It’s no secret that New York City isn’t exactly the most affordable place to call home. Anyone who lives here undoubtedly hears remarks often about “how expensive it is” and how “an apartment in (insert hometown here) is 1/3 the amount in rent!” Yes, we know. And believe it or not, we choose to live here anyway. So either millions of us are completely financially irresponsible, or there’s something about living in the greatest city in the world that makes it worth every penny. Hint: it’s the latter.
With that being said, over the years I’ve definitely come to learn that living in New York requires a lot of extra attention when it comes to managing finances. With the help of some of the simple (yet effective) tips I’m about to share with you, though, I’d argue that it’s not as impossible as it may seem.
1) Create a budget with categories for every. Single. Expense.
A lot of people cringe at the idea of having a budget because they think it’s too constricting. I’ve found the opposite to be true — I think that having a budget is extremely freeing because it’s about controlling your money, rather than letting it control you. Having a budget is basically you telling your money where it’s going.
I highly suggest using these budget forms from Dave Ramsey, or something similar. Getting it all on paper is key. Don’t worry about getting your budget perfect right away — it will take a few months to figure out which categories you can allot more or less money to. But no matter what, create a category for everything — the more detail the better.
2) Track every dollar that goes in and out.
Once again — yes, this is tedious and can be annoying. But you know what’s more annoying? Not knowing where your money went and having to scramble for it last minute. I track every expense and income I receive (to the cent) in Quickbooks. Quickbooks makes it extremely easy to track everything, create a chart of accounts, etc. and it’s a lifesaver for reporting your taxes (you can just process and print out reports straight from there). Another great (and free) option is Mint.com.
3) Use cash and/or debit as your default payment.
In other words, don’t spend money you don’t have. Obviously there’s a time and a place for a credit card, but Barneys isn’t one of them. I use my (one) credit card sparingly, and I try to use it only on the same things every month. This helps keep me from getting into the habit of using it flippantly or too frequently. Sticking to cash and debit really helps you make smarter spending decisions.
4) Pay your bills and other big expenses on the front end.
I know this isn’t always easy depending on when you get paid/when bills are due, but I do my best to make my big payments as soon as my paycheck comes in. So for example, every time I get a paycheck, the first thing I do is set aside my tithe, taxes*, utilities, rent, and whatever credit card payment I want to pay that month. That way I’m not scrambling later when those are due, and I know that any money leftover is “fair game” to safely spend on other things.
*I’m self-employed so I set aside my own tax money
5) Stop dining out so damn much.
You know that rumor about New Yorkers never cooking at home? Yeah, it’s pretty accurate. I’ve certainly been guilty of dining out far too often than a normal person probably should. And you know what? I still dine out multiple times a week. It’s very much a cultural norm to dine out often in NYC, and that’s okay. But when you can, make it a point to eat it home or pack your meals. This is an area where every little bit of money you save can add up more than you might think.
6) Take advantage of referral programs.
With that being said, in New York just about every grocery service, meal delivery service, car service, etc. offers referral rewards (pretty decent ones, too). I’m constantly getting discounts and even vouchers for free meals and rides from using these. Some examples: Seamless, Caviar, Postmates, Munchery, and Instacart.
While public transportation is the most affordable option for getting from place to place, most car services are now offering great deals and incentives by way of carpooling. For example, Uber just changed their UberPool service to just $5 in Manhattan during peak commuter hours. During other hours, UberPool and other carpool options (like Lyft, Via, and Gett) are much more affordable than yellow taxis.
8) Pick your “fun money” each week.
Something I hear so often is, “How do you go out to eat so often? How do you afford SoulCycle all the time?” My answer? It’s all about balance. I’m constantly making conscious decisions on what I want to splurge on. So for example, this week I decided ahead of time that I want to take two SoulCycle classes, so I consciously am turning down dinner plans, and walking/taking the subway everywhere instead of cabs or Uber. Other weeks, when I know I have dinners lined up, I’ll do my own free outdoor workouts. The same goes for buying new clothes, pampering, travel, etc. I’ve found that as long as I keep things as staggered as possible (and still within my budget), it all usually balances out.
9) Embrace free entertainment.
There is so much free entertainment to be found in NYC. I mean, you can pretty much just walk out the door and find it anywhere. With countless parks, piers, sight seeing, free concerts, museums and so on, you could spend days just wandering around having fun without spending a dime.
10) Have a roommate. Or a few.
This is kind of a no-brainer, but having a roommate(s) is pretty much the best way to save a ton of money on living expenses in New York (maybe even without having to live in a shoebox sized apartment).
11) Have a side gig.
Chances are if you meet someone in New York they either already have a side gig, or they have an idea for one. Networking in New York is very prevalent, so it’s a fairly easy place to start something new that will catch on enough to make some extra income. In fact, my side gig of social media projects eventually took off to the point that it has become my full time job. Whether it’s selling a product or a service… or pursuing your lifelong dream to become a DJ…New York is the place to do it.
12) Accept the fact that New York is an expensive place to live.
…which brings us back to where we started. Yes — living in New York is more expensive than most other places. If you want to live here, you just have to accept that, stop complaining about it, make your budget accordingly, and move on. It may take some getting used to at first, but it isn’t impossible. And, in my opinion, the benefits of living in this crazy city make the extra budgeting and money management 100% worth it.
disclaimer: Please note that I’m not an expert and these are only my thoughts based on personal experience!