NYC is not expensive. In fact, it’s easy to live here on less than $2,000 per month for one person. Here’s how I’d do it:
- $700 Housing
- $112 Transport
- $200 Utilities
- $300 Food
- $688 Entertainment
But, to be honest, I spend a little more than that. I’m a full-time business writer and financial analyst here in NYC, and my wife and I typically live on around $3,000 per month in total (or $1,500 per person). This is a lot more than we have to spend and affords us what I consider a very luxurious, easy lifestyle.
Since I have heard so many people complain about how expensive NYC is, let me break down for you a very manageable budget for a twenty-something just starting out in the big city.
By far, New York City’s highest expense is housing, and some truly pricey and luxurious housing options are available in this city. However, there are plenty of affordable options that many people, especially those coming from America’s suburbia, either do not or will not consider.
By going north of 96th street on the East Side or above 110th street on the West Side east of Morningside Park, rents fall dramatically. Nowadays, one bedroom apartments in Harlem start at about $1,100 per month, and studios in Inwood can be found for $900 per month. Of course, there is the roommate option, where one person can rent a room for as little as $500 per month.
The problem is that many people will avoid Harlem because of fear of crime or, to be blunt, racism. This is particularly true of suburbanites who are coming to the city for the first time, and who will foolishly think that Williamsburg or Flatbush are safer than Harlem. In fact, many areas of Harlem are much, much safer than many parts of Brooklyn. But stigmas die hard and many people are still passing judgment on NYC as if it were 1990.
It’s not. For instance, take a look at the 26th and 71st precincts’ crime data available here. You’ll see that this area of Harlem is actually much safer than the Brooklyn neighborhood that so many gentrifiers from across America are choosing. Come to Harlem, and you will easily find yourself sharing a nice apartment for $700 per month. We own our own co-op and pay less than this for the monthly maintenance, meaning our housing costs are a fraction of any of our friends, including those who live in Queens and the Bronx.
In NYC, one profits from not being racist. Plus, Harlem is beautiful and has several cultural hotspots as well as the advantage of having direct (and short) subway lines to midtown and downtown. On that note, let’s look at transportation.
Most people live in NYC without a car, and you can easily travel as much as you want in the city for $112 per month after the fare hike coming next year. However, one can have a car in the city for even less. My wife and I have a car, and our transport costs are little more than the $224 it will cost us for Metrocards next month. Insurance is $80/mo. Gas is maybe $50/mo. Our car payment is $115/mo., but someone with a cheaper, older car wouldn’t even need to worry about this. Parking is free and easily found uptown.
For a single person, however, no cheaper and more convenient option exists than a Metrocard. So let’s say $112/mo. for travel.
Electricity costs will vary from person to person, but for two people in a 1 bedroom apartment using two computers constantly and occasionally using an iPad, two iPhones, and a t.v., we pay about $100/mo. on average over the year. We use air conditioning quite heavily in the summer; without that, electricity would probably cost only $80/mo. on average. Still, for this situation let’s stick with $100.
Smartphones can be had for $45 per month with several providers, but dumb phones on a pay-as-you-go plan can go for much less. Still, let’s say $50 for phone.
For internet, Verizon and Time Warner are the providers of choice, but we use Clear, which gives us mobile 4G internet at a decent speed anywhere in the city for $45 per month. So, in total, we’ll say $200 for utilities.
Food does not cost more on Manhattan than elsewhere per se. What costs more is quality. If you are willing to handle less than gorgeous produce and less than delicious tomatoes, C-Town, Fine Foods, Key Foods, and other chain grocers will keep your food bill down. If you choose Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as so many gentrifiers south of 96th street seem to do, you will easily spend double or more on food in the city than you did back home.
Like apartment space, good quality produce is just one of those things that one must give up when moving to Manhattan. Of course you don’t have to give either up, but you will pay dearly if you don’t. Shop at C-Town, and one person’s monthly food bills shouldn’t reasonably exceed $300 per month. We spend about $400 for two people.
This is the black hole where most transplants find most of their cash disappearing. Young, energetic upstarts move to NYC and want to go out every night. They’re looking for a job, sex, love, meaning, or whatever it is that motivates the 21st century yuppies of Williamsburg and the East Village. Since I’m in my 30s, happily married, and ensconced uptown relatively far from the loud crowded bars that I never really liked anyway, it’s difficult for me to comment on the economic side of this aspect of NYC life.
Except to say that it’s comically expensive, and not worth the cost.
Even a place like the Alligator Lounge will burn holes in your wallet. This place is praised for its $6 pints and free (but very crappy) pizzas. From my perspective, a beer at home and a self-made pizza will cost much less and taste much better, but if you moved to NYC from suburbia, you probably didn’t come to the city to eat and drink at home. I understand, which is why I’ve budgeted $688 for entertainment. That’s $150 per weekend, which should be more than enough cash to blow on chasing tail (and if you need more than that to hook up, you’re seriously doing it wrong.) Left over is $88 per month–plenty for toiletries, emergency coffees, and umbrellas during surprise rainstorms.
But what about?
There are a lot of things missing from this list–spending money on comic books, clothes, electronics, art supplies, cameras, etc. I’ve met enough young people who cannot understand the difference between essentials and non-essentials. If these things are important to you and you are not making a good salary, you should not live in NYC.
If you are truly an artist, paint in Oklahoma City, where you can get a huge artist space for less than a room in a cramped apartment. If you are truly an artist, it shouldn’t matter where you live.
If having the most fashionable clothes is important to you, make more money or date some dope who makes enough money and is stupid enough to give you charity. Or, of course, live somewhere else.
If you care about cameras, great–move to Mongolia, or Cameroon, or rural Montana. NYC is perhaps the most overphotographed place on Earth, and while you may have a unique vision, you don’t have a unique subject matter. And if you moved here for work as a photographer, you should make enough money to pay for your equipment (if you don’t, you’re being exploited–a lot of that in NYC too).
In short, it’s pretty damn easy to live in NYC on a small budget–thousands and thousands of New Yorkers do it with even less. I’ve met illegal immigrants who live on less than $1,000 per month. If they can do it, why can’t you live on even double that?