How to save money while living in NYC

April 12, 2013 in Career,Life,Philosophy,Travel

One of the most common questions I receive is how I’ve afforded to travel so much. I’m not a trust-fund kid or a full-time travel blogger; I’m currently working full-time in New York City. I’ve traveled because I work, I save, I live frugally and I make travel a priority–no matter where I am in the world.

Become your dream chalk art in New York City

I did grow up with a mother who was very financially savvy with an incredible entrepreneurial spirit, and she encouraged much of the same in me. I grew up collecting cans and bottles in my red wagon, selling lemonade, walking dogs: ah, the life of a kid in the suburbs! When I was about 9 years old, I sold cans of soda out of my wagon to the high school kids after school on Fridays: I searched for soda coupons in the grocery store mailers, created a budget, had a good rapport with my regular customers. This was all for my college fund, and then, as I grew more independent, my car fund.

I will admit that one of the things that has made it much easier for me to travel and take risks is the result of my parents’ financial management, many long hours at the library and the lovely taxpayers of California: I was able to graduate college without any debt. That meant I went straight into my first job (and my very cheap first apartment) able to save up a good chunk of change before moving to Nice. I also worked full-time in Nice and worked full-time in Melbourne: so while I’ve “traveled” quite a lot, I’ve spent plenty of my time abroad earning money to travel more. [See: what do you need to move to a new city?]

Now that I’m living in New York City, I work full-time at a start-up (in addition to blogging, volunteering and trying to maintain an active social life). While it is VERY easy to burn through cash living here–all of that fun stuff to do costs money!–I’ve been able to build up my travel fund slowly but surely through a few tried-and-true methods:

Public transportation mural in New York City subway

Get subway-savvy

Cabs are cheap in New York City, so it’s easy to fall into the habit of grabbing one on your way out or if you’re running late. But those $15 and $20 charges add up quickly. I spend $112 a month on an unlimited MetroCard: for me, that is my transportation cost for the month. I walk if the weather’s nice or if I’m not going far; other than that, I take the subway or the bus. It might not be as glamorous, but if I’ve already paid for it–might as well use it!

Sliced grapefruit

Be your own top chef

Eating lunch out is another charge that adds up super quickly: $10 for a salad doesn’t seem too extreme, until you realize that you’ve spent $50 on what would have cost half as much to make yourself. I pack my own snacks and lunches every morning, and that extra 20 minutes of slicing and dicing is money in my pocket. And as much as I love taste-testing my way around New York’s restaurants and bars, I try to limit myself to the weekend and an occasional happy hour.

Culture doesn’t have to cost

Most museums in New York City have at least one “free” day a week or a month: research online to find out when that is. If you’re a Bank of America cardholder, you also have free access to a number of museums in New York City (and across the United States) on the first weekend of each month. Also, don’t forget that some museums have a “suggested donation” instead of admission–so you can legitimately pay $1 and get in, even if the sign says $25.

View from the Williamsburg Bridge, New York City

Start running

I’m a big fan of the completely free outdoor workout: a nice run across the bridge and then utilizing park equipment for push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. I’ve heard of plenty of people hopping around from gym to gym taking advantage of first-month specials: if you’re not picky about place, it’s a great way to save some serious cash. Personally, I like to get into a groove of a gym layout and class schedule–so I always go for the membership instead of drop-in rates. It usually requires a bit more upfront cash or a time commitment, but it’s so much cheaper in the long run.

Reading in the sunshine in Bryant Park, New York City

Explore the outdoors

My favorite weekend activities (especially now that the weather is nice again!): walk the High Line, wander through Chelsea Markets or SoHo, lie out and read magazines at Central Park or the East River Waterfront. Walk around a new neighborhood with my camera, walk across a bridge at sunset. Basically, enjoy the incredible ambiance and diversity of the city’s neighborhoods without spending any money.

A tiny exposed New York City closet

Invest in clothes

When it comes to a solid wardrobe–whether you’re living out of a backpack or a teeny-tiny closet–less is more. I invest in good quality staples, making sure that each piece works with plenty of other pieces in my wardrobe. I’m a big fan of solid colors, simple dresses and scarves for this reason. I end up saving since I’m not constantly replacing basic items or wasting cash on trendy impulse purchases.

