How to Survive in an Expensive City

Jon Fesmire |

If you’re thinking about moving to a city, there are many amazing choices across the country. Unfortunately, big cities like New York and San Francisco are notoriously expensive, to the point that unless you make about $100,000 or more per year and are among the top 10% of U.S. wage earners, you’ll have to cut back on many expenses to live in one. So how do you survive in an expensive city?

Can You Afford It?

This is an important question! You don’t want to move to your new city and realize that you got in over your head financially. So, take the early steps necessary to determine if you can afford to move to an expensive city.

Research your city of choice. How much is the rent for the size place you’ll need? Can you go a size lower? If you’re young and single, can you live in a studio apartment rather than a one bedroom? If you’re a couple with a child, is your child young enough that he or she can share a bedroom with you? If you need a home office, can you have your desk in your living-room or bedroom, rather than in a separate office? How much will this apartment downsizing save you?

How much are groceries? If they tend to be more expensive than you’re used to, are there bargain stores? You may be surprised, but many dollar stores have name brand groceries for lower prices.

Do you enjoy going to the movies? You may have to cut back on that. Look for bargain theaters. Many areas have theaters where the price of admission is two or three dollars, and concessions about half the price of a typical theater. These movie theaters often show films a month or two later than others, but can still be very nice.

What about nightclubs and bars? Those can be pricey anywhere, and even more so in an expensive city. Instead, consider looking for Meetup groups that match your interests. You’ll make friends and save money.

We all love eating out, and moving to a city is an awesome way to try new restaurants, but if you move to an expensive city, you’ll probably have to eat at home more often than you’re used to in a less expensive place. Get used to cooking for yourself, and think about how much less it costs.

Once you’ve done your research and decided what you can live with, and live without, make a simple budget. However, try to include all expenses you can think of. It’s often those costs we forget about that get us. This budget should tell you if, by living more frugally, you can afford to live in the city.

Car vs. Mass Transit

Does the city where you want to live have a good mass transit system? For example, in the aforementioned cities, San Francisco and New York, many people don’t have cars at all and get around just fine. San Francisco has Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and cable cars, New York City has a subway system.

However, if you have children, they may need you to pick them up from school. Or, the city may be one where you need a car to get to work, and not having one will make it nearly impossible to increase your income. Again, this will have a lot to do with how efficient the city’s mass transit system is, and how old your children are.

The point is, a car can be a huge expense. Even if you own one outright, you’ll need to get repairs periodically, and you’ll need to pay for gas. In a dense city with good mass transit, a car can be more of a liability than a convenience. Determine what sort of city your destination is and plan accordingly.

Self Storage Can Help

If you have to live in a smaller place than you’re used to, keep in mind that you don’t have to give up your valuable items. Perhaps you know you’ll be making more money in a year or so, but you need to get to your destination city and put down roots. Put those valuables in a self storage unit, which will cost less per square foot than a house or apartment. They’ll be waiting for you when you’re able to rent or buy a bigger place.

Will You Be Happy?

Chances are, you have a good reason for planning to move to an expensive city. Maybe you’re going to live with family. Maybe you have landed a promising job there. Maybe you’re in a relationship and your partner has lived there his or her whole life. So, you probably have a reason to go that will contribute to your happiness.

Still, cutting down on expenses can be stressful. Keep in mind the positive reasons for your move when times get tough, and let the suggestions in this article help you stay on track financially.