How to budget in New York City

There’s no doubt that living in a metropolis like New York City can be exciting. There’s never a shortage of entertainment options — Broadway shows! Concerts! Museums! — or shiny career opportunities for the ambitious.

But as any current (or former) New Yorker will tell you, it can also be expensive. Make that really expensive.

The rents in this town are some of the highest in the country — three times the national average, according to a recent study. And while you may be able to save money on certain expenses — like transportation by taking the subway instead of owning a car — the temptation to splurge on too many fancy dinners or indulge that shopping habit can be tough to resist.

So how in the world is someone even able to go about living in NYC on a budget?

To find out, we asked three people — living in three different boroughs and earning very different incomes — to divulge their big-city spending habits. Then we tapped David Blaylock, a CFP® with LearnVest Planning Services, to review their numbers and highlight where they’re excelling — and where there may be some room for improvement when it comes to their finances.

The aspiring small business owner

Who: Morgan Cronheim, 25, waitress, Astoria, Queens
Income: About $50,000 per year

What she says: I’ve always been really good about money — separating what I need versus what I want. I’m able to put things on hold, like getting my nails done, if I have other bills I have to save for.

I want to start my own business — a local bar — by the time I’m 30. To get there, I try to turn saving into a fun game by saying things like, “Let’s see how much I can put into savings over three months!”

So every time I work a shift, about five days a week, I put $5 into my one savings account. It’s very stressful to set a goal like saving $100 a month, but $5 at a time feels manageable. And if I make extra money in a month, I deposit most of that into my savings account — sometimes it’s close to $900.

I have friends who make the same money as me, but they are living paycheck to paycheck, so it makes me proud to be saving like this. I have no revolving credit card debt, and my monthly MetroCard is the only thing I put on my credit card.

What the CFP® says: Morgan has a lot of good things going for her — not least of which is mindfulness over spending, and a plan that makes saving money less overwhelming. She takes things in small bites, which is awesome.

However, one thing is missing here: How much will the business she wants to open cost her? What is her goal? Right now, she’s just putting extra money into savings as she can, but I’d rather her say, “In five years, I need to have X dollars saved.” And then make sure she has a clearly defined monthly amount that she should try to put toward that goal.

Once Morgan has six months of living expenses stashed away in an emergency fund, she can consider putting her extra money toward other goals — and even consider higher-yielding investments, such as CDs, to help her further save up for her future business. And if she knows she won’t need the money to open her own bar for at least five years, the risks may be low enough to perhaps consider tying it up for a little longer in a brokerage account.

The entrepreneur

Who: Kenny Kline, 29, startup owner, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Income: About $100,000 per year

What he says: I’m living the dream as an entrepreneur, working in a field that reflects my passion. After saving $50,000, I recently launched a website called SlumberSage, which features mattress reviews and articles on how to sleep better. Both my wife and I are on the way up in our careers — but I still worry about our budget.

The mortgage on our two-bedroom place is our main expense. In addition, our property taxes and other associated fees are especially high at $800 a month, so it all takes up a lot of our budget and we don’t spend much otherwise.

We’re good at scraping by in New York: We don’t go out to eat often, and we rarely buy new clothes. We also haven’t been on a vacation since we moved here in 2012.

In the next few years, I want to grow my business and double our income, and we hope that we’ll be in a more comfortable position to loosen our spending.

Read more: How to budget in New York City


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