I read with interest your piece on the scrabble to make ends meet among the upper echelons of the New York media (“ The Gig Economy,” January 12, 2009). Would it be impertinent of me to offer some advice to you and your readers? As someone who has been working as a freelancer for 25 years (with a brief interlude at Vanity Fair), I am in a position to pass on a few tips.
You probably aren’t aware of this, but there is a network of underground trains that runs beneath the city called “the subway.”
You point out that many grandees—yourself included, I assume—are having to work “three times as hard for the same amount of money” in order to make “the Nut”—the cost of maintaining your affluent lifestyles. Has it occurred to you, I wonder, to reduce the size of “the Nut"? It is in this area that I may be of some assistance.
Let’s begin with transportation. Incredible as it may sound, a Lincoln Town Car is not the only way to get around. You probably aren’t aware of this, but there is a network of underground trains that runs beneath the city called “the subway.” (No, I’m not making this up.) For $2 you can travel any distance you like.
Similar savings are available when it comes to delivering important packages, such as “thank you” gifts to Hollywood stars. Up until now, you’ve probably used FedEx or DHL, but believe it or not, there is a cheaper alternative. It’s called “the USPS”—or the United States Postal Service.
The list of restaurants you’d consider visiting for lunch is probably quite small—The Four Seasons, Michael’s, etc.—but there are some alternatives. They’re called “diners,” and you can find them on almost every street corner.
You probably don’t do your own grocery shopping, but you should tell your maid that she doesn’t have to go to Whole Foods or Dean & DeLuca. Next door to almost every diner you’ll find a store called a “deli,” and while these are nothing like the delicatessens we’re used to back in Europe, they sell a similar range of produce to the upmarket grocery stores. The apples may be slightly less shiny, but they taste exactly the same.
Do you see a pattern here? Until now, the universe you’ve existed in has been quite small, consisting of a few upmarket stores, high-visibility restaurants, and premium service companies. All these businesses charge more than their competitors for the simple reason that they can. Their customers remain loyal to them because choosing the most expensive array of products and services is a high-status indicator.
However, in the current climate, that no longer holds true. Thanks to the credit crunch, any ostentatious display of wealth, whether sitting at a high-visibility booth at Michael’s or leaving your Town Car idling by the curb outside a book party, is now deeply unfashionable. If you do ever get around to using the subway, you’ll be surprised at how often you bump into people you know, some of them quite wealthy.
Once you’ve been able to break your high-spending habits, you’ll be amazed by the reduction in your “Nut.” Remember, your daughter’s wedding dress doesn’t have to be a Vera Wang. Your second home doesn’t have to be in Greenwich, Conn. It’s no longer a source of shame to “fly commercial.” We have entered a belt-tightening age, and one of the few upsides is that wasteful behavior, which was once considered de rigueur, can be dispensed with without any corresponding loss in status.
See you at the five-and-dime.
P.S. No matter how satisfied you are with the ride, it is not done to tip the drivers of subway trains.