5 Ways to Live Frugally in an Expensive City

by Michelle Noon 

New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cosmopolitan hubs within the US are undeniable in their desirability.  Ah!  Cities that boast cultural richness and a growing population of new college grads who trek to the big city to “make it.”

 Once upon a time, I also made the great pilgrimage from the (relatively) small town of Atlanta, Geoooorgia to the Big Apple.  (And subsequently, I realized that people rarely call NYC “the Big Apple”in New York.)  I took the first job I got, made a whooping $400 something a week, and somehow survived living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.  (Business Insider christens NYC the most expensive city in the US with an unfurnished, luxury two bedroom apartment costing $4,300!  Worldwide, New York is only the 32nd most expensive city!  Egads!) 

 As someone who survived living off a paltry salary in a ridiculously expensive city, I’ve come up with a list of 5 tips on how to live frugally in a city that is anything but frugal.

 Think within the box (aka: room): When you’re living in an expensive city, roommates are often a necessity.  Yet, to maximize on savings, consider squeezing two people within a one bedroom or studio.  In my very first apartment in New York, I lived in the bedroom while my roommate lived in the living room.  With heavy curtains and a neat arrangement of Ikea furniture, she partitioned off the living room into her own bedroom.  Both of us had our own “rooms,” but we were able to pay significantly less since one room was self-created. 

 Think digitally for groceries: Everyone needs bare necessities like food, toiletries, etc.  However, in an expensive city, everyday things cost extraordinary prices.  With crazy rent prices, local stores are forced to charge more for their merchandise.  Instead, try searching online for toiletries and other goodies.  Drugstore.com, Amazon.com, and other e-commerce sites offer lower prices, and if you spend a certain amount on your purchases, you will quality for free shipping. 

 Go ethnic for fresh veggies and fruit: Consider venturing to ethnic supermarkets, or better yet, CHINATOWN for fresh produce that won’t cost Whole Food prices.  When I lived in New York, I often bought cherries from street vendors in Chinatown for $2.  The same batch of cherries would have cost triple at a regular deli. 

 Brown bag your lunch/breakfast: Making your own lunch is HUGE, and I found that I was able to splurge on a meager salary because I saved on little things like making my own lunch!  For example, say you work 5 days a week or 20 days a month.  If you buy a bagel and coffee each morning (I’ll estimate this costs $3) and buy a modest lunch like Subway, a coke, and chips (estimate: $7), that means that you’re spending $10 a day.  That’s $50 a week, or $200 a month for not-so-great food.  Making your own food may require expanding your grocery budget, but it also means you’re not spending $2 on ONE bagel.  A bag of six bagels may cost you $4.  Don’t waste money on convenience.

 Look for free or discounted events: Taking advantage of the cultural events a city has to offer doesn’t have to cost tons.  Instead, look for discounted or free days.  For example, the regular cost of admission to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC is $20 for an adult.  However, each Friday, from 4-8pm, admission is sponsored by Target.  In other words, admission is free!  In fact, some of my favorite memories of NYC involve free events, such as Coney Island’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest!

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4 Responses to 5 Ways to Live Frugally in an Expensive City

  1. I always buy groceries off amazon or drugstore.com because they offer free shipping… I also sign up for email lists, so I’m sent coupons pretty frequently.

  2. Making lunch is huge! I save about 80 bucks a week by packing lunch, and I eat healthier too.

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