Betting on Love, Leveling Up and Leaving Atlanta

When Adam and I began dating two years ago, we were each already planning to leave Atlanta. I wanted to teach English abroad after I graduated, and he wanted to move back to New York City, where he’d lived for a handful of years in his early twenties. After a summer of dating, late in August, he asked me to change my plans. We had spontaneously decided to drive four hours down to Savannah for the weekend, and on Sunday we drove out to Tybee Island to watch the dolphins and ride bikes on the beach. Afterward we sat in a divey restaurant overlooking the ocean, exhausted in a nice way, drinking icy cold beers and squeezing lemons over the crab we’d ordered, griping about how we both hated living in Georgia, the franchised sprawl, the politics, and the limited opportunities were getting to us.

“I swear I can’t take it much longer!” I said something along those lines, cracking open a crab leg with frustration. Adam contemplated me in silence while I worked on extracting the meat.

“I was thinking,” he said after a while, trying to look casual, “maybe when I go back to New York… you could come with me?”

I stopped what I was doing, looking up and gauging his face for how serious he was. He was very serious.

“…When?” I asked. I swallowed a gulp of beer to hide the sudden nervous pang in my stomach.

“As soon we can. Come on, let’s go! This fall or this spring! You can finish school over there!”

The salty air stuck to my sunburn and the beer burned its way through my veins, and a carefree glee overtook me. New York in the fall, snowy winters in Brooklyn, working to make it in the hustle of the city—the idea seduced me, and so did Adam’s sweet, serious brown eyes.

“Okay—let’s go.”

Excitement bubbled up inside me. New York was a tough city, and moving there with Adam would make us or break us. I wanted to face that challenge.

Two years later, we are still in Atlanta.

Despite our heady intentions, moving hasn’t been an option. Finishing school, delays in finding full-time work, underemployment, a car accident that drained my savings account, impulsive spending, and generally choosing the easiest path forward have eaten up two whole years of our lives.

We are both unhappy to still be here, and unhappy with our jobs that require zero skill and zero degrees. We live in a nice part of the city, in a pretty great apartment, and make enough between the both of us to live fairly comfortably. We do not receive any support from our parents and are 100% financially independent. I’m grateful for being able to do okay, but we have dragged ourselves through the past two years lethargically, with frequent bouts of depression and self-destructive behavior.

But enough is enough. It’s time to do something about it. It’s time to stop passively letting life float by and finally chase our dreams and ambitions; namely, the dream and ambition of leaving Atlanta.

This is how I plan to do it.

I make enough money (around $35,000/year before taxes) to barely support us both on my own. Adam currently makes about two-thirds of what I make (around $25,000/year). Beginning this month, September, we have agreed that we will put 100% of Adam’s biweekly paycheck into a savings account and live exclusively on my income alone.

If we stick to this plan without messing up too much, it should yield a minimum of $10,000 in savings by May, when our lease ends.

We will have to cut back our lifestyle a bit, not that we have been living very extravagantly to begin with. Our fixed expenses  (rent, utilities, insurance, phones, gas, etc.) will use up the majority of my income. Our new food budget is $20 a day, which means more cost-effective groceries and eating out less. Our new “optional expenses” budget is $300 a month, with means cutting down on household goods and buying cheaper clothing. I will also be driving extremely carefully, since my accident demolished my previous $3,000 of savings.

If my plan works, and I am absolutely determined that it will work, in May we will cash out our sweet ten grand and move anywhere we want. That cushion of cash will mean we don’t have to arrange a job and apartment ahead of time, which seems like way too much effort when you’re dejectedly trudging through life. Instead, we can move just as soon as our lease ends and have savings to live on while we hunt for work.  This seems like a foolproof plot.

Ever since I proposed the plan, Adam and I have been counting imaginary bank notes and thinking about where we want to go: NYC, Montreal, Toronto, Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, Australia… the possibilities are endless. Maybe if we save enough, we can take a month-or-two-long trip to Europe or South America in the transition period between cities. If things somehow magically align in a stroke of good fortune, grad school will be next on the horizon. We can’t do any of this yet, but with enough drive, determination, and a dash of gutsy risk-taking at the end, we will get there. We have to.

 

Amanda Tomas hopes to keep you posted as her plan is put into action.

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44 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)

Wow, how are you not having enough money with a combined income of %60,000/year? That is like, a fortune to me! How much is your rent??

Nick (#1,548)

@Megano! I don’t think she said they didn’t have enough money?

