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How do you really ‘Dream Big and Pay the Rent?’
What is it you really love to do and could see yourself being successful at? Think about it. Now think about your personality and how it suits the pursuit of that passion. If you’re a recluse and simply can’t talk to people no matter hard you try, you’re probably not going to land a job as a publicist, movie producer, or press agent. Maybe you’re better suited as a writer. On the other hand, if having no one to talk to all day gives you suicidal thoughts, then a job as a freelance writer isn’t the best choice. You’ll need thick skin to make it on Broadway or in Hollywood. If you don’t have people skills, you shouldn’t go into management. Get it?
Adding Reality to Your Dream
Just because you’re a dreamer doesn’t mean you have to live in the clouds. There are plenty of ways to add practicality to your choices and help give yourself a little more of a foundation. Of course, first you have to decide what it is you want to do. Then, prepare for everyone and their mother to tell you why you shouldn’t embark on this dream. "It’s too unstable!" "Too much competition!" "But you have a college degree!"
Tell all of these people to take a hike. Set your sights on what it is you want and write it down. Learn everything there is to know about your ‘dream job.’ If it’s to open a teahouse, you’re going to need to know the ins and outs of tea as well as how to run a business. If you want to be an actor, you’ll need to learn everything about getting good headshots to training programs. And then, after all this hard work is done, you're going to have to figure out one more tiny little thing.
How to Pay the Rent
Generally, dreamers require flexibility for their dreams to come true. You may need to keep your days open for auditions, lunch meetings or classes. You’re still going to need a steady flow of income, but it doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in an office all day either. Of course if you do have a full-time job and are trying to pursue something on the side, it may mean waking up an hour earlier three times a week so you can work on 'your thing' or carve out designated times on weekends. For those needing more time during the day, you're going to have to find other ways to make money. While we all know about the waiter and temping thing, there are plenty of other unique and flexible jobs that offer a decent paycheck, too. Some are a little more ‘off the beaten path’ than others, but hey, we’re just trying to make a few bucks here. Take a look at these choices and see if any work for you.
Dog WalkerLike Dogs? Take ‘em for a walk at $10 a pup. Walk one three times a day and that’s $30. That’s what Robin P. started doing in New York and eventually left her job as a secretary to start her own pet sitting business. You’ll need to be licensed and bonded to start your own biz. If you specialize in celebrity dogs or offer extra grooming, the clients will pay you more. Check out The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters for more info on this fun and flexible career.
DoorpersonThis is more of a big city kind of job. The average doorman makes $25,000 a year and works approximately four eight-hour shifts a week. But wait! During the holidays, most tenants give anywhere between $25 and $200 each as cash tips, depending on the building. An apartment with say, two hundred units will yield a lot of extra cash. You do the math. The job is mostly unionized, can be very competitive and doesn’t always get the best rap, but if you’re willing to work long or off hours, you can make a decent living while shooting your independent film. Another option is that of concierge- a higher end doorperson or information specialist. This is a bit more professional in nature and you’ll need stellar customer relations skills. Tips are very good.
It's one of the best gigs in publishing, especially if you want to be a writer and are looking for a way in. A fact checker is someone who’s responsible for verifying the factual content of a feature article or news story. Every quote, every statistic, every extra lush lash mascara price, must be verified before it is published. It’s tedious work and one that requires serious attention to detail. Plan to be on the phone a lot. But it’s important work and one that will sharpen your research skills no matter what you wind up doing. This job is great for writer hopefuls and can offer very flexible schedules. Contact ‘Research’ departments of newspapers and magazines in your area. For national publications, your best bet is in NYC.
SAT TutorGo fish out your old SAT scores. Did you get anything near a 700 on either section? If so, call up your local Princeton Review or Score Prep and inquire about SAT or college prep tutoring positions. The hours are extremely flexible and the pay starts at around $20/hour. If you do this for yourself and really know your stuff, you can charge upwards of $200 a session and help with essays and applications as well.
Sunday School TeacherYou hated going as a kid, but did you ever think you could actually make money doing this? It's an easy way to express your creativity with kids, who, frankly, are sick of school and need some creative means of education. Pay starts at around $35/hour, depending on experience. Contact your local church, synagogue or place of worship to inquire about religious school teaching opportunities. The best time to do this is late summer.
Movie ExtraYou don't need your SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) card to be surrounded by celebrities if you sign up to be a movie extra. These gigs pay big in movie towns but they're easier to nab in smaller cities when movies are on location and need some local flavor. From commercials to print ads to feature films, there's always a need for warm bodies on the set. In New York City, check out Extra Talent Agency and register. In other cities, call any SAG affiliated agency to find out what's being shot in town. Do not, we repeat, do not EVER pay for acting classes from an agency in order to register. This is a scam, scam, scam!
Real Estate AgentReal estate agents in big cities (both for rentals and sales) can make a lot of cash, especially when the market's hot (um, not now). A typical broker's fee in cities like New York and San Francisco can run anywhere from 12 to 15 percent of the annual rent. Sales fees run average 6 percent. In the Living Section we talked about ways to avoid paying the broker's fee for a rental when you're the buyer...but hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! This too, is a cut throat industry and good for aggressive personalities.
