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

Are you dreaming of moving to the vibrant streets of New York City or already living there and wondering if it’s possible to maintain a frugal lifestyle? The Big Apple has earned its reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the United States, with skyrocketing costs due to its popularity and the sheer awesomeness of living there. But fear not because there are ways to live on a budget in NYC and still enjoy all the city offers. This comprehensive guide will explore tips and strategies for saving money while living in a city that never sleeps. Before you know it, you’ll be mastering the art of living in NYC for (almost) free.

The Cost of Living in New York City

New York City is notorious for its high cost of living, and it’s essential to understand the expenses you’ll encounter when budgeting for life in the city. According to RentCafe, the cost of living in New York City is 38% higher than the state average and 80% higher than the national average. Housing costs, in particular, are significantly higher, with prices 230% higher than the national average.


Rent is often the most significant expense for New Yorkers, and finding affordable neighborhoods that fit your budget is important. While Manhattan may be the dream for many, it comes with a hefty price tag. Brooklyn, on the other hand, offers more affordable options. You can significantly reduce your housing costs by choosing neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, such as Queens, The Bronx, or Staten Island. According to RentCafe, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is around $4,600 monthly, while Brooklyn averages around $3,250.


Transportation costs can quickly increase in New York City, but there are ways to save. While owning a car may seem convenient, it’s often more trouble than it’s worth. The city is well-connected with an extensive public transit system, making it unnecessary to have a car. Opting for a monthly Metro Pass, priced at $127, can help you save on daily commute costs. Additionally, walking or biking can be a cost-effective alternative for shorter distances.


Grocery shopping in New York City can be expensive, but there are ways to save money. Exploring local farmer’s markets and street vendors can often provide cheaper produce than supermarkets. Planning meals, comparing prices, and avoiding impulse purchases at corner stores can also help reduce your grocery bill. On average, New Yorkers spend around  $486.71 monthly on groceries, significantly higher than the national average of $348.34.


Regarding utilities, New York City’s costs align with the national average. Expect to pay around $170 monthly for electricity, water, and garbage services. Internet costs also align with the national average, with monthly rates averaging around $65.

Living on a Budget: Practical Tips and Strategies

Living on a budget in New York City requires careful planning and innovative strategies. Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your money:

1. Transport on a budget in NYC

When looking to save money while living in NYC, it’s essential to consider cost-effective transportation options. While movies often showcase iconic yellow taxis, the subway, buses, ferries, and gondola rides offer attractive, budget-friendly alternatives.

Walking and biking are also fantastic free methods to navigate the city. These modes of transportation can take you quite far, making them excellent choices for managing a busy lifestyle in NYC without overspending.

1.1 Opt for Public Transportation

Transportation expenses can quickly increase in a city like New York, but plenty of budget-friendly options exist. While iconic yellow taxis may be a tempting choice, the subway, buses, ferries, and even gondola rides (yes, you read that right!) offer more affordable and exciting ways to get around. And let’s remember the benefits of walking and biking.

These free modes of transportation can take you far while keeping your budget intact. If the distance is less than a mile, consider walking instead of taking the subway or bus to save on fares. Living close to your workplace can also be smart, allowing you to walk and reduce daily commuting costs.

1.2 Get a CitiBike Membership

If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional transportation, a CitiBike membership can be a fantastic option. CitiBike offers single rides, day passes, and annual memberships. Using a CitiBike not only saves you money but also provides an excellent opportunity for exercise. Remember to bring a helmet and use the app to check for docking spaces. Another option is to purchase a bicycle. Buying a cheap bike from Craigslist or Facebooxnk Marketplace can give you a cost-effective and eco-friendly mode of transportation. With a bike lock in hand, you can travel near and far without spending a dime on fares.

1.3 Even better, get a bicycle

Owning two bicycles was crucial during earlier years in Manhattan. The bikes served a dual purpose: to exercise by biking 40 miles weekly along the West Side Highway, a favored running spot in NYC, and as a cost-effective mode of transportation.

Securing a bike cheaply through platforms like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace offers a convenient way to travel for free. With a reliable bike lock, one can easily and securely navigate both short and long distances by bike and park.

1.4 Utilize the Subway and Bus

Those who underestimate the subway miss out on a vital part of New York City life. The NYC subway system is one of the oldest and continues to be the most economical mode of transportation within the city or for commuting.

Paying a fixed fee allows you to travel short distances (sometimes just a few blocks in certain parts of Manhattan) or extensive journeys spanning almost two hours, traversing from the top of the Bronx to the southern reaches of Brooklyn or the eastern edges of Queens. For those on a tight budget in NYC, the subway is the most practical choice, offering free transfers to buses.