“We live in a nice part of the city, in a pretty great apartment, and make enough between the both of us to live fairly comfortably. We do not receive any support from our parents and are 100% financially independent.”

They’re just cutting back to living only on her $35k now and putting the rest in savings.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@Megano! When I first graduated college, it definitely would have seemed like a fortune to me as well, but the money-situation-improvement creeps up on you. Slowly you make changes that eat up a little more cash each time: you move to your own place, you start buying lots of delicious groceries and justify eating out more often, you go on a weekend getaway, you suddenly need lots of IKEA furniture, not to mention a whole new classy, non-studenty, business-appropriate set of attire! You start hemmorhaging cash like crazy! Suddenly you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, maybe saving $100/month at best.

At least that’s how it was for me. And it’d be fine, I guess, if I wanted to just luxuriate in all the stuff I have now. But other things await! (I hope!)

Nick (#1,548)

@Amanda T We (or Science) should have a name for this process, maybe something like Snob Creep? I first noticed it manifesting in myself when I started feeling too good for hostels and vowed never to stay in one ever again while traveling, despite doing so many times during college without ever having any objections about it. I now notice it in other areas like grocery shopping and PC and gadget upgrading as well.

@Amanda T Sounds about/exactly right.

@Nick
“Lifestyle Creep”.
I find for me it manifests in being able to buy TWO houseplants at Home Depot, when I only went in there to get a key copied, and OMG avocados are on sale! I love those! I should get some and freeze them, where a year ago I would have been too poor for houseplants and used books and thrifting (for fun!) and avocados.

Megano! (#124)

@Nick Well this whole thing is about how she is actively going to start saving up money so they can move out of Atlanta.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Megano! Having money to live isn’t the same as having money to save.

@The Dauphine Wait…you can freeze avocados?

@mirror_father_mirror
Yes! It takes a little work; scoop the avocado ‘meat’ from a few fruits in to a ziploc bag and freeze it.

#mybreadsecretisanavocadosecret

I want to do something similar once my boyfriend gets a job – his will likely pay around what mine does, so rather than up our lifestyle, I’d rather we continue living pretty much the way we had been as students and saaaaaave (and pay down our student debt). I’m looking forward to following updates from you, Amanda!

oiseau (#1,830)

That’s cool that you and your boyfriend have that level of trust with money. I’m not sure a lot of people do?

AnnieNilsson (#406)

what a thrilling plan! good luck! i can’t wait to read the updates.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@AnnieNilsson @polka dots vs stripes
Thank you, I hope it will work and I also (pretty idealistically) am hoping to inspire other people to take action in their own lives along with me.

Author! If you are moving to NYC, and you are a couple, and you want to be able to have a month or two to figure out jobs and stuff…you need every single bit of that $10,000. Let’s say you find an apartment you like for…$1500. You need a broker’s fee (one month), first and last month’s rent ($3000), so you’re already down $4500 out of the gate. Add to that moving costs (whether you’re taking it with you or buying it there, I’d say estimate at least $1000), and you’re at $4500. What about insurance? Are you paying COBRA? Cell phone bills, metrocards, food (even if you eat in, it’s way more expensive)…one thing I didn’t prepare for when I moved was the way all my shoes wore out so quickly (walking!).

I say this as someone who did the exact same thing, with almost the exact same amount of money, and it was…stressful. Less so probably because he has lived in NYC before, but still: Most of the cities you listed are as expensive, if not more so, than NYC. You may want to up your ante a bit.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@Jake Reinhardt Thank you, I will definitely keep note of your hard-won advice! It will help me not to lose motivation. $10,000 is really what I consider the minimum we will be able to save, so hopefully we will wind up doing better than that.

@Jake Reinhardt Yeah also not to deflate that bubble further, but big-city landlords can be pretty nuts on the income/credit requirements. Like if you showed up to DC and said “We have $10,000 and no jobs!” I doubt you would be able to find anyone to take you without at least a co-signer.

(I’m speaking as someone who HAS a job, thank you, but bad credit, and whose girlfriend is from stupid Europe and so has no stupid credit score, and we had a hell of a time finding a place. Though we did end up with something awesome in the end.)

@stuffisthings (hahah also I know Atlanta is bigger than DC but YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN)

@Amanda T
Yes, you will need all the monies. But it’s not hard to maybe find a short term sublet for when y’all first get up here so that you don’t have to commit to a lease too quickly.

LizF (#1,399)

My boyfriend and I are planning a cross-country move to Oakland and have been for months but are experiencing the same setbacks (I had a minor surgery, spotty work and bronchitis this summer that put me out of work and money for most of July).