Personal TrainerDo you spend a lot of time at the gym? If so, consider becoming a personal trainer. You're there anyway, right? You may be required to have a license or a degree in exercise physiology. But then you can get a job at a gym, as an in-house corporate trainer or take on your own clients. Big bucks can be made if you know what you're doing and can come up with some snappy workouts. For more info, contact the American Council on Exercise.
Trade Show DemonstratorJackpot. You want to make big bucks in a very, very short amount of time? First, ask yourself if you're personable, reasonably attractive and can memorize a sales pitch. Yes? Okay, you're in. Well, sort of. You have to find the right people to call first. Trade shows come in all shapes and sizes and can be found in big cities all over the country. Most every industry offers them, with the biggest and the most fun being toy fairs, boat shows, technology shows and food and gift expos. Generally a big trade show will last anywhere from two to five days. As a demonstrator, your job is to sell a product in a booth to the potential buyers who walk by. At the Toy Fair, you'll literally BE a toy. You'll repeat the same speech day after day and hour after hour until you're blue in the face. But the pay is unreal. A seasoned trade show demonstrator can easily make between $3,500 to $5,000 in four days. The bigger the show, the more they pay. The trick is getting your first one. So, again, if you've got spunk and personality, try calling the marketing departments of companies that interest you in various industries (boats, toys, food, etc.) and ask how to go about 'auditioning' to be a trade show demonstrator. You'll have to do a little legwork on your own as these gigs aren't advertised. This is a GREAT job for actors. It's worth it to have a headshot and acting resume if you're planning on doing a lot of these.
But What About Health Insurance?Yeah, I knew you'd ask that. Just because you don't have a full-time job doesn't mean you can't get health insurance. Lots of providers offer individual plans and, if you're relatively healthy, you can actually get a decent deal. If you're really struggling financially, consider getting 'Catastrophic Coverage', which basically means you're covered in case of a dire emergency but you won't get visits to specialists covered. It's not ideal for everyone but it does help and can make the difference between taking a job only for health insurance or really going after your dream.
What to do with your Spare Time?
So you moved to a new city, figured out where to live, found a way to make a little cash and taken care of some basic housekeeping issues. Nice going! Okay, so now what? Now all you have to do is figure out what to do when you’re not doing any of the above, right? It's a little thing we call "Free Time."
Single or not, exploring your own city is adventurous, exciting and maybe even a bit intimidating. If you don’t know anyone in your town, it’s going to be up to you to meet some people. Sure, you can do the standard after work happy hours and dinner with random relatives, but that get can annoying. If you really want to have a good time, meet some like-minded people or relish in your singledom, here are a few of our suggestions on how to make the most of your new city. These little ‘dates’ are perfect for two or just one. We don’t ever want to hear you utter the words “I’m bored” again.
The ScavengerAntiquing, renovating, stripping (furniture, that is), or discount junk shopping…there’s no better way to shop or to explore your city than by paying the local flea markets a visit. Or, look in the newspaper for estate sales in some swanky parts of town. Not only will you get an inside look at some exclusive neighborhoods, but you’ll also get deals on stuff you could never afford to buy at the store.
The Funny GuyEvery city has its funny people. And they’re usually congregating somewhere around the sketch comedy or improv theater houses. Find them. Go to their shows. They’re hysterical. And once you go to a few of these, you’ll think, “Hey, I’m funny. I could do this.” And you should. That’s when you sign up for a class. Don’t worry. Everybody sucks too. That’s what makes it even more funny. In the end of the eight or ten week session, you’ll not only gain more confidence, but you’ll acquire people and networking skills you never knew you had.
The ChefCooking classes are a great way to explore your own creativity as well as the tastes of your town, not to mention meet some other people. You can find inexpensive options offered at local colleges, universities or culinary institutes.
The Animal LoverAdopt a pet for the weekend. Before you can even utter "But I don't have the money," consider adopting a Seeing Eye Dog in training. All you have to do is prove you're normal, then provide food and shelter for a few days. The companionship is second to none even though you can't really let too many people pet your pooch when going for a walk. Call your local Humane Society to find out if this program is offered near you.
The TigerNothing like a driving range. Hitting a bucket of balls is a fun way to spend the afternoon, not to mention cheap.
The EquestrianStart with a hearty breakfast at the local diner. Then head down to the horse stables for a riding lesson. Yep, even big and expensive cities have 'em.
The HikerEven if you live in the biggest city in the world, there are still opportunities to explore nature. Whether you find them inside your city (botanical gardens, walking trails, nature centers) or travel just a short distance outside, there are beautiful and free excursions everywhere. For suggestions, check out Gorptravel's suggested list of great city hikes.
The Eternal StudentClasses, classes and more classes. Just because you graduated doesn't mean you can't learn. HTML, Wine Tasting, Screenwriting, Acting, Knitting, Woodworking, etc. Every city offers classes at a variety of price points, with free ones offered at libraries, community centers or even shops. Find your passion then find your class.
Want more tips on living, working and having fun in a big and ridiculously expensive city? Log on to and find out how to ‘Dream Big and Pay the Rent!’
Excerpted from “Making it in the City: A Girl's Guide to Your Starting Life on Your Own in a Ridiculously Expensive City You Can't Afford Can't Afford” by Adina Kalish Neufeld. Copyright 2007 Adina Kalish Neufeld. Reprinted by permission of M. Evans and Company, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publisher.