This post is a part of our special personal finance series, Moving In or Out? Young people are faced with mounting student debt and high costs of living, which affects the decision to move out. This series of personal essays offers different perspectives on living situations, showing that no one choice is the same — or the right one for everyone.
By Alexandra Salerno
I’ve lived in four New York City apartments since graduating college in 2014. Two featured ceilings that literally caved in on me. Jumping directly from college dorm to apartment cohabitation was not always the easiest, financially or mentally, but it was the right choice for me. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Admittedly, I was fortunate in many ways – I graduated with a well-paying job and parents 20 miles outside of the city. While I fantasized for a moment about banking all of my salary and living rent-free in suburban New Jersey for a year or two, I knew it would never work for me.
It’s absolutely true that rent in New York is ridiculously expensive, but I looked at it this (melodramatic) way: how much was my freedom worth? I wanted to do things without much notice with whoever I wanted without being beholden to the New Jersey Transit schedule or prying parents. I was 22 and still very much figuring myself out – I didn’t see my childhood bedroom as the best place to do that.
So off I went to a “cozy” Harlem three-bedroom (anyone familiar with Manhattan real estate knows that by “cozy” I mean “my bed touched three walls and I couldn’t fit a real dresser”). I did get the freedom I wanted, but I hadn’t accounted for all the arguably more important benefits that came with it. I hadn’t realized just how different apartment renting would be from dorm living. Landlord not responding despite the fact that you’re short a ceiling and it’s snowing on your bed? There’s no university facilities department to contact, you need to figure out how to escalate it. Roommate issues? No RA to mediate, figure it out. Salary not stretching as far as you thought it would? No dining hall to fall back on, learn how to budget.
I’m not going to say that I’m a fully formed, completely mature human at 25, but I definitely feel more confident and established than I did when I moved into my first apartment at 22. I credit living on my own for a lot of that. It taught me how to troubleshoot and communicate my needs to others, from my peers to older adults in positions of power. It has even helped me in my career. While I used to be skittish about confrontation – even the necessary, productive kind or about picking up the phone to ask people for things – it’s become second nature.
After three years of living with various roommates and gradually working my way south in Manhattan and into Brooklyn, my girlfriend and I recently moved in together. We’re deep in one of the last affordable areas of Brooklyn and own a dining room table that didn’t come from IKEA – perhaps the greatest hallmark of adulthood. We met while we were both living with roommates, and, quite frankly, I’m not sure our relationship ever would have taken off with me living in the suburbs with my parents. I’m not sure I even would have fully gotten comfortable with my queerness – I was barely out to myself at 22, never mind my family. Being on my own without being held accountable to anyone but myself gave me the space to explore and clarify exactly what I was looking for, out of a relationship and out of life, sooner rather than later.
We’re deep in one of the last affordable areas of Brooklyn and own a dining room table that didn’t come from IKEA – perhaps the greatest hallmark of adulthood.
So here I am, roughly $50,000 poorer than I would have been had I just lived at home and commuted into the city for the past three years and change (…yikes), but with a generally solid sense of self and utmost faith in my ability to handle pretty much anything life throws at me. If that’s how much “freedom costs,” I’ll take it every time.