We don’t have the same lofty goals of 10k or a trip to Europe beforehand as the article writer but also when I finally got full time work he got laid off so we’ll see how living on half my take-home goes, I guess.

Definitely our dedication to doing the nice things we would have done before he was jobless and I was laid up (like having barbecues and ordering takeout more often than we should, my going out for beers with my friends) as well as our grocery habit (he buys these granola bars that are $1.50 a bar- like 10 bars a week- and it drives me NUTS) add to our delayed moving plans.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@LizF Good luck! My boyfriend buys $1.50 energy bars, too, so I feel your pain!

alpacasloth (#108)

Good luck! I wish you all the best with your plan. I know how easy it is to get comfortable. I lived at home for two years after school and did the long distance thing with my boyfriend. I worked retail for awhile, then a part-time internship, and mostly just ate/shopped/drank my money away. I didn’t save anything by living at home, which was stupid, but when I got a job offer for a real, full time job in my hometown, I turned it down to move in with my boyfriend. I didn’t have any job prospects so I temped for a year, but it ended up being the best decision I ever made. I have a good job now, we’re happy together, and my parents have their house to themselves. Keep us posted!

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I love stories like this! I think it’s because I love the idea of starting over in a new place. I’m not sure how serious you are about Australia but I’ve been researching a similar move and the signs look pretty good. It’s an expensive move to make initially but after that initial shock your options are great. The visa system is really uncomplicated, particularly for young people. I’m not sure if you’re under 30, but if so you can get a 1 year visa to do literally any job. The currency exchange is a little rough on American dollars but once you’re there you’ll probably double what you’re making now just doing casual work. Unemployment is super low and depending on your skills you would probably have your pick of options employment wise. My income situation is similar to yours and I’m strongly considering this move, so basically what I’m saying is…be my guinea pigs? Just kidding. Looking forward to updates on your journey.

meg (#329)

@EvanDeSimone yep, move to Australia! where the sun shines and the minimum wage is $16/hour.

cat1788 (#1,809)

@EvanDeSimone the cost of living in Australia is quite high, but so are the wages. Finding somewhere to live in one of the cooler suburbs is usually pretty easy and if you move into a sharehouse, there’s often furniture shared already so you only need to buy the bare minimum. Also, people are really nice :)

hollysh (#2,108)

@EvanDeSimone I moved to Sydney a year ago to finish up my undergraduate degree. I’ve been waitressing 15-17 hours a week at a fancy-ish restaurant and making enough money to cover my relatively cheap rent, all of my expenses and have money left over for fun times and beer and whatnot. Sydney is quite expensive but I’m getting paid $20-$27 (I get paid more for weekends) an hour plus tips and the city is sooooo livable. There’s a reason why Australia is crawling with American expats. DO IT! The only downside is that it’s really, really far away and you have to factor in annual or bi-annual plane tickets to visit home.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@EvanDeSimone We are weighing many options right now, so we’re not sure where we’ll end up! Australia sounds amazing, maybe a great place to save up money to pay down student debt?

Wherever we go, I don’t want to go somewhere that will be a waste of time, where we exist but do not progress. I feel like doing casual work might be fun but ultimately fruitless. We have wasted a lot of time already. Maybe I could apply to grad school in Australia? Hmm…

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@hollysh
As a Sydney resident myself I find this amazing – where are you working/what are you doing for that kind of hourly rate?
@Amanda T The wages sound great but the cost of living – craaayyy. Unless you’re willing to head to a cheapie suburb or are OK with share housing (good luck as a couple with finding a place – this is a road more easily traveled for singles). Handy tip for city living: check out Ultimo – it’s the cheapest suburb within the CBD postcode (you’re looking at studios around the $300/wk mark, most likely share laundry and no stove or oven in the “kitchen”).
Another tip: don’t bother with car ownership (in Sydney).

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@Amanda T
Best thing I can think of if you’re heading to Australia – move to the Central Coast of NSW or the Mid North Coast (somewhere like Port Macquarie). Rent is jaw-droppingly cheap and if you’re cool with waitressing/retail/tourism-type positions, you’ll find a job ASAP and have loads of spare cash (wages are lower but not that much lower than the cities with ridiculous rents so cheap rent = paying down debt!).
This is a thing I am considering as a Sydney-dweller except you really need a car out there.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@Amanda T
And if you move to Aus this is how your boyfriend may turn out after a while if he “goes native” : http://mumbrella.com.au/a-guide-to-the-archetypal-australian-male-through-the-work-of-ben-wood-113927
(not fancy with the links but it’s a laugh).