If you anticipate using the subway more than twice daily throughout the month, consider investing in the monthly MetroPass. This pass significantly reduces the cost per ride once you average 2-3 rides daily. With this pass, you have unlimited subway access for a fixed monthly price, allowing multiple daily rides without additional charges.

2. Food on a budget in NYC

Living in New York City isn’t necessarily expensive if you cut back on dining out at restaurants, buying expensive coffees for $5, or spending $14 (plus tax and tip) on glasses of wine at bars. It’s possible to live on a budget in NYC, enjoy good food, avoid hunger, and still keep your bank account in good shape. Let’s explore how to make it happen.

2.1 Shop at Budget Grocery Stores

New York City is known for its culinary scene, but dining out can quickly drain your wallet. However, with a little creativity and planning, you can enjoy great food without breaking the bank. One of the first steps to eating on a budget in NYC is to shop at budget grocery stores. Avoid the high-priced options like Whole Foods and West Side Market, and opt for more affordable alternatives such as Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s offers quality groceries at reasonable prices, allowing you to stock your fridge without emptying your bank account.

2.2 Embrace a Vegetarian Lifestyle

Consider adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle regarding your food choices. Not only is it a healthier option, but it can also be more economical. Meat and fish tend to be more expensive compared to plant-based alternatives. Incorporate beans, chickpeas, and meat substitutes like BeyondMeat into your meals for a more budget-friendly approach.

Additionally, cut back on processed foods and ready-made meals, as these items often come with higher price tags. By preparing your meals at home, you can save a significant amount of money while enjoying delicious and nutritious food.

2.3 Avoid Food Delivery Apps

A popular Instagram post by Personal Finance Club highlights the significant downsides of using food ordering apps, particularly in high-cost cities like NYC. The example of a $14 Thai curry ending up as a $25 bill due to added tips, fees, and other expenses sheds light on the true cost of ordering food.

It’s advisable to avoid ordering food delivery altogether to maintain a budget-friendly lifestyle. Instead, consider ordering directly from the restaurant online or by phone for pickup via walking, biking, or on your way home. This approach can help save while living in a metropolis like New York City.

A useful tip for those who still prefer some takeout is to utilize delivery apps but select the “Pickup” option. This choice helps bypass delivery fees, often reducing the total cost by a considerable amount, sometimes up to a quarter of the original order price.

2.4 Dine at Fast-Casual Establishments

If dining out is your preference, consider choosing fast-casual eateries over traditional sit-down restaurants. Fast casual dining offers the advantage of outdoor seating akin to sit-down places while providing diverse options and flexibility for those on a budget.

Whether you’re craving a small item, a drink, or a snack, fast casual dining allows you to enjoy a restaurant experience without committing to a full meal.

2.5 Make Your Coffee

A friend’s girlfriend spent $5 daily on coffee from a café on her way to work. This added to $25 per week, $100 monthly, and a hefty $1200 annually—just on coffee. In cities like NYC, coffee prices often range from $2 to $4-5 for fancier drinks like lattes or cold brews. For instance, a large flavored cold brew with oat milk could cost nearly $7, although occasional perks like referral bonus points might make it free.

Many people have learned to brew great coffee at home to save money. Making our coffee using a Chemex and buying a big bag of coffee for around $12 has been a game-changer. By doing this, we’ve saved thousands of dollars annually compared to buying daily from cafes. It’s become one of our favorite enjoyable money-saving habits, especially in NYC.

2.6 Have friends over for cooking rather than dining out or ordering in

Inviting friends over to cook and enjoy drinks or snacks on our rooftop has become our go-to way of socializing and entertaining guests in New York City as we’ve grown older. In the past, there was a tendency to equate being busy with constantly dining out—spending $10-20 on dinner at least three nights a week.

It’s surprising to realize that such frequent dining out added up significantly back then. Now, our weekly grocery expenses, providing three meals a day for two people, total around $50 per person.

The realization dawns that inviting friends over for various activities, excluding dining or imbibing outside, is a savvy way to manage expenses in NYC while fostering a welcoming environment for socializing.

2.7 Try buying groceries on AmazonFresh

The most recent budget-saving tip for NYC living involves purchasing groceries through Amazon Fresh. However, it’s important to note that it’s not always the best deal. Understanding what to buy is crucial.

A major advantage comes from adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. By opting for items like pantry essentials (such as pasta, rice, and peanut butter) and frozen goods (like frozen vegetables, fruits, and vegan meat substitutes), one can acquire several bags of groceries for $50 or $60. These items are conveniently delivered to the doorstep. Using an Amazon credit card also grants a 5% cashback, making this strategy potentially the top grocery hack of the year.

