Living paycheck to paycheck is madness!
June 19, 2006 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Heavily in debt and living in a city with no friends. What to do?

I was unemployed for a while and racked up a lot of debt living off credit and generally just being foolish. At the end of March I started getting my life in order, but it's a long process; assuming I devote most of my income to bills, I should have paid off my credit cards by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I'm bored and going out of my mind. I already spend some time after work exercising, so that's a positive use of time.. but there's so much time left in the day and I'm admittedly lonely. I'd like to fill my evenings (and weekends), but then I think that maybe I should just suck it up and do nothing until the end of the year, saving money and worrying about bills until then. I live in Queens, NY and I work in Long Island, so Manhattan is a trip away.. otherwise I'd probably be roaming the streets and walking through parks. Toss in a breakup and a recent start of lexapro for good measure.

What should I do? Be 'responsible' and devote all my resources to my debt? The idea of myself falling deeper into debt is a source of immense concern, but I'm also terrified of spending the next six months doing nothing at all. Living paycheck to paycheck is madness!
posted by Raze2k to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Can you get a second job? Maybe something fun and not too taxing. Time = occupied, plus you'll benefit financially.
posted by boomchicka at 8:11 AM on June 19, 2006

I would think that the combination of a breakup and Lexapro would make staying in all the time awful, if not dangerous. I don't recommend that route. (IANA doctor/expert, though.)

Maybe you can find a way to spend your free time that doesn't use up what money you have. boomchicka's suggestion to get a second job is good. Or, if you don't want to/can't do that, perhaps try volunteering, or learning some skill that doesn't require a lot of cash. (With nothing but an internet connection, you can find free howtos and tutorials online for just about anything.) Something to keep you busy that doesn't involve going out on the town will make you feel much better and keep you fiscally responsible. Good luck!
posted by danb at 8:17 AM on June 19, 2006

Oh yeah, a second job where you'll meet cool people!

Alternatively, could you create an entertainment budget for yourself that won't extend your debt too far into the future, then see how far you can stretch it? Subway fare could take you to lots of free entertaining places. The reason to get rid of debt is that it limits your options and life choices. Abstractly, I'd rather have my options 80% limited for 9 months instead of 100% limited for 6 months.
posted by salvia at 8:17 AM on June 19, 2006

well, one thing you can do is get a second job! Freelance code, web development, text editing and the like can be done at home; a second job away from home would have to have rigid hours in order not to conflict with your primary job. It's a great social outlet and can help damp down the debt or give you some spending money.
Additionally you can take the time to implement a major life change. The Getting Things Done system, yoga or fitness practice, etc. can be an idea.
Volunteer work: social, skills-building, and free. Donate your existing skills or learn a new one.
For your downtime, keep absorbing books/websites/games/dvds around (free and open source ones are available in great number) to keep your mind off your worries. IRC and other chat programs are great for making new time-using friends, too! Find a politics channel and hone your argumentative and research skills!
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:19 AM on June 19, 2006

The library is a great place and it costs nothing to borrow books. You could even join a book group which would get you meeting new people.
posted by talitha_kumi at 8:21 AM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

"Poverty is hard, but debt is horrible" - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

"Think what you do when you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty.” - Benjamin Franklin

“Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; … Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you” - J. Reuben Clark

Go to the local tourist office get a list of all the tourist attractions near you. Go to all the free ones. Explore.

Get a library card, browse bookshops, make a list of books you'ld like to read, then get them out of the library.

Buy a $70 bike from Target/Walmart and ride, ride, ride!

