New york city

City Living on a Budget: How to Afford Living in NYC

New York City has boundless employment, cultural, academic and social opportunities, which unfortunately all come at a price. However, with some planning ahead and a few tricks, you can reap all of the benefits the Big Apple has to offer.

Make a Budget

Whether you’re working, in school or interning, the first step in saving money is making a budget. Project how much money you anticipate receiving each month; then subtract the purchases you know you will make every month, such as electric bills, rent, phone bills, monthly subway passes, prescriptions, etc. The amount remaining is how much you have at your discretion every month. If it helps, divide the amount by 4.2, and determine how much you can spend each week.

Once you have developed a budget for yourself, you may want to categorize your expenses so you can track and see exactly where you spend your money. For the purpose of this article, the discretionary categories are Food/Drink, Shopping, Travel, and Entertainment.


A significant amount of money can be saved by making a few small grocery changes, the first of which is your coffee habit. Invest in a coffee maker and brew your own; if you love Starbucks, buying the beans and making it at home will save you approximately $1,222 a year, according to New York magazine’s “Cheap Living Guide.”

You might also realize that your funds are being depleted by dining out. Get in the habit of grocery shopping, and when preparing meals, cook more than one serving and save the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next night. A word of caution: Never go food shopping on an empty stomach; you’ll spend significantly less if you’re not hungry.

If going out to eat is often a means to socialize with friends, arrange a pot luck dinner and have each friend bring something. If you must go out to eat, have a snack beforehand; again, you’ll spend less if you aren’t starving. Check out New York magazine’s “Cheap Eats Guide” for a price guide and review of NYC restaurants.


New York City is famous for its plethora of shopping opportunities. While some prices are exorbitant, with a little sale savvy you can find your desired items for significantly cheaper. First off, never purchase something at retail price. Often times you will be able to find the same item online for a lower price.

Secondly, while New York may be known for having high prices, it is equally known for its sample sales, which are used by retail businesses in order to discard excess merchandise. For a robust list of ways to find sample sales, click here. Some stores, including Loehmann’s, Filene’s Basement and Century 21, only sell discounted name-brand designer fashions. If this type of shopping isn’t for you, see a month-by-month guide to New York’s best annual sales, where you may be able to find your store of choice.

Lastly, for those who prefer to meander the streets and shop outdoors, lively street fairs pop up in most neighborhoods throughout the spring and summer.


Traveling throughout the city is unavoidable, but there are ways to significantly reduce transportation costs. Most importantly, avoid taxis at all costs. While convenient and plentiful, they will deplete your resources and your paycheck. If you don’t have a far commute and tend to stay in one area, consider investing in a bike or scooter. If you frequent various parts of the city, learn to rely on public transportation- New York has a fabulous subway system!

Many companies offer commuter benefits such as Wage Works and TransitChek®, which allow employees to pay for transportation, tax-free. By setting aside money each month for your transit and parking expenses, you can save hundreds of dollars a year.


There are always ways to reap the benefits of New York’s colorful culture and nightlife without emptying your wallet. Many Broadway shows have implemented rush, lottery, and standing-room-only policies. If you’re willing to get to the box office early, stand in a line or stand during the show, you can find heavily discounted tickets to the majority of shows.

Even as budgets tighten, most New York City museums are maintaining their weekly free or pay-what-you-wish hours, according to NewYorkology’s latest survey. For a full list of Museums with free or pay-what-you-wish hours, click here. And if movies and concerts are your thing, NYC is packed with free festivals during the summer, including Central Park SummerStage, the River2River festival, and the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, to name a few.

With a little creativity and advanced planning, you can find ways to enjoy almost all of New York’s nooks and crannies. And when all else fails, Weehawken is a hop, skip and a jump away.

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