Financial Samurai posed the following question not too long ago, “How do people live a comfortable life making less than six figures in expensive cities”?
Judging by the fact that over 8 million people live in New York City, I’m guessing a good number manage to figure it out. Are all those people living beyond their means – accumulating credit card debt and living the high life for the opportunity to say “I’m a New Yorker”?
After living in NYC for over ten years, I’ve come to learn that –
New York City is as expensive as you want it to be.
Sure, I’d love if it were cheaper to live in New York City, but by the same token, there are more than enough resources available in the Big Apple to reduce expenses, and even cut out entire expense categories – bye, bye car payments.
This sample budget is meant to reflect a comfortable yet frugal New York City lifestyle for a single adult.
You won’t find fine dining or the trappings of luxe living in these numbers, but you may find that living in New York City doesn’t cost nearly as much as ill-informed speculators and the media frenzy would have you believe.
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New York City Rent: $900/month
The average NYC rent may be a stupid expensive $3,000+ per month, but since when were you average? or stupid?
You don’t have pay 3k for a decent place to live, nor do you have to subject yourself to living in a windowless, basement shoebox to afford your rent.
To keep housing costs under $1,000 per month, you’ll likely have to share your living space, but you can still afford your own room in a fairly spacious apartment.
Some prime neighborhoods for affordable NYC housing include Washington Heights, Inwood, and Harlem (my neighborhood) in Manhattan; Astoria and Long Island City in Queens; Bushwick in Brooklyn; and Union City and West New York in New Jersey.
This is just partial list to introduce you to areas beyond midtown and downtown Manhattan. If you’re just starting out, moving to New York City for the first time, consider subletting an apartment when you first arrive.
Instead of a signing a lease and committing to a year in a new location, a short-term sublet will give you the flexibility to become familiar with various, affordable neighborhoods before settling down. (Bonus: It can also be a lot easier to secure a sublet, as you often don’t have to have prove an income 40x the monthly rent – the standard when shopping for an NYC lease of your own).
Renter’s Insurance: $10/month
Renter’s insurance protects you and your belongings in case of disaster, theft or vandalism. And yes, it’s the kind of insurance that’s totally worth having. (I lived across the street from the site of the 2015 East Village explosion and saw 3 full apartment buildings burn to the ground within an hour – shit happens).
Renter’s Insurance is super cheap, provided you don’t have anything too fancy in your new digs that requires extra insuring. Get a customized quote here for a better sense of how much insurance you should build into your budget.
Heat and hot water are generally included in the price of NYC rent so that leaves gas and electric. Again, having a roommate or two can be tremendously helpful in cutting down this cost. Even with some A/C use in the summer, an average of $50 per month, per person is a reasonable expectation.
Again, splitting the cost with a roomie and only worrying about internet rather than a full premium cable package keeps this expense low without much sacrifice. Thank goodness for Netflix. (If you want to keep some basic channels, a digital antenna is super cheap, one-time cost alternative.)
Cell Phone: $75/month
The national average cell phone bill is around $73/month, though there are definitely major savings to be had in this category.
Unlimited Monthly Metro Card (*as of 2016).
I’m basing this off of my monthly grocery bill which is a combination of grocery delivery and shopping at Trader Joe’s for organic fruits and veggies. You can probably eat for significantly less.
Most New Yorkers don’t have access to their own washer/dryer. I’ve gotten really good about heading to the laundromat only once every 3-4 weeks to bring down my costs. The trick is to own lots of socks and underwear, you can re-wear just about everything else.
Health Insurance: $328/month
The average cost of health insurance for a middle tier health plan on the exchange (note that these numbers change each year).
Shop and compare health insurance plans to see how much you need to set aside for health care in your budget.
Personal Care/ Cleaning Products: $50/month
My occasional Amazon orders of contact solution, razors, deodorant, make up, toilet paper and other personal care and cleaning supplies generally average out to around $50/month. (I also go through the Ebates shopping portal to score some additional cash back on all my online ordering).
Classes, business expenses, new clothing, postage, gifts, dental cleaning, prescriptions, etc.
Happy hours, dinners out, theater, social meet ups, Netflix, etc.
*Check out my suggestions for keeping your entertainment budget under $100/month.
Short Term Savings Goals: $100/month
Emergency fund contributions and short/medium-term savings goals.
*If you succumb to the “I can’t afford to set aside savings” mentality, download Digit. It’s a free app that connects to your checking account and analyzes your income and spending, finding small amounts of money it can safely set aside for you in savings. (This is NOT a budget area you should sacrifice).
Long Term Savings/ Debt Pay Off: $250/month
Retirement contributions, long term savings goals, and debt pay off.
Total: $2,524.50 per month
That’s $30,294 per year after taxes – which means that to live a reasonably comfortable life in New York City, a single person would need to make a salary of roughly $40,000 per year.
Now, this is a comfortable (though far from indulgent) budget. You can absolutely employ strategies to reduce the cell phone bill, the entertainment budget and utility consumption, among other things.
If you’re having a rough month, you can adopt a “make or break” budget , reducing discretionary spending and savings contributions to fund necessities only.
There are all kinds of ways to rearrange and reallocate the above numbers for your specific needs and values, but for the sake of answering the question of how much you need to live in New York City comfortably, as a single adult, while still preparing for a financial future, these numbers are a solid starting point.
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