Loren (#2,103)

Good luck, it’s a nice idea! Try to do as much research as you can remotely from Atlanta, though, to anticipate expenses

sockhop (#546)

I really liked this piece. I’ve also been itching to move out of Atlanta for a couple of years (have officially been here for 6), but something (financial) always seems to happen to make it a non-option for the immediate future. Sometimes I like to think of it as Atlanta refusing to let me go!

I really do love this place (it’s my second home) but want to get moving while I’m still motivated. My boyfriend, however, is from Georgia and is super-hesitant to move away from his friends & family. Additionally, I just got a new job that’s in my career path and is absolutely wonderful. It’s hard to realistically think of moving when I don’t want to leave the job, really, even though I am so itchy to live in a place with reliable transit (!) and more walkability. So, I’m jealous of your supportive significant other and ability to move on!

There have to be other Atlantans in this joint, we should have a Billfold meet-up?

jane lane (#281)

@sockhop I would go to that!

I’d love to get out of Atlanta too, because I’ve lived in Georgia forever and need a change. For now I’ll settle for moving ITP, since I’m too scared to move somewhere without a job.

Onlyasandwich (#2,107)

@jane lane Atlanta Billfold fun! I moved here earlier this year looking for a job, and am enjoying the city. Still no job, but Atlanta has treated me well with plenty of new friends.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@sockhop I will probably miss my family (who all live here) when I leave, but I think it will be worth it.

If anyone wants to do a Billfold meetup, I’m down for that! I don’t think I know anyone else here who reads The Billfold/The Hairpin/The Awl so it would be interesting to meet up. You can email me at atamas1 at gmail dot com anytime.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@Amanda T (oops sorry that’s aatamas1 at gmail dot com)

t-square (#1,401)

@Amanda T Ohhhh, Atlanta. I’m late to the game – I have been here nine years (!!!!) and have a love-hate relationship that is shifting more towards hate. I live downtown and work in midtown. Biggest problem – we own a condo, and it’s worth about 1/3 of what we bought it for, UGH. FYI, there is an Atlanta Hairpinners facebook group and we occasionally will meet up for coffee. Sometimes I love the Billfold more than the Hairpin, shhh.

Heyyyy Atlanta! I’ve only been here about ten months, but it bums me out to hear that so many people hate it. I love this place. It’s an underdog city compared to the other big ones, but it’s totally unique and beautiful and fun.

I totally wish we could have hab a billfold meetup while I was looking for a new apartment last month and going nuts though. I’ve gone from Decatur to Inman park to boulevard and now finally virginia highlands. someone tells me there’s a bar nearby with $3 pitchers, let’s go there. (all of my money saving tips are where to get cheap pitchers).

And I think $35k should be plenty for two people here. I’m supporting my boyfriend on $ 21k with help from my parents. Not fun, but we still get to go out and order pizza sometimes.

kellyography (#250)

I just went to Atlanta for the first time this summer and I really liked it, especially Decatur. I can imagine that the politics would get to me, though. I’ve been in NYC for 6 years and it is definitely wearing thin for me.

sockhop (#546)

@kellyography I live in Decatur! It really is where it’s greater, the tagline doesn’t lie.

Jeni Vidi Vici (#1,121)

Maybe that was just a throwaway line about depression and self-destructive behavior, but I have learned to be super wary of thinking that a new job/city/apartment/etc. will handle my or my S.O.’s depression/self destruction/anxiety/whatever. Sometimes changing my life totally helps with my issues! Sometimes I just end up bringing my issues with me into my new circumstances because I’m changing external stuff when I should really be changing internal stuff.

bluewindgirl (#1,036)

My last trip to Europe (an academic conference) I decided I was officially too old for hostels. The particular hostel I had researched and was staying in was clean, well-run, had working showers and free wi-fi, all good stuff. The average age of my dormmates was probably 19. I tried to be the cool, well-traveled adult, but instead I became the embarrassed, crotchety Old. Thing is, I probably will stay in hostels again, too old or not, because my income thinks I’m 22.

Tommy (#2,290)

I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant of other people. You and your bf both sound like intolerant douchebags. So you have a problem with people who have different political opinions than you?

Enjoy your sky-high rent in Williamsburg or whatever hipster neighborhood you overpay for. I’m sure you’ll be very happy in your new echo chamber.

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