City living is a lifelong goal for many people who grew up in small towns without many options for work, entertainment, or networking. For city newbies, it can be tricky balancing your budget to make ends meet every month. Here are four pieces of advice I wish someone had given me before I moved to the big city the first time. May they serve you well.
Find a Place You Can Afford
Of all your monthly expenses, which one consistently costs the most? Chances are it’s the place you call home. Whether you’re buying or renting, even the smallest piece of Manhattan real estate can be expensive, resulting in people being something called “house poor” (or, more likely in the big city, “apartment poor”).
Being “house poor” means that you’re spending so much of your income on rent or mortgage that you’re not left with much money for anything else, not even the bare essentials. If your dream apartment is keeping you from buying groceries or forcing you to worry about utility shut-offs, it might be worth sacrificing a few square feet or a nice view for something a little cheaper.
Get Yourself a Roommate
We all love our privacy, but one thing many of us love even more is staying on the right side of the poverty line. It’s easier to keep your head above water when you’ve got a swimming buddy (haven’t you ever seen the Oscar-worthy motion picture masterpiece Heavyweights?). In other words, a roommate.
It’s simple math. One roommate plus a second roommate equals two roommates. One month’s rent divided by two roommates equals one-half of the amount of rent you’d be paying on your own. One month’s income minus one-half of one month’s rent equals a lot more income for you to spend or save. You don’t need a calculator to figure this one out.
Use Public Transportation
If you previously lived in a suburban or rural area, you’re probably used to owning your own car and driving yourself around town. In the big city, though, that’s usually more trouble than it’s worth. Anyone who’s ever sat in the middle of Philadelphia rush hour traffic can tell you that.
Believe it or not, public transportation in big cities is not only cheap, reliable, and more convenient than you’d think, but it can also save you a fortune. Just imagine the money you’ll save on gas, insurance, tune-ups, and parking fees if you take a bus or subway to work every day instead of your car.
Prepare Home-Cooked Food
Listen, no one’s asking you to become Gordon Ramsey overnight, but the truth is that way too many first-time city-dwellers wind up so overwhelmed by how much delicious and unique food is available via restaurants and take-out joints that they end up spending a good portion of their paychecks on the stuff. For the same amount you waste on eating out, you could probably buy a whole month of groceries.
Workplace lunch breaks are one of the biggest culprits. Why not make prep a meal the night before and brown-bag it instead? Skip the overpriced coffee from Starbucks in the morning and brew your own java at home. Set aside time on weekends to cook meals for the rest of the week and pre-assemble portions in Tupperware containers. Not only is it economical, but it’s also a lot healthier.