Manhattan streets at sunset

NYC Moving Guide: How to Live on a Budget in New York City

New York City New York State

by Bonnie Azoulay Posted on April 18, 2024

New residents of the Big Apple discover quickly that living expenses in NYC are significantly higher than in other cities where they’ve lived. When figuring out how to live in New York, it’s worth noting that just leaving your apartment, it can feel like money is mysteriously deleted from your checking account. 

How did I spend $14 on transportation today? I took the subway . . . 
Wait, that salad was how much? 
Did my bodega overcharge me? 

The good news? Even though it’s notoriously expensive, you can definitely live on a budget in New York City. And you don’t have to wait until the fourth or fifth accidental Uber surge pricing ride to approach the dreaded B word and get serious about budgeting. 

Whether you’ve been in NYC a while or you’re trying to plan ahead for your move, collecting tips for how to save money in NYC is always smart. Read on for information about the cost of living in New York City, how to save on living expenses, affordable neighborhoods in NYC, and other general tips on how to live in NYC on a budget.

Planning a move to NYC? See how PODS can help you get there.

Cost of Living in New York City

If you’re looking at moving to New York or have moved there recently, you’ve probably found yourself wondering how to afford living in NYC, as it might seem like money is disappearing from your bank account at a much quicker clip than you’re used to. It’s not your imagination: Living expenses in NYC are genuinely higher than in other cities. By how much, you ask? Well, that depends on where you’re moving from. Venturing from San Francisco, L.A., San Jose, or international cities like London, you may not notice the shift much beyond your housing costs. If you’re relocating from Portland, Oregon, or Asheville, North Carolina? Ouch. You’ll be feeling the pain in your wallet. According to RentCafe, the cost of living in New York City, NY, is 38 percent higher than the state average and 76 percent higher than the national average. What’s more, housing is a whopping 236 percent more expensive than the U.S average! 

Q: What salary do you need to live in NYC?
How much money required to live in New York varies, of course, depending on your personal lifestyle. According to the MIT Cost of Living calculator, however, the required annual income before taxes for a single adult living in NYC is $69,282. For a working couple with two children, that number goes up to $159,188.
An aerial view of six yellow taxi cabs dispersed across four lanes of traffic in New York City.
Living in NYC on a budget means forgoing taxis and Ubers for walking, biking, and public transit — a one-way subway ticket will cost you $2.90.

So… How Much Does It Cost to Live in NYC?

This can be a complicated question to answer because New York isn’t just one city — it’s more like five cities, with a host of diverse neighborhoods. Get to know what each has to offer with our guide to the New York City boroughs. Living in the heart of a more expensive part of Manhattan will mean much higher rent than choosing a less accessible or central area of Brooklyn or Queens.

Here’s a quick cost comparison of average living expenses in NYC compared to the national average:


  • NYC Average Rent (One-Bedroom): $4,475/month
  • National Average Rent (One-Bedroom): $1,700/month

According to RentCafe, average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $4,475 per month, compared to a national average closer to $1,700. Yes, more than 2.5 as much is pretty extreme. In Manhattan, luxury areas drive average prices even higher, close to $4,775 per month, while Brooklyn’s average is around $3,550. Average rent in the outer boroughs of Staten Island, the Bronx, and Queens will help you save significantly if you’re willing to sacrifice living in the heart of the city.


  • NYC Metro Pass: $132/month
  • Comparable Transit Passes (Other Cities): L.A. $18/week, Chicago $75/month

When learning how to live in New York on a budget, note that your transportation costs will depend greatly on whether you choose to have a car in New York. Inner boroughs are especially low on street parking, and a garage will cost you a pretty penny. Most residents choose public transit for commuting to and from work. A single ride is $2.90, making a round trip $5.80. Many commuters opt for an unlimited monthly pass for $132, which works out to about $4.40 a day. These transit costs run a little higher than in many other cities. Tip: you may qualify for a reduced fare if you have a lower income. Check out the MTA website to learn more.


  • NYC Groceries (One Person): $486.71/month
  • National Average Groceries (One Person): $348.34/month

Yes, even food costs more in the Big Apple. You can expect to pay about $485 a month on groceries, which is nearly $140 more a month than the national average. Can you save in this area? Of course. But you’ll want to be vigilant about meal planning, comparing prices, and avoiding last-minute purchases at your corner bodega.


