How to Save Money Living in NYC
6 Ways I Cut Expenses in New York City
Living in New York is ridiculously expensive. There’s simply no way around that. Many of us who held the dream of moving to this gorgeous concrete jungle were jilted by arriving and finding our postage-stamp sized apartments would command the same rent as a palace wherever home originally was. The lofty, airy spaces of early dreams were traded down for somewhere close to a subway (God willing) where the kitchen didn’t require a walk through the bathroom. (City friends, you know you’ve toured at least 5 apartments like that, all others are brow furrowing.) Grocery stores are limited and cabs add up.
And somehow, it seems that no matter how much you make, this city outpaces you with its dazzling restaurants, shiny apartments, and even shinier wardrobes to live through it all. After a number of years in the city, I’ve whittled down to my eight holy grail rules for saving money while living in New York.
1 | Pay Less In Rent……
This is really the absolute most important step you can take to live comfortably in NYC. In the rest of the wide world, spending a third of your income on rent and utilities is considered “rent burdened.” In New York, it’s considered a helluva deal. Some think this metric is outdated, but I think it’s still a good guideline to gage where your money is going to fixed costs. (And remember, these are super fixed. You’re not getting out of a lease here in almost any circumstance.)
As your pay increases (ideally) over time, it can bet tempting to do the apartment glow up and pick somewhere new in a better neighborhood or with nicer features. Really resist the urge because controlling housing costs—the very largest chunk of your city life spending— is one of the only ways to truly get on top of your personal finances.
2 | … And Avoid Broker Fees at All Costs
I have good friends that live and die by an apartment broker. I just can’t bring myself to spend that type of money and here’s why— you have no idea how to depreciate that cost. If at all possible, try to find an apartment without them, even if it means a little less charm for a short term living situation.
Join me here in a moment of economics. You pay a broker for an apartment generally, 15% of a first year’s rent. Let’s say that for grins you’ve found a steal of a one bedroom at $4,500 - that means you’re forking over another $8,100 to a broker, in addition to likely a one month security deposit and a first month’s rent. $17,000 ish is a hefty check to fork over for a tiny apartment.
Here’s where the depreciation unpredictability of broker’s fees comes in. You’re using a broker on this NYC apartment because this is someone else’s home, condo, co-op, etc. You are almost always only signing a one year lease. After that one year, grandma might decide that she wants to move right back into her brownstone, thankyouverymuch and out you go, having to do this whole thing over again in another apartment. Since you have zero control over how that broker fee spreads out over the life of the time you’re in the apartment, it’s just too unpredictable a cost. If you only spend a year there, your bargain $4,500 apartment just cost you $5,175. No thank you.
3 | Stop It With the Seamless Already
It’s easy to paint yourself a narrative where your $5 B.E.C. is almost the same cost as the grocery store run for a $5 carton of eggs. Over time though, service charges, delivery fees, and just this general lack of keeping an eye on how much you spend on takeout adds up.
My NYC food rule is to limit the amount of delivery service food that arrives at my door by using a debit card that has a low balance account attached to it. I’ve also set up a separate line item in my Mint Budget that captures my takeout vices so I can quickly see all of them together. Spending money on food in NYC is an experience, so for the most part, encouraging yourself to go out instead of the delivery route is almost always a satisfying trade off.
4 | Save Cab Money, Walk. Walk. Walk.
For the uninitiated, nothing can feel more like a big apple move than hailing a cab on a crowded street. You become even more of a New Yorker when you get a little grumbly having to take a cab because (eye roll) it’s going to cost $10 to get home and you’d rather spend that change on a slice of Joe’s at the end of the night.
The thing that has made the greatest difference to me in my willingness to walk more is a pair of foldable flats that do. not. leave. my. bag. They aren’t a commuter shoe, per se, they aren’t a cute little stylish something that I wear anywhere else. They are simply my, “don’t be lazy, just walk there shoe.” Small enough to be unobtrusive, they have saved me on numerous occasions. They go with nothing, except my budget.
5 | Find Cheaper Luxuries
Sometimes when this city gets you harried, you need little joys that won’t break the bank. I might do a full post on this at some point, but for now I’ll share three of my favorite New York luxuries under $15. I find that these little hints of joy keep me from breaking the bank on larger items, and help curtail my general spending throughout the week if I know I have one or two to look forward to.
Flowers: Stroll by any corner store and you can walk home with a wrap of gorgeous blooms for anywhere from $8-$15 that will brighten your space for the week.
Manicures: Walk no more than 5 blocks in any direction and you’ll run into a $10 mani. You might even be lucky enough to find a $20 mani/massage combo!
Treats: So yes, is a $5 cupcake a really expensive freaking piece of sugar? Indeed. But framed as a little luxury picked up to accompany a stroll through Washington Square Park, its value suddenly skyrockets. Same for fancy coffees or other speciality snacks when done in moderation.
6 | Rarely Buy New
Again, the financial gal in me takes depreciation pretty seriously. To that end, there’s almost never an advantage to buying “showroom” new, especially in this city where there are so many amazing options for great quality things that have been owned before you. I buy and sell on all sorts of resell sites that make this NYC living a little less expensive. If I’m spending money on some polished work outfits, my first stop is The RealReal for cool jackets and gently loved accessories. Does that corner need a little accent table? Apartment Deco for things that that my fellow New Yorkers have had to pass on because it doesn’t fit in their new apartment. Take advantage of the great turn over in this little “micro economy” to get the maximum value out of items you might be looking for without breaking the bank.