When my parents dropped me off at college, after all the dorm room furniture rearranging and unpacking, my dad gave me a hug and, before leaving, said, “Make good decisions.” Presumably at the time, he meant “Don’t drink or do drugs” or “Make sure you graduate within four years.” It was a simple, catch-all piece of advice, much like the only financial advice he gave me and my sister when we were young, which was “Save.” The advice at times has been frustratingly vague. How much am I supposed to save? Where do I put it? Is taking on a massive amount of debt to attend graduate school across the country a good decision? It seems like only after the fact do I realize whether a decision I made was a good or a bad one.
Case in point: Dennis and I need to find a new apartment starting May 1. Here in NYC, landlords typically put out listings a month before the current tenant’s lease expires, so we really don’t need to be looking seriously until about the last week of March. I’ve been peeking on Streeteasy and Craigslist since January. We are looking for a unicorn of an apartment: less than $3,000/month, a true one-bedroom, in Prospect Heights/Crown Heights/Park Slope/Downtown Brooklyn a half-mile or less from express subway stops, relatively new construction, lots of natural light, central AC, in-unit washer dryer, dishwasher, and some access to outdoor space. I know that it will be impossible to find everything we want without significantly increasing our price, so we are prepared to make some tradeoffs. On Friday, I stumbled across an apartment that pretty much had EVERYTHING going for it, with the exception of central AC. It was well under budget ($2700) but the catch was this: 1) you basically had to become a gardener and 2) the lease started April 1. The apartment is on the ground floor of a brownstone and this tenant’s responsibility is to maintain a really nice garden — we’re talking multiple flower beds, shrubbery, trees, etc. I was less concerned about the gardening than I was about the lease start date, which is a full month before we will be ready to move. I crunched the numbers in vain, hoping to find a way to make it work, but there was no way to blunt the financial pain of paying full rent on TWO apartments for the month of April. Could we do it? Technically, yes, but it would have meant diminishing our savings account and basically not spending any money besides subway fare and beans and rice. It was time to make a decision: ignore the numbers and find a way to make it work anyway? Or accept the financial facts, close the Craigslist ad, and hope that another awesome apartment will be available in May? I chose the latter, and I think my father would agree that it was the right decision.