Surviving NYC on a Budget

New York City is one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Some of the expenses, such as the relatively high taxes, are unavoidable, but savvy residents can still save a great deal of money. One reporter even managed to live quite comfortably on a budget of approximately fifty dollars per week that covered everything except housing. The city can be surprisingly affordable for anyone who is willing to employ a few special strategies to manage their finances.

surviving nyc on a budget

Plan Ahead

Planning is the key to financial success. Building a budget is the first step, but the best results come from planning every aspect of your financial life. In particular, you should write a shopping list at the start of every week, and follow that list to the letter. Most purchases are more expensive in New York City than in other parts of the country, so even a small number of impulse purchases can destroy your budget. The best way to prevent that problem is to make sure that you never buy anything that is not on your shopping list. If you want to be more flexible, you can list some items, such as date nights, in general terms along with a budget and plan the details a little bit later.

Doing that will require a lot of discipline, and it can mean passing up unexpected opportunities. If that seems like too much of a drawback, you can allow yourself a small budget for unplanned purchases. Use the shopping list for everything that you can plan in advance, and then set aside some of your excess money for unexpected occasions. Try not to use it for anything that you could have planned in advance, since that will build bad habits. Instead, only use this money for things that you could never have anticipated.

Avoid Manhattan


When most people think of New York City, they think of Manhattan. That’s a shame, because it is the most expensive of the five boroughs. The other parts of the city still have a high cost of living compared to most of the country, but they do compare favorably to Manhattan. Since the city is fairly dense, even people who live outside of Manhattan can access its amenities fairly easily, so paying the price to live there isn’t always a good idea.

Instead, consider living in one of the cheaper parts of the city and commuting to Manhattan when necessary. Since the shops and restaurants in Manhattan also tend to be more expensive than those in other boroughs, it’s best to do so as rarely as possible. Look for attractions that are in the other boroughs that you can visit instead of making the trip. It will save time, money, and provide opportunities to find unique experiences that are hiding in the rest of the city.

Walk and Bike

The cost of transportation can add up quickly. In addition to the normal cost of maintaining a car and filling it with gasoline, people who own a car in New York City need to rent a parking spot. That can cost several hundred dollars every month, so it’s best to find an alternative. Most people can save a lot of money by taking public transportation, but that can still get fairly expensive if they need to do it regularly. Walking is a great way to save money and get some exercise, but the best solution for most people is to get a bicycle.

New York City tends to have heavy traffic, so a bike will usually be just as fast as a car. Buying a new bicycle rarely costs more than a couple months of rent for a parking spot, so their cost is also a major advantage. The city’s government even provides a guide for novices, so it’s easy to get started safely.

The choice of a bicycle is fairly important. A folding bike is often best because it can be stored in an apartment. Bike racks are common in most of the city, but bikes do get stolen from them, so apartment storage offers some extra security. Getting the right size is also vital for comfort and performance. New bikers will usually get the best results by going to a local bike shop and asking for help with their choice.

Find Free Attractions

park in nyc

The city is full of things to do, but most of those things cost money. Most people can’t afford to go to the city’s restaurants, shows, and museums very often if they are paying the full price of admission. Fortunately, paying the full price isn’t necessary if you are willing to be flexible about your schedule. Discounts are fairly common, especially outside of the most popular hours, but the best strategy is to look for attractions that are completely free.

Some of them, like many of the city’s parks, are always free. In most of the other cases, the attractions are only free during specific periods or for specific people. If you’re trying to plan a night out on the town, search through lists of the free attractions and create a list of the ones that you find appealing. Use that list to construct a schedule for your night. Since many of the attractions are only available on certain days, it’s best to do this before you pick a date for your outing so that you can find the one that has the most opportunities available.


Space is expensive in New York City, which means that housing is the biggest expensive for most people. Many residents believe that they need to pay a huge amount of money to avoid living in a cramped apartment, but that isn’t always the case. It’s possible to live in a smaller and cheaper apartment without feeling like you’re running out of space. All it takes is a couple of lifestyle changes.

The most important technique is simply getting rid of things that you don’t use. If you can’t remember the last time that you used one of your possessions, then it’s probably taking up space without providing any real benefit. Some specialized items, such as fire extinguishers, are exceptions to this rule of thumb, but it’s an excellent place to start. Getting rid of a useless item can also help to raise money if you hold a garage sale.

Responsible shopping will also save space. When you’re considering a purchase, think about the storage space that it will cost in addition to the financial impact. This will also help to save money by reducing impulse purchases.

Finally, try to buy experiences instead of objects. Researchers have found that people generally derive more happiness from doing things than owning material goods. In many cases, they’re also cheaper, and they always take up less space. Applying this technique along with the others will ensure that you can maintain a good lifestyle in the big city without going into debt, and it will leave you with memories that will last long after you move away.

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