20 Tips for Surviving New York City on a Budget

View from the Highline

Maybe you saw last week’s semi-sappy post about leaving NYC. Well, this week I thought it might be more helpful to share some of my NYC honest-to-goodness learnings.

1) Use a broker when searching for apartments. It’s more $, but you’ll get a better deal on the month-to-month rent plus a better place in the end.

2) In summer, transfer trains as little as possible. The platforms are too sticky to spend any time waiting on. And don’t waste your $ on cabs – you’ll save $$ a month.

3) Don’t assume that Manhattan is the best borough to live in. Brooklyn and Queens are often cheaper and just as cool.

4) Make an effort to meet new people outside your group of friends – and follow-up with them.  Everyone’s always busy here, but that’s not a good enough reason not to make new friends…even if it is more work.

5) The Brooklyn IKEA has livery cabs waiting outside that will drop you and your stuff anywhere for $25.

6) Your friends will suggest Clinton Street Bakery for brunch because it’s supposed to be “The Best Brunch in New York”. It is – and ALWAYS has a 2 hour wait.  However, they also serve breakfast for dinner ;-) . . .

7) Explore Governor’s Island. You’re welcome.

8) If you earn less than 40k, you will struggle to pay rent and pay for your life. Accept this – while reading all the great free things to do each week via Time Out New York.  For example, see #7 above.

8a) Use Groupon, Living Social, LifeBooker to book cheap dinners, excursions and hair-cuts. When I moved here, none of the above existed and my nice dinners always happened on Monday nights.

9) Find your bar a la Cheers. You’ll explore multiple bars, but having one that’s familiar will help your neighborhood feel like home.

10) Good doctors are hard to find in NYC as everyone is, again, super busy. Ask your friends for recommendations to cut down your search. Let me know in the comments section if you still need help and I’d be happy to share my suggestions.

11) Broadway Lafayette is the half-way point to meet people from UES and Park Slope. It is still 45 minutes each.

12) Don’t text when crossing the street. There are crazy dumb drivers in this city and I don’t want you to get burned.

13) Need a great first date? Go row-boating in Central park for approx. $10. It is as romantic as it sounds.

14) Pearl Paint is the best and cheapest frame store in NYC.

15) Chinatown has some of the best, cheapest food in the city.

16) Roundabout Theater has a ticket discount program called Hip Tix, especially designed for patrons under 35. $20 tix to all their Broadway shows. For realz.

17) Newark airport is not much further than LaGuardia and unlike LaGuardia is easily accessible via public transit. So, if a flight is much cheaper out of NJ, consider it.

18) It’s okay to cry in public. It’s practically a rite of passage in this city and people understand.

19) Qdoba has very filling kid’s meals for $4.89, including tax.

20) Live like you won’t live here forever, because you probably won’t.  No one has all the answers, but if you are true to yourself, you’ll find living in New York valuable. Maybe you’ll find success, maybe you won’t – but there’s only one way to know. Even if you fail, that’s okay too – often these are the times we learn the most.

It’s been a pleasure writing to you about My New York.

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Author My First Apartment

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I've lived in apartments in 6 cities (including 2 foreign countries). Does that make me an expert? As of now, my ceiling isn't leaking and I don't have rodents (knock on wood) -- so I'm going to say yes . . . but ask me again tomorrow:) These days, I'm enjoying life Chicago style, but my years in Brooklyn are never far from my mind. P.S. By day I work at Cars.com, but these opinions are totally, 100% my own.

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Comments (8)

  1. Avatar Lee Robinson

    Thank you so much for this article! I am going to move to New York because of my work and I am going to earn enough but still I should know how expensive is this city actually. Thank you for the informative article!

  2. Avatar josh

    love this blog. I am moving to new york in a week and I cannot believe that the day has finally come for me to move. I already knew it is expensive but I am lucky enough to have friends who live there as well. I will have several interviews when I first get there and also living with a friends friend who I will meet as well. thanks for the post even though it is a couple years old

    • Admin Admin

      Hi Josh,
      We are happy to hear that you like the blog. You’ll like it even more when you read
      this post by Ben about how to hunt for apartments in NYC. Make sure you have all your paperwork ready before you start looking. The market can be very competitive so you have to be ready to pounce when something good turns up. Good luck from the MFA Team!

    • Admin Admin

      Hi Barbara,
      Your best bet is to ask your friends and co-workers for recommendations and put the word out to all your social media contacts. If that does not get you any names, contact some of the bigger rental agencies and ask them to recommend brokers in the areas you are looking in. And check out the latest post on our site about how to avoid rental scammers.
      Good luck!

  3. Avatar Rafi

    Love this post. Very helpful for someone living in NY. I have a big question that more deals with the moving to NY process…

    My partner and I are currently living in Florida, which is where we were both raised and are getting our undergraduate degrees. We are miserable here, and beyond ready to go. We’re both 20 years old. We’ve been living with my mother and saving up for our next move, which I am set on being a major city, where we will get graduate degrees from. This is certain. I’ve traveled to New York several times growing up, and remember the moment I fell in love with the city (it really did feel like falling in love). I’ve been to most other major American cities and have never felt the same thing. Since then, I’ve “dreamed” of moving there…but also since then, I’ve had multiple reality checks.

    Neither of our families have a lot of money, so we wouldn’t be getting any support from them. My work-related skills start and end at web design/development, and he’s always worked at nurseries (though he is also a certified pharmacy technician in Florida). I expect we’d both have to take horrible minimum wage jobs upon arrival. We don’t have any social connections there strong enough for me to feel comfortable “crashing” for the first few weeks. I actually want to live in Brooklyn–that wouldn’t be a downgrade at all. We would be taking out loans for school (probably about $20 k) which should be used mostly for school, but I would try to reserve about three months of living expenses (rent, food, transportation, etc.) for emergencies and peace of mind.

    Do you think moving there is possible for us? I mean, you’d think out of the millions of people who have gone there and aren’t living in a box or Staten Island, we wouldn’t be the most resource-less case, right? I just don’t even know how we would make any of it happen. But it has to be possible, right!?

    Any advice?

    • Alex Alex

      Hi Rafi,

      Thanks for writing in. Your questions are very broad, and not the type to which we can give definitive answers. But I do have several observations: if you’re in web-design/development, this is a skill for which there will likely be a demand, for which you’ll get paid more than minimum wage. (Also, in NYC, because everything is so expensive, it’s rare for someone to actually earn minimum wage — usually it’s more.) Ditto for your partner — if he can get certified as a pharm tech in NY, he may not make a ton of money, but almost certainly more than minimum wage. Additionally, if you’re in graduate programs, they will often have resources to help you find jobs (within the university) as well as housing.

      As for housing, living in Brooklyn is now very popular … and it’s a great place to live. That said, if you’re looking to save as much money as possible, consider Queens (Astoria or Jackson Heights) or the far north of Manhattan. Both have reasonably nice neighborhoods, at reasonable prices.

      It sounds like you have a plan and a level head on your shoulders — so, no, you wouldn’t be even close to the most resource-less case. It’s definitely possible to move to New York and live there — like you pointed out, millions of people are doing it right now!