Here are some general life tips I have always provided to young women of my acquaintance:
1) SPARE KEYS
Keep spare house keys as follows:
- At the office. This only works if you have access to the building nights and weekends. Even if you don’t have a fancy desk with drawers, you can get a tiny cute lockbox thing and put a set of keys (and some tampons, some Advil, lip balm and a safety pin) in it.
- With A trusted friend. This is important: TRUSTED FRIEND. This has to be someone who will take the responsibility seriously, won’t tell other people that s/he has your keys, won’t lose them once you give them to her, and would leave the bar immediately if you called to say you’d lost your keys and needed to get them from her.
- With a neighbor: This one can be hard. I don’t even have my keys with a neighbor right now, because the neighbor I trusted moved to Atlanta. But it would be nice if there was someone who lived in your general vicinity or your building had a set of your keys as a backup.
- With a parent or family member: This should be your last resort because you’re trying to be a grown-up. And if there are any boundary issues—e.g. your mom would totally show up on a Saturday morning to inspect your bathtub, or worse, show up uninvited when you’re not home—you can’t do this.
2) CASH MONEY
What’s that, you say? There is no need to burden oneself with something like cash money? I know, how wonderful, you can hail a mobile conveyance with your smartphone and pay for your burrito at Chipotle with the same smartphone. None of that changes the fact that you should still have $20 cash at a minimum hidden in your house that you don’t touch, and it should go up incrementally as you can afford it. What if there was a power outage and the ATM’s stopped working? What if there was a power outage and the credit card machines stopped working? What if the ATM eats your card at 4pm on a three day weekend? What if someone steals your credit card number and you catch it in time but the bank has to put a stop on your card and mail you a new one, which you’ll get on Wednesday? What if there’s no Uber or Lyft to be had and you have to get a taxi somewhere because you’re sick or your best friend is in the emergency room? What if you’re sick as a dog and you have no food in the house and need to order delivery and they won’t take a credit card? I could go on, but you get the idea. I know that this can be a tough thing to manage on a tiny paycheck but please do it.
3) PREPARE FOR BEING SICK
I can remember being incredibly ill and shuffling home from the doctor, taking the tiniest steps possible, and I got to the corner store and it was closed. I needed ginger ale and saltines and popsicles. There was nothing in the house, and there was literally no way I could feebly shuffle down the street the other way to the 24-hour store. I called friends but it was a weekend and I couldn’t find anyone nearby. I had to go home and beg the roommate who I hated to please help me. As soon as I was better, and got paid, I went to the grocery store and bought ginger ale, crackers, Jello mix, and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, and put them on the top shelf of my side of the cupboard. I’m not saying that you have to buy a dozen of each of these items, but just having SOMETHING the day you wake up after having food poisoning or the flu will be a godsend. Figure out what your personal sick day supplies are, and stock up. And don’t eat them when you’re hungover and lazy.
3a) MEDICINE CABINET
Ibuprofen, band aids, neosporin, Pepto Bismol (I like the tablets or caplets), Alka Seltzer, a thermometer, condoms. You won’t need them often but when you do, you really, really need them. Go to Target if you can, these items are very cheap there. And before you shake your head and call me an alarmist, even recently, I had a terrible heel blister that was infected and throbbing and I couldn’t get to sleep until I got up and found a small packet of neosporin with a dubious expiration date left over from a first aid kit I’d bought to use up my FSA one year and as soon as I applied it, the pain went away.
4) TOOL KIT
Flat head screwdriver, phillips head screwdriver, hammer, duct tape, a pair of needle nose pliers, an extension cord, a flashlight. (I put the flashlight here in the tool kit and not next to the front door because everyone has a phone, but it’s still here because the phone can run out of battery.) Again, Target or the like is your friend here, but if you can’t spare the $$, ask a parent or relative to provide this for a holiday occasion and they will be overjoyed to help and thrilled at your demonstrated responsibility. Bonus!
5) OTHER HOUSEHOLD ITEMS YOU PROBABLY AREN’T THINKING ABOUT NEEDING
Light bulbs, tape measure, nails and picture hangers, extension cords, batteries (including those 9v ones you only use for your smoke detector).
If your smoke detector doesn’t include a carbon monoxide detector, buy one please. During my most impoverished years, my brother the fire fighter said that was the thing I needed more than anything else.
One of those rubber door stops your grandparents had. You can get these for under $5 at a hardware store and they have myriad uses. You can use the door stop to keep the door open when you are carrying things in, but you can also use it as a way to keep the door shut from the inside if your door lock is not great or you hear something creepy in the hallway at night. You also can use it to keep your bedroom door shut from the inside to prevent roommates from wandering in uninvited.
6) EMERGENCY CONTACTS LIST
Tape this to the back of your bedroom door and have it on your phone.
• Your landlord.
• A local, non-sleazy locksmith.
• Closest delivery option.
• Your primary care physician.
• The people who have keys to your apartment.
• A work contact. (Don’t laugh at that; during Sandy, my work email servers went down. So much for co-location.)
• Your parent and/or closest relative. Please put who they are, and please use their actual names. If you write “Mom work” and it’s not her direct line, it might be tough.
7) ROUTES & RESOURCES
You don’t want to try to find the 24-hour pharmacy when you’re desperately in need of it. You don’t want to have to figure out an alternate route to work the morning your subway line shuts down because of rain, and you’re standing at the steps with your inadequate umbrella. Pick a pleasant and sunny Saturday afternoon, make yourself a cup of coffee, and sit down and work all of this out for yourself, then save it on Google Docs so you can find it later.
▪ 24 hour pharmacy.
▪ Safest, well-lit ATM.
▪ Emergency room you want to be taken to (that may not be the closest one)
▪ 24 hour grocery or mini-market or place that sells more than beer and smokes.
▪ 3 alternate routes to work besides the one you currently use. Be creative: this might involve walking or taking a bus. And while this is more applicable if you take public transportation, even if you drive, think about what would happen if a bridge or other critical artery went out because of a storm or an emergency, and how you would get to work.
▪ Police station (also find the non-emergency number).
▪ 24 hour gas station (if you have a car).
▪ Locksmith: This is an industry full of opportunistic jerks. Ask your landlord who they use, or ask the old lady in your building who the best locksmith in the neighborhood is. Note; it may not be the one whose business cards or stickers you see everywhere. Another note: most locksmiths only take cash.
[Post image via Shutterstock]