How You Can Afford Living In New York City

by Connie Mei · 8 comments

new york
I was born and raised in New York City. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, the bustling city is really all I’ve ever known. Spending $15 on a movie ticket or $5 on a latte has always seemed very normal to me. Since becoming an adult and being on my own, the high cost of living in this city has definitely become very apparent to me though. Many say it’s a city where dreams are made, but living in New York can be challenging, especially as a young 20-something starting out.

I get this question a lot: how can I afford to live in New York City? From the surface, living in this city on an entry-level salary seems almost impossible. The average monthly rent in NYC is over $3000, a sum that’s more than what many young professionals make. So what gives? If you’ve always dreamed of living in New York, you definitely can but be prepared to make some sacrifices. Here are 5 tips to help you afford living in New York City:

Get a Roommate

The single most important thing you need to do if you want to afford living in New York City is finding a roommate, as it’s hard to afford your own apartment unless you’re making close to six figures a year. Splitting a multi-room apartment will make your rent much more affordable. Of course, having roommates has its downsides but you’ll have to deal with the negatives until you can save up enough for your own place. You can look for roommates online through services like or or ask your friends if they know anyone. Be sure to ask lots of questions to see if you guys could live with each other peacefully.

Live in the Outer Boroughs

Most people think of Manhattan when they think of New York City. It’s the most densely populated borough in New York City and arguably the most popular borough in the city. But keep in mind that there are four more that make up the general area. Living in the ‘outer’ boroughs is definitely cheaper. While it might not be the most convenient, all boroughs have access to public transportation and it should be fairly easy for you to get to your job in the city. Also, as more and more people move out into the outer boroughs, there are more things to do and restaurants popping up.

Prepare Your Own Meals

The cost of eating out in New York City may shock you. It’s not uncommon for an entree to cost $30. You’ll definitely have those nights when you need to dine out for social gatherings or work, but try to prepare your own meals as much as possible. This is especially true for lunches. Always pack your own lunch. It’s healthier and costs you half as much as buying a salad at the nearby deli. Visit the farmer’s markets that pop up at various parks on weekends or Trader Joe’s for cheap produce and meats.

Take Public Transportation

If you’re use to driving, you won’t be doing any of that in New York City. Owning a car isn’t very feasible if you’re on a budget, particularly because parking is almost non-existent and you’ll have to rent a spot in a garage. Taking public transportation is the way to go here. The subway and bus system runs 24 hours a day and is very convenient to get to almost anywhere in the city. Avoid taking taxis as much as possible. If you get stuck in traffic, you’ll see your fare rise slowly but surely.

Make Extra Income

It’s always a good idea to try to make extra income wherever you live, but having a side gig will definitely go a long way in helping you afford the city. The great thing about New York is that there are lot of opportunities to make extra income that might not be available in smaller cities. There’s always dog owners looking for walkers or sitters or restaurants looking for part-time help. Start by checking out jobs on Craigslist to get a feel for what’s out there. You’ll eventually get tons of referral business if you are at least decent.

Have you ever lived in New York City? Would you ever, considering the cost of living?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Reid @ InvestAsian says:

    A lot of people want to live in New York, but quite frankly, shouldn’t. The city is not only extremely expensive, but I notice people moving there who don’t even have jobs yet. New York isn’t a good place to be living and not making any money.

    After all, I’d like to live in Beverley Hills. That doesn’t mean I can afford it or that I should try. Same for New York.

    • David @ says:

      That’s so true Reid. The interesting thing is that the richer the city seems on the surface, the poorer parts of the population residing in that city is. You can always find loads of homeless people in the surrounding areas of very wealthy sections of our country. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them tell me that they use to live a pretty fast life.

  • Ramona @ Personal Finance Today says:

    We stayed there for 18 months and it was a blast. Living in Queens allowed our friends to spend way less than having a home in Manhattan and the area is also very nice for small kids (less traffic/noise, better air etc.). The public transportation rocks, I was shocked to see how well it’s all put together

    • David @ says:

      That must’ve been a nice experience. I wished I lived in more places while I was young and single but now it’s much harder with younger kids now. I should put this on my bucket list to be fulfilled when we become empty nesters!

  • Financial Slacker says:

    New York is an incredible city. Although I have never lived there, I have spent considerable time working in Manhattan. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard for me to fathom how folks can afford to live there when they are just starting out.

    My first job out of business school was for a Big Six consulting firm working in the Dallas office. I remember the people who worked in the New York office were getting paid 50% more. But in reality, due to the higher cost of living, it was still less.

    It is a different lifestyle living in a city. As with most things, it comes down to priorities. Instead of spending your money on a car, you spend it on your apartment.

    In addition to the high cost of housing and entertainment, I am interested in the hidden costs of living in New York – the taxes.

    What are your thoughts on how much of an impact the taxes have on the cost of living?

    • David @ says:

      Taxes isn’t so bad, especially for people working at big companies like the consulting firms because they take everything into consideration when they figure out your salary.

      I always like getting more money upfront and living in a higher cost area than the opposite since I am good about finding ways to lower spending than the norm. I feel that I come out ahead this way because it’s much harder to save more than the norm with less salary to work with from the get go.

      • Dave @ Financial Slacker says:

        That makes sense. Get as much as possible and figure out what to do with it yourself. It’s the same logic for keeping taxes low. Who knows my money better than me.

        My question on taxes came from my time working in Chicago. A few years ago, Chicago implemented a “commuter tax” for those folks that lived in the suburbs but worked in the city. Something about needing to help pay for the infrastructure that they were using.

        I guess the government will get its money somehow.


        • David @ says:

          It’s impossible to predict what the government will impose in the future, so we might as well spend our time elsewhere. Find more ways to save, whether it’s taxes or other types of expenses and we will do well in the long run.

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