NYC Moving Guide: How to Live on a Budget in New York City

New residents to New York City discover quickly that living expenses in NYC are significantly higher than in other cities where they’ve lived. Just leaving your apartment, it can feel like money is mysteriously deleted from your checking account. How did I spend $14 on transportation today? I took the subway… Wait, that salad was *how* much? Did my bodega overcharge me?

It may be around the fourth or fifth accidental Uber surge pricing ride when you’re ready to approach the dreaded B word and get serious about budgeting. Whether you’ve been in NYC a while or you’re trying to plan ahead for your move, collecting tips for how to save money in NYC is always smart. Read on for information about the cost of living in New York City, how to save on living expenses, affordable neighborhoods in NYC, and other tips on living on a budget in New York.

Cost of Living in New York City

If you’re looking at moving to New York or have moved there recently, it probably seems money is disappearing from your bank account at a much quicker clip than you’re used to. It’s not your imagination: living expenses in NYC are genuinely higher than in other cities. By how much, you ask? Well, that depends on where you’re moving from. Venturing from San Francisco, L.A., San Jose or international cities like London, you may not notice the shift much beyond your housing costs. If you’re relocating from Portland, Oregon or Asheville, North Carolina? Ouch. You’ll be feeling the pain in your wallet.

So…how much does it cost to live in NYC?

This can be a complicated question to answer because New York isn’t just one city — it’s more like five cities, with a host of diverse neighborhoods. Get to know what each has to offer with our guide to the New York City Boroughs. Living in the heart of a more expensive part of Manhattan will mean much higher rent than choosing a less accessible or central area of Brooklyn or Queens.

Here’s a quick cost comparison of living expenses in NYC vs the national average:

  1. Rent. According to RentJungle, average rent across housing sizes and all NYC boroughs is just over $3,500 per month, compared to a national average closer to $1,450 (according to Rent Café’s blog). Yes, more than twice as much is pretty extreme. In Manhattan, luxury areas drive average prices even higher, close to $4,200 per month, while Brooklyn’s average is around $2,700. Average rent in the outer boroughs of Staten Island, the Bronx, and Queens will help you save significantly if you’re willing to sacrifice living in the heart of the city.
  • Transportation. How your transportation costs shift will depend greatly on whether you choose to have a car in New York. Inner boroughs are especially low on street parking and a garage will cost you a pretty penny. Most residents choose public transit for commuting to and from work. A single ride is $2.75, making a round trip $5.50. Many commuters opt for an unlimited monthly pass for $127, which works out to about $4.25 a day. These transit costs run a little higher than in many other cities. Tip: you may qualify for a reduced fare if you have a lower income. Check out the MTA website to learn more.
  • Groceries. Yes, even food costs more in the Big Apple. According to this Smart Asset article, you can expect to pay about $470 a month on groceries, which is about $150 more a month than the national average. Can you save in this area? Of course. But, you’ll want to be vigilant about meal planning, comparing prices, and avoiding last-minute purchases at your corner bodega.
  • Utilities. As far as your basic utilities go, you can expect costs to stay pretty consistent with national averages — about $150 a month for the usual apartment utilities (electricity, water, garbage). Internet costs in New York are close to the national average as well, with monthly rates averaging $50-$60.

Wondering how your city compares? Check out this cost of living comparison calculator from NerdWallet, which shows how cost of living inflates or deflates by city.

How does the cost of living in Brooklyn compare?

As you consider how to save money in New York, you might be wondering about other popular boroughs like Brooklyn. As in Manhattan, Brooklyn has a broad range of neighborhoods with varying rent prices and even differences in restaurant and grocery store pricing. On average, though, you’ll be able to save some dough by moving to Brooklyn as long as you avoid moving to the trendiest areas. When you look at rent across neighborhoods and home sizes, Brooklyn averages as much as $1,500 less in rent than Manhattan. More realistically, if you look at comparable neighborhoods in Manhattan versus Brooklyn, you can expect to save a couple hundred dollars a month on your rent.

As you consider living expenses in NYC and the potential of moving to Brooklyn or another borough, make sure you consider the cost of your commute as well. If you’re committed to a job in Manhattan, you’re guaranteed to be spending more on transportation as opposed to saving by walking or biking in the city.

Wondering How to Save Money in NYC?