[See: how not to look like a backpacker while living out of a backpack]

Don’t pay your bank

Don’t live beyond your means: as soon as you start, you start falling massively behind. Overdraft fees and credit card interest are the WORST THINGS EVER in my opinion: why would you be giving your hard-earned money away for nothing?! Pay your credit cards off; don’t buy things you don’t need.

Note: When I’m traveling abroad, the one thing I don’t scrimp on is travel insurance: it might cost a bit upfront, but it will end up saving you heaps of money if you have anything goes wrong–and this is travel. Everything goes wrong! 

  • All these can also be perfectly applied to living in London… We’ve had terrible weather, so going outdoors hasn’t been an option lately. However, London has also got such a large number of art galleries and museums that have free entry, that you never run out of something to do (for free!) on a rainy day.

  • Great tips! I lived in NYC for almost 5 years, never saved a dime. If I needed extra cash I just sold stuff on Ebay haha.

  • Growing up in NYC, I´ve always preferred the gym only because we don´t always have great weather all year ´round. However when I reluctantly let go of my Equinox membership, I miraculously found myself biking and rollerblading a lot more again, taking advantage of free yoga classes Lululemon offers, running with a group from Meetup.com in Central Park, Groupon deals, and most recently, YouTube fitness videos. It´s been such a huge money-saver overall!

  • Great tips – will come in handy when I move these next year!

  • anya

    Hey christine, thanks for this post! looks like i’m not the only one who’s preferring slice&dice over expensive luncheons. another tip to get around – get a bike! it saves you money&time plus you get that etxra bit of exercise.

  • People would always ask me the same thing about money when I was living in Chicago and traveling a few times a year. I think I had it a little easier than you, as Chicago is a bit more affordable than New York in a lot of ways, but when it comes down to it it’s really not that hard to save the money as long as you keep your goal in mind and actually stick to the budget you set for yourself. There are a few things I cut out of my budget that I really miss sometimes (pedicures, magazine subscriptions, frequent movie theater visits), but hey, something’s gotta give.

  • This Battered Suitcase

    Great tips for saving money while living in any city! I’m soon moving to London and I know I’ll really have to be careful with how I spend my cash.

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  • camorose

    That is definitely one thing I LOVE (and envy!) about London–all the free museums and galleries! No excuse not to be plenty cultured there 🙂

  • camorose

    Just sold a load at Buffalo Exchange! Should definitely check out eBay for the things that didn’t get picked up there–good idea!

  • camorose

    Such a great idea! I found a pretty cheap gym, but now that the weather is nice, I’m itching to get outside. I’m definitely going to start doing the Lululemon outdoor yoga in Bryant Park and I also need to check out some free running groups. Never thought to check Meetup!

  • camorose

    Hooray! You’ll love it!

  • camorose

    If only I didn’t live on a fourth floor walk-up–there’s no place to store a bike in my building and I don’t think I’m quite that committed to carrying it up! I am thinking about investing in some rollerblades 🙂

  • camorose

    Super true! I haven’t quite been able to give up my mani-pedi’s yet–they’re SO cheap in NYC!–but I do drastically cut down on the frequency when I need to save a bit 🙂

  • camorose

    Yes! London is amazing but super expensive. Although, as someone else pointed out–at least all the museums are free for those rainy days!

  • Izy Berry

    Thanks for the tips! These tips will help me a lot!

  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed them 🙂

  • jouljet

    Ohh, that’s how I get to travel too! Easy, if you put your mind to it! Not “lucky” as most people bemoan. Priorities!

  • camorose

    Making it a priority is EXACTLY it–not much luck in that!

  • These are some great tips and rules that I always live by. 🙂 I was actually really surprised by how cheap NYC was when I was there. The cost of accommodation is outrageous but everything else like transportation, food, activities were all so cheap! Especially compared to places like San Francisco, London, Paris, etc.

  • camorose

    Super true! Really good food can definitely be found for cheap here 🙂

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  • xunyfuny

    i think that if u are one of the few who dont ditch their car after moving to New York City, u should def check out newyorkmotorinsurance (google them). they seem to be having an unbelievably good auto insurance deal going on right now

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