When Scott and I made a decision to take a leap of faith and move to one of the most expensive cities in the world – without jobs – most people thought that we were crazy. The decision to do so, however, wasn’t quite as impulsive or outlandish as some might think.
Before we moved, we spent countless hours researching the cost of living in New York City (um, three times the national average), and made a spreadsheet of what we thought our monthly bills would look like. After careful consideration, we decided to go for it with a common understanding that some things and spending habits were going to change.
It’s no walk in the park, but there is a definitely a reason why living in the City (we’re in Park Slope, Brooklyn) is so expensive. The energy, sights, and surroundings are simply amazing and unlike any other place in the world. For that, the experience of being here is so worth the “sacrifices.”
We’ve only been in our apartment for about four months now, and I know that I have more to learn, but today I wanted to share how we have been able to live here on a budget, without having to drain our savings.
I hope these tips help those looking to make a move to a big city or even tighten the purse strings a little!
• order household and pantry staples online
When we decided to move to New York City, I knew that I would probably do most of my shopping online. Not only is it more convenient to get shopping bags home (no cars = carrying everything in your arms), but you can usually find better deals for otherwise marked-up products.
Groceries are pretty pricey here, so I try and order what I can online to avoid the City markups. This includes cleaning supplies, snacks, soups, paper products, laundry detergent, and more. More times than not, I can score more ounces per item at a much cheaper price. The savings is always worth the $5.99 shipping charge, and I don’t have to deal with carrying heavy items all the way home. Win!
• date days versus date nights
One thing that Scott and I have been doing for years, when possible, is going out for date days versus date nights. We’ll plan to go out for brunch or grab a lunch special on the weekend and follow up with a matinée movie. We take turns planning what we’ll do, and I often pull up reviews and deals on restaurants in the area we want to visit before we head out.
Also, unless it’s a special occasion or we find a great happy hour, we usually skip the overpriced cocktails and enjoy a bottle of wine at home.
• research where the best deals are for what
Speaking of groceries, I buy all of our produce from local grocers, markets or Whole Foods. I love Trader Joes and Target, but I’m a subway ride away from the closest locations. Some grocers have better deals on organic fruit and vegetables, but they price their packaged foods like chips and crackers unreasonably high.
Over time, I have learned to buy produce at one store, order snacks online, and shop the 365 brand at Whole Foods whenever possible. We live close to a large discount store, so I often pop in and see if I can grab what I need there before I wander elsewhere. I’ve learned that their toothpastes are just as expensive as a convenient store, but that I can find my shampoo and conditioner at a much better price than I can even online.
(Those 19.5 oz. bottles are priced the same as the 13 oz. set at CVS!)
I order all of our pet food and supplies through Petco (the markup in our area is ridiculous!), and I earn Pals Rewards that usually get me some kind of discount at the end. The only exception in the pet department is cans of wet cat and dog food. For the price and brand they like, it’s worth me walking about fifteen minutes to our nearest Unleashed, a sub-brand of Petco, and purchasing them one can at a time at $2.99 each. (I’ve only found cases online or cans in limited flavors for $3.49 or higher.)
I order my beloved Dunkin Donuts coffee online at Target because they offer the best prices, and I make sure to order $25 worth of it to waive the shipping fee.
It might take a few months to get in the habit of knowing where to get what, but it will all come together if you care enough to make mental notes and learn a system that works for you!
• constantly downsize and get rid of/sell things you don’t need
Living in a small apartment setting really makes you value the things you choose to fill it with. Do you need five large suitcases for two people? Do you need an extra television “for later” that is just sitting on the floor right now? Do you need twenty winter coats? Probably not.
We’ve truly embraced the art of downsizing, and it’s such a great feeling when we have a big pile of things to give away or sell. We had a lot of success selling furniture, mattresses, bedding, and extra sets of things on Craigslist before we moved, and we’ve been all over Letgo after we arrived. You can get rid of things relatively quickly, and it’s nice to put the money you make from sales towards pieces you actually need.
Right now, we plan to buy area rugs, decorative pillows for our couch, and a hightop dining table only when we sell our extra television, framed artwork, extra suitcases, and a set of glass vases that are currently cluttering the living room.
• save coupons and actually use them
Gone are the days where I snip coupons and just let them pile up on the counter. If I find something worth saving, I try my hardest to use it (only on things I would usually buy in the first place) before it expires.
My favorite place to cash in on coupons is CVS! Every now and then, I will find killer deals, and I recently saved $16 on my last check out of $45. Score!