Volunteer work. Pick a cause, even one hour a week will help. You'll meet a lot of new/interesting people.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:21 AM on June 19, 2006

If you want to meet people, work a service job. Pick up an evening job in a coffee shop or waiting tables. It is pretty easy to meet people to at least hang out with like this.
posted by Loto at 8:38 AM on June 19, 2006

When I first moved to NYC, I met a lot of interesting people by answering ads on craigslist. I also met a lot of freaky weirdos but it was better than watching another Law & Order. A quick search for Queens turned up this, this, and this.
posted by defreckled at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2006

Volunteering would be a great idea for you. It's immensely rewarding when you help people, and you may meet some real friends.
posted by empyrean at 8:47 AM on June 19, 2006

I second the second job - especially something fun like a bar or a bookstore where you can work a shift or two a week and (most importantly) socialize with fun people while you pay off your debt a little faster. During my own unhappy period of depression (redundant, I know), I worked in a bookstore and it just utterly saved my sanity. I would NOT recommend a job you can do at home - there's nothing lonelier than being stuck inside when you're already in a moderately unhappy place.

I disagree that you have to head into the city to find good fun. But if you think so, you should be able to find tons of cool stuff for free if you head into the city on weekends: galleries, free concerts, public readings... During the week, cultivate some skills that you wouldn't ordinarily have time to if you were out spending money all week. Learn French. (Join a French conversation group!) Teach yourself to knit. Train for a triathlon. Start an herb garden (which will save you some money as well). View this time as a luxury that will allow you to work on yourself without distraction. Plus, most of these cheap-ish activities tend to have groups devoted to them where you can meet folks.

I also second getting a bike. It's fun, it's cheap, and it's good for you - which goes doubly if you're dealing with mental health stress. (I know you said you were exercising, and I commend you. But bikes are more fun than the stair climber by a long shot.)
posted by catesbie at 8:48 AM on June 19, 2006

If you want to be irresponsible, here's a suggestion: work abroad. This is especially effective if you have a professional degree and some job experience and can consider permanent residence in another country. Voila, your credit is clean! In the ideal situation, you would work in a Euro country (unlikely, I know) which would give you a leg up on dealing with debt denominated in US dollars.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:48 AM on June 19, 2006

Queens native here...
You don't say where in Queens you live but since it is the most multicultural place on the planet, you can travel the world without ever leaving the borough. All for the price of a MetroCard, start with Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, plus Flushing. You can great ethnic eats for much less than in Manhattan. I found it easier to get cuy there than in Peru. Do check out the Thalia theater in Jackson Heights for Spanish language theater. Again, not expensive.
Queens parks include Kissena Park, Forest Park and Alley Pond Park and many others. Surprisingly nice.
Volunteers are always needed at the Rockaway Bird sanctuary and at the Alley Pond environmental center. The American Littoral Society always needs volunteers to clean up Jamaica Bay, lots of good people there. I did that when I was young and poor and up to my eyeballs in debt and have fond memories and friends I still see.
Second getting a library card. The Queens Library is supposedly the most used library system in the country (Yes it is separate from the NYPL, have no idea why.) They also have film showings and I dated at least one cute librarian in my poor days (Their pay for librarians is crap, alas, so they won't look down on a penurious swain.)
I for one would not get a second job if you expect to be out of debt by years end unless it is a free-lance coding gig. Better to get some relationships going first - again this is contingent upon your get out of debt plan working.
I live in Manhattan now and did not appreciate how great Queens is until I left.
posted by xetere at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, folks. If I was going to go the second job route I'd probably want a part-time job on weekends; freelance would be nice, but then again meeting people would be better. Working at a bar seems like it could be a fun experience, but I've never made drinks before so that probably wouldn't go over so well.

I've actually been biking, but at the local gym (I primarily lift weights with biking for 15-25 minutes just a cooldown and minor-cardio activity -- I'm putting on weight intentionally at the moment).

I live in Floral Park for any of the locals.

To be fair, I do have some folks here that I could venture out with.. but their fun consists of sitting at a lounge in Flushing drinking the night away. There's certainly a time and place for that, but it gets old fast, doesn't mesh well with my aspirations of living healthier and is expensive to boot.

The volunteer idea seems promising. I think one of my biggest problems (outside the debt) at the moment is that I've been sedentary so long that I've completely lost track of what I enjoy doing. A return to exercise has been good to me and is pretty cost-effective. But I'm spinning my rudders right now looking for direction.
posted by Raze2k at 9:17 AM on June 19, 2006

Good for you for getting your debt paid down. I'm there with you and I know it's tough to reach a balance between getting your debt to 0 and wanting to have a life.

