MONEY, MONEY, MONEY AND FUN IN FUN CITY We Spend Our Lives Focusing On the Dollars By MICHAEL O. ALLEN AND PAUL SCHWARTZMAN, Daily News Staff Writers

Tuesday, January 21, 1997

Money is at the root of all that troubles and excites New Yorkers. They fight about it and dream about it–far more, even, than sex.

Many spend more than they have, and a large number have no savings at all.

It is the biggest source of stress in New Yorkers’ lives, followed closely by job and career pressures.

But New Yorkers don’t measure success primarily in dollars and professional achievement.

Most look for success at home, in a happy family life or in achieving a balance between work and their households.

And, perhaps most surprising, by an overwhelming margin New Yorkers say they are happy in their jobs and careers. The sentiment stretches from the working poor to the well-to-do although the more you make, the more likely you are to say you are happy in your occupation.

The role of money in New Yorkers’ lives emerged vividly in the Daily News lifestyle poll as it examined ambitions and dreams in the world’s most competitive city.

New York is an expensive town to live in,” said Julie Weprin of Blum & Weprin Associates Inc., which conducted the poll for The News. “So it’s not surprising that economic concerns are key to daily lives.”

The findings of the poll proved, yet again, a truism about money: No one has enough. The more you have, the more you think you need.

Asked how much money a family of four needs to live comfortably in the city, 43% of the poll respondents said $ 50,000. The percentage was highest, though, among people who make less than that and dropped sharply among those making more.

Those making $ 100,000 and up said they needed at least that much to survive.

The tax situation and the cost of living here is extraordinary compared to some place down South,” said Dan Patsiner, 24, a Queens media planner whose annual household income is more than $ 100,000.

“And just to add to that,” he continued, “for a family of four, you’ve got to think about college and other major expenses.”

At all income levels, many New Yorkers appear to be spending to the limit. Whether they earn $ 25,000 or $ 100,000, more than four in 10 say they carry a balance on their credit cards.

With at least 10 credit cards to her name, Nelsie Wharton, 32, a lab technologist from the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, knows what it’s like to have to bump against financial limits.

“I owe so much,” she said. “I’m paying it off little by little.”

At the same time, about a third of New Yorkers have no savings at all. Those on the bottom of the economic ladder save the least, and those doing better save more.

What are people saving for? Their first goal is to pay for retirement, especially those over 30; their second is to cover the cost of their children’s education.

“I would like my son to have the opportunity to go to college, which I didn’t,” said guard Wayne Knight, 37, of Flatbush, Brooklyn, “and to be able to be free to have the choice of a profession that he wants to get into.”

Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that New Yorkers focus constantly on money.

Asked what they daydream about, the largest number of poll respondents by far 28% said money. Sex finished far down the pack, cited by a paltry 8% of New Yorkers. Only those making more than $ 100,000 focused on anything other than money: They daydreamed most about vacations, followed closely by romance.

Typical of the daydreamers is 27-year-old student-teacher Isaac Stein of Staten Island. With a career in teaching, he said, he does not expect to get rich.

So, “When I close my eyes,” Stein said, “I see myself sitting in the lap of luxury, being able to go wherever I want and do whatever I want whenever I want to do it.”

And nothing causes more tension for New Yorkers than money. Asked what stresses them out, poll respondents said, first, money; and second, their jobs and careers. Family circumstances followed except for those earning less than $ 25,000, who cited home pressures the most.

“In today’s society, the family becomes less important because it’s so important to have two incomes,” said Walter Tuft of Queens, whose annual household income is more than $ 100,000.

“On Christmas Day, the kids were up and I wasn’t there because I had to work. Maybe I should have picked a different career,” he added.

On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Dickerson of Brooklyn reflects the concerns of people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

“My biggest thing is not only money, but love, love for my children,” said the 37-year-old man, who makes less than $ 10,000 a year delivering milk part-time. “Money just helps you get certain things for them. You can’t live without money.”

Finally, with all this stress, it is perhaps no surprise that when asked how they would spend an extra $ 1,000, most of those polled said they’d take a vacation.

Notes: Graphics by Trine Giaever, Jim Willis and Jeff Rosenkrantz Daily News showing statistics pertaining to New Yorkers and money not available electronically.

Series: NEW YORKERS THIS IS YOUR LIFE. Third of five-parts