I once read that New York City charges a $20 tax just to leave your apartment… and it’s pretty much true. This town just seems to eat money for breakfast. And every other meal after that. When I first introduced the topic of money here, one of the most requested posts was how to save money/live on a budget if you’re in an expensive city. And as someone who has managed to stay afloat in New York for a decade, I’d like to think I’ve got some insight to share here.
I believe that if you’re lucky enough to call an expensive city home (or an expensive suburban town – really this is relevant no matter where you call home), you should be enjoying it. What’s the point of living in Manhattan if you stay holed up in your apartment and never get out and see or do anything? But that being said, unless you’re a wall street mogul (which I’m pretty much guaranteeing no one reading my blog is), you’re going to need to learn how to strike a balance and cut some corners.
My number one advice? Make a list (you guys know I love a list) of the things that are absolutely non-negotiable to you. Is it living alone? Getting to see broadway shows? This list will look different for everyone and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. Maybe going out to eat with friends every week is what brings you joy. Maybe it’s designer shoes. I could care less. But for the rest? You’re going to need to learn to live cheap. Like way below your budget. Live like you’re broke.
In my early twenties I was under the impression that as long as I wasn’t crazy extravagant, I could kind of have it all. I lived alone in a studio apartment (which was always my #1 non negotiable), still went out to bars with friends, shopped for new clothes and ate pretty well. An overpriced latte here, a new book there, a cab ride downtown. You get the picture. I was working two jobs and had zero money at the end of each month. And I never had money to travel like I wanted. I wasn’t necessarily being extravagant in any one area, but I wasn’t living below my budget anywhere either. And I certainly wasn’t getting ahead.
Now all of that has changed. I have a true list of non-negotiables: as nice of an apartment as we can afford (home is super important to me), an emergency fund in the bank, money to travel and money to enjoy the perks of living in New York (whether that be a fun night out with Adam for drinks and live music or going to the ballet with a friend). The rest? You’d think I was flat broke.
I walk everywhere (I take the subway maybe 1-2 times a week if I really need to get far uptown) and don’t even have the Uber app on my phone. I pack my lunch every single day and eat cheap weeknight dinners at home like a big batch of chili, simple stir fry or pasta. You’ll almost never catch me at brunch on the weekends. I make use of the office snacks. We use my sister’s HBO subscription. I give myself at home pedicures. I go to a $20 a month gym. I take books out from the library. My shopping has halted to just a handful of well considered purchases each season. If it’s not on my list of true priorities, I’m hard-pressed to spend money on it. And it’s made all the difference.
In cities it can be easy to just let money slip away in every category. But I swear if you commit to say – making coffee at home every workday or starting a wine club with friends instead of hitting the bar – and watch where every penny is going, you’ll be able to indulge in the things that really matter to you. Even better? If you’re open about your budget, there’s a good chance most of your city living friends will admit that they’re in the same boat and together you guys can find fun things to do that are within your means.
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