Presumably you have your spending under control. Why not go out one night a week for drinks with the people you know? That won't break you and it will be a social outlet and something to look forward to.

I disagree with the second job idea, mostly because, depending on what your first job is, it would be nearly impossible to coordinate a work schedule that would be approved by both employers. I was working three jobs for a while, and any 15 minute derivation from my schedule threw at least two jobs out of whack.

I'll just say it: get your debt down to zero. It's only six more months. Do some free stuff if you can, but focus on getting debt-free. Then you can concentrate on your social life.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2006

But I'm spinning my rudders right now looking for direction.

That's a good place to be! You can pick any direction and not go wrong! The key is to pick one and go though. Best wishes. :D
posted by yoga at 10:00 AM on June 19, 2006

I live in Queens, NY and I work in Long Island, so Manhattan is a trip away.. otherwise I'd probably be roaming the streets and walking through parks.

Your problem is that you have too much free time on your hands and not enough to fill it. Long subway rides that get you to where you're going could well be part of filling it. People watching on the subway can be pretty damned entertaining, and it doesn't need to feel like wasted time.

Hell, make the journey the thing. If you've got a transit pass, hope on a train or, preferably, a bus, and go somewhere you've never been before. See what you see on the way there. Look around a bit. Come back.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2006

I agree that you might as well enjoy the trip to Manhattan, at least on weekends. In the summer, on non-peak hours, it can be a nice place to read in AC. With a library card, the books are free, and as others have said that gives you another destination. Then roam as you normally would. There are lots of free movies and other activities in the city in the summer. I also like riding the city bus. I may be weird in that sense.

My social life definitely improved as a result of working in a restaurant. Waiters, bartenders, busboys, and line cooks are always ready and willing to do something after work. Plus, there's a lot of camaraderie between different establishments in the same neighborhood, so you often have places you can go where you can drink and eat cheap, and sometimes even smoke. (Also, a free meal and a free drink from your own place for every shift you work can really cut down in what you spend, it's surprising). You don't necessarily need experience to get a job...what you do need is to catch the right manager in the right mood on the right day. That can take some pounding of the pavement and lots of charm. But, you have time on your hands.

You're lucky it's summer. Much harder to find cheap fun here in the winter.
posted by lampoil at 10:58 AM on June 19, 2006

I tend to play this tune every time someone asks about getting out and meeting people, but it's a good tune.

I recommend Meet In. It's not like meet up, where folks are grouped together via special interests, it's more geographically based for folks who just want to get together, go out and hang out.

See if they have your city.
posted by willmize at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2006

(Apologies for the self link but relevant) I put together a list of free events in NYC organized by date. There's even a few in Queens. There are a ton of stuff to do - just get a metrocard and you're set. It can be found at:

Yahoo Group - Free Events NY

Definitely the library and volunteering are great avenues to explore too.
posted by terrortubby at 12:27 PM on June 19, 2006

Combine some of the suggestions here: freelance for way cheap (or free) for an organizaton whose mission you support. Think organizations that organize support groups or education and outreach or the like. Good karma, a bit of cash (if they can spare it) and you'll get to think creatively by helping organizations who often have never had time to find out what the computers sitting in their offices can really do for them.
posted by desuetude at 5:17 PM on June 19, 2006

If you have a digital camera (which costs next to nothing once the initial investment is made) you can couple riding the train, volunteering, wandering around the city (or even your 1st/2nd job) with photo projects, then post to a free flickr acct to share online. Lots of time to be spent there.
posted by nevercalm at 6:51 AM on June 20, 2006

Some ideas for freeish ways to meet people:

1. Volunteer -- google "one brick," Habitat for Humanity, you get the idea

2. Toastmasters -$20 You give and listen to speeches and compete. There are chapthers all over the country.

3. Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) about $60 - a service agency for adults 40 and under.
posted by bananafish at 10:19 PM on June 20, 2006

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