Although not for everyone, many people thrive on city life. They would sacrifice space, yard and yes, money, in exchange for the constant hum, smells and vibes the city provides. But my god, it’s expensive. Not only is everything overpriced, but there is just so much…stuff: Stuff to do, stuff to buy, stuff to see, stuff to eat and drink. Opportunities to spend money are everywhere you look. However, you can still live in the city and stay on a budget. The trick is to be aware of what you spend, take full advantage of everything free the city offers, and avoid the “convenience” traps.
-Stop paying for convenience: I lived in Manhattan for five years, and hands down my favorite part of city life was Seamless. You mean, I can have sushi, a chicken burrito, pizza or a gyro every night? I don’t have to leave my house for any of it? I could cry just thinking about it. I did actually cry after the first month of fully taking advantage of this service, and realizing just how much money my laziness had cost me. The city has lots of these convenience traps. Everything is at your fingertips: cabs, mani/pedis, laundry service, and home delivery of anything. I’m not saying don’t indulge in these, but these quickly go from ‘once in a while’ luxuries to everyday necessities.
-Don’t be “city apartment poor”: Rent a place you can afford. In most cities this means you will undoubtably need to sacrifice something, so figure out what is most important, and what you can live without. The neighborhood was always most important to me, so I always chose location over an apartment with “charm” (my apartments were all basically boxes with doors).
-Cut the cable: If you live in the city, you have plenty to occupy you and basic TV / internet is probably enough. Plus, with so many options like Apple TV, Netflix and Hulu, cable is becoming less necessary no matter where you live.
-Use public transportation, bike or walk. This is one of the few inexpensive conveniences the city has to offer! If you have the urge to get a cab or uber, ask yourself why. If you have a legitimate reason, like you’re pregnant (that can be used as an excuse for anything), it’s raining, your foot hurts or the location is really inconvenient to the subway, then get yourself that cab. The point is to think about it before you automatically raise your hand to flag someone down. The times you don’t have a good excuse, don’t do it. When you can, plan your destination close to a subway stop, or near your favorite place in the city to walk, to increase the chance you won’t cave in.
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-Find the free activities: Make it a point to subscribe to a few local twitter accounts and newsletters about free local happenings, music and festivals. Once a week dig through them to find fun free activities in your area. Talk to others about their plans for the weekend. It always amazed me that every time I asked someone in NYC “What are you doing this weekend?”, I would learn of an event or spot that I had never known even existed.
-Wander: Second to Seamless, what I miss most about living in the city is that you don’t need to find entertainment. It finds you. My favorite thing to do was to wander in the parks, and just watch the activity around me. Although I’m now in the ‘burbs, I still love to take my kids into the city for a day at Central Park because we’re guaranteed a juggler, dance troop, incredible saxophone music and/or a professional bubble maker. Or just some good old people watching will usually do.
-Stay on top of specials: Look out for happy hours, restaurant specials or events like restaurant week to give your budget a break.
-Bring your lunch to work: I know, this is the lame one that no one likes to see on a money saving list…but there’s no place it’s more true than in a city! If you have to buy lunch, you are either buying it in your overpriced company cafeteria, walking to one of the 40 amazing and overpriced local lunch spots, or having it delivered from an overpriced restaurant (do I really need to talk about my problem with Seamless again?). $10 on lunch each day is $2600 / year. It adds up.
-BYOC: Bring your own coffee. Even though I say this, I am not one of those financial advisors who will tell you that the key to budgeting is to cut out buying coffee. I love getting coffee from a cafe. I pay the extra for the atmosphere, the smell of coffee and the caffeinated chatter of people around me. The reason this is on the list is because of what goes along with that coffee. I dare you to go into your local coffee shop as they are pulling out cinnamon rolls from the oven and not buy one. Or maybe the lunch special is some delicious cranberry, goat cheese salad and you think, I’ll just grab that for lunch later. No, the $4 coffee won’t break your budget. It’s the extra $15 you risk every time you walk into the store. If you’re on a budget (or you’re made of steel), make it at home.
-Just say no: There’s so much to do in the city, so many great restaurants, shows, concerts, museums, etc…it’s easy to blow your paycheck on entertainment alone. So be selective about what you agree to do with your friends. The great thing about living in a place with so much to do? If you miss out on something tonight there’s bound to be another one tomorrow.