10 Tips to Save Money in New York City
It’s hard to believe, but I’m coming up on my first full year of living in New York! To say it’s been anything other than a humbling, exhausting, soul searching kind of year still leaves out so much about what I’ve learned about myself. The biggest lesson that I've learned - or rather, my biggest failure that I’m still self-correcting - is figuring out how to spend my money wisely while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. To celebrate my one year anniversary, I've put together 10 tips to save money in New York City, including some suggestions on what to cut out.
My relationship with personal finance isn’t something I shy away from on the blog, and as I start getting serious about paying off my student loans in the next two and a half years, it’s something I plan on sharing even more of. These tips aren’t a one-size-fits-all, but you can easily apply most of these lessons, whether you live in New York or another large city.
I talk about meal prepping all the time on the blog and my YouTube, but if you’re not planning your meals out in advance, you’re leaving yourself financially vulnerable. Even if you’re not the best cook, ordering a few nights in on Seamless, eating out with friends on the weekends, and grabbing that cup of coffee from the trendy shop near work in the mornings quickly adds up.
Trust me - I know. Last month I spent over $130 just at coffee shops. I know, I know. I’m a sucker for trendy latte art. To help self-correct, I've started buying a decent pound of coffee for $11, and have already saved almost $50 in the past two weeks just by recognizing, hey, it looks like I drink coffee every day - why am I paying so much when I can make my own?
What's your version of my coffee addiction?
The best way to find out is to start by setting a budget so you actually understand how much you have to spend on certain categories. Maybe you have an extra $700/month to spend freely on food and eating on. Great! You should know that, and figure out how your spending habits align with your future goals. Whatever your financial situation is, starting to develop a positive relationship with your spending habits is ultimately going to help you in the future.
If cooking intimidates you, as it does a lot of my millennial friends, start by trying out a few of the meal subscription boxes. They usually pencil out to around $10/meal, which is still a lot more than what you could make on your own, but they come with easy to follow videos and instructions that can help you get familiar with cooking for yourself.
I'll also be doing a deeper dive on maximizing Mint, and some of my other favorite finance apps, over the course of this month, so don't worry if you're still a little lost.
Invest in a decent water bottle...
In addition to trendy coffee shops, I get weak in the knees at the thought of a nice, bubbly mineral water during a hot summer day. While I don’t think I’ll ever cut La Croix out of my shopping list entirely, recognizing how quickly a case here, or a bottle at the local bodega there adds up is a reminder to always have another form of water on me. Even if it’s not quite as fancy.
...and keep a snack on you.
Besides making sure you’re never hangry on your way to a last minute meeting across town, stashing away a granola bar or a bag of nuts can help you avoid impulse purchases when you’re stressed or need to grab a quick bite.
Reinvent outings with friends
Y’all, I have a confession to make - I hate going out to bars and nightclubs, but I still enjoy spending time with my friends! Since graduating last year, the idea of staying up past 11 and moving around a dance floor with a bunch of sweaty, drunken strangers just isn’t my idea of a great night anymore.
It’s also an easy way to drop $60 or $70 in one night without even realizing it. One promise of “I’ll only have one drink,” quickly turns into three or four as the night progresses. And don’t even get me started on the price of an Uber or Lyft if it’s really late (and you’ve had one too many drinks).
Elevate your night hanging out with friends by potentially removing situations that are your biggest financial weaknesses. If that’s overspending at the club, considering hosting a game night or BYO wine tasting at home. My biggest weakness is catching up over a nice meal, so sometimes I’ll recommend something a bit cheaper, like Dekalb Food Hall, or even hosting a potluck. It may not be the most glamorous thing in the world, but that’s not why you’re doing it. You’re doing it to save money and help realize a future financial goal.
Re-evaluate your monthly subscription services
When I first got this job and had more disposable income than I could ever dream of as a broke college student, I went a little crazy. As someone who almost exclusively listens to podcasts, I feel like I’m intimately familiar with almost every subscription service under the sun. Over the course of this past year, I’ve tried out nearly ten different services, ranging from vitamins to a blogging community.
After the initial excitement of trying something new, I found that with the exception of ClassPass, I was never consistently using any of the services. Monthly vitamins delivered straight to my door sounds great in theory, but actually trying to remember to take them? That’s a whole other story.
This isn’t to say that subscription services are bad, but they are any easy way for you to lose money once a month, especially since it’s often so hard to cancel without jumping through hoops. Give yourself at least three months to get familiar with the service, potentially change or reduce a few things, and if you find you’re still not using it to get your money’s worth - nix it.
Don’t be afraid to explore.
You live in one of the greatest cities in the world! Don’t be afraid to spend a random weekend wandering around, discovering a new park or a new favorite place to people watch. I find that walking, especially when I’m anxious and desperately want to spend money, is a great way for me to relieve that stress. However, if your wandering happens to turn into window shopping, that’s a different story!
If you’re working your first full-time job, chances are your company has at least some basic benefits. At my job, for example, I get an annual pass to CitiBike, and enroll through a commuter benefits program to get a monthly MTA pass that's taken out pre-tax. Other companies offer a laundry list of benefits, and depending on your health insurer, you may also be eligible to snag a free or heavily discounted gym membership. I know the first few days at a new job are overwhelming, but don’t leave money on the table if you’re able to take advantage of something.
This is truly a New York City-specific tip, but if you haven’t heard of the Skint, what are you doing with your life?
Last summer, when I was living my Carrie Bradshaw dreams and dating, the Skint became my favorite way to look up free or low cost events around the city. It’s basically your cool friend who knows literally everything. Don’t know where a hot open mic night is at? Check on the Skint. Want to listen to free jazz on a rooftop in Midtown? Check on the Skint. Looking for LGBTQ films by Irish directors? The Skint has that too.
I live in Brooklyn - obviously thrift stores were going to make this list. As someone who is a bit more fashion adverse than some of my friends, thrifting has become a great way for me to really get to know my own personal style without sacrificing my wallet. If the idea of thrifting always overwhelms you, don’t worry - I’ll be breaking down a few of my favorite thrift stores in a post later this month, but if you can't wait, check out my earlier exploration of local thrift stores as I searched for a new fall wardrobe.
Learn when to say no
This should go without saying, but the only person you’re here for is yourself. Never feel pressured to spend more than you realistically should just to prove a point or to show off “you’re cool New York City life.” If that means having to say no - either to others, or even yourself - that’s okay. Sometimes delaying instant gratification so you can become one step closer to quitting your job, traveling around the world and living debt free is worth it.
My plan is to pay off all of my student loans - yes, all $52,342.87 of it - in the next two years. If I spent $130 in one month on coffee, it definitely isn't going to be a smooth transition. Budgeting isn’t easy. While I’m offering some of the lessons I’ve learned, I’m not the next Dave Ramsey. There are months where I slip up - where I went out when I shouldn’t have, or bought a new book that definitely wasn’t in my budget - but at the end of the day, this is all a learning experience.
What was your favorite tip? Are there any other budget saving things you do to help you save money? Teach me something new!