There must be something in the rat infested tracks on the subway platforms in New York that make people think it’s impossible to save money in the city. I graduated with a liberal arts degree, so needless to say the amount of fellow graduates of mine that are quickly flocking to one of the most expensive cities in the world is enormous. 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.
However, in the course of one year we were able to put away more that $50,000 into our savings accounts. Why only one year? Well, one year is just about how long it took for me to realize that living in New York City is one giant sham. Yes, it’s a wonderful sham, but nonetheless a money gauging, egotistical sham. I moved to New York City thinking I would be taking cabs and drinking cosmos with Carrie Bradshaw. This was, of course, a young and naive white girl mentality with too many nights of watching countless “I love New York” movies under her belt.
We spent the first few months spending our nights at the hip concerts, wandering into art galleries, and eating at the restaurants. We were enjoying what New York does best, escapism. It was all fun, and that’s what we love about New York, that there is always something to do and see. It is iconic and a cultural hub. 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 of savings to some people, it just simply wouldn’t do for us. 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 comfortably.
So How Much Does it Cost to Live in NYC for Cheap?
No Getting Out of Rent
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 is. 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 along 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 ride on the subway to get to work everyday. I had my own place, a kitty cat, and massive windows in one of the safest neighborhoods in New York City.
Gotta Get to Work
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 mid town Manhattan to Riverdale was approximately $60…yes, that’s the cost for a 10-mile cab ride across bridges in NYC. Cameron road his bike 13 miles into 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.
There is no breathing without Internet
In today’s day and age, there is no way I’m getting by without 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.
Feeding the Soul
I just realized this was coming after 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 came in handy. On average, we spent between $50-$100 on food each week. Cameron being on the higher end at $100 because of his breakfast and lunch.
I Hate Electricity
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. 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 or they had large AC units.
Love Thy 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 last year, making it a less fantabulous deal.
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.
So, 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 dogsit 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 $1000 per month – every month. In some places like Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia we can even get by comfortably on $700-$800. So yes, we lived in NYC on the cheap end working 6 days a week with minimal fun for $1400. Now, we see amazing places like this and this, working from our laptop anywhere in the world for less than $1000 a month!
This post was updated on June 8th, 2017
Plan Your 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: For unique, yet affordable accommodation, we like to browse Timeshare-Resale-Rental.com for NYC timeshares. They offer rental prices up to 70% off, and even offer NYC timeshare resales. Timeshare ownership can be a great way to live cheap in NYC for a week each year! If you’re looking for a hotel we like to use Hotelscombined to compare various booking engines and make sure we are getting the best possible deal. Another good option is Airbnb. Here is a coupon for your first stay!
Flights to NYC: Compare airlines, dates and prices all in one place with Skyscanner.
Car Rental: Auto Europe is a car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.
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.
Have You Had to Live in NYC on a Budget? Have You visited New York City? Do you think you could live there?