There must be something between the rat-infested subway platforms and three-star restaurants in New York that make people believe it’s impossible to save money in the NYC. We graduated with liberal and fine art degrees, so naturally, we thought it was a good idea to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world. We’re not alone! A countless number of our peers flocked to The Big Apple in pursuit of their dreams.
Most of these millennials are flabbergasted that we were able to save enough money to travel the world while living in this world metropolis on entry-level incomes. Both of us had entry level jobs, but we managed to add 50,000 dollars to our savings accounts before we said goodbye to Manhattan. We did so by living cheap in NYC, that means below our means. It’s a goal that is attainable once you set your own NYC living expense budget.
It was enough money to stash some bucks in our 401ks, start our own business, and kick off our travels around the world.
How to live in NYC on a Budget
You heard that right! In the course of 18 months, we were able to put away more than $50,000 into our savings accounts. Why so short? Well, that is just about how long it took for us to realize that living in New York City is one giant sham. Yes, it’s a wonderful sham, but none the less a money-grabbing, an egotistical sham. We still love you, New York!
I moved to New York City thinking I would be taking cabs and drinking cosmopolitans with Carrie Bradshaw. This was, of course, a young and naive white girl mentality with too many nights of watching countless Hollywood movies under her belt.
We spent the first few months spending our nights at the hip concerts, wandering into art galleries, and dining in restaurants. We were enjoying what New York does best, escapism. It was all fun, and that’s what we love about New York. There is always something to do and see. It is iconic, a cultural hub, and arguably the greatest city on earth. I love New York City. However, between our living expenses and new social life, we weren’t saving anything more than a hundred dollars or so a month. While that may seem like a lot to a few people, it was far from our financial goals.
We decided it was time to start living in NYC on a budget.
We reevaluated our living expenses, moved apartments, and learned to love home cooked meals. This is where the year of saving started. New York is an expensive city, but we were able to make it slightly more affordable. Here is how much it cost us to live in NYC on a budget, while still living more than comfortable.
What is the cost to live in NYC for cheap?
Cost of rent in NYC
In New York, your primary expense will be housing and you can’t get out of this one. We simply had to put a roof over our heads. Anyone that has lived in NYC knows how ridiculous the housing market can be. Desirable apartments can disappear in minutes and a good broker can be the difference between the bachelor pad in American Psycho and that shabby place Robert De Niro called home in Taxi Driver.
Cameron and I decided we were past the age of roommates. We would be living alone in either a one-bedroom or, gasp, a studio. We landed on a one-bedroom newly renovated apartment in the Bronx. Yes, the Bronx. However, we chose to live in Riverdale, an upper-middle-class neighborhood right over the bridge well known for its Jewish population. Riverdale has the lowest crime rate in the Bronx and the second-lowest crime rate in all of New York City. So no, it wasn’t all “Jenny from the Bronx” there.
We really loved our 800 sq ft apartment. It had a new kitchen, spacious rooms, and huge open windows with a fantastic view over Van Cortlandt Park. We paid $1800/month total for this little piece of heaven with no broker fees attached. Or $900 each with heat and gas included. Believe me, this was a ridiculous price for us non-New Yorkers to pay, but anything under $1000 a person in NYC is considered a pretty good deal we came to learn. Forget that it took me an hour’s ride on the subway to get to work every day. I had my own place, a kitty cat, and massive windows in one of the safest neighborhoods in New York City.
Our biggest tip here would be to get creative with where you live. You don’t need to live in hip neighborhoods, especially as rent prices in Brooklyn have surged in the last decade.
How to find an apartment in New York?
There are a number of ways that you can make searching for an apartment in New York easier. Websites, search engines, and even the right mailing list can help with your New York apartment hunt. We suggest PadMapper which is actually how we found our apartment in Riverdale. Two other great online resources that we have used in our apartment search are Zumper and StreetEasy.
Then for those looking to live “dangerous,” there is always Craigslist. Which, is a bit like playing Russian roulette with housing. If you’re seeking a place in Brooklyn we’d also recommend signing up for The Listings Project. It’s a safe way to find shared apartments, as in people looking for a sane roommate.
City Transportation Costs
Be it the subway, taxi, bicycle, or personal car we had to have transport to lower Manhatten every day. We sold our cars long ago, so no private car rides for us. A taxi from midtown Manhattan to Riverdale was approximate $60…yes, that’s the cost for a 10-mile cab ride across bridges in NYC. Cameron rode his bike 13 miles to work some days, but it was definitely not an everyday option on humid summer days or the icy winter.
That leaves the subway – the most affordable and certainly most entertaining option there is. A month unlimited pass on the MTA will run you $116.50, or $2.75 if you prefer to pay per one way. No one said living in New York on a shoestring budget would be easy.
Utilities in NYC
In today’s day and age, there is no way I’m getting by without the internet in my apartment. Tack $50 on for the total household bill, or $25 per person to stay connected to my favorites like The Office, House of Cards, and Parks & Rec on Netflix. We got this price by shopping around for specials in the area.
We also specifically sought out a building that included hot water, and heat. While it may seem like a small detail the cost of keeping your apartment warm and always running a hot water hear can run up utility costs quick.
