How to Survive a Move to the Big City on a Small Budget

MoversPersonal Finance
Posted By Zina Kumok on November 18, 2016 at 2:48 pm
How to Survive a Move to the Big City on a Small Budget

You recognize it as the plot of so many classic movies, books and TV shows – young college graduate moves to the big city to realize his or her dreams. But chaos ensues, shattering the magical illusion they had of post-grad life. But it’s a trope that’s common in everyday life, too. With student debt rising and salaries stagnating, the reality of millennials moving to the big city and succeeding is getting harder to come by.

So if your dream is to move to the big city, how do you make it happen? Can you live on a budget and survive in New York – where the median monthly rent in Manhattan recently fell to $3,300, according to CNN Money – or Chicago, where the average price of a two-bedroom apartment is $1,176, according to the Chicago Tribune?

Luckily, there are some ways to stretch that salary.

Find a roommate

If you want to save money in a city like that, you have to be open to roommates. Yes, as in plural. Not only can you split rent with roommates, but you can divide the cost of internet, water, gas and electricity.

Even such expenses as Netflix can be split amongst people. Some roommates are comfortable sharing groceries and cooking meals together, which can cut back on food waste and create a sense of community.

As for food, Emily Wolodkowicz of the popular personal finance website The Penny Hoarder, says young people sometimes devastate their budgets by spending too much on it, “From my own experience living in a big city, I find that I spend almost all my money on food. Going out to eat all the time is not only unhealthy, it drains your pockets. My local grocery stores always have deals — with some coupons and strategic shopping, you can double your load for half the price than you would normally pay for going out to eat. I’d recommend investing in a slow cooker to save money and time as well.”

Go outside the most popular areas in the big city

Everyone wants to be in the trendiest spots, but those are where rents start high and landlords know they can increase costs exponentially. Look outside the hippest neighborhoods to find the best prices. One young mover who initially landed in Brooklyn reported saving $500 a month by moving across the Hudson River to Jersey City, NJ. The best part? He’s still less about 30 minutes away from Manhattan.

Eric Brantner, founder of, says he found a good deal on housing when he moved to downtown Houston by thinking outside the box. “Rather than look online for rentals, I drove around different neighborhoods and looked for lease signs,” he says. “I’ve landed myself in 2 or 3 really good locations for much cheaper than if I had just gone with what I found online. Sometimes, there’s just no substitution for hitting the pavement the good old fashioned way!”

Use public transportation

Many big cities offer some form of public transportation, ranging from the disappointing (Los Angeles) to the incredible (Washington D.C.). You can commit to biking or using public transportation no matter where you live.

The average annual cost of a car is more than $8,000, according to AAA. Those who live in bigger cities likely pay even more for parking, tolls, tickets and gas. Giving up your car may not be possible, but you can commit to owning a gas-friendly vehicle or carpool with friends when possible.

Biking can also save you money while providing a free workout. Many cities offer bikes to rent until you buy your own.

Ask for moving expenses

Some employers offer a moving allowance to workers who relocate because of their job. This allowance is also non-taxable if you can prove you spent the money on the move. Keep any relevant receipts so you can prove this to the IRS.

Your employer may offer this right away, or you might have to ask for it yourself. Moving within the same state can cost more than $1,000 or more than $2,000 if you’re going beyond state lines.

If you don’t get reimbursement from your employer or if the reimbursement doesn’t cover the full cost of the move, you may be able to deduct moving expenses on your taxes; again, save receipts for your moving company, van, boxes, hotel costs and gas.

Find a second stream of income

One of the most efficient ways to ease your money problems is to increase your income. You can only make so many cuts to your budget before you hit a breaking point, but there’s no limit to how much money you can earn.

Wolodkowicz says finding a side job is a sound strategy, “You can find them just about anywhere in big cities, including ones that pay reasonably well. You can make money walking dogs, tutoring, driving with Uber or being a personal shopper. Not only will you earn extra money from these side gigs, you’ll get a chance to try a variety of different jobs and find out what you’re really passionate about doing.”

Of course, making the effort to earn more money will chew up some of your free time, but it could allow you to live less frugally and enjoy your dream city.

Zina Kumok
A trained journalist, Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. She writes a blog at about how she paid off her student loans in three years, and teaches other millennials how to become debt free. Zina has been featured in Time Magazine, DailyWorth and Business Insider.

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