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Meet a Reader | Marlene of Manhattan

Reader Marlene lives in Manhattan, which is a place that is not known for being affordable! But, she’s making it work.

Here’s Marlene!

1. Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a single, 70-something Manhattanite living in a rental apartment in a co-op building.
I never dreamed of living in New York but stayed after finishing college here.

Best. Decision. Ever.

manhattan skyline.

I’ve got a view of the Hudson River–even if it’s somewhat obstructed—in both my bedroom and living room.

I’ve been involved in business and leisure travel publishing since 1991.

And after decades working in journalism, PR, marketing and corporate communications, and creating and running a health and wellness blog, I currently work part time for a business travel publication.

marlene and jordi savall.

I got to meet one of my favorite musicians, Jordi Savall, at a free concert at Juilliard.

After completing treatment for cancer in 2014, I ended up in a wheelchair due to side-effects that still exist.

Going from being very independent to dependent on others is a major life change with which I still struggle.

woman in wheelchair.

Getting around New York City is challenging for the mobility impaired, but luckily you
can sometimes get on busses with special accommodations.

2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?

I think it was around 2013.

3. How did you get interested in saving money?

Necessity. Growing up with a single mom, money was tight.

Working as an independent contractor at times, I had no choice but to be frugal when I had no idea how much money would be coming in or when.

4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?

Getting the most value for my money.

I read something that said you should determine how much you earn per hour and then translate that into how many hours of work it would cost you to buy something.  

That was a real A-Ha moment for me and a strategy I still use.

5. What’s your best frugal win?

I took the time to fully research Medicare before deciding which coverage to get in addition to the basic Plan A/B.

I opted for the Supplemental/Medigap plan. This turned out to be a real lifesaver as I was diagnosed with cancer within months of signing up. I would be carrying huge medical debt had I not done that.

ingrid and her sons.

I am fortunate to have a wonderful home health aide, Ingrid, shown here with her two sons, all of whom I think of as family after almost a decade together!

I look at the cost of healthcare insurance as an investment in myself.

6. What’s the biggest challenge for you in saving money?

Preventing food waste. Cooking for one with only a small freezer is challenging.


Frittatas and stir-frys are my go-tos for using leftovers to avoid food waste.

7. What’s an embarrassing money mistake you’ve made?

Periods of credit card debt over the years.

8. What’s one thing you splurge on?

Getting out to events is now more expensive as I must hire someone to take me and transportation can also be costly.

S0, streaming services for movies, concerts and events are a money-saving option. The total cost of streaming my favorites is still less than what I paid for basic cable TV!

I save as much as 40% or more by paying annually for a subscription.

9. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?

Clothing, jewelry or cosmetics. I’ve accumulated enough over the years.

10. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?

I’d put it aside to pay for expensive essential things I need such as taxis; for hiring aides and for services for things that I can no longer do for myself.

11. What’s the best/worst parts of being frugal?

Worst: Carefully tracking what you spend. So time-consuming.
Best: Having $ for the things that matter. Being able to pay my bills.

12. Is there anything unique about frugal living in your area?

I live in the most expensive borough in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. The cost of living, most notably housing, was/is very high. You have to work to save money—and be lucky, especially with housing.

But…there are ways to enjoy all (concerts, theater, sporting events and tons of other things) the city has to offer. I track free events, discounts and promotions.

view of zebras.

The famous Zabars, a few blocks from my apartment, offers good value—and free samples.

We have fabulous parks in every borough, two of the best–Central and Riverside—are just blocks away. Just walking around this city is free and amazing.

riverside park.

You may recognize the People’s Garden in Riverside Park from the final scene in You’ve Got Mail.

Shakespeare in the Park and Restaurant Week are just two free or discounted events I’ve enjoyed over the years.

restaurant week ad.

You can sample the menu of some of the city’s top restaurants at discounted prices during Restaurant Weeks. Sometimes you can even earn cash back.

Other favorites: Discounted tickets to opera rehearsals and free tickets to dance, music and play events at Juilliard, where you can catch a glimpse of tomorrow’s stars.

Shakespeare in the park event.

The Delacorte Theater in Central Park hosts Shakespeare in the Park, one of the city’s favorite summer freebies.

13. How else do you save money?

As a true New Yorker, I’m always on the lookout for the best price. I use a variety of price-tracking apps in my browser to see the lowest prices for items.

I have a discounted (half price) senior Metro card that’s good for some public transportation. I search for any senior discounts wherever I shop. I sign up for free product/service memberships where you get periodic free items and/or birthday gifts.