Can’t avoid this one either unless we are bats. This cost us anywhere from $50 in the Winter months to $150 in the summer when we had to blast our little AC unit in the miserable NYC heat. Most buildings, asides pricey modern ones, do not have central air conditioning. So you’re forced to run a less efficient window unit. Then there are the buildings that run outdated and inefficient systems.
This is something to note when searching for apartments in NYC, we had friends who would shell out hundreds of dollars in utilities because their building did not include hot-water and they had large old A/C units in the apartments. Pick the wrong apartment and it could easily eat out of your daily living budget in New York.
I just realized this was coming after the internet, but I guess that is the day and age we live in now. Food is another necessity and one we rarely went luxurious on. Besides going for sushi once a week, we kept food expense to an absolute minimum and always cooked in. I was fortunate because I had breakfast and lunches covered at my job and only had to account for dinner. Cameron was responsible for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and that’s where frozen Trader Joes meals come in handy. On average, we spent between $50-$100 on food each week. Cameron is on the higher end at $100 because of his breakfast and lunch.
We love coffee! Cold brews, cappuccinos, and lattes are delicious and New York is filled with wonderful independent coffee shops. However, at around $5 a coffee, they are an absolute budget killer. If you have a cup of coffee every morning on your way to work that is $25 a week, $100 a month, and $1,200 a year! If you’re adding food like a bagel or breakfast on top of that the cost skyrockets. Working on an entry-level salary that could destroy your savings goals and severely hinder your income.
That doesn’t mean you have to live without coffee! We bought a french press and grounds for our mornings at home. While at work we both fortunate to have offices with coffee so we drank that and bought green tea bags as a coffee substitute. Another great idea is to buy a stainless steel thermos and bring your own coffee.
Join a Gym
We were part of the semi-early days of the phenomenon called Classpass. A gym subscription service that at the time cost $100/month for unlimited classes at different studios around the city. Though $100/month for a gym membership seems steep (and it is), in New York, this was a considered a pretty good deal.
This is one of the main things I miss about living in New York City. I got to go to some amazing gyms, meet great people, and get in shape through a ton of different ways. In a single month, I tried Bollywood dancing, to Ballerina fitness, to Marine Boot Camp, all while taking showers in some the most pristine Manhattan fitness clubs.
Splurging on my gym membership made living in NYC on a tight budget more bearable. However, from my understanding the price has drastically risen since we lived in New York, making it a less fantabulous deal. Either way one of the best ways to stay on budget while living in New York it to pick productive and cheap hobbies, the gym is the perfect example.
Okay, we did have some fun, but in New York, fun is expensive. More importantly, fun is time-consuming. When you’re working 10-12 hour days 6 days a week, the last thing I want to do is meet someone for drinks after work – I want to sit in my pajamas with my cat while watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
However, we still went to the movies every once in while ($16.50 a ticket in the Upper West Side), saw numerous ballets, visited the museums (ticket prices are a suggested donation!), and operas at the Lincoln Center. Oh, and did I mention sushi!? Throw in about $200 a month for fun.
Total cost to live in NYC?
We lived in the Bronx, commuted an hour to and from work each day, cooked all our food in, and got most of our entertainment from different fitness classes around the city. Living this kind of lifestyle wasn’t exactly the most exciting, but it did only cost us about $1350-$1450 each while living in NYC. Could we have done it cheaper? Of course.
Could we have splurged a bit more? Oh hell yes. Spending $1350 a month was pretty bare bones for the type of life we were living in New York, considering my paycheck wasn’t even double that (without my second job), it was quite hard to save money at times. However, we managed to save, and save, and save. It took some determination, but it can be done.
Living in New York doesn’t have to involve a cab ride to dog sit your best friends Yorkie, a $75 all you can eat pasta dinner (yes, this exists), or a $15 martini so you can desperately search for the love of your life. With some patience and determination, living in NYC can be quite comfortable and even allow you to put away some money in the bank so you can escape the city!
Bare minimum expenses in New York came to about $1400/month for us and realistically I could have cut out $200 more of this if I wanted to live like a hermit. It’s still worth noting that Cameron and I both travel the world on less than $1500 per month. In some places like Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, we can even get by comfortably on $700-$900. So yes, we lived in NYC on the cheap end working six days a week with minimal fun for $1400. Now, we see amazing places in the world and working on our laptop for around $1000 a month!
Learn more about our finances
- Travel Banking Breakdown: How to Save and Protect Your Money
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel the World?
- How Much Does Backpacking Europe Cost?
- 25 Smart Ways to Save Money for Travel
Plan a trip to NYC
We rely on a few trusted websites that help save us money and time when booking hotels, flights, and car rentals. Check out some of our preferred partners below:
- Accommodation in NYC: We often get asked how to find housing in New York. So you don’t get stuck in a bad housing situation I would recommend basing yourself at an Airbnb while on your apartment search. Apartment hunting in New York is like nowhere else in the world and can be extremely difficult. Here is a coupon for your first stay!
- Flights to NYC: Compare airlines, dates and prices all in one place with Skyscanner.
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. We ALWAYS travel with travel insurance. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
- Guide Book: Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend a good guidebook to get you around NYC.