  • NYC Utilities: $170/month
  • National Average Utilities: $170/month

As far as your basic utilities go, you can expect costs to stay pretty consistent with national averages — about $170 a month for the usual 900-square-foot apartment utilities (electricity, water, garbage). Internet costs in New York are close to the national average, as well, with monthly rates averaging around $65.

Q: What is a realistic budget for NYC?
This, of course, varies, based on your lifestyle. For starters, though, if you’re taking into account basic factors such as rent (assuming you’re living with roommates or in a no-frills studio in a more affordable neighborhood), groceries, transportation, and NYC taxes, you’ll need to budget at least $4,000 a month for your basic needs listed above and then some. According to the MIT Cost of Living calculator, the required annual income before taxes for a single adult living in NYC is $69,282. 
A peaceful view of an empty Brooklyn Bridge with the sun reflecting off of the NYC buildings behind it.
Brooklyn Bridge

How Does the Cost of Living in Brooklyn Compare to Manhattan?

As you consider how to save money in New York, you might be wondering about other popular boroughs like Brooklyn. As in Manhattan, Brooklyn has a broad range of neighborhoods with varying rent prices and even differences in restaurant and grocery store pricing. On average, though, you’ll be able to save some dough by moving to Brooklyn as long as you avoid moving to the trendiest areas. When you look at rent across neighborhoods and home sizes, Brooklyn averages as much as $1,200 less in rent than Manhattan. More realistically, if you look at comparable neighborhoods in Manhattan versus Brooklyn, you can at least expect to save a couple hundred dollars a month on your rent.

As you consider living expenses in NYC and the potential of moving to Brooklyn or another borough, make sure you consider the cost of your commute, as well. If you’re committed to a job in Manhattan, you’re guaranteed to be spending more on transportation as opposed to saving by walking or biking in the city.

Wondering how your city compares? Check out this cost of living comparison calculator from NerdWallet, which shows how cost of living inflates or deflates by city.

Find the Cheapest Places to Live in New York City

The number one way to navigate living in NYC on a budget? Find ways to lower your housing cost. For most, this is far and away the most expensive part of living in New York City — the rent is just so darn high. Certain parts of NYC — particularly a few neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn — are simply prohibitively expensive, and there’s not much getting around it. If you absolutely must live on the Upper West Side or Park Slope (perhaps due to a job or other constraint), consider getting a roommate or two! This will dramatically decrease your rent and utilities burden. Operating on a shoestring? Research whether you may qualify for New York’s affordable housing program through the NYC Housing Connect.

If you’re setting out to find an affordable neighborhood in NYC or looking for the cheapest borough in NYC, here are a few things to know.

Approximate Average Rent by Borough*:

  1. Manhattan: $4,775
  2. Brooklyn: $3,550
  3. Queens: $2,925
  4. The Bronx: $1,800
  5. Staten Island: $1,650

*Across neighborhoods and all housing types. Sourced from RentCafe.

As you can see, right off the bat you can save a boatload on rent by choosing to live in an outer borough like Queens or The Bronx, while Staten Island is the cheapest place to live in NYC when it comes to picking one of the five boroughs. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of commute time in favor of saving money (and potentially having more space!), looking outside Manhattan and even Brooklyn may be a great choice for you.

A big part of figuring out how to live in New York is finding the right neighborhood for you (and your budget). Not sure where to start your search? Here are some of the cheapest places to live in New York City and the outer boroughs.

Cheapest Places To Live in NYC:

  1. Washington Heights (Manhattan)
  2. East Flatbush (Brooklyn)
  3. Inwood (Manhattan)
  4. Murray Hill (Manhattan)
  5. Sunnyside (Queens)
  6. Bedford Park (The Bronx)
  7. All Areas of Staten Island
Q: Can I move to NYC without a job?
While you can theoretically move to NYC without a job, it’s important to know that the job market is pretty competitive. Ideally, you’ll move with a buffer of several months of savings, giving yourself plenty of time to land a new gig. And, in the meantime, sticking to a budget (and likely living with roommates) will be key to making sure you can pay rent each month.
A woman is picking out fresh produce from a local farmer's market stand in NYC. She has two green pears in her hands and is looking at the other colorful fruit options in front of her.
Grocery shopping in New York City is not one-size-fits-all. Check out your local farmers markets and street vendors for produce instead of heading to a store. 