I do cash back with Retail Me Not and Rakuten. And I have the CVS Care Pass.

I shop almost exclusively from what’s on sale weekly and what’s in season; maintain a pantry; carefully use Amazon Subscribe and Save; and search for special promotions and freebies for items I buy frequently.

14. What frugal tips have you tried and abandoned?


15. What single action or decision has saved you the most money over your life?

Against everyone urging me to buy, I did NOT buy the shares in my apartment when the building turned co-op.

I estimated that between the cost of mortgage, taxes and maintenance (which was anticipated to rise significantly due to the condition of the 1923 building, and has), I might not be able to afford escalating costs over time given that my income has varied considerably over the years.

16. What is something you wish more people knew?

How much you really spend versus what you think you spend. Most of us underestimate the total $ we spend if we don’t regularly track our expenditures.

17. How has reading the Frugal Girl changed you?

It has made me focus even more on the things and people for which I am grateful.

18. Which is your favorite type of post at the Frugal Girl and why?

Thankful Thursdays, Five Frugal Things and the reader profile columns. The tips and shared wisdom from Kristen and readers are inspiring and motivating. And fun!

I also love the DIY posts. I am in awe of Kristen’s ability to transform objects.

19. What are some of your best travel tips?


-Do not confuse “direct” with “nonstop” when booking a flight. Nonstop gets you from Point A to Point B with no stops. On a direct flight, you remain on the same plane but it may land and take off at one or more airports, which ups the risks of delays and other complications.

View of clouds from a plane window.


-Book the earliest flight out for your destination. If there are delays or cancellations, you’ll have a better chance of getting rebooked the same day.

-If there is any chance you will be traveling to a destination that requires a new or renewal passport, apply ASAP. There’s been a huge backlog in processing and turnaround times (currently 10 to 13 weeks for regular handling and 7 to 9 weeks for what the State Department calls “expedited.”). There are services that say they can turn around in a few days (for a hefty fee), but even they have been known to miss promised delivery dates.

This passport bit is major as many folks, especially those who travel infrequently, have missed trips due to poor planning when needing a new or renewal passport.


Marlene, I loved getting a peek into your life since it is so different than mine!

I smiled at some of the similar ways we save money, though; like by looking for free activities, use the CVS Carepass, and avoiding food waste. We do a lot of the same things, even though Manhattan is quite different from my suburb. 🙂 

I understand the independent contractor life; I’ve been self-employed for so long, the idea of a consistent paycheck seems rather foreign. When I get my first nursing job, that part will feel weird! 

I can imagine the challenges that come with being in a wheelchair and I applaud the way you are not letting that stop you from getting out and about! 

Have you always lived in this building in NYC?

Readers, the floor is yours!

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Wednesday 7th of June 2023

Marlene, I really enjoyed reading this and all of the subsequent comments. I’m usually late to the party which means that everyone else has already said what I planned to say… but no one has commented on how absolutely gorgeous your hair color is! You have got a great head of hair lady!

I am in the process of having to move from the mountains of Arizona to another location. I hope I am able to find a spot that has me as content as you seem to be in New York City.

Thanks again for such a lovely read, and for taking so much time to answer all the comments!

Sherrie Nicholson

Tuesday 6th of June 2023

Loved reading about you. I too have had recent life changes. A stroke in 2017 left me unable to use my dominate side. I am out of the wheelchair now and can walk slowly with a cane but will never have use of my dominate arm and hand. I miss old lefty! But, thank goodness for reading this and other helpful blogs I've survived on much less income since I couldn't go back to my fast-paced job! I live in the midwest so life is very different for me. I really enjoyed your travel tips!


Tuesday 6th of June 2023

@Sherrie Nicholson, Recovering from any kind of stroke may be one of the most daunting things anyone can face. I hope you continue to recover and that not being able to use your left hand becomes less challenging. We are more able to adapt than we give ourselves credit for but hey, let's not kid ourselves about how daunting it is. (Just getting in and out of the chair for the bathroom with my ever decreasingly strong legs is a constant reminder. Luckily for once a small bathroom is a GOOD thing and I have it set up with multiple items to hold onto.)

Glad you enjoyed the travel tips. People who travel a lot know, from experience, about the pitfalls. But infrequent travelers are often unaware of some basics. I worked for several years for an international travel company writing columns with tips and such and now work for someone who is probably among the top three experts in the field so I have been exposed to a lot of information.

In many ways our lives differ by where we live, how we live, what we do for work, but in the end, really, we're all more similar in what concerns us about the quality of our lives. And that's what it's all about: quality of life. As we define it.

