I don’t usually write question and answer columns. (Although I have once or twice before.) I do read every single question that people send me. And these are three questions I’ve been answering a lot lately.

Q: Why do you pay $50,000 a year for a house manager?

A: The short answer is that I am buying a stay-at-home wife. Most people, who are at a similar spot in their career and have young kids at home, have a stay-at-home wife. (This is, of course, because I have the type of career that is dominated by men, and women without kids.)

I know you are thinking that most stay-at-home wives are taking care of kids. But almost all kids are in school most of the day. But the women are still busy. They are doing the infinite number of things required to run a household. Here is a sampling of things that I am sure that none of the startup CEOs I met with last week thought about for one second:

–What should we get my niece for her birthday?
–Who is the best teacher to request for third grade?
–Should the kids have private swimming lessons or is group okay?
–What’s the best way to train the dog not to pee on the sofa?

Those questions actually require thinking and planning, and they are constant. Running a house is like running a business, and very few people can do both well.

And then there’s grocery shopping. Do you actually enjoy it? Why not decide what your time is worth, and decide if you are actually going to grocery shop over the million other things you could do. It’s all a question of priorities, and for me, most things that are high priorities do not cost money, they cost time.

So instead of asking yourself why I’m paying $50K for household management, ask yourself why you are not paying for that, because it’s a bargain — salary.com says that a stay-at-home mom is worth $135,000 a year. Also, for those of you who have the coveted stay-at-home spouse, thank that person, because you’re getting all the work done for free, and you’re getting sex, too.

Q: Why does it cost so much to live in New York City?

A: I write a lot about how expensive it is to live in NYC because the majority of people in their twenties say they want to live there. And then, when I say something like when I was making $200,000 I was at the edge of poverty in NYC, people (who have never lived in NYC) tell me I’m crazy.

The first thing you need to understand is that visiting NYC does not give anyone the experience of what it’s like to live in NYC. For example, most New Yorkers don’t take cabs because they don’t have enough disposable income to do that, unless it’s a treat. And most New Yorkers do not live in an apartment as big as the hotel room you have at the Hilton.

Another thing you need to understand is that everything in NYC costs at least $2, because shelf space is so expensive that there is no way any store owner can stock anything he couldn’t sell for at least $2. Watch what you buy for a week–all the things that are less than $2 where you live. They are not so inexpensive in NYC.

The other thing you need to understand is that people become like the people they hang around. We know this is true for a wide range of qualities. For example, if you hang around fat people, you’ll become more fat. If you hang around successful people, you’ll be more successful. All because you start to value the things that people around you value.

So I’m going to tell you how life is in NYC, and you would think you’d never do that, but you would, if you lived there. Here are some examples:

You would eat out every meal. Really. It’s just how things are done. Home kitchens are small, takeout is cheap, and you pass a great fast-food opportunity every fifteen yards.

You will pay $300 a month to park your car somewhere that’s an hour away, just so you can still get away from the city on the weekend. You will do this because life in NYC is fun and interesting but claustrophobic. You will never afford an apartment with space, so you will substitute weekend getaways for space.

You will pay $150 for your haircut. You will tell yourself you’ll just do it once, because everyone else is. And then you will love it. Because it really does make a huge difference. And then you will get them all the time.

Q: How can I change careers without taking a pay cut?

A: You cannot change careers without taking a pay cut. It is childish to ask this question. So stop asking it. Instead, live below your means so you are not a slave to your career choice. Everyone can cut back on what they are spending. Everyone. Life is about difficult choices, if you are not willing to cut back on anything—your big house, those expensive dance lessons, fun family vacations—then you essentially are cutting back on your workplace engagement. You are saying that it’s more important to buy all the stuff you’re buying than it is to be engaged in your most rewarding work.

In most cases, really, you get more bang for your buck by switching to a career you like than staying in something else for 20 years just to live what is your fantasy of adult life. Because really, adult life is not about getting all the things that make you look stable and successful. Adult life is about constantly making difficult decisions about what you are going to give up.

So stop thinking about career changes without pay cuts. It’s impossible. Some of you will say in the comments section that you did it without a pay cut. I challenge that: I think people who make career changes without pay cuts actually do both careers at the same time in some capacity, for a while. In that case, the cost—the pay cut—is really your time: all the other things you did not do while you did both careers. (I did it that way. It’s a great way to ensure you don’t take a pay cut, but also it removes all time for friends.)

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  1. Flo
    Flo says:

    My goodness, I totally agree with your answer to the 3rd question! I’m so sick of listening to people saying this: “Follow your passion and the money will follow”…. and they forgot to mention the key word “later”. And you are absolutely right, for people who did not have to give up a pay cut did it by pursuing 2 careers at the same time. I think the only other person who have spoken about this is Hayhouse author Cheryl Richardson. I just wish that people are more honest about this because many of us really thought that it is possible to quit our job and immediately turn into a success! Thank God, I have realised this!