How to Live Cheaply in New York City

Now that you have an idea about how much it costs to live in NYC, you’re probably asking yourself, “How do people afford to live in NYC??” You may be beginning to doubt if it’s even possible to live on a budget in New York City. Or have you resigned yourself to just living in NYC until you go broke, then moving back in with your parents in Ohio?

While there’s no getting around the fact that New York is expensive, living on a budget in NYC isn’t impossible, and you can definitely learn how to live cheaply in New York City! With some smart strategies and a willingness to adjust expectations to match your financial priorities, you can save money in New York while still having fun.

Here are several quick tips for reducing your overall budget in New York.

1. Don’t Bring Your Car
Heading to the Big Apple? You may want to ditch your car. Living in NYC means that not only is parking extremely scarce and a total hassle in most areas of the city (you’ll pay an arm and a leg for a space), but the city is also well connected via public transit. Save major bucks on insurance, gas, repairs, and parking by selling your wheels before you arrive. Check out Yelp reviews for car-sharing services like Zipcar for those occasional times when you really need a car or just want to get away from the city.

2. Do the Math on Transportation Costs
Speaking of transportation, before you spring for a monthly unlimited Metro Pass, actually sit down and calculate how often you’re taking the subway and bus. If you work from home a few days a week, it may be worth it to continue paying ride-by-ride. Or perhaps it’s the opposite — you’re constantly riding the train to commute and get together with friends. You may find those unlimited rides will save you significant cash.

3. Shop at Local Markets for Cheaper Produce
Grocery shopping in New York City is not one-size-fits-all. Start exploring local farmers markets and street vendors for produce instead of heading to a store for every purchase. An extra stop could save you big!

4. Skip the Taxis and Ubers
This may be obvious for any budget post, but try to avoid taxi, Uber, and Lyft rides, no matter how tempting. This is one huge tip for how to save money living in NYC, as those surge prices can add up quickly! Living in NYC means getting very familiar with the trains, or try walking or biking if you’re sick of the subway. Bonus: Save by not having to go to the gym!

5. Join the Sharing Economy
In a city as dense as New York, people are coming and going and purging possessions all the time. Join your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook or get apps like NextDoor, where people around you often post items they’re unloading for free.

6. Make Dining Out a Treat, Not a Default
We know, we know — after your long train ride home, the last thing you want to do is cook a meal, especially when the Seamless app is right there on your phone with your debit card preloaded. But as you know, dinners out or ordered in can add up quickly before you’ve realized what happened. Focus on stocking up on staples at the grocery store, so there’s always something quick and easy to make at home. Oh, and if you’re truly living in NYC on a budget, you may want to just go ahead and delete that Seamless app.

Living on a budget in New York can be challenging. But that’s all it is: a challenge that you can tackle with a few simple tactics and strategies. Find a neighborhood you can afford, commit to a few money-saving behaviors, and create your own version of what “living large” looks like in New York — as in having a larger savings account.

Q: Can you live in NYC with 50k?
Living in NYC on an annual income of $50,000 won’t be easy, but it is possible, and it will definitely require some clever budgeting. Let’s break it down without going into too much detail. If you earn $50k a year (approximately $4,165 per month before taxes), here is how you can live in NYC (assuming you’ve found an apartment in one of the cheaper parts of town).

Rent/Utilities: $1,500/month, shared with at least one roommate
Groceries: $450/month
◦ Dining/Takeout/Entertainment:  $400/month
◦ Health Insurance: $500/month (unless you’re on your parent’s plan) 
◦ NYC and State Taxes: $900/month

It’s definitely tight, but it can be done. After these expenses add up, you’ll have about $400 left over each month, which you’ll probably want to save! 

Looking for more tips on moving to New York? Check out our other guides about how to live in New York on the PODS Blog, like finding an apartment in NYC, NYC suburbs, NYC moving costs and options, and how to survive moving day in NYC without going crazy.

Bonnie Azoulay Elmann is an NYC-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to the PODS Blog. Her work has appeared in Glamour, Health, and Parents, among others. She is an extremely driven digital storyteller who may or may not have a slight obsession with fanny packs.

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Im from Pennsylvania and am looking to live outside of the city but as close to a subway as possible. Im looking to just rent a room and take a subway. I would like information on how to make this move and how to get in touch with people renting rooms.
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