How to Budget When You’re Living in an Expensive City


Budgeting your money can be hard, especially if you’re living in a city where the cost of living can get pricey. Luckily, there are things you can do to cut down on expenses and live comfortably on a budget, even in an expensive city.

Make a Budget (and Stick to it)

It’s easy to lose track of your finances, especially when you’re living somewhere where things are more expensive than you’re accustomed to. That’s why it’s important to budget.

Set limits on how much you’re going to spend on things, and then stick to those limits. Track how much you’re spending and how much you’re earning to make sure you’re following your plan. Don’t forget to save some money if you can, too!

Find Cheap (or Free) Eats

Food can be expensive in cities, but with a little planning and creativity, it doesn’t have to drain your budget.

It’s okay to go out to eat every once in a while, but avoid making it a habit, since restaurants in cities are especially expensive.

Grocery stores are usually cheaper than eating out, but even they can be costly. Find a cheaper store where the food may have a shorter shelf life but a smaller impact on your wallet. When shopping at a farmer’s market, try to buy as stalls start closing for a chance at a reduced price.

If you’re lucky, you might even be able to find some free food. Events at places like art galleries and churches will sometimes offer free snacks.

Look for Free Things to Do

Some of those events with free food may even be free themselves. When living in a big city, you’ll probably be tempted to check out all the exciting culture and nightlife events your city has to offer. However, that can quickly get very expensive.

Look for free events, such as admission-free days at museums and free concerts. Don’t go out to bars and clubs too often and, when you can, go at times when they offer deals like drink specials and no cover charge.

Aim for Low-cost Transportation

Whenever possible, walk or bike to get where you need to go. The public transportation situation differs from city to city, but for longer trips, the subway or bus is often a good option. If you can avoid owning a car, you’ll also avoid parking fees, gas and insurance costs. Here’s a visual that shows which big cities are the absolute worst for commuting by car.

If you’re living in one of these cities, it’s likely that taking public transportation or biking would get you to and from work more efficiently.

Embrace Minimalism

When living on a budget, you may need to forgo some luxuries for a while. Shop for secondhand furniture and appliances for your apartment. Only buy what you really need and what fits within your budget.

Think about whether entertainment expenses like TV are really worth it to you. Paid, internet-based video services like Netflix and Hulu (and even free ones like YouTube) offer an appealing alternative to expensive cable, at least until you can fit it into your budget.

Get Creative

Instead of always heading to the store for furniture, apartment décor or other needs, consider making it yourself. Sites like Pinterest and YouTube make it easy for even the least crafty among us to embrace DIY culture. You can find cheap or even free furniture on sites like Craigslist and then fix it up to make a unique piece that you love.

Living on a tight budget can be challenging, especially with the high cost of living in many cities and all the exciting but expensive attractions they offer. It is possible, though, to live well on a budget — even in the most expensive city — by keeping track of your finances, sticking to your spending plan and living frugally.

Anum Yoon is the blogger behind Current on Currency. She writes about personal finance in a way that is more approachable and inclusive to fellow millennials.

About the author


Leave a Comment