  2. Kathy | Virtual Impax
    Kathy | Virtual Impax says:

    When my sister lived in NYC – her apartment did not come with a kitchen! Being from the midwest – she was kind of in shock considering what she was paying in rent for the place. However, her husband who was a native just accepted it. They didn’t make enough money to rent a place with a kitchen. Two years later, when they moved to Chicago -they bought a 3 bedroom 2 bath home on the river.

    So -yeah – NYC is expensive. My sister’s experience cut that bloom off that rose REAL quick. She said the hardest part was getting used to people spitting on you – randomly! UGH!

  3. Zibby
    Zibby says:

    Hi,
    I was just interested to know how you came by the $135,000 salary figure for a stay-at-home mom… I couldn’t seem to figure it out on salary.com.
    Thanks a lot!
    I really enjoy your site!

  4. RedEye
    RedEye says:

    This is *really* a conversation about *priorities*, not about whether you can live in X place for $Y.

    PT’s priorities while living in NYC may or may not match your own. Her choices were simply her choices, whether it was having children, paying $150 for a haircut, or living in Brooklyn. She could have made many different choices, but those are the ones she made and she concluded NYC didn’t work for her based on her priorities.

    I’ve said it before here several times and I’ll say it again: if you’re struggling with these issues, pick up a copy of Lawler Kang’s “Passion At Work”.

  5. dr aletta
    dr aletta says:

    #1 I couldn’t afford a house manager but I got lucky and married a guy (we’re both professionals) who takes full partnership in child rearing and house management (and we both enjoy the sex too). Men like him do exist, even if they are rare.
    #2 Living in NYC as a twenty something single is totally different from rearing a family there. Until you’ve actually done it please stop saying you can do it on the cheap.
    #3 It never ceases to amaze me how people think they can have it all without making sacrifices. Maybe it’s because there’s a lot of pop psychology out there that says “You Can Have It All!” and never age and be thin too. It’s refreshing to hear someone say, Nope, you can’t have it all but you can have what’s important if you man up take responsibility.

  6. jg
    jg says:

    The house manager, earning $50,000, is probably just skimming by in NYC. Does she have a family of her own to manage?

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The best Q. and A. (How can I change careers without taking a pay cut?) in my opinion got the least amount of comments. Go figure. Every word in that Q. and A. resonated with me and I couldn’t have said it better. Life is about difficult choices … and the personal responsibilities that go along with those choices. It makes life difficult … and interesting at the same time.

  8. Jim
    Jim says:

    Realistic advice, Penelope, on changing careers and pay cuts, especially in this economic climate. What was in the Greenspan-induced spending frenzy years will probably never be again – at least not in my lifetime. Thanks!

  9. Eve
    Eve says:

    I have a good question…when is the next blog post coming? What am I supposed to do if I want to kill 10 minutes when I’m up against a deadline? Missing you, Penelope.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such a funny question. Thank you for making me laugh. It’s hard to make me laugh when I am totally stressed about not posting all week. Thanks.

      –Penelope

  10. jennyg
    jennyg says:

    Um.. why on earth would anyone OWN a car in NYC? That’s what rental cars are for. So: point for stupidity.

    Why on earth would anyone not cook? That’s the number one way to save money. And you do not need space to cook some stuff. Point two.

    But I see why you’d have to pay out the nose to live on a very, very expensive island- so you don’t have to live next to fat people. Your greatest fear. Good luck in Wisconsin! Keep being mean or a fat person might (shudder) SIT NEXT TO YOU and you’ll catch the Fat Cooties!!!! And a fat Penelope Trunk = what’s left after the looks = not much, as evidenced by posts like this.

  11. suburban planner
    suburban planner says:

    Isn’t this why many people who work in NYC actually live in New Jersey? At least, there is good public transportation available there so no one really needs to have a car, thereby saving a ton of money on insurance, maintenance, and parking.

  12. Susan
    Susan says:

    I have a low-budget version of your house manager, but I have less house to manage. I call him my “rental husband.” He cleans, runs errands, helps me paint walls, finds me contractors (who all seem to be his cousins), calls me when things I like are on sale, helps me pick out “window treatments” (crikey, aren’t they just curtains?). All for anywhere between $15-$25/hour. (I’m not in New York; I’m just outside Boston.)

    New York expenses. The thing I read that made the most sense was someone who said that in New York, you trade comfort for experience. I lived there for seven years and saw the best and worst of everything I could become. It was a wonderful place for that stage of my life and I’ve debated moving back at some point. (Keeping an eye on my elderly mother keeps me elsewhere for now.) And yes, I never cooked in NYC when I lived there. It was cheaper to eat out at my local diner.

