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Salary Comfort in Manhattan Runs About $130K

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4 November 2007: There are exceptions, but what does it really cost to live "comfortably" in Manhattan? Depends upon who you ask...and some luck.

New York City remains quite a draw for those in the media profession: Writers, journalists, bloggers, wanna-be filmmakers, actors, waiters -- professions not often associated with high wages on Wall Street. Indeed those who work in journalism, or for the Gawker website, can scrape by on loans from mom and dad, and by turning freelance tricks on weekends. But what if you desire an apartment without a roommate's smelly socks, or do not have the luxury of depending upon income from a spouse?

What if Broadway plays and Lincoln Center performances tickle your tutu...and insist upon eating out regularly?
Set average monthly extras (include taxes:)
Rent $2,900
Cable television subscription $80
Telephone services/DSL $100
Laundry service $120
Metro card $76
Electric $110
DVD rentals $5
Gym $200
call it $3,600 a month
Variable monthly expenses:
Groceries $500
Restaurants (once weekly) $381
Taxi (six trips weekly) $390
Two plays a month $200
call it $1,470 a month
Estimated annual expenses:
Vacation (one week) $2,000
Weekend trips (six weekends) $3,000
New clothing (men) $2,500
$7,500 a year
Doesn't include play money, but lets give the guy $500 a month to do with as he pleases.
Rough annual expenses: $74,000

Other variables:

Employeer provides healthcare coverage, so employee pays $45 a month ($540 annual not including doctor visits or medication.)

He puts 10 percent of salary into his 401k ($13,000)
Estimate his withholding income is 35 percent ($40,950)


With a salary of $130,000 (taxable $117,000) our employee meets his estimated "comfortable" living expenses of $75,000, puts $13,000 a year into his 401K, and has a take home pay of about $76,000.


What if you choose to live in a clean, cockroach-free building?

There are premiums for living in Manhattan -- the one city where prices never drop.

One's lifestyle choices rather than the cost ranges for food, rent and other luxuries make it difficult to draw absolutes, but by using averages to guide this study -- at least it draws one benchmark to living comfortably in Manhattan.

More than one year ago, Runzheimer International, a Wisconsin-based management consultant, determined that a family (of four) earning about $60,000, would have to be pulling in $150,000 to keep their suburban lifestyle in Manhattan. Housing and federal, state, and city taxes took away the bulk of income.

What might be surprising to some is that the cost of living in Manhattan since the survey was released in June 2006 has further increased -- quite a bit -- according to ACCRA Inc. In 2006 Manhattan was 23 percent more expensive than Los Angeles, but that increase is 35 percent for year 2007.

ACCRA considers that groceries are 15 percent more expensive in Manhattan, housing is 46 percent higher, utilities are 50 percent higher, and healthcare is 16 percent higher than Los Angeles.

Housing in Manhattan is the most difficult to pin-down. The range of monthly rent is quite large for a studio (roughly $950 a month to $3,000,) while the rent range for one and two bedrooms narrows. The prices don't measure against craigslist sublets or a friend-of-a-friend who knows of another a friend whose dead uncle is still listed on a rent-controlled lease and wants to keep the landlord in the dark.

Expect to shell-out about $2,000 for a studio, about $2,900 for a one bedroom, and $3,900 for a two-bedroom (most of which are in a high-rise.)

For this example, the wage earner takes a one bedroom apartment, for the average price of $2,900. (Lease qualifications by reputable agencies suggest the wage earner must be making at least $125,000 to qualify for the one bedroom, or $86,000 for the studio.)

What does not figure into "averages" is one's lifestyle and career choice. Living in Manhattan generally means that one's commute is within a few miles, but this extra time (versus commuting an hour each way in Los Angeles,) is often given up for the employer. Manhattanites are likely to put more hours in at the office - singles more likely than couples. For these extra hours not attending to one's personal life there are concierge services available for anywhere from $50 to $100 per hour... but we are not including those in this estimate. Maid, personal grooming, and pet care services are not included either. Rent, plays, concerts, new clothing allowance, vacation and weekend get-a-ways, eating out, and cabbing-it were figured into the estimate.

Food of course comes in close second to rent as the month's greatest expense. In Zagat's 29th annual restaurant guide for Manhattan, prices soared for the better eateries in New York. The new 2008 guide covered 2,069 restaurants with input from 34,678 frequent diners who collectively bring roughly six million meals worth of experience to the survey. Fifty-six percent reported spending more money on restaurants than in 2006, six percent spent less. Some 234 new restaurants opened, 88 closed. While overall prices "have remained flat since [terrorist attacks on] 9.11, at the high end of the dining spectrum, there has been dramatic inflation," Zagat reported.

Tim Zagat, co-Founder and CEO of Zagat Survey, said, "The city continues to add to its remarkable roster of restaurants in just about every cuisine imaginable. That the average restaurant remains so affordable should be celebrated. Based on our surveys in 87 major markets, there is little doubt that New York is the 'Dining Capital of the World.'"

While overall restaurant prices in Manhattan remained the highest in the United States at $39.46 per dinner, of the 20 most expensive restaurants the average meal ran $143.06. Local tipping now averages 19 percent per check, or about average for the nation.


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