I’m not going to lie – living in New York City is expensive. The cost of living in NYC is 68% higher than the national average of the United States (and living in Manhattan is more than double the national average!). New York City is not the cheapest- or easiest – city in the world to spend a month or more. (I often ask myself, in the immortal words of Grace Jones, “Why are there always so many people on the street?!”) However, New York is definitely the most exciting city!
Monthly Apartment Costs in New York City
Of course, housing plays a significant role in the cost of living in New York City. The average monthly rent for an apartment in Manhattan is $3,667 (and the average size for a Manhattan apartment is only 703 square feet). The average rent in Soho, where I live, is $2,845 for a studio, $3,624 for a one-bedroom apartment, $5,864 for two bedrooms, and $17,028 for three bedrooms. In fact, one of the first questions New Yorkers ask each other when they first meet is how much rent they pay. New Yorkers LOVE to be shocked by and to shock others with our rents. Most people living in Manhattan are either rich, have been living there for years in a rent-stabilized apartment (or subletting from someone with one), or are cramming 3 or 4 people into a tiny apartment.
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Subletting May Save on the Cost of Living in New York City
I am lucky – my husband has had our rent-stabilized apartment for almost 30 years. Under the rent stabilization laws of NYC, our rent can only be increased each year by a small amount set by the city government. Consequently, we pay half the market value. It’s almost impossible to get a rent-stabilized apartment these days, so the only people who have them got them years ago and have held on to them.
However, you can often sublet an apartment for a month. People who leave the city for a month, three years or anything in between often don’t want to give up their lease, so they sublet their room or apartment while they are away. Like so much in New York, this too is regulated, and they can only charge 10% more than the lease rent so you can get good subletting deals. Craigslist is a common starting point to find one, but be careful and research it carefully. It’s also possible to find a bargain from unofficial sublets on Airbnb.
Cost of Housing in Other Boroughs
Living or staying in the other boroughs is also a good – and generally cheaper – option. Most of our friends live in Brooklyn, Queens or Washington Heights (at the far northern tip of Manhattan), where a one-bedroom apartment is a bargain at $1,980/ month on average.
Utility Costs in New York City
One redeeming thing about the cost of living in NYC is that utilities are actually not that expensive. Central heat, water, and garbage collection are all included in the rent. Our Internet is about $75/month, and electricity is not that expensive. Our electric bill is about $100/ month in the summer when we blast AC all day for our cat and about $55/month in winter when electricity usage is minimal.
If all of this sounds like a reason not to stay here, well, although our apartment is tiny and is a 6th floor walk-up (with no elevator), there is a restaurant on the ground floor of our building, a bar across the street, a hipster clothing store next door, a bakery just two doors down, and a dry cleaner in the same block.
Washington Square Park is a 10-minute walk away, and the local supermarket (open 24/7) is a five-minute walk away. In less than half an hour, I can walk to 4 major movie theaters and 5 arthouse cinemas. It is no more than 10 minutes’ walk to any of the subway lines that run through Manhattan, and I walk to work in half an hour. It’s all about location, location, location! (And yes, you will probably walk a lot if you live here).
Eating out (and in).
Cost to Dine Out in New Your City
Unlike in most other parts of the country, New Yorkers almost never invite friends around for dinner –because our apartments are too small to entertain in. However, there are literally thousands of restaurants to choose from. You can find cuisine from any country around the world in New York City. Restaurants aren’t all cheap, but it is possible to get real bargains. A meal in a fairly cheap restaurant costs about $15, and a meal for two at a moderately expensive restaurant costs about $50-70 without drinks. However, you can still find a $1 slice of pizza, and you can get a $2 falafel at Mamouns, or a pho (Vietnamese soup) or banh mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) for less than $10 at the Saigon Shack in the Village. And the restaurants that you may splurge on are usually worth it.
Cost of Groceries in New York City
Groceries are not cheap – and add significantly to the cost of living in NYC – my average monthly grocery bill for two people is about $800. Many New Yorkers, too busy to bother and with kitchens they don’t want to cook in – eat out or order in. A lot. There are numerous delivery services available – almost any restaurant delivers, and there are several delivery companies including Seamless, GrubHub and Hello Fresh. If you want to cook, but don’t want to shop, you can even have ingredients delivered daily, with a recipe through services like Blue Apron. This will set you back about $10/ day or $60/ week for one meal/ day for two people – not a bad deal actually.
