Spending and Saving in New York City: Farewell

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Editor’s Note: This is the final part of Noel’s ongoing series about her adventures navigating the NYC fashion world as a college student, adjusting to life without total financial support from her parents, and learning where to spend and save! In case you missed them, see Spending and Saving in New York City: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six.

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Photo Credit: 1

Alright, the semester's over. This is my last article here (sort of). I flew back home on Christmas eve. I turned nineteen years old on Christmas day. I'm working on my New Year's resolutions. I'm scared to look at my 2009 New Year's resolutions because I probably didn't fulfill any of them. The bad thing about having your birthday and New Year's so close together is that you expect magical things to happen when you turn eighteen. Or seventeen. Or sixteen. Every year.

Er, okay -- something magical did happen this year. I got into college and moved to New York City. I remember crying on the phone to my best friends at home, "I GOT INTO COLUMBIA! I'M COMING BACK TO NEW YORK CITY!" Never mind the fact that the summer of 2008, in which I spent two months in the city by myself interning for Seventeen magazine, was the most expensive summer of my life. Never mind the fact that this was the year that my parents stopped considering me a dependent on their tax forms. Never mind the fact that I had to learn to pay my own taxes and buy my own health insurance. I was going to New York City -- and if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.

Magic was going to happen. Or so I thought. And then, as I was packing my bags for the cross-country move, our lovely Zephyr offered me the chance to write for College Fashion -- an opportunity to reach out to thousands of girls who didn't read my personal blog, Miss Couturable. And I really just wanted to share my experiences in college with you, minus the all-nighters, awkward parties, and mediocre dining hall food. I mean, look, I love shopping, like many other girls in college. My friends think I'm ridiculous for not being willing to spend $5 on Pinkberry frozen yogurt but willing to trek downtown for a pair of expensive boots during finals week. I won't deny it. Plenty of you here have called me out on it -- but maybe we all need to be a little ridiculous and indulgent inside to survive in New York City. As Penelope Trunk says:

I know you have heard that NYC is expensive. But you will never really know how insanely expensive it is until you live there.It’s like having children. Everyone will tell you having kids is really, really hard. Harder than anything they’ve ever done. And everyone will also say that after all those warnings, they still were not prepared for how hard it was when the baby came. This is what money is like in NYC – you absolutely cannot imagine how expensive it is there until you are there, living day to day.

I never had the intention of giving financial advice in this column, and I do apologize if it sounded like I was going to. I am still learning how to manage my own funds without the help of the family accountant. I just wanted to be honest with everyone -- and I knew I was going to get some criticism along the way.

So, before I say goodbye, I have one more experience I have to share. You may disagree with me on it. You may be offended by it. It's okay. I'll be honored if you even read it:

Coming to college made me finally realize how important money is. Yes, money. Indeed, love is important. Happiness is important. However, money is measurable. And it is, undeniably, essential to most people's lives. There is a reason why the introductory economics professor at Columbia tells his students that they have the power to change the world for the better.

Back in high school, money wasn't a concern for my friends and me-- but we didn't think much of it either. We drove around in our cars (and coming to college, I realized that many of my colleagues didn't even have cars), bought nice presents for each other, and sought to eat in all of the best places. I just didn't think about money. It was just there. I could use it.

The former Head of School at my prep school once said, "I don't understand why so many bright students at schools like Harvard and MIT, who could be finding the cure for cancer, choose to become investment bankers instead. What will you do with your life?" In contrast, when my mother found out that one of my friends, the class salutatorian who was going to attend Harvard, wanted to be a surgeon, she scoffed, "Why would he want to be a surgeon, that brilliant boy? He should be the next Bill Gates."

During orientation week at college, I ate lunch with a new friend and we talked about our career goals. "I just want to make a lot of money," he said, "A lot of people think that's shallow -- but listen, I don't see what's wrong with wanting to give my family the best of the world. I grew up not having, and I want my kids to grow up having."

Turns out, a lot of my brilliant friends here, wealthy or not wealthy, want to be investment bankers or just make a lot of money, one way or another. One of my girl friends lamented over her GPA because it wasn't high enough for an internship with Goldman Sachs. "I want to make $600,000 a year within three years of graduation," she said. A few of my guy friends want to become hedge fund managers. "We'll have nameplates that say, 'Head Thug,'" they joked. My Head of School's words rang in my head. What will we do with our lives?

You can form your own opinions about this, but here is what I think now: It's okay to want money. It's okay to have money. It's okay to spend money. It's better to change the world with your money. It's a good idea to save money. Money can be a good thing. Nothing is black and white. Even universities survive on generous endowments. Money neither adds nor detracts from the meaning in your life. We don't need to spell out a noble goal in life in order to do something wonderful.

So, thank you for reading -- as a writer, it means a lot that people actually care. Merci beaucoup for disagreeing, for being offended, for being proud of me, for being disappointed in me, for laughing with me, for being amused with or by me, and for sharing with me. Blogging is great because it is practically instant feedback and communication. It's also made me insanely honest, to the point that I'm oftentimes putting myself out there for criticism.

You can find me at my own blog, Miss Couturable or follow me on Twitter, and I will occasionally contribute to College Fashion when appropriate. May the year of 2010 be glorious and bountiful for you!