Can You Afford to Live in New York City?

The skyline of New York City

Before we even look at the question of whether you can afford it, a better question may be: why would you want to live in New York? For me the answer is easy: I love it here! Let’s look at it more logically though. You are the average of the five people closest to you, and to a lesser extent, the greater mass of people around you. When you live in New York you’ll be surrounded by some of the most successful people on the planet. You’ll go out to the bar and sit next to a millionaire. You’ll take the subway and bump into someone who is changing the world. Even if you don’t talk to all these people, there’s a certain energy they give off. It’s a healthy, positive energy that is totally lacking in people who have resigned themselves to jobs they don’t like and drinking beer on the weekends.

You’ll also find new opportunities. There is so much happening in New York that it’s fairly easy to find employment. Unlike the French, New Yorkers love talking about work. It’s a common conversational topic. So if you do something well, and you start telling people about it, you may quickly find yourself starting job opportunities in the face. It’s not what you know (all though it really sort of is), but who you know.

Finally, there’s the excitement of living here! There’s always something to do. Free concerts, high end clubs, the beach, infinite restaurants, and anything else. You can get to all of it on the subway too. Forget about car payments, maintenance, and repair. Put that money towards rent. Which is the first topic we’ll cover.

Paying Rent

This will be your largest expense in New York. If you invested in Twitter early on, you can probably afford to live somewhere like Chelsea, where a studio rents for a cool $3,000 a month. However, if your last name isn’t Rockefeller, there are still plenty of other options. If you have $1,500 a month you can rent an apartment somewhere like Bushwick. This is a “starter neighborhood”, in the same way that people buy “starter homes”. Still too much? The minimum you can expect to pay is about $600 to $700 a month. That won’t get you your own place, but a room in someone else’s apartment. That’s always how I’ve done it and it has always worked out good.

When looking for a place to live, Craigslist has the best selection. You can also try Airbnb, but I’ve found that they typically have higher prices. When looking for places to live, particularly cheap places, there’s a blessing and a curse. Typically most places of any quality rent within 24-48 hours. Don’t even bother setting up a viewing for next week, it won’t happen. But the blessing is that there are hundreds of new places added every single day, giving you a massive selection to choose from.

Buying Food

Unless you shop at Whole Foods, you’ll generally find that food isn’t that expensive in New York. In fact, many products have comparable prices comparable to anywhere else in the country. On the other hand, don’t expect to eat out much. While there are some cheap restaurants, most charge a lot in order to pay their huge rent bills. So if you’re on a budget, plan on cooking for yourself. Depending on how much you eat, $200 – $300 should be enough for all your groceries for the month, and a beer or two at the bar.

Getting Around

15th St NYC Subway StationHere’s where New York shines, you don’t need a car! The vast subway and bus system will take you almost anywhere you need to go. Or you can just walk. New Yorkers love to walk, and when you’re in Manhattan you’ll notice far fewer overweight people than you see in other cities. An unlimited MTA card is $130 a month, which will get you all over the city, from the Bronx to Brooklyn. In the event that you really need a car, there are lots of ride sharing programs.

Living Like a Monk

Looking at the minimum amounts you’ll need to pay: $700 for rent, $300 for food, and $130 for an MTA card, they add up to $1,130 a month. Might as well round up to $1,200. If you get a full time job at $9 an hour you can bring in about  $1,200 a month after taxes. You won’t be living like a playboy, but you won’t be getting evicted from your apartment either.

Ideally though you’re coming to New York to earn more than $9 an hour. Hopefully you’re coming here to pursue a goal or a passion. Or because you have large plans for the future, in which case I would suggest looking at it as an investment. Pay more now, become a better person in the long run. If you’re willing to be careful, you can make that dream a reality!

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