    Living below your means … I just bought a condo and I spent HALF of what I was approved for by my mortgage guy. Sure, it’s a less chic neighborhood than the one I was eyeing, but it has more upside potential and I love having a small mortgage.

    Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to ramble. Love the blog.

  13. Susan
    Susan says:

    bullshit. my husband and i each earn around 50k in nyc and live in a nice, 3 bedroom apartment, WITH an eat in kitchen in a very hip neighborhood in brooklyn and still have plenty of money to live. WITHOUT roommates. do we have to budget? yes. do we have to sacrifice everything? hell no.

    anyone making 40k and living with 5 roommates in nyc must be lighting their money on fire and then bitching about how they can’t make ends meet. please. stop pretending like nyc is some unmanageable beast. take some time to look for a decent apartment and quit whining already.

  14. Kaneisha | The Dream Catcher: Advice for Crazy Girls and the People Who Love Us
    Kaneisha | The Dream Catcher: Advice for Crazy Girls and the People Who Love Us says:

    I’m 25 and unmarried but I would LOVE a household manager–someone to return my jeans that don’t actually fit, clean, cook dinner, grocery shop, etc. However, I think that it would also be nice to have more control over my time so that I could work those chores into my schedule without it being a big hassle. I hate doing most of those things anyway, but if I could do them when I wanted, it would be a little better. I don’t blame you at all for having one!

  15. download norton antivirus
    download norton antivirus says:

    “Life is about difficult choices, if you are not willing to cut back on anything – your big house, those expensive dance lessons, fun family vacations – then you essentially are cutting back on your workplace engagement.”

    life is, after all, about choices. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one in order to have the other. You can’t have everything.

  16. John
    John says:

    Q: Why do you pay $50,000 a year for a house manager?

    A: You’re pretentious and self-aggrandizing, trying to make yourself seem like a something when you’re a nothing.

    Q: Why does it cost so much to live in New York City?

    A: See answer to No. 1

    Q: How can I change careers without taking a pay cut?

    Depends what career you want and where you are in the one you have now. Nicholas Sparks certainly didn’t take a pay cut when he became a writer.

  17. personal statement medical school
    personal statement medical school says:

    "Those questions actually require thinking and planning, and they are constant. Running a house is like running a business, and very few people can do both well."

    Many don't realize that keeping a household is a big and inevitable responsibility for wives/mothers and it's not the only responsibility they have. It wouldn't be a bad idea if they could get (or pay for) a little help.

  18. Dan
    Dan says:

    My wife has taught swimming lessons to little kids and was often paid on the side for “private” one on one lessons. Group lessons are OK, but think about it, the lower the teacher to pupil ratio, the more attention and better swimmers they will become. She learned her swimming in Green Bay as a little child, forced down her throat by her mother.

    Ironically, even though she was a swim instructor, she resents that she was forced to learn swimming and, much like your travel to the Caribbean and Europe, your kids may grow to resent these forced activities as well.

  19. Dan
    Dan says:

    Also, I disagree about the comment about intercourse and stay at home mothers. Since my wife has been staying at home with our three month old, she has told me, because she stays at home, she does not “feel attractive” to engage in such activities. So, I guess I should pay someone else for it instead???

  20. Maria
    Maria says:

    Interesting comments.. I think one key observation is that NYC is exactly not like the rest of the country and if one wants to live in a relatively big house with a big kitchen, and have a car, then Tuscon Arizona is a better fit. People’s lifestyle is different. New Yorkers take metro and shop for what they need for that evening/next day as opposed to driving their SUVs to load on bulk(New Yorkers even take metro to the opera, and true opera lovers use standing room for $15-$25 per ticket). Also, NYC is a true land of opportunity with one of the best public school system in the country. My husband made it to a magnet school, then an Ivy League with a full tuition scholarship and he was not even born in this country.

  21. DesertPoor
    DesertPoor says:

    I realize I’m about a year late on this post, but I find it all timely and intriguing for me. I recently had to move out of San Diego because I couldn’t live there on 2100/mo that I was bringing home unless I opted for the roommate situation, which at nearly 30, you just get sick and tired of. All the cool dive bars in the world can’t make up for having a clean kitchen to yourself, or not having to go roommate hunting every few years, or not having to put up with the part-time live-in girlfriends or boyfriends … (and having to hear things that go bump in the night…)

    It sounds like there’s a lot of parallels between NY and the west coast. I’m wondering if for those of you who moved out to the Midwest if your salary also declined along with the cost of living … And if so, what was that ratio like?

  22. mahoganyb
    mahoganyb says:

    Totally agree with you about the cost of living in NYC. Even my friends in New Jersey who are only about 20 mins away and are still living at home with their parents (when I am paying out of the nose for rent) don’t seem to get it. The get to enjoy the luxuries of NYC more than I do, even though I actually live here.

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