In a city that encourages spending, learning how to budget in New York City can be difficult. Whether it’s the endless happy hours, amazing brunch scene, or high-end workout classes, the city is full of financial temptations. Everywhere you look, it seems people are out and about, enjoying the city. Often times, this comes with a catch; spending.
Between funding an understandable NYC bagel addiction or simply making ends meet to pay rent, sticking to your budget is essential. This guide is full of tips and tricks to help you stay financially responsible in New York City while still finding ways to splurge.
Come Up With a Budget
Examining the ins and outs of your finances can be dizzying. While it’s never fun to crunch numbers and decide where to cut back, this is the most important step of the process. Having a realistic budget will allow you to quickly identify your spending habits. If creating a budget seems daunting, I recommend filling out this template from Business Insider as a guide to your money.
Once you analyze your fixed costs for the month, it’s easier to see how much you really have available to splurge. In reality, most of us are overspending without realizing it. Constantly having a budget in the back of your mind will hold you accountable for the real, hard-earned cash you’re spending.
While trendy grocery stores can be tempting, it’s time to get serious and find your groceries for less. Organic, premium groceries come at a steep price. Sometimes it feels like many New York neighborhoods only offer expensive bodegas and overpriced health food grocers to find fresh produce, but there are a few ways to avoid being charged $10 for ice cream.
How to Save: Don’t settle for convenience. The Whole Foods around the corner and bodega up the block are convenient, and they know it. These places will charge you extra for the same quality groceries and produce. Trader Joes offers many different product deals for you to take advantage of. In addition, each neighborhood is home to a variety of local grocery stores that offer cheaper prices. When shopping in these grocery stores, make sure to buy produce in its full form (whole carrots, cucumbers, lettuce) instead of pre-packaged. In addition, always have a pre-established plan or list when visiting the grocery store, in order to not mindlessly buy food you won’t eat.
When to Splurge: The best way to splurge at the grocery store is to spend the same amount you would on a meal out for one meal in. For example, if you’d rather skip your $60 Friday night dinner out without sacrificing the special occasion, spend the same amount (or less) at the grocery store on premium products and cook an amazing meal.
PC: Instagram @Soulcycle
Learning when to spend on exercise can be tricky. In a land of obsessive cyclers and yogis, it can be hard to tear yourself from the professional classes.
How to Save: Let’s get serious – most professional exercise classes are too expensive. At around $40 a class, attending Soulcycle just three times a week will cost you $120. If you’re living in New York City on a budget, this is a lot of money. While fancy gyms like Equinox and trendy classes can be exciting, the high price per class is not the best choice. Instead, join a local gym. Many NYC gyms are open 24 hours a day and are less than $100 a month. If you’re committed to working out, heading to the gym on your own time will quickly pay itself off faster than attending daily classes. Another tip is startup POPiN, which allows you to pop into any of their partner gym and pay by the minute. For a full hour, the cost will only come to $8.40.
When to Splurge: Exercise is increasingly social. A recent Bloomberg article cites workout classes as Wall Street’s new steak dinner. Inside or outside of work, the new trend is meeting up with friends or clients for a workout class instead of heading to a 2-hour long dinner. Each month, pick one time to splurge on your favorite workout class with a friend. Use the time to socialize, work your hardest, and enjoy the treat.
Figuring out how to go out with friends in NYC without paying $18 for a cocktail is tough. Though it can be tempting to plan happy hours and lavish dinners with friends, this lifestyle will have your Friday afternoon paycheck spent by Sunday.
How to Save: Skip the happy hour and host instead. Skipping the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday drink deals will save you more than you can imagine. If you want to socialize on the weekends, offer to host a brunch or afternoon picnic instead of meeting out. This will allow you to buy your own booze and groceries, because nobody can really taste the difference between a $10 and $50 mimosa. Bonus: hosting a BYOD (bring your own dinner) potluck on the weekends is a great way to casually have dinner with friends while ensuring you never have to split an expensive check again.
When to Splurge: Every once and a while, it’s OK to splurge. Try to limit your outdoor drinking and eating to one night a week. Whether you pick Friday night dinner or bottomless brunch on Sunday, just one restaurant meal a week will leave your stomach and wallet happy.
We all know living in New York City comes with miscellaneous, often times hidden, costs. Being aware of the ways New York living can damage your budget is important and necessary.
Food and Grocery Delivery: We all know the temptation of ordering Milk Bar from Postmates on a lazy Wednesday night. Try to justify it as much as you can, but the delivery fee is not worth it. These fees will add up quickly, and ruin your budget. Skip the delivery, get some exercise, and head to the store in person.
Transportation: Similarly, taking cabs and calling Ubers is convenient in the short term, and extremely costly in the long term. The subway is the most cost-efficient solution. If you’re using the subway to commute every day, make sure to keep the same metro card to avoid the $1 fee each time you refill the card. Moreover, do some simple calculations to decide which metro card plan is best for you. Whether you need a monthly unlimited plan or only use the subway a few times a month, understanding how much of your budget is dedicated to transportation will help decrease your costs in the future.
Daily Coffee: If you are used to buying a venti coffee from Starbucks on the way to work each morning, now is the time to reevaluate. A large, black coffee from Starbucks costs $3, a steep price for a drink you could just as easily brew at home. Ordering a regular black coffee every day for a year will run you more than $1,000, not to mention the add-on costs for a fancier order. Trading your daily purchase for a one-time buy Keurig or simple coffeemaker will do the same trick for less each year.
Understanding Opportunity Costs
The next tip we have will keep you on your toes when spending in the city. Make sure to consider the opportunity cost of every purchase. A $16 rooftop cocktail could instead pay for three cartons of fresh strawberries from the grocery store. Spending $20 on one Uber could fund more than six individual subway trips. These comparisons will help you say no to things you don’t need more easily. Be sure that the reward from every purchase outweighs the potential alternative opportunity you’ll give up.