• buy in bulk when it makes sense
We don’t buy too many things in bulk since we have little space to store it. Some things that we buy value-sized, however, are toilet paper, paper towels, and pet food. If I find in-season fruit on clearance, I’ll stock up on it and stick the majority of it in the freezer for smoothies.
• take advantage of public transportation
It took a few trial and error runs to figure out the subway and train system, but now I hop on and off like a pro.
We’ve only used a car service a handful of times in the four months that we’ve lived here, and it’s usually for a fancy night out (hello heels) or when we buy too much to carry home from Whole Foods. We don’t own cars (no car payments!), so we walk, subway, train, or bus everywhere we go. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not scary or unsafe at all.
A general rule for selecting a MetroCard is that you don’t need the unlimited month unless you plan to use it at least twelve times a week. Since Scott works in Manhattan, he purchases the unlimited option for $116 per month. I don’t have to use daily transportation every day (yet), so I keep refilling my Metrocard with $40 and receive an additional $5 bonus credit each time.
If you add it all together, two people can get all around the City just fine on a $300 transit budget (including a few Uber rides) per month. That sure beats having two car payments!
• buy things you need (or want) when they are on sale
Just like stockpiling the fruit I mentioned above, I subscribe to store email notifications and always keep a lookout for sales on things we like to have in our home like wallflowers and candles from Bath & Body Works. If I need a new pair of shoes, I’ll wait for an email from DSW, for example, and look when I have an extra coupon in hand.
As for clothes, we’ve both been relatively conservative on the shopping front lately. We don’t have much closet space (all of my hangers are on a double wardrobe rack in our room!), so we’re on a one new item in, one old item out rule that keeps us from buying things we don’t necessarily need. If I get an itch to shop, I’ll usually visit a Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or shop the sales racks at my favorite department stores to keep prices down.
• take advantage of seasonal sales
The only time I spend a little more than normal is when semi-annual sales are going on. This year I found several mix-and-match bathing suits from Victoria’s Secret when I realized they are discontinuing their swimwear line.
I do a solid amount of holiday shopping after Thanksgiving (mostly online), and I try to stock up on things I use throughout the year as much as I can.
• don’t go overboard on beauty upkeep
Truth? I haven’t gotten my hair done since November. That’s almost a year, which I realize isn’t normal. When we have a little more cash flow coming in, I plan to return to a salon, but I also plan on embracing my natural roots with a balayage color and natural cut. This way, I’ll only need to get it touched up every 4-6 months. Scott found a great barber shop only blocks away from us that charges $15 per haircut.
Because the competition is fierce, you can find mani/pedi services for under $25. I don’t get them on the regular, but I treat myself every other month or so and do my nails on my own in between visits. I get my eyebrows threaded every two weeks for $6, and that’s about it!
• work out at home or find a fitness plan that works for you
You don’t have to have an unlimited membership to a fancy studio to stay fit. Get outside by running or riding through the park, and invest in a couple sets of dumbbells if you want to complete workouts at home. You can purchase a ClassPass membership or become a member of a gym like the YMCA or New York Sports Club for a reasonable price.
We live close to Prospect Park, so you better believe I take advantage of that running loop and workout area outside!
• explore free or cost-effective things to do around the City
I plan on expanding on this one in a future blog post, but for now, I will say that we spend a lot of time checking out surrounding areas and only end up spending a little more than public transit fares. We love to walk the parks, explore a new areas and boroughs, train to Coney Island, and find cool free-to-the-public events or festivals to attend.
While there are plenty of shows to see and tickets to tours to purchase, there are just as many opportunities to enjoy the City with a budget in mind.
• cook extra portions for leftovers
Most New Yorkers living busy lives in the City tend to dine out and order food in on the regular. In an effort to save money, we try to plan ahead and cook at home as much as possible. I make a loaded salad at the beginning of the week and usually add a protein like grilled chicken to it for lunches or pair it on the side of whatever we’re having for a few days.
Lately, I’ve really been enjoying our Blue Apron subscription. I choose the family plan that sends over ingredients and recipes for two meals that feed four for $69.
This may seem steep, but when I’m cooking for two, that’s eight servings and four meals (with leftovers), and that equals about $8.60 per meal per person. I order Blue Apron dinners one to two times a month, and I consider them our gourmet meals in.
I cook more conservatively on a day-to-day basis, and I love to make soups and stews (those last for days) when it gets colder out. I make a lot of rice or quinoa bowls, and a casserole or pasta salad can go a long way!
I hope these tips help you if you’re trying to stay on a budget or work on your savings. I’m sure I’ll be back to share more posts about how we are transitioning to life in NYC soon. If you have any subject suggestions or questions, please feel free to comment below.
Happy Hump Day!