Roommates + Landlords

New York is still (sort of) a good place to be broke

By Virginia K. Smith  | May 20, 2015 - 11:59AM

Every so often, I still get chipper "professional, responsible roommate wanted!" emails from a listserv I joined when I first moved to the city. My friend and I always end up forwarding the listings back and forth to each other, speculating about who the hell these entry-level publishing employees are who can drop $1,300 for a room in an apartment with three other people, in Crown Heights? (Seriously.) But the answer here is pretty obvious: people who aren't looking that hard, and whose parents are paying a healthy chunk of their rent—or all of it.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you've got resources that mean you don't have to stress about broker's fees—or can live in the neighborhood you actually want when you first get here—more power to you. But as for everyone else, don't let those people (or depressing real estate statistics) convince you that paying $1,000 for a single room—or $14 for a single drink—is the norm. All things considered, though, New York is still a pretty solid place to be broke.* 

One key by-product of living in a city with such an overwhelming abundance of stuff: an overwhelming abundance of cheap stuff. Put in some effort, and you can eat for cheap, drink for cheap, work out for cheap, and see world-class entertainment for cheap, or even free. And if you're willing to deal with a long commute and at least one roommate (probably more), there are still plenty of apartments where you can find a room for under $800/month—not a bargain, by any stretch of the imagination, but doable (and at least not totally insane).

Let's not pretend it doesn't suck to walk by countless fancy restaurants you can't (yet) afford, but even aside from the obvious options—99-cent pizza, deli egg sandwiches, Halal cart feasts—ferreting out cheap eats is a pretty rewarding hobby unto itself. (The enormous $1 samosas at Lahore—right next to the Housing Works bookstore and its free wifi—are still my best find to date, with the bottomless cheese samples at Westside Market coming in at a close second.) Do your drinking at happy hours or at your friends' apartments with some Trader Joe's wine or deli beer—but never, never with that Chateau Diana "wine product" groceries try to trick you into thinking is legit. Get your exercise in at Planet Fitness ($9.99/month!) or Yoga to the People (donation-based), and your haircuts at the Aveda Training Salon, and whatever you do, avoid developing a cab habit until you're actually making enough money to support it. (Same goes for iced coffee—it adds up fast.) 

Another fringe benefit of living in a city populated with countless broke writers? There are scores of sites and newsletters solely dedicated digging up low-budget survival strategies. Get in the habit of reading the Skint, Nonsense NYC, Brokelyn,  and your local neighborhood blog, to start. (These sites will also alert you to enough free shows, screenings, gallery openings, etc. to keep you busy every night of the week, especially during the summer, aka peak Free Stuff Season.)

Is New York a more enjoyable place for the moneyed? Sure. So is literally every other place in the world. Mostly, this is just a friendly reminder that for anyone just graduating, you've got options besides staying on campus as a Failure to Launch, or moving to Detroit because you heard there are $500 houses there. Or because some billboards told you to. (Selfishly, we'd also like it if new people outside of the booming "foreign billionaire" demographic continued to move here). Anyway, at least it's still cheaper to rent here than in San Francisco.

*And for the purposes of this article we do mean broke—not poor—which are two very different things, especially in a city with one of the world's worst affordability crises.


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