Update 7/5/2017: I have gotten SO many critical comments on this piece since it went live nearly two years ago, so I figured it was time for an update. No, this post isn't for everyone. Yes, I advocate everyone have a game plan and more money saved before making a big life-changing decision. However, in 2010 when I was young and couldn't find a job (because of the recession), I really did figure out how to move to a new city with no money and it worked out. While I definitely recommend being smart, I also think it's important to be bold, especially when you don't think there are any other options. For those out there who have big dreams, but little funds…this post is for you. – LB
First, How I Ended Up Broke, Unemployed, and in Need of a Change
Flash back five years ago to the Summer of 2010. It was my first post-college summer and I'd spent it singing and dancing in a country music show at a well-known American theme park. I was living paycheck to paycheck (because of the shopping addiction I had in college that had left me with a lot of bad money habits and you know..copious amounts of credit card debt.) Still, I was able to make a full-time living and support myself by being an actor, and at the time, I was HIGH on the fact I was living out my dream.
..Until we got laid off before our contract ended and I had no backup plan or backup savings.
I was unable to get another job in Atlanta, so I had to move back into my parents house. I remember getting $122.00 each week in unemployment checks. After about 2 and a half months of being unable to find work, I called my best friend Jackie to cry to a listening ear.
She'd just taken her internship full time and was living the glamorous life in NYC.
“Why don't you just move to New York? There are tons of jobs here.”
Addicted to Sex and the City re-runs, moving to New York was something I'd dreamed about doing my entire life. Several of my college friends had departed for New York or L.A. immediately upon graduation. I didn't have the savings for that, and I also wanted more time to “Cut my teeth” in regional theater before I made the leap to the big time in New York.
But every time I thought about it, I always had an excuse. Sometimes they were really good, and sometimes they weren't.
I was in a bad way that Summer: single, chronically unemployed, no money, and with it being the middle of the recession, no end in site.
Why can't I move to New York? I mean, it wasn't like I had anything to lose.
I hung up the phone and my mind began to race. The only thing holding me back was money and fear of the unknown.
Later that night I was browsing Facebook and discovered my arch nemesis had finally made the leap and moved to New York.
If she can do it, so can I, I thought. And that night I vowed I was going to make the move- NYC or bust. I had no money, no prospects and I ended up successfully relocating and living in New York for about two years. Here's how I did it.
How to Move to a New City with No Money (The Steps I Took to Make it Happen)
Tip #1 – Save as Much as You Can Beforehand
My Mom bought my plane ticket to New York in exchange for me organizing the garage. I made a plan of when I wanted to fly up (I still remember the exact date!) – October 17th 2010- and squirreled away my scant unemployment checks for six weeks. After paying off only credit card minimums each month, I had about $300 to my name when I moved to New York.
You can also start saving the “change” from your checking account (hey, every little bit helps, right?) with apps like Qapital, which weren't around in 2010, but can offer big benefits in the here and now. I know it doesn't seem like a lot, but it adds up over time. By using the “round up” rule where every purchase got rounded up to the nearest even dollar amount, I saved $75 my first month with Qapital.
Which is a quarter of what I moved to NYC with right there.
Tip #2 – Coordinate a Place to Stay in Advance
My best friend Jackie was already in New York working, and a few of my other friends from summer programs and college had migrated that way as well. So, I sucked up my pride and asked if I could stay with each of them for a week or two while I got on my feet. At one particular apartment, I fell in love with the three guys living there and they ended up inviting me to stay for the long term. We lived four people to a three bedroom apartment.
Yes, it was tight, but it was so much fun in the way that only being young, broke, and new to an exciting city together can be.Eventually, I began contributing an equal share to the rent, but it took me about six weeks to get there.
“Couch surfing” is pretty common among NYC newcomers. I know in the time I lived in NYC in that apartment I shared with the roommates we had 4-5 people staying there for 2-3 weeks at a time until they moved on to the next place or found their own apartment.
LB Tip to Combat Homesickness: It helps if you can have a parent or friend ship your own bedding (pillows, comforter, whatever) to the place you're moving to so you can at least have your own stuff as you surf from place to place. It was so nice to snuggle up in my old stuff at night!
Tip #3 – Have a Backup Plan
With any big decision, you always need an escape route/back-up plan. I strategically decided to move in the middle of October. I knew if I got stranded, my folks would buy me a plane ticket home for Thanksgiving. So, I told myself if I didn't have a job by Thanksgiving I would call it quits and come home.