3. Entertainment and Nightlife on a Budget

When you move to NYC, the usual tourist attractions might initially catch your eye, mainly if you’ve only visited briefly. However, daily life in the city is much like anywhere else: sleep, eat, work, have fun, and repeat. While entertainment like theater, comedy, music, and unique experiences will likely fill up your weekends, is there an affordable way to enjoy these and the city’s lifestyle on a budget? Here are some tips for affordable entertainment options:

3.1 Skip Expensive Shows and Concerts

Broadway shows typically have high ticket prices, making it easier for many young people to attend if they secure free tickets. However, for those looking to manage expenses, there are alternative options for entertainment. Free shows and events are available in NYC parks during the spring, summer, and fall.

Instead of indulging in high-cost activities, opt for zero to minimal spending on amusements during the weekend. NYC offers various free concerts, such as those in Prospect Park or the SUMMERSTAGE concert series in Central Park every summer. These options allow for enjoyable experiences without Broadway shows’ associated hype and expenses.

3.2 Limit Bar Expenses

Many people discover in their twenties that a night out often begins with one drink but can quickly escalate to two, three, and more, leading to splitting a hefty bill among friends. Considering taxes and tips, it’s easy to worry about overspending on a weekend night out at a bar. The key might have been having just one drink and stopping there to avoid excessive spending. Some opt to start with a non-alcoholic beverage, treat themselves to one alcoholic drink, and then switch to water.

Whether one leans towards a more sober evening or enjoys lively weekends, it’s wise to limit the bar expenses for the weekend and stick to a reasonable maximum. This way, regrets about overspending won’t linger later on.

3.3 Host House Parties

Some cities, like Boston, might offer few happy hour options, but New York City has a lively scene for it. You can find bars selling beers throughout the city for $7-8 until 6 or 7 pm. You’ll easily spot this information online or on chalkboard signs outside popular bars in bustling areas. Notable happy hour spots include Elsa in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and Juniper at 35th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan.

3.4 Have or host a house party

Hosting house parties is a cost-effective way to entertain friends and socialize in NYC. Instead of going to expensive bars or restaurants, invite friends over for a meal or drinks at your place. Encourage them to bring a bottle of wine or contribute to the gathering, making it a collaborative and budget-friendly experience.

3.5 Explore Free Events and Festivals

NYC offers a plethora of free cultural events and festivals throughout the year. Take advantage of these opportunities to explore the city and enjoy different performances and activities without spending a dime. From street fairs to cultural celebrations, there’s always something happening in NYC that won’t strain your budget.

4. Finding Affordable Housing

Discovering secure and budget-friendly housing in New York is possible; sometimes, it’s a matter of luck. Your research approach is the key to finding a fantastic apartment in NYC. Equipping you with strategies to locate affordable places while maintaining a low budget is essential.

4.1 Seek Roommates

Sharing an apartment with roommates is a popular and cost-effective way to live in NYC. Moving away from Manhattan’s center, you’ll find more rental rooms priced in the hundreds rather than thousands of dollars.

Not every neighborhood in NYC is equally wonderful or sought after. However, opting to share excellent apartments with compatible roommates can significantly lower the cost of living in the city.

4.2 Avoid Broker Fees

Broker fees can add a significant amount to your upfront housing costs. To save money, search for apartments listed as “no fee” or consider alternative platforms like Craigslist, LeaseBreak, Facebook Marketplace, or Angie’s List. By avoiding broker fees, you can keep more money in your pocket.

4.3 Understand that to save money, you’ll have to forego some amenities

Living affordably in New York City often means sacrificing certain luxuries. Be prepared for trade-offs if you aim for a budget-friendly and safe apartment. You might secure a well-located place, but it could be older, lack modern amenities, or be basic.

Alternatively, considering neighborhoods in Brooklyn or Queens farther from the city center might yield better deals, possibly in new buildings with incentives like gyms, rooftop decks, or in-unit laundry facilities. This is the reality of city living with its rising costs, but for many, it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

4.3 Consider Up-and-Coming Areas

While living in the heart of Manhattan may be desirable, it often comes with a hefty price tag. Explore up-and-coming neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx, where you may find more affordable housing options. These areas can provide a unique and budget-friendly living experience.

4.4 Embrace Basic Amenities

To save on housing costs, be willing to compromise on certain amenities. Consider renting in older buildings or apartments without extravagant features. By prioritizing location and affordability over luxury, you can find a place that fits your budget without sacrificing safety or convenience.

