Kids + Pets

How middle-class families make it work in NYC

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | September 7, 2016 - 8:59AM 

There's been a lot of press lately about how the middle class is being squeezed out of the city, but the truth is that many of these New Yorkers—including families who are known to decamp for suburbia once the pinch of too-small, too-expensive apartments set in—are still attempting to make do here.

Plenty of us have our kids sharing rooms way beyond early childhood; decide to wall off our living rooms to make way for second (or third) bedrooms; or resign themselves to dealing with multiple-floor walk-ups with toddlers in hand rather than finding someplace else more convenient.

This reporter, for one, has learned that if you take the time and energy to look for alternatives to the most expensive camps, day care, and after-school classes, you'll find options here in the city—you just need to do your homework, and talk to other parents in a similar predicament. For example, while childcare is one of the biggest financial burdens on NYC parents (where nannies can often pull in around $1,000 a week in parts of Manhatatn), nanny shares can somewhat ease the pain. (They take a lot of coordinating, but they can save serious dough.)

We asked NYC-based mothers to tell us some "tricks of the trade"—ways they've figured out to survive and thrive in this pricey city. We should mention that "middle class" in NYC can be difficult to define. According to recent census data, the median income for a family of four is $67,201, but that would be very low for certain parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Some of the moms we interviewed were pulling in that amount, and some quite a bit more; either way, they are far from the 1 percent.

Subsidized housing and day care helps, as does smart shopping ... and snipping

"We are able to do it because my rent is subsidized by university housing (we pay $1,900 for a one-bedroom and will pay $2,900 for a two-bedroom when we move shortly); and [thanks to] subsidized (a percentage of total income with a $6,000 minimum and a $24,000 maximum). Before that we used an in-home daycare which was more affordable than others.

We try to grocery-shop in New Jersey or Brooklyn when we can (visiting in-laws, and my parents). We take trips to Costco when needed for things that we stock up on. I also make use of Amazon Subscribe and Save, which can really save on pharmacy items. I basically never go into Duane Reade. I do not really do much beautifying in salons (maybe three or four mani/pedis a year, no waxing, rarely threading or anything like that). I get my haircuts with student apprentices so that they are highly discounted or free. For clothing I only shop sales.

"We have a housekeeper once every two weeks and she does our laundry in our building. We do takeout only once a week, otherwise we cook ourselves. We eat mostly vegetarian during the week, as meat/chicken is significantly more expensive. When we had a car we did street parking, but we recently gave up our car since my husband is no longer driving to work. Basically, it's about trying not to outsource as much as possible." —Sarah, Upper East Side

Location, location, location (consigment stores and home-cooked food, too)

"The first two things my husband and I did was move to Jersey City, and then out to Queens. The main thing I do is buy my daughter's clothes (and even some for myself!) on consignment from places like I'm not much of a cook, but I take leftovers with me from everywhere we go. Almost all my toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, and even regular towels are from the 99 cent store, etc. I stopped sending out my laundry and do it in my basement; etc. And we never leave the A/C on when we're not home." —Rachel, Forest Hills

In short: Walk-ups, Aldi, baby carriers, and home schooling (also: MTA please take note)

"I think staying in the city is doable but you have to get creative! I've been parenting in the city for 10 years—I have a 10-year-old and a 20-month-old and am pregnant with my third. I've been a single working mom, a married working mom, and a stay-at-home mom.

We live in a neighborhood that is still struggling—East Harlem. It's more affordable than any of Brooklyn and a lot of Queens, and my husband only has a 35-minute commute to the Flatiron. We buy our groceries at Aldi and I can walk there and bring them home in the jogging stroller. We live in a third-floor walkup apartment we have been in for six-and-a-half years. We have a car and we street-park it. My oldest daughter is in an independent (private school) because it's what her dad prefers, but we qualified for a little bit of aid and we share the cost, but it's still a big burden on us financially. I'm planning to homeschool my two little kids. I have lots of friends who do it, some of whom are in the city and this is a great place to do it.

Sometimes, we drive to nice playgrounds where I can park because it's cheaper than it would be to take the subway. The fact that the MTA did away with the $7 single-day unlimited ticket is a big hit on the budget, so I leave the neighborhood less. I could plan all the errands I needed to run—doctor appointments, returns to stores, an outing to a museum and it was way cheaper to take the subway. Now that I can only pay per trip, I have to get creative and switch to buses or time transfers or just pay more. I think subway travel has become prohibitively expensive even for the middle class, especially when there is no discounted fare for kids. It's almost $17 for me, my husband, my daughter and the baby just to go to anywhere not walking distance or in bad weather." Joanna, East Harlem

Seek out the deals, including budget-friendly vacations

"We somehow lucked out and have a great deal on rent. Our place is a bit beat up and could definitely use some work, but we have a converted one-bedroom so our one-year-old has her own room with a crib and we have a trundle bed for guests. Luckily, my job allows me to take care of our daughter most of the time and then we have a part-time sitter or use my husband's backup care through his job.

I basically live at Whole Foods which, in Midtown East, is our cheapest options. I'll buy fruits, veggies and try to purchase items on sale.

Ellie eats what we eat, we don't make her separate meals. We look for free activities and classes around the city, wear her to take her on the subway and bus, and luckily have family close by that live close to the beach.

We do vacations but try to make it budget-friendly—we recently went to Provence in March when we saw a two-for-one flight deal on Emirates to Milan. We then rented a cheap car and did a mix of budget hotels and Airbnb. We will try and only do one expensive meal a month out and otherwise we love finding amazing cheap eats and BYOB around the city.

We are currently saving about $2,000 a month to purchase a home in NYC in the future, which may mean a two-bedroom that we can somehow convert to a three-bedroom when we have more kids; hopefully, they are all girls and can share one room.

As much as our place isn't large, it is nice to just walk outside and have restaurants, grocery stores, parks, other kids and moms, etc. When I visit the 'burbs I find it exhausting, taking her in and out of the carseat, the stroller etc. I love NYC life even if we are just middle class!" —Katie, Midtown East

Keep an eye out for free classes and look to friends and neighbors for childcare help

"I recommend grocery-shopping outside the city. My husband and I shop in at Shop-Rite in New Jersey because it's much cheaper there.

Use up every free class in the city instead of paying $800 per semester for one class. KidzCentralStation lists every free baby class in the city so you can socialize your little one without going broke.

I joined Equinox because they have babysitters for your kids. It's only 12 bucks for two hours. Granted Equinox is expensive, but over time the cost of a monthly membership outweighs what you'd pay a sitter.

And my neighbor in my building and I take turns watching each other's kids from time to time. —Laura, Upper East Side

Consider a roommate ... seriously

"Sometimes I honestly have no idea how we do it. My husband works and makes less than six figures and I stay home with the kids. During the school year, I do teach an art class at a preschool once a week. We live in an East Harlem two-bedroom and had a roommate until this past April when my youngest turned 1. We go to the park and library a lot. My son (three-years-old) sometimes does a class. Right now, he does soccer once a week. I try to set up playdates when possible for social activities.

We try to limit ordering in. We shop at Costco and the regular grocery (no FreshDirect, though I fantasize about it). We don't really do fancy trips, except to visit family, which the kids love. We don't have a car (sold it 12 years ago when we first moved out here). And we get most of our clothes from Old Navy, Target, grandma, or hand-me-downs." —Rachel, East Harlem


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