I never eat breakfast at home. Delis are ubiquitous in New York, and you can get a bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll for about $4.50. For a bagel and cream cheese – an absolute must for everyone visiting or living in New York- it only sets you back about $2. When I first moved to New York, I was a little grossed out by the huge slab of cream cheese that came on bagels. However, you quickly get used to New York-sized servings. Now, if there is a thin schmear only, I am thinking “Where’s the cream cheese, already?!”
For a Cheap Easy Meal, Try an NYC Deli
You can get a quick and easy lunch at a deli too. A sandwich will set you back about $5; a hot meal from the buffet costs about $10-$15. Most delis have seating areas. In the warmer months, you can always find a park (a tiny pocket park squeezed between buildings, or a larger park, of which there are many) to eat in.
One thing I DON’T like about New York is that free refills on soda are not a thing. Refills on coffee are hit and miss – many diners will give your refills, but don’t assume those refills are free. Most restaurants charge per cup. I am always so excited when I travel around the US and get free refills on my Diet Coke. I end up over-caffeinated because I can’t resist!
Cost of New York City Transportation
Transportation in New York City is relatively expensive but very convenient. The subway costs $2.75/ trip or $116.50 for a monthly pass, but it is not zoned, so you can live at the end of the subway line and pay the same as if you only go one station. The actual MetroCard costs $1, so keep it and reuse it every time. You can ADD Value or ADD Time. The subway is hot in summer and not always that clean, but it is super convenient. It runs 24/7, and it is often quicker than a taxi because of New York traffic. You do NOT want – or need – to have a car in Manhattan. New York is actually one of the greenest cities in the United States because most people don’t have cars.
In addition to the crazy drivers, parking is expensive (average monthly parking in downtown Manhattan is over $530). If you really don’t want to take a bus or the subway, take a taxi (or Uber). Taxis are ubiquitous – just hold out your hand, and a taxi will stop. Typically, a short trip costs about $10 and a longer trip about $30. The initial charge is $2.50, and the mileage charge is $0.40 per mile. Three insider tips for taxis in NYC: (1) if the light on the roof is lit, the taxi is available; (2) green taxis are used in the outer boroughs (anything that is not Manhattan, which has yellow cabs) – they can drop off, but can’t pick up, in Manhattan.; and (3) you can use credit cards to pay for taxis.
Entertainment Cost in NYC
When you are in New York, you will want to get out and enjoy the city. You can have almost any experience you can imagine in New York. You can enjoy a poetry reading in a Brooklyn bar, row around Manhattan in a kayak, go gay line dancing, learn to bake challah bread or speak a new language, be the star in the Easter or Halloween parades, try foods from around the world, see fabulous theater or visit a world-class museum. Almost anything is possible in New York. It can cost a lot, or cost nothing at all.
A movie costs on average $14.00 (compared with the national average of $10.00), but in summer there are a lot of free movies shown around the city. Many parks, including Bryant Park, Washington Square Park, and Riverside Park, show free movies weekly from June to August.
New York Discount Broadway Tickets
Of course, when you are in NYC, you will probably want to see a Broadway show. Tickets are very expensive (around $200/ticket), but you can often get half price at the Times Square TKTS ticket booth for same day performances. You can also often get much cheaper tickets for new shows that are still in previews (before the official opening night). There is also a lot of off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway theater that is much cheaper.
Living costs in NYC can be offset by all the free activities. Cruise by the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry; watch Shakespeare at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park; kayak around the Hudson River; catch a performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Central Park; visit the Whitney Museum and Museum of Modern Art (on Friday evenings); go ice skating in Bryant Park; and much more – all for free. And, of course, walking around the streets or spending time in any of the many parks is entertainment in itself.
Free Stuff to do in New York City
In New York City you can spend no money, a little money or a lot of money and have any number of unique experiences. Accommodation, food, transportation and much of the entertainment will set you back quite a bit. However, there is always something to do, new food to try, something new to learn, a new experience to have… You will never regret the money you spend to be here. There really is no other city in the world like it.
About the Author
James, from https://travelcollecting.com, helps people have awesome travel experiences by giving inspiration and practical tips for experiential travel. He can help you turn your vacation into a fully-engaging, transformative experience. He has traveled to 78 countries, was originally Australian, and now lives in New York City. Follow James on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.