In the weeks before I moved to New York City to start an internship at Business Insider, multiple friends asked me: “How are you going to afford that?”
They were right to ask.
Rent prices in Manhattan (where I live) are exorbitantly high, and I was moving to New York as an editorial intern, not an investment banker.
And that’s not even taking into account other necessary living expenses such as groceries and transportation, which, in Manhattan, cost 36% and 27% more than the national average, respectively.
Overall, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, Manhattan’s cost of living is 120% above the national average.
I had about $US4,500 saved from my previous job as a sales assistant at Nordstrom — I was living at home in Chicago and not paying for food or rent, so saving was easy — and I knew that would give me a good start.
What I’ve discovered though, is that living in New York City isn’t as expensive as I thought it would be.
Besides my very high monthly rent payment, my other expenses are reasonable. The visions I had of myself hoarding coupons haven’t become a reality. Managing my expenses has been surprisingly easy, and I don’t feel like I’ve been restricting myself to an unusually tight budget, either. I realise not everyone feels this way, which is why I’m sharing my strategy.
Here’s how I’ve managed to keep my costs down.
I take advantage of free activities.
A few weeks after I moved, I read an article about free things to do in the fall in New York City. The list was surprisingly long (40 activities). I’ve done a couple, like walking the High Line and going to the Brooklyn Flea Market, and then I’ve done some of my own — running along the Hudson River Greenway, exploring Central Park, and window shopping.
Even if an activity is not completely free, chances are, the city offers multiple options, and you can find one that’s pretty cheap. Case in point: I really want to go ice skating, but I think I might skip the rink at Rockefeller Center and go to Bryant Park instead, since Rockefeller charges $US27-$US30 for admission plus $US12 to rent skates, and Bryant Park charges no admission, only $US15-$US19 to rent skates.
I’m careful when it comes to buying groceries.
Since I’m only feeding myself, I don’t spend all that much on groceries. And more importantly, I make sure I use what buy. I’ve seen friends go hog wild at the grocery store, only to come home, not use all of it, and then throw some of it away. Wasting food is the equivalent to wasting money, which is why I don’t do it.
I bring my lunch to work.
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but I’ll mention it again because I do it almost every day.
Yes, it’s nice to go out to lunch with a coworker every once in a while — which I do — but for the most part I bring my own sandwich or salad.
There are more important things I need to, or would like to, spend my money on than lunch — like rent or a weekend trip to see friends.
I have a drink before I go out.
I’ve never been one to stay in on weekends, but I also don’t like to drop a lot of cash on drinks. So I usually have a drink with a friend at their apartment or mine before I go out, so I’m less likely to pay close to $US30 for a couple severely watered down mixed drinks.
I comparison shopped for my gym.
I genuinely enjoy working out (yes, I’m one of those weird people) so I knew I’d be joining a gym when I moved to New York City. Before moving, I went online and found a few gyms near my apartment and office, and compared them in terms of equipment, amenities, and price.
I was able to find one halfway between my apartment and my office that cost $US20 per month. Granted, it doesn’t offer classes, and I have the most basic membership available. That’s all I really needed, though, so why pay for anything more?
I walk as much as possible.
I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work. In December, when I knew I was going to be home for a week at Christmas, I didn’t buy my usual monthly subway ticket because I wouldn’t use it enough to make it worth the $US112. I also try and avoid cabs as much as possible, since walking is a great way to get to know the city; and it’s free!
There’s very little that you can’t find or do in New York City. It has so much to offer in the way of restaurants, bars, and entertainment. I think it’s easy for people to get a little too caught up in all these things; some seem to feel like this is the only way to truly experience the city. What they might not realise is that some of the less hyped activities provide just as true — and fulfilling — of an experience.