I wish that you get all the resources you need to live, as Oprah says, "Your best life."

Anita Isaac

Tuesday 6th of June 2023

loved your post. sorry for your health issues. a bunch of years ago, right before a family trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas, I discovered my passport had expired. It was so difficult to renew it in Manhattan where I live, that I had to go to Philadelphia. Got the new passport that day.

am so glad you have an aide whom you trust and who takes good care of you. that is very important. all the best to you.


Tuesday 6th of June 2023

@Anita Isaac, Brilliant solution. Go elsewhere! Honestly, that never even occurred to me!

Today, however, wherever you are, there's still a backlog. Understaffing or no staffing since Covid has wreaked havoc with some aspects of travel.

I didn't mention how airlines have cut back on routes and overall capacity. It's going to be an interesting summer. Last year was a nightmare.


Tuesday 6th of June 2023

Thank you, Marlene, for contributing.

I have always loved the depth and breadth of The Frugal Girl's Meet a Reader posts.

Your sharing has been one of my favorites, We have many differences, but I so enjoy seeing how commonly held goals (best life for your buck achieved with careful and creative spending) is achieved in different ways.

I am single woman on the cusp of retirement, living in a small midwestern town who will be looking at some health limitations in the future and need to make wise decisions. I've kind of resigned my self to a limited life at closer to home. Your post has given me food for thought and put some wind in my sails. Please know that you have greatly encoruaged one person. Thank you so much.


Tuesday 6th of June 2023

@Mitzie, Oh, Mitzie, thank you. Our lives take on different "shapes" due to health (you don't have to be in a wheelchair or have mobility issues to have daily, ongoing challenges ) and it is sometimes very very tough to keep going and not let our lives shrink.

I think part of the key to thriving (surviving is NOT enough) is finding support. I belong to an ongoing, online cancer support group of women. We don't always have solutions but we do always have words of recognition, encouragement and hope for each other. As a mentor for other cancer patients, I ended up being close friends with a woman in Arizona. Very different backgrounds and work/family histories, but we became real pals. She passed in November and I tell you, I was crushed. It was another cancer and it was sudden and unexpected. The conversations we had about things that were on our mind were just so great. Everyone needs someone like that and I hope you have someone.

It is so important to get support. I have no family and my friends, bless them, live all over and have crazy busy lives with their kids and work. But their acknowledgment of the challenges I (and many of them) face helps us just moving through and along.

It is hard to not let your life "shrink." I mean you don't want to hear how many times a day, after 9 years, I keep saying: "I miss my daily baths. I want to get a bath again." I'm never not gonna miss them, walking in the park or dancing around my apartment as I used to do daily.

And let no one glamorize my life or my strength or positivity. I have moments of railing against things and honestly, I have never really accepted being in a wheelchair. Even though it is clear nine years later, that things not only will not get better but unfortunately, as I learned last week, could get worse. But that's OK. I can get crazy frustrated but then it releases me to move on. Denying our feelings is where it gets tricky. Pretending our lives don't outright suck about some things? It sucks and then we figure out what we can do. It isn't easy and it isn't always doable. I'm lucky in that I've lived alone and gone my own way so much of the time. Being inside for Covid was nothing new for me. But we all want to be part of a larger world than our own heads and feelings. AND...ironically, focusing on how to help others with things is a very good way to pull ourselves out of our own heads, which we must do for our own sanity.

But we learn to grieve and mourn the life we had, the person we were (because any major health issue changes us in ways we don't always even understand or are aware of. Honestly, I'm still uncovering aspects and it amazes me.)

If you can, try as hard as you can to still do things you enjoy. If you can't, find new sources of joy. (I have started following a few people online who live abroad and it's like taking a weekly vicarious trip to see friends. It's a different type of community but still, in its way, a connector.)

I'm also big on watching theater, music and other types of events online. The pandemic had one good thing in that venues/organizations started to offer things either live or recorded to stream online. Is it the same as being there? No. still provides access.

You deserve joy and peace and connection. Don't forget that. Set the intention of finding what you need. You never know who or what will show up in your life!


Erika JS

Tuesday 6th of June 2023

Thanks for participating in this awesome series, Marlene. I just loved hearing about all of the joyful activities of your days. At the same time, you brought out important information about mobility issues and started a very interesting discussion of a topic that sooner or later might apply to any of us. And, with such a positive attitude!


Tuesday 6th of June 2023

@Erika JS, Thank you, Erika. Yes, mobility issues is a discussion for everyone, everywhere, all the time (to paraphrase the movie) because sooner or later one will experience it either for themselves or for a loved one.

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