So I’ve lost a little weight recently — not a ton, maybe five pounds — and I was thinking today about why that never happened in New York, when I was younger and also probably getting more exercise (just from walking around more.) Also, as you may have noticed, I’m a lot better at sticking to a budget and saving money now than I used to be 🙂 And I think the two things are actually interconnected, not just in the way that financial and weight metaphors often work together, but because the pattern of living in New York is practically designed to disrupt weight control and money control.
Don’t get me wrong, living in New York does not have to be as painfully expensive as many people think. The Broke and Beautiful Life, for one, documents this admirably. But I am so much healthier, both financially and otherwise, now, than I was then. Here’s a typical day in the life, with a little bit of choose your own adventure, for me in New York:
–Wake up. Make and drink coffee.
–Get dressed and pack to go out. Since I won’t come home until the end of the day, that can be pretty elaborate depending on what I’m up to; I might need multiple pieces of clothing, an extra pair of shoes, books, food, umbrella, whatever.
–I don’t like to eat breakfast right away, and I’m probably headed out to somewhere I can’t easily bring breakfast to. Either I choke down a piece of toast at home, or I buy a bagel or croissant or donut or breakfast sandwich when I get closer to work, or I don’t eat breakfast at all.
–Walk to the train, take the train to work. Generally 60-90 minutes, so by the time I get off the train, I’m starving, and prone to buying something expensive and unhealthy.
–Work. Break for lunch. About 60-70% of the time, I’ve managed to pack and bring lunch with me — fairly impressive actually since it involves not only pre-planning the food and cooking it, but also carrying it all over the city.
–About 2 pm, I need coffee, and I also need to eat again. Usually I buy the coffee ($1-3) and sometimes also a snack ($1-5) unless I’ve managed to pack something.
–Variation: at 5-6 pm, I might go home and eat there (pretty cheap, although I pass multiple tempting take-out options on the way, and since I don’t get off the train for another 60-90 minutes after I leave work, my blood sugar is often crashing and it seems so much easier to pick up dinner than to cook.)
–Variation: at 5-6 pm, I leave work, but I’m doing something in the evening, like a play or concert. I’m not going to hike all the way home and then back into midtown, so I have to buy a cup of tea or coffee somewhere so that I have a place to sit for an hour or two.
–Variation: at 5-6 pm, more work. When I worked in the theater, we had a 2-hour break in between shows, and I almost always went out and bought food. Could I have not done that? Yeah. Was it way easier and more exciting to do that than to bring both lunch and dinner from home? Yeah. So, $10-15, usually a nice sandwich, pretty frequently a brownie or some other kind of desserty thing, because I’m going to be working all evening and I need the energy burst.
The common ground in all of these scenarios is that, so many days, I either was out and needed a place to hang out for a while, and by far the easiest choice is to find a coffeeshop and buy a drink and/or snack; or I was getting myself into a position where I was starving, because I spent so much time on the train and didn’t carry enough snacks with me. I lived so far from where I spent most of my time that I couldn’t just run home and grab dinner before going to do something in the evening, so I ate dinner out a lot. I wasn’t eating at Le Bernardin or anything, but $10-15 a pop adds up.
If I were doing it all over again, I’d be much more obsessive about carrying apple slices with me, and much more obsessive about cash budgeting. But I don’t know if there was a way, other than a level of willpower and organization that I didn’t have and still don’t, to solve the basic problems of very long days out of the house + tons of delicious, tempting, highly available food that I passed all the time because I was always out walking on the street.
The city I live in now is small enough that I’m 10 or at the most 20 minutes from everything. It’s easy to run home after work and grab food before heading to a movie or to see friends or whatever. Plus, since I drive to work, it’s also easier to take multiple meals with me (I take breakfast and lunch every day, and usually throw a snack in there too.) I’m also not exhausted and cranky/hungry all the time because my commute isn’t so insane. And finally, nobody in town makes a decent croissant, so I am not tempted, as a general rule, to spend money on something that’s also terrible for me! This is not to say that I never grab a meal out, but it’s much less a part of my daily repertoire here than it was in New York. Some of that is my newfound dedication to having my shit together, but some of it is just that temptation is much, much less strong. Turns out it’s easier to do the right thing when doing the right thing isn’t so difficult!