Living in a city can be expensive. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself in some deep trouble. However, being proactive, living a mostly frugal lifestyle and counting your pennies can allow you to live it up in an expensive city without going broke.
My year in the New York area has taught me a lot about money, especially since I’ve been trying to stay afloat and pay off my student loans at the same time. Frugal living in an expensive city requires, in the words of Mad Eye Moody, “constant vigilance!”
In my year here, I’ve learned some lessons about frugal living in an expensive city. While I’ve talked about general strategies for frugal living before, here are some of my favorite strategies keeping it frugal in an expensive city.
Resist the urge to taxi
Depending on where you live, it can be incredibly easy to hail a taxi. Almost too easy! After a long and exhausting day, you might find yourself slowly lifting up your arm at the edge of the road. My advice: JUST. DON’T. DO. IT.
An easy way to save a lot of cash in a city is to not taxi when other, cheaper, forms of transportation are available to you. Walk whenever possible. It’s good for you and it’s way cheaper than taking a taxi everywhere. If you can’t walk from point A to point B, use the subway or other mode of public transportation, like the train or bus.
This advice applies for going to the airport, too. In Manhattan, a taxi ride to LGA is >$30 including tip and even more if you’re going to JFK. If you travel to the airport a lot, those $30 cab rides can really add up! That said, situations happen and sometimes you need to just take a cab. My point is to resist the urge to taxi most of the time, so that when you do taxi, it really counts.
Prioritize your food spending
As I’ve mentioned many times before, I really like to eat. One of the great things about living in a city is that there a tons and tons of fun restaurant options. A question I often ask myself is, “Is life worth living if I can’t eat good food?” Of course it is, but it’s that much better when tasty things are in my belly. However, going out to get tasty eats can really add up quickly. That’s why I suggest that you prioritize your food spending.
Think about what is important to you. Do you really like going out and enjoying a meal at a restaurant on the weekends? Or do you value the time you save by buying your lunch every day, but don’t mind making your dinners when you get home at night?
Find ways to save in some areas so you can afford to spend a little bit more in others. Avoiding expensive (yet convenient) bodegas and braving the line at Trader Joe’s will save you a lot of money. Making cheap breakfast and lunches will allow you to spend more dinners out. On the flip side, making cheap, simple dinners can help save room in your budget for that convenient lunch run.
Choose free activities when given the choice
If you’re in a place like New York City, you’ll be able to find tons and tons of free things to do on the weekends. From museums to parks to special events. If you have the wherewithal, you will certainly be able to find things to do that are free or nearly free.
Whenever possible, try to choose free activities over paid activities. This applies for a lot of things. For example, ditch the gym membership and pick up other forms of physical activity. While sports like running, biking and rollerblading do have associated costs, it’s likely that they pale in comparison to monthly gym fees that range from $100 to $200 per month.
Feel like you’re paying a lot on cable? Ditch it for Netflix. Or, better yet, ditch the TV altogether and go out and hit up a museum.
Minimize broker’s fees
Moving is expensive, regardless of whether you move down the street or move across country. One key and easy way to save money if you live in an expensive city is to minimize the amount of broker’s fees you have to pay.
What is a broker’s fee, you ask? It’s a pesky fee that apartment hunters often have to pay to an agent who facilitates the renting of an apartment between you and the landlord. They often add up to a full month’s rent and they are not refundable like your security deposit.
You may find that you are unable to avoid a broker’s fee for a number of reasons. If you find yourself in that kind of situation, plan to stay in your apartment for longer than a year. The longer you stay in your apartment, the more mileage you get out of your broker’s fee.
Get a roommate, or not
An easy way to cut expenses is to get a roommate. However, I realize that that’s not in the cards for everyone. Hey, I don’t have a roommate! It’s a luxury that I’m glad I’m able to have for myself; however, I have had to make sacrifices in order to make that happen.
When you live with a roommate, you’re able to generally live in a nicer place than you are if you live alone. You may find yourself in a not so desirable location, a shoebox apartment or with a deadbeat landlord if you go it alone.
While you may find that rent’s cheaper when you have a roommate, you may also find yourself spending more on communal expenses if you have a roommate. Does your roommie have TV and do they expect you to pitch in for the cable? Does your roommie leave the lights on when they’re not in a room? These things add up over time. If you have a place to yourself, there’s no one to blame but yourself for your exorbinantly high electricity bill.
It’s about prioritizing and finding the right balance
From the above, hopefully it became clear to you that frugal living in an expensive city isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of situation. Every day, you will find that you need to make decisions about what you want to spend money on and what is important to you. The key is understanding that if you want to live frugally, it will take more work for you to have it all.
Figure out what you want, what fits in your budget and adjust accordingly.