I found out how expensive living in New York could be the hard way. When I first moved here I was coming from Houston, Texas where our main source of grocery shopping is Walmart, HEB, Target, or Kroger, and if I needed super cheap things a Dollar Store was on every other street corner. I didn’t know what to pack to bring with me to New York, what to eat when I got here, or what to do during my time here that did not cost money. So yes, unfortunately I found out pretty quickly that one could easily go broke if they weren’t careful in this magnificent city.
That was only the first week.
By my second week of living in Midtown Manhattan I had a small sense of what to avoid and/or what to look for, and now as I am officially two months into my stay here I feel comfortable enough advising you with a few steps on how you can avoid the same mistakes that I, and many others, once made when we first arrived here.
Step 1: Know what to pack - There was a lot that looking back now I could have brought from home with me so that I did not have to go out and buy it once I moved here, because it is more expensive here. Things such as small toiletries that I could have fit around in my suitcase - toothpaste, soaps, basic medicines, shampoo and conditioner, etc. A good investment is also one or two of those vacuum seal bags so you can pack more things like blankets, sheets, towels, etc. so that you don't have to buy it here.
Step 2: Budget - If you get paid through a job or your internship the old rule of thumb says to put away 50% towards your savings. I would honestly say if you can save 70% of each paycheck as your emergency back up fund. New York City is not the place you'd ever want to run out of money in. Also, carry both cash and card (if you have), because some places only take cash and they don't necessarily advertise for that all the time. You don't want to get stuck in a tricky situation. One of the biggest tips I could give you is DO NOT EAT OUT ALL THE TIME. Even after 2 months this one is still the hardest pieces of advice for me to follow, because with my schedule it's always easier for me to just grab something while I'm out, but I cannot stress enough how much that will affect your bank account. Try setting up a goal for how many times you need to eat in the housing vs. eating out during the week. Or try treating yourself every now and them, either with a special restaurant you like or a special show (Broadway?).
Step 3: Online shopping - You can save a lot of money with this one! Think about what kinds of food you can keep in your room that won't go bad and check online for them (Walmart, Amazon Pantry). I promise you it will be cheaper. For example, I stocked up on canned goods, soups, cooking ingredients, and snacks when I first moved here in September and I paid a total of around $35 on Walmart.com. For the amount of stuff that I got with my online order the same things here, I kid you not, would have been around $80-$90. Of course, you can't online shop for all types of food, such as perishables, and for information on that we move onto step 4.
Step 4: Find a grocery store that works for you - Check multiple stores and compare prices on food. I would highly recommend avoiding places like Kmart, Duanereade, CVS, etc. In the beginning it might be helpful for getting a few things, but as you have time to explore the city some more definitely be checking out the grocery stores you pass.
HINT: The further away you are form touristy areas the lower the prices will be (on grocery stores and anything else - restaurants, stores).
Step 5: Find free events - For as expensive as New York is you would be surprised by the amount of free events they have around the city daily. Do some research every week to see what's coming up. You'll have a lot of fun, and not spend a penny doing it. Check out this site for free events around the city: https://www.nycgo.com/maps-guides/free-in-nyc )
Step 6: DISCOUNT, DISCOUNT, DISCOUNT - Don't be afraid to ask about discounts. No harm comes from asking. Most places offer student discounts.
Step 7: If you have the time, walk - Uber’s, Taxi’s, and the Subway can add up in cost after a while. If you’re not in a rush and feel comfortable with your environment try walking to where you are wanting to go. You get to experience more of Manhattan and you might happen upon some amazing places that you would have never known about unless you walked by it. I can't tell you how many memories I have made that will last me a lifetime just from my leisurely walks, by myself or with friends.
There is obviously many more ways to save money with everything you do, but I thought that these 7 steps could help you to avoid some of the biggest money mistakes you could make during your time here.
Written by: Madison Buechler
Photos by: Madison Buechler