Now that you have an idea about how much it costs to live in NYC and the cost of living in New York and Brooklyn, you’re probably beginning to doubt if it’s even possible to save money in NYC. Or have you resigned yourself to just living in NYC until you go broke, then moving back with your parents in Ohio?

While there’s no getting around the fact that New York is expensive, living on a budget in NYC isn’t impossible! With some smart strategies and a willingness to adjust expectations to match  your financial priorities, you can save money in New York while still having fun.

Find Affordable Neighborhoods in NYC

The number one way to reduce your overall budget? Find ways to lower your housing cost. For most, this is far and away the most expensive part of living in New York City — the rent is just so darn high. Certain parts of NYC — particularly a few neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn — are simply prohibitively expensive, and there’s not much getting around it. If you absolutely must live on the Upper West Side or Park Slope (perhaps due to a job or other constraint), consider getting a roommate or two! This will dramatically decrease your rent and utilities burden. Operating on a shoestring? Research whether you may qualify for New York’s affordable housing program through the Housing Connect Program.

If you’re setting out to find an affordable neighborhood in NYC, here are a few things to know…

Approximate Average Rent by Borough (across neighborhoods and all housing types), via RentCafé:

  1. Manhattan: $4,200
  2. Brooklyn: $2,700
  3. Queens: $2,200
  4. The Bronx: $1,700
  5. Staten Island: $1,400

As you can see, right off the bat you can save a boatload on rent by choosing to live in an outer borough like Queens or The Bronx. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of commute time in favor of saving money (and potentially having more space!), looking outside Manhattan and even Brooklyn may be a great choice for you.

Not sure where to start your search? Here are a few more affordable neighborhoods in NYC to check out.

  1. Washington Heights (Manhattan)
  2. Flatbush (Brooklyn)
  3. Inwood (Manhattan)
  4. Murray Hill (Manhattan)
  5. Sunnyside (Queens)
  6. Bedford Park (The Bronx)
  7. All areas of Staten Island

Moving to NYC After College? More Ways to Save Money in NYC

Here are several quick tips for reducing your overall budget in New York.

  • Don’t bring your car. Heading to the Big Apple after graduation? You may want to ditch your car. Not only is parking extremely scarce and a total hassle in most areas of the city (you’ll pay an arm and a leg for a space), the city is well connected via public transit. Save major bucks on insurance, gas, repairs, and parking by selling your wheels before you arrive. Check out Yelp reviews for car-sharing services like Car2Go and Zipcar for those occasional times when you really need a car or just want to get away from the city.
  • Do the math on transportation costs. Before you spring for a monthly unlimited Metro pass, actually sit down and calculate how often you’re taking the subway and bus. If you work from home a few days a week, it may be worth it to continue paying ride-by-ride. Or perhaps it’s the opposite — you’re constantly riding the train to commute and get together with friends. You may find those unlimited rides will save you significant cash.
  • Shop at local markets for cheaper produce. Grocery shopping in New York City is not one-size-fits-all. Start exploring local farmer’s markets and street vendors for produce instead of heading to a superstore for any and every purchase. An extra stop could save you big!
  • Skip the taxis and Ubers. This may be obvious for any budget post, but try to avoid taxi, Uber, and Lyft rides no matter how tempting. Those surge prices can add up quickly! Try walking or biking if you’re sick of the subway. Bonus: save by not having to go to the gym!
  • Join the sharing economy. In a city as dense as New York, people are coming and going and purging possessions all the time. Join your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook or get apps like NextDoor, where people around you often post items they’re unloading for free.
  • Make dinners out and takeout a treat, not a default. We know, we know — after your long train ride home, the last thing you want to do is cook a meal, especially when the Seamless app is right there on your phone with your debit card pre-loaded. But as you know, dinners out or ordered in add up quickly before you’ve realized what happened. Focus on stocking up on staples at the grocery store so there’s always something quick and easy to make at home. Oh, and you may want to just delete that Seamless app.

Living on a budget in New York can be challenging. But that’s all it is: a challenge that you can tackle with a few simple tactics and strategies. Find a neighborhood you can afford, commit to a few money-saving behaviors, and create your own version of what “living large” looks like in New York, as in having a larger savings account.

Looking for more tips on moving to New York? Check out our guides on finding an apartment in NYC, choosing a neighborhood in NYC, and how to survive moving day in NYC without going crazy.