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Urban Juggle: Going broke? That's life in the big city

Will O'Brien
by Will O'Brien, Dimespring 30 (@wpo3)

Big city living is a ton of fun. It’s also expensive.

Between vehicle costs, ridiculous rent, a 10 percent sales tax and restaurants that tease taste buds but also eat away at wallets, Chicago has taken a toll on my humble financial standing. The Windy City, with its glistening downtown attractions and its busy neighborhood bars, has huffed and puffed away more than its fair share of my dollar bills. But I, a native Milwaukeean who thinks all bars ought to serve $.50 cans of beer, am still here, plugging away.

Having been raised in a one-bathroom, one-car household by a penny-pinching father and a mother who never let a scrap of food go wasted, I think I’ve got an inherent sense of thriftiness.

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Starbucks? I’ll brew my own. Thirty-dollar cab fare? I’ll walk or take a bus. Yes, my favorite sweater was purchased in eighth grade.

To a certain extent, I take pride in being frugal. Lunchtime turkey sandwiches Monday through Friday, week after week, don’t bother me. And no, I don’t have cable.

But when landing in a new, exciting place such as Chicago, it’s easy to lose sight of budgetary realities. Rules are stretched and credit cards come out of hibernation. Whatever’s spent, I tell myself, will be recaptured with “that next paycheck,” a phrase I hear myself uttering far too often these days.

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But six months after my move, I can no longer ignore Chicago's cost of living. I’ve put off an oil change for weeks and my savings account hasn’t been this meager since middle school.

So I’ve decided to recommit myself.

Two coworkers and I have arranged a carpooling schedule. I’ve cut back on dining out, and $10-a-pack cigarettes are a thing of the past, I swear.

But I’m not swearing off fun altogether. Living on a budget doesn’t have to be boring, I’m convinced.

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Residing near a university that frequently hosts free or close-to-free events stretches the entertainment budget. And spending nights inside at friends’ apartments is a more than acceptable substitute for hours of dollar-draining bar hopping.

Sure, there will still be trips to new dining spots, and unexpected purchases are bound to pop up, but I’m determined to live within my means.

Such is life performing the Urban Juggle.


Will O'Brien is a 23-year-old journalist originally from Milwaukee, now based in Chicago. Aside from media and politics, his interests include soccer and documentary films. Will is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.