Things ended up working out in my favour, but I felt stronger being able to say, “yes, I can come home if it doesn't work out.”
Tip #4 – Side Hustle Your Way to Extra Savings
At the time I wasn't a blogger or writer, but I did make money by being a part-time assistant for someone I knew. And also taking surveys on survey sites. Here are some of my favorites.
How To Get a Job in a New City with No Prospects
It isn't enough to simply move to a new city without any money. You need a plan in place for how you're going to thrive when you get there, and for most people this means getting some form of income so they can support themselves.
As I prepared to move to New York I thought long and hard about what it was going to take to make a new life in a new place…with no money. I knew I'd that in order to stay in the city, I'd have to get a job right away. Taking inventory of my skill sets I knew I could do one of two things – be an actor, or being an administrative assistant like I was all throughout school. (Thanks Dad for making me slave away at your optometry practice every summer!)
Tip #4 – Create a Resume for The Type of Job You Have in Mind
I wrote a new resume I thought would be perfect for the type of admin roles I was looking for. It was tough putting my “Actor self” on the back burner, but that was what needed to be done.
Related: Need help putting together a standout resume? Try this resume builder tool.
Tip #5 – Submit to Temp Agencies
NYC was rife with temp agencies looking for qualified new candidates for both short and long term assignments. I browsed mainly on Craiglist for listings and started sending my resume off a week before I left. Many replied to me that same day and wanted to meet before I arrived, but I was able to schedule out appointments for the next week without making it look like I wasn't an actual resident.
I had three screening interviews with agencies my first full day in New York thanks to me scheduling things out. It felt great to get up in a new city and have some place to be. I was sent on my first “temp” assignment a week after.
If you are worried about your lack of administrative background, as long as you have a college degree this shouldn't be too hard. Literally everyone can type on the computer and answer the phone. They mostly just want smart, reliable people.
Tip #6 – Scour Job Sites
Tip #7 – Use an Address from Your New City so You Look Local
Probably the most important “trick” I used was putting a NYC address on my resume. I used one of my friend's (I got their permission first). Whenever someone asked me during an interview how long I'd been in NYC I usually said I'd just moved a few weeks ago and was excited to start looking for work in the city.
It didn't really bother anyone that I was a newcomer. After all, it's New York.
How I Finally Got On My Feet in a New Place
I Landed A Job!
The entire time I temped I also went out for interviews for full-time positions. After a few close calls, I was finally given an offer at the hedge fund I eventually went to work for and (the one I frequently mentioned as part of my origin story on this blog.) I ended up working for them for almost 18 months.
..And Tracked My Spending
I did temp, but it took me about two weeks to begin getting paid for the gigs. Based on my savings from my pre-NYC days, I only gave myself about ten dollars to eat off of each day. So, I ate a lot of honey buns and Frito's from the bodega around the corner to stay on budget. Walking everywhere helped keep the weight off from my poor diet. If I had an interview I would treat myself to Subway or Chinese food.
Sound sad? It was. But that's the kind of grit and determination that gets you through those poor-as-a-mouse years in your early 20's.
….Created a Budget
Once I finally had an income coming in, I needed a great budget so I'd never have to go back to the “honey bun” diet ever again.
I started reading Learnvest.com, which was in its infancy back in 2010/2011. Eventually, I took their online course on setting up a budget, which is how I used the 50-30-20 method to split up my finances and start stacking away 20% of each paycheck toward my own apartment and a real bed.
I slept on a futon the first three months I lived in the city. Yeouch. #sacrifices people.
..And (Finally) Learned How to Save
In my So Money interview with Farnoosh, I talked about the moment I learned about money: it was when I was sitting at my desk at my new job while all my friends were out auditioning. I didn't want to be behind anymore because of my money decisions, so I had to train myself to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck mindset. Eventually, I was able to pay off that $10k in credit card debt from college and start living life again – except this time, I was in my dream city!
Moving far away from home on your own is hard. Moving far away from home without any money or contacts is excruciating. While it was daring and fun and adventurous, I wouldn't recommend such adversity to anyone who didn't have to do it. Make a plan, save your pennies, and do things the right way. It'll be a much easier transition.
New York didn't work out for me for the long term, but I know I wouldn't have the things in my life I have now if I had never taken charge of my own life and made the move. It taught me the value of tenacity and being good with money, but most importantly it taught me that if you don't like something about your life it is up to you to change it.