How I Live Comfortably on a Budget in an Expensive City

It's possible to survive New York City's high cost of living.

For 20 years I have been living in Manhattan by choice, and I’ve never flirted with leaving the city. I recognize it is a pricey place to choose to build an entrepreneurial career, but surprisingly, New York City is neither a financially foolish choice nor the most expensive place to live in the U.S. In fact, it’s not even the most expensive place in New York.

In a new study, GOBankingRates surveyed monthly living expenses (housing, groceries, transportation, healthcare and utilities) for a single person to find the most expensive ZIP code in each state. The most expensive ZIP code in New York is 11962: the village of Sagaponack in the Town of South Hampton. Located on the eastern end of Long Island, Sagaponack is known for oceanfront properties and large mansions. Just to cover the basics in this ZIP code, you’ll need an annual income of more than $850,000.

Sagaponack vs. New York
CityTotal Income NeededMedian IncomeAverage Home Price
Sagaponack, N.Y.$853,738$120,750$2,394,500
New York, N.Y.$99,667$52,737$581,400
Sources: GOBankingRates, Sperling’s Best Places

Compared to Sagaponack, living in New York City can be downright affordable. But make no mistake: The Big Apple does have a high cost of living. In fact, GOBankingRates’ study on The Cost to Live Comfortably in 50 Major U.S. Cities¬†found that you need to earn nearly $99,667 a year to get by.

How I Survive New York City’s High Cost of Living

Summer is a particularly good time to reflect on the benefits of living in a bustling urban center where there are endless inexpensive offerings to satisfy your desires without emptying your pocketbook. Here are some of the ways I ease the pinch of living in the city that never sleeps:

I take the subway. It is far from perfect, but New York’s subway runs 24/7, enabling me to avoid expensive taxi rides from Brooklyn or Uber rides to the airport. My airport of choice is LaGuardia. It costs me $2.75 to get to Terminal B via the F train and the Q70 LaGuardia Link bus. It is cost effective and convenient: I’m usually door-to-gate in 30 minutes.

I visit museums when admission is free. I take advantage of the generous number of culture institutions with free admission times.¬†Admission to the Museum of Modern Art is free for all visitors during UNIQLO Free Friday Nights. At Brooklyn’s Museum of Art, Target First Saturdays offer access to art and entertainment for free.

Central Park is my backyard. It is a 750-acre masterpiece, with endless possibilities for discovery, exploration and reflection. Central Park is one of the host venues for SummerStage, a summer festival that runs from early June through September in all of the five boroughs. A variety of events are offered from concerts to dance parties to poetry, theater, ballet and opera.

When I need to play tourist for a day I jump on the Staten Island Ferry. The free round-trip ride provides a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Lower Manhattan, where the ferry departs, is also home to the National Museum of the American Indian (located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House), where admission is always free.

I have a library card. Beyond books, complimentary Wi-Fi and reading rooms that make any coworking space pale in comparison, the New York Public Library offers author talks, exhibitions, workshops and more. Yes, all on a first-come, first-served — and free — basis.

I shop the endless flea markets and thrift and consignment stores scattered around the city. New Yorkers have incredible taste and when closet space is at a premium, last year’s items quickly get discarded. I love the hunt for vintage and gently used designer clothing and accessories (plus never-worn impulse purchases clearly picked up during a sale at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman or Saks) that can be found on the racks of one of the 13 Housing Works locations across New York and Brooklyn or in the numerous consignment shops scattered along Madison Avenue on the Upper Eastside.

My apartment is in a great location. Midtown Manhattan has a couple of additional advantages. I have a front row seat for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, plus I can take a short stroll west from my apartment to 7th Avenue on New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Knowing you can do these things (or catch the runners before they cross the finish line at the end of the New York City marathon) is priceless.

What have I really learned after living here all these years? The greatest challenge isn’t paying for all the city has to offer its residents — it’s finding the time in my calendar to do even a tiny portion of it.

Click through to learn which expenses you can cut to save the most.

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