How to save money while living in New York City

Most of my readers do not live in high cost of living (HCOL) cities. The financially savvy crowd typically has already done their homework and know all about geographical arbitrage. A doctor in the Bay Area might not even be able to swing a two-bedroom apartment for less than $3000 a month (more like $4500). Guess where all of your salary is going towards if you life there? For $3000 a month, you can get a McMansion in Indianapolis, with a one-acre lot to boot.

Unfortunately, not all of us have that much freedom. Many doctors are going to be “stuck” living in a HCOL city due to family ties, specialization, or hubris. Hey, Northern California is nice.  You won’t find strawberries better anywhere else in the world.  Who cares if there are droughts, mudslides, and earthquakes? 😃

Likewise, there are many doctors in the New York area.  This place is crazy expensive.  I remember hearing some statistic that almost a quarter of all doctors in the United States have journeyed through New York City or are living in one of the boroughs. I suppose that it is a reasonable number due to the dense population and high number of hospitals in the region. For this reason, many of you readers might end up living in the NYC area at some point during your career. Here are some tips to keep more of your paycheck in your bank account while living in the Big Apple:

Rent  

By far, the biggest expense for most people in NYC is the cost of rent or owning. There is almost no real way to cut costs since the real estate market is insane. If you choose to live in the city, getting a roommate may be the most economical choice. You can probably save about 30% on rent with splitting a two-bedroom unit instead of living in a studio or one-bedroom apartment. The cost of rent correlates with vicinity to subway lines and neighborhoods. You have to weigh in safety to cost, as there is obviously crime in the city. One consideration is to live near a college campus where you might be able to get a cheaper rent targeted for students. Rent stabilized units are also an option, although many of these may be in less desirable neighborhoods.  Get on your hospital bulletin boards to look for roommate options and rental opportunities. Sometimes there are professionals who own their apartments but wish to rent them out while they are living in another city training or on a sabbatical.

I assume that most of my readers aren’t in the market to purchase a house/condo/co-op in New York City. If you are flush with money, go on ahead and buy. 😉 Expect to pay premium HOAs for doormen and building amenities.

Food

There is no Aldi grocery store in NYC, but there are plenty of ethnic neighborhoods with more budgetary grocery items. I wouldn’t necessarily consider these ethnic markets to have a healthier selection of food, but vegetables, fruits, and meats tend to be cheaper in Hispanic markets and markets in Chinatown. The grungier the neighborhood, the cheaper the products.  There are Chinatowns in Manhattan, Flushing, and Brooklyn. Take your pick.  Budgetary Indian groceries can be had in Jackson Heights in Queens.

This Cara Cara orange at $2.99/lb better taste awesome!

If street markets or ethnic groceries aren’t your type, you can still find some deals at expensive grocery stores like Fairway and Whole Foods.  These are the markets where you pay $12 for a dragonfruit, or $24.99/lb for salmon that you can get free from rivers in Alaska (Looking at you, LiveFreeMD!).  Produce at these groceries establishes aren’t allowed to have blemishes. And unfortunately when fruits are stacked together in piles, some of them will be bruised. Every day Fairway will have blemished fruit prepackaged in clear bags for about $1.50 or $2 apiece. Sure, you might only get two apples, a pear, and two oranges, but this haul would have otherwise cost $10!

Restaurants are a dime a dozen in the Big Apple. If you live there, you will find your favorite cheap eats.  Ask Yelp, or your friend who has written thousands of Yelp reviews. We live in a foodie world.  The only tip that I have that I rarely see mentioned is dim sum. Yep. Dim sum is tapas in Chinese form. It is typically eaten as a brunch. Each dish is typically >$4 a piece. If you have dim sum with friends, you will likely rack up a hefty bill. If you are in the market for decent dim sum at the minimal price in NYC, go to Ken’s Asian Taste.  Go there, and report back here on your findings.  You will not be disappointed.

Furniture and consumables

For furniture, Craigslist is your friend. It is not easy moving stuff onto or off of Manhattan island.  New York is also a city with many transient residents.  Use that to your advantage. You can even hire movers on Craigslist.

You might also like: How much of your lifestyle contains used items?

If used items aren’t your cup of tea, then you can seek your wares elsewhere.  There is an IKEA in Brooklyn, and one in New Jersey.  That’s right, right across the river is more normal civilization.  You can find Targets, Walmarts, and grocery stores with normal prices.   Even if you rent a car for the day (or Zipcar/Uber), you can save quite a bit if you are buying bulk.

Hospital

No matter how much you hate going to the hospital for work, it can be your friend.  Take advantage of your hospital perks, like discounted or free meals.  Procell batteries (first person to comment on this, wins a prize!), alcohol swabs, and the break room are your friends.  Use that hospital gym membership, cellphone discounts, and price breaks that your labor affords.

New Yorkers, what other money saving suggestions do you have?

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  • Live Free MD

    It’s definitely more challenging to get ahead in an extremely high cost of living area. Although Anchorage is expensive, it’s no Manhattan. Thankful that if I really need to save money I can just catch some salmon and pick some berries. Good luck trying to keep your costs down!

    • Smart Money MD

      Is there a quota/license that you have to maintain in order to pick up salmon from the rivers? Absolutely unheard of back on the mainland!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Live Free MD

        We prefer to dipnet for salmon since this is the most efficient way to catch dinner. This requires a dipnetting permit and only Alaskan residents are allowed to dipnet. The maximum number of salmon per year is 25 for the head of household plus 10 for each additional member of the family. So, for a family of four, this would be 55 salmon. Plenty of fish to last through the winter!

        • Smart Money MD

          Wow! Hopefully you’ve figured out all of the ways to cook/eat salmon! With that amount, I wonder if people start getting bored of the easy access to salmon…

  • PICU MD

    I’ve never lived in NYC but for most of my life I’ve been in the surrounding areas. I think the key to leaving in this area is to just accept the trade off. I realize I could buy a mansion in the mid west for my average suburban house. Also for many doctors salaries are actually lower in the NYC area vs. else where. For the price of my COL I know that any concert I ever want to see will come to my area. I can fly anywhere in the world w/o connecting. I’m a quick train ride away from the greatest city in the world…. and I’ve seen Hamilton. Seriously though, I think it’s hardest on the lower paying specialities. Making 130-150k as a general pediatrician in NYC is definitely not rich living.

    • Smart Money MD

      There is a doctor around every block, so the majority of medical practices have tough competition in the big cities. Likewise, you end up dealing with a more educated patient clientele, which can also wear on you more.

      Surrounding areas are just as expensive as living in the city. Imagine living in Greenwich or New Caanan, CT. You’ve got your $1 million smallish home, expensive gas, and pricey groceries. But you’re right–one train ride away and you can see Hamilton.

      Thanks for stopping by!