Bring it on!

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