NYC Living

Hacks for Living in NYC on a Tight Budget

Living in the greatest city in the world can be tough — especially on a tight budget.

When you’re trying to make the most of a small income, one of the most important things to do is make a budget and stick to it. Don’t ever pay more than 30 percent of your income on rent, and commit to a number for essential weekly expenses, like food and transportation.

Here are a few simple life hacks to stretch that budget as far as it will go:

  • Stop eating out all the time. I know it’s hard. But grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Key Foods are really reasonably priced, and just think: you’re learning a new skill by becoming a master chef! Delivery services like Fresh Direct and Amazon offer great deals as well.Trader Joe NYC

(Source: Brian Van via Flicker Creative Commons)

  • Pack your lunch. With all the great cooking you’ll be doing at home, invest in some Tupperware and start bringing leftovers to work. Invite your friends over for a potluck dinner: you’ll get a cheap, fun evening with buddies, plus leftovers for days!
  • Ditch taxis for cheap transportation. If you take the subway to work, buy a monthly unlimited MetroCard. If you’re athletically minded, Citi Bike is $150 for an annual membership, which is a relatively affordable and healthy mode of transportation. Plus, if you bike to work every day, there’s no need to pay for a gym membership.
  • Resist high bar prices. You know what’s expensive? An artisanal cocktail painstakingly crafted by a “mixologist.” You know what’s not? A bottle of “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s.Commute via Citibike

(Source: Several Seconds via Flickr Creative Commons)

  • Make your own coffee. Invest in a coffee maker and a thermos. It’s amazing how quickly those $3 lattes add up.
  • Participate in paid market research studies. Many market research companies, consultancies and hospitals run paid market research studies and focus groups. Often you can make upwards of $100 for participating in an hour-long study. Usually you have to apply, but you can find many options by searching for “focus groups/studies” on New York Backpage or on NYU’s page for paid research studies. You can also register with major market research groups like SIS International or Global Strategy Group. Both have offices in New York City and always looking for research group participants.
  • Learn to love street food. No city offers better $1 pizza or $5 halal food. Take advantage.Halal cart

(Source: Gulian Bolisay via Flickr Creative Commons)

  • Don’t overpay for entertainment. The city that never sleeps provides plenty of entertainment for free: there’s no need to shell out big bucks to get into a club or a Broadway show. Many museums offer free admission on certain days of the week, TKTS sells Broadway tickets at a discount, and Brooklyn is full of great bars where there’s no cover required.
  • Make sure you understand your insurance policy before making doctor’s appointments. If you’ve got a job with benefits, be sure you understand the ins and outs of your insurance policy before seeing a doctor. This is not to say you should not see a doctor, but be sure the one you choose accepts your insurance provider, that you’ve received a referral if you need one and that you understand the services, tests, procedures you are receiving and what they will cost you before you say “yes.”
  • Get a roommate. ‘Nuf said.
  • Share subscriptions with friends. Got to have HBO GO? Can’t survive a Sunday without the weekend edition of the Times? Instead of investing in a subscription all for yourself, go dutch with a friend.
  • Sign up for Groupon or Living Social. Daily deals are a great way to enjoy treats that would otherwise be above your paygrade; a weekend getaway, for example, or a fancy haircut.
  • Buy secondhand. There’s no reason to make the trip to IKEA to buy a sofa, when you can get the exact same model on Craigslist for half the price. Just make sure to wash the upholstery before you use it! Start reselling clothes at consignment stores like Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange: you’ll get great deals on the same styles you would find in chain shops.


Phoebe Pickering

Phoebe Pickering is a freelance writer and editor, natural born traveler and consummate New Yorker. A graduate of Tufts University, Phoebe has extensive experience in publishing, having worked as an assistant editor at Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin, and as a literary assistant at Don Congdon Associates, a literary agency in NYC. She currently works at Furthermore, a private fund that awards publishing grants to non-fiction books about history, the arts and the environment. Phoebe has lived all over the world, but her heart will always remain in Williamsburg.

  • Robert Figueroa

    I definitely want to get to more museums! Thanks for the lovely article, with rents only increasing we are all finding the need to get more creative in saving.

  • Kamalvincent

    You do realize calling yourself a “consummate New Yorker” and having your heart in Williamsburg is a severe and absurd contradiction in terms, yes?