New York on a Student Budget


New York City on a  Student Budget

Can NYC Be Handled on a Student Budget?

New York City maintains its reputation as the most expensive city in The United States. Having lived there during college, I can attest that this is true! It wasn’t easy to afford the rigorously high prices. Here are some of my tips for surviving NYC on a student budget.

1. MTA Cards and Passes

Commuting is a requirement for most people living in the Tri-State area and the metro is the easiest way to get from A to Z. The MTA (Metro Transit Authority) has a monopoly on the train system, and many New Yorkers continue to be dissatisfied with their service, mostly due to frequent delays and over-packed subway cars. The price of the metro card has continually risen over the years. When I moved to NYC in 2012, the price for a single ride was $2.25. It is currently $2.75, and set to be $3 soon.

It makes the most sense for you to get a monthly unlimited card, which currently costs $121. I recommend visitors to get the weekly unlimited pass, which is $32. Each swipe into the metro includes a free transfer to most buses as well, as long as the transfer occurs in under two hours. You should include the price of the monthly metrocard in your budget. Bit of advice: don’t try to skip the fare! I knew a few people who were caught and taken to jail for jumping the turnstile. I was also fined $100 for taking the bus without paying one time.

2. Seamless, Lunch Specials, and Supermarkets

One of the greatest things about living in the city is the easiness of getting food, specifically using the delivery app Seamless. There are so many great restaurants all over the place, and they all compete for you to choose their restaurant. This means good deals, specifically around lunch time! I would often order portions for lunch and dinner through Seamless and pay only $15 or so, including the delivery fee. Lunch Specials usually last until about 2pm. Many sit-in and to-go places have cheaper prices around lunchtime as well, so if you don’t feel like cooking, think ahead and buy your food earlier in the day.

NYC is one of the few places where it costs about the same amount of money to cook at home as it does to buy prepared food, since grocery prices are very high. The cheaper supermarkets mostly exist in the other boroughs, so it can be worth it to plan weekly food shopping in another borough if you live in Manhattan. I used to go to Queens for my food shopping, where a $100 budget would last me the week. Shopping at supermarkets in the city, such as Gristedes or Fairway, will be much more expensive. There are a few Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s supermarkets in the city which have decent prices, but are always so crowded (they have 30 checkout lines)!

3. Happy Hour

If you enjoy going for a drink with friends, happy hour is the best time to do so! There are a million bars throughout the city that offer fantastic happy hour prices for both food and drink, usually from about 4-7pm. My favorite selection of happy hour places was downtown, in the East Village. A typical cocktail in any bar costs between $10-15, while fancy restaurants have prices more like $17-25. Happy hour prices are usually half that. Some restaurants also have BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) where you can sit and order food while drinking the bottle of wine you bought for less at the liquor store.

The Great Lawn, Central Park. CP offers many free events and concerts throughout the year.

The Great Lawn, Central Park. CP offers many free events and concerts throughout the year.

4. Going to the Movies

If you’re like me, a movie buff, you will be quite sad to see the prices of movie tickets in NYC. They are the most expensive in the entire country, about 50% more than average. The secret to affording movie tickets is going before 12pm. Most theatres offer a discounted price for early viewings, usually between $9-12, while any showtime after noon will be around $15-25. These aren’t for 3D or IMAX either, you can add an extra $5 for each of those. Don’t even think of buying concessions inside the theatre, either. An evening trip to the movies for two people with popcorn and soda is around $70, and people have no problem paying that! I always brought in my snacks, but be careful, because they sometimes inspect your bags.

5. Renting in The Big Apple

Rent is going to be more expensive than you anticipate. You will not have as much space as you’re paying for, but that’s the cost of living in the Greatest City on Earth. I recommend using Craigslist for finding a place to rent instead of hiring a real estate agent, because on a student budget, you have to be as self-sufficient as possible. Search listings that have photos, specific details of the space, and contact information for the landlord. There are some scams littered throughout the housing listings, but they’re easy to spot. Anytime someone is asking you to send them money through the mail before you have even seen the place= scam!

Make sure to get a rental agreement so that you can defend yourself and your security deposit if the need arises. Remember, listings disappear incredibly quickly. People will snatch up them up within an hour. If you see something you like, contact the landlord and arrange to view the place immediately. I recommend bringing your checkbook with you so you can take the place on the spot. If you aren’t sure, or aren’t finding something right away, continue checking Craigslist frequently. There will always be another listing. For room shares, it’s important to like the neighborhood and also your roommates. I always recommend choosing a month-month rental so you can leave if it isn’t working out.

6. Most Importantly: Budget!

Living in NYC on a student budget is tough. At the same time as being a full-time student I also worked multiple jobs to be able to keep my head above water. The minimum wage is low, and the prices are high. If you’re planning on living there, first and foremost make a budget and stick to it! It will be tempting to participate in the culture of going out to restaurants every night, having drinks, and spending money without thinking twice. As a student, it isn’t wise to live that spontaneously. Budget those nights out! Eat inexpensively. Split costs with friends when you can. Take advantage of shopping online as well, since most things will be cheaper online than in stores. Affording to live in this city as a student will be a true testament to your budgeting capabilities!

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Writer of this article is Heather, 24, co-founder of the Female Travel Collective.  She has previously lived in California, NYC, Paris, France, and Hawaii. She is currently traveling in search of the next destination to settle.

Writer of this article is Heather, 24, co-founder of the Female Travel Collective.  She has previously lived in California, NYC, Paris, France, and Hawaii. She is currently traveling in search of the next destination to settle.

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