5. Additional Money-Saving Tips

In addition to the previous sections, here are a few more tips to help you live on a budget in NYC:

5.1 Stop Impulsive Shopping

Avoid unnecessary expenses by curbing impulsive shopping habits. Challenge yourself only to buy what you truly need and resist the temptation to make frivolous purchases. Adopting a minimalist mindset can save money and declutter your life.

5.2 Flip and Sell Online Finds

NYC is known for its stoop culture, where people often leave unwanted items outside their homes. Take advantage of this by scouring stoops for valuable items that you can resell on platforms like Craigslist or online marketplaces. It’s a creative way to make some extra cash while decluttering the city.

5.3 Engage in Low-Cost Hobbies

Instead of spending money on expensive hobbies, explore low-cost or free activities. Take advantage of NYC’s many parks and outdoor spaces for running, biking, or picnicking. Attend free community events or join local meetup groups that align with your interests.

5.4 Avoid Lifestyle Creep

As your income increases, upgrading your lifestyle and spending more is tempting. Be mindful of lifestyle creep and resist the urge to overspend. Instead, focus on saving and investing additional income to secure your financial future.

Can You Live in NYC on a $50,000 Salary?

Living in New York City on a $50,000 salary is challenging but possible with careful budgeting. Here’s a breakdown of how you can manage your expenses:

  • Rent/Utilities: Share an apartment with roommates to reduce rent and utility costs. Aim for around $1,500 per month.
  • Groceries: Budget around $450 monthly for groceries by making smart shopping choices and meal planning.
  • Dining/Takeout/Entertainment: Allocate $400 monthly for dining out and entertainment expenses. Limit eating out and focus on cooking at home.
  • Health Insurance: Factor in around $500 monthly for health insurance costs unless you’re on a parent’s plan or have employer coverage.
  • NYC and State Taxes: Set aside approximately $900 monthly for taxes.

After accounting for these expenses, you’ll have around $400 left each month, which can be saved or used for additional discretionary spending. Adjusting your lifestyle and spending habits to align with your budget and financial goals is important.


Can I find affordable housing in Manhattan?

While Manhattan tends to have higher rent prices, finding more affordable options is still possible, especially in certain neighborhoods. Consider sharing an apartment or exploring rent-stabilized buildings.

Is it safe to use public transportation in NYC?

Yes, NYC’s public transportation system is generally safe and reliable. However, it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings and take necessary precautions, especially during late-night travel.

Are there any free museums in NYC?

Yes, many museums in NYC offer free admission on specific days or times. Some examples include the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Friday evenings and the American Museum of Natural History’s suggested donation policy.

How can I save money on utilities in NYC?

To save on utilities, consider conserving energy by turning off lights when not in use, using energy-efficient appliances, and keeping the thermostat at a reasonable temperature. Additionally, compare different utility providers to ensure you’re getting the best rates.

Are there any affordable healthcare options in NYC?

NYC has various affordable healthcare options, including free or low-cost clinics, community health centers, and government assistance programs. Research different providers and insurance plans to find the best option.

Can I live on a budget in NYC and still enjoy the city’s offerings?

Absolutely! Living on a budget in NYC doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the city’s vibrant cultural scene. By being strategic with your spending, taking advantage of free or low-cost activities, and exploring affordable dining options, you can fully experience what NYC offers.


Living on a budget in New York City may require sacrifices and careful planning, but it is possible to enjoy everything the city offers without breaking the bank. By budgeting wisely, finding affordable housing, saving on transportation and groceries, and taking advantage of free or low-cost activities, you can experience NYC’s vibrant and diverse culture while keeping your finances on track. Remember, living in NYC is about more than just the cost of living. It’s about immersing yourself in the energy and opportunities that the city provides. With creativity and resourcefulness, you can make the most of your budget and create a fulfilling life in the Big Apple.

Living on a budget in NYC necessitates mindful spending, strategic planning, and a willingness to explore cost-saving alternatives. Embrace the vibrant energy of New York City while managing your finances smartly. SecureSpace offers reliable storage solutions for your move, ensuring a smooth transition to your new life in NYC. Immerse yourself in the city’s offerings without compromising your financial well-being. NYC awaits—make the most of it!

Use Secure Space for hassle-free storage solutions during your move to NYC. By implementing these tips and strategies, you can confidently navigate the bustling streets of New York City while adhering to a budget, ensuring a fulfilling experience in this captivating metropolis.

Storage Unit Size Guides

5×5 Storage Unit Guide

5×10 Storage Unit Guide

10×10 Storage Unit Guide

10×15 Storage Unit Guide

10×20 Storage Unit Guide

10×25 Storage Unit Guide

10×30 Storage Unit Guide

New SecureSpace Self Storage Facilities

Checkout Some Of Our Teams Favorite Articles

SecureSpace Self Storage