Whether you're an experienced professional or soon-to-be college graduate with an entry-level job offer, the prospect of moving to New York City for work is exciting. If you're in this position, congratulations! Living and working in New York is unlike being anywhere else in the world. Being in New York will afford you incredible access to some of the world's foremost cultural institutions and myriad opportunities for career progression. However, with that said, there are some important things to know about making it in the city.
First and foremost, prospective New Yorkers need to know that it's incredibly expensive and competitive to rent an apartment in the city. This is especially true at certain times of year: in the summer months, prices can spike, and available apartments can be snapped up within days, if not hours, of hitting the market. Once you've signed a lease, be prepared for some serious sticker shock, too. According to StreetEasy's Data Dashboard, no borough has a median rent below $1,900 a month.
And, if the rent itself weren't enough, there are sometimes broker fees to contend with. These can run anywhere from a month's rent to 15% of the first year's rent. The New York Department of State attempted to pass a rule eliminating this fee in February 2020, but this potential change in the law is currently tied up in a lawsuit, per Curbed New York. So, for now, you may want to plan on paying a broker fee for your first New York City apartment.
Regardless of where you're going in the city, odds are good that the train is the cheapest and fastest way to get there. Taking a cab, Uber, Lyft, Via or other ride-sharing option in the city is almost always more expensive than the train. Even though train fares go up on a regular basis, the cost per ride — $2.75 as of February 2020 — is still much, much less than you'd pay for using a car. Plus, given how gnarly New York City traffic can get, odds are good that the train will get you to your destination more quickly than a car would, anyway. With that said, if the train is delayed or you're trying to get to Brooklyn on the L, all bets are off.
Once you get your first paycheck at your new job, you'll notice a "city tax" deduction from your paycheck. This is because New York is one of only a few cities in the entire U.S. with a personal income tax. Every income-earning person, estate and trust living or located in the city needs to pay this tax, which ranges from 2.907-3.876%. It isn't a lot of money, but it is still important to be aware of this additional tax on your earnings.
While New York City is home to some of the world's most exclusive — and expensive — restaurants (I'm looking at you, Eleven Madison Park), it's also home of the $1 slice and $3 bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. Excellent cheap eats are available all over the city. Some of my personal favorites include Xi'an Famous Foods, Superiority Burger and White Bear.
New York City residents are eligible for a free identification called IDNYC. This card entitles its holders to free and reduced-price access to a broad range of New York City destinations, fitness clubs, sporting events and more. A few standout benefits include free one-year memberships to the American Museum of Natural History, MoMA PS1 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Regardless of their profession, New Yorkers work all the same. In this regard, New York is a lot like Silicon Valley. The long work hours in New York can largely be attributed to a few factors: 1) many New Yorkers work in careers that still care about "face time" with managers, 2) many New Yorkers are in the "greedy professions" that, by definition, are most likely to have 60+ hour work weeks and 3) commuting to and from work adds hours to New Yorkers' workdays.
Given how much time they spend working, many New Yorkers are time-starved. In such cases, it's good to know that most, if not all, household tasks can be outsourced if one has the money to afford these services. Laundry pickup, grocery delivery, takeout delivery, housecleaning and more are easily available through a variety of apps.
Regardless of where you're coming from, the single biggest thing that can help ease your transition to New York is to save up in advance. Whether it's a little or a lot, having some financial cushion before you move to New York will make it much easier to move to, and subsequently thrive in, the city.
Living with roommates is one of the best ways to significantly decrease your monthly costs in the city. Having roommates is common for New Yorkers of all ages; so even if you're outside the age at which you'd think you "should" have roommates, it's worth considering finding someone to live with in New York. If you choose to go the roommate route, it's also good to know that the cost savings associated with roommates goes up outside Manhattan — so if you really want to save by living with a roommate or two, look for a place in Brooklyn or Queens instead of Manhattan.
No matter how much you earn, making and sticking to a responsible budget is one of the best ways to ensure that you're spending within your means. If you've never set a budget for yourself before, this budget worksheet resource is a great starting point. Setting a budget can help you develop better financial habits so you're spending and saving in a sustainable manner.
Under New York City's Commuter Benefits law, most private and nonprofit employers with 20 or more non-union employees are required to offer commuter benefits programs. These programs allow employees to purchase transit expenses with pre-tax money. While this doesn't sound like a lot of money, consider that a monthly MetroCard is $127 as of February 2020 — being able to pay that money pre-tax adds up!
Many New Yorkers work second jobs or have part-time side hustles to help make ends meet or increase their overall savings rate. If you have the time to pick up a part-time job or a hobby that you can monetize, consider these options to increase your overall earnings.
If you're low-income in New York City, there are plenty of ways to access benefits such as reduced-cost transit cards, public assistance (such as SNAP and New York State's Public Health Insurance Program), low-income housing and more. There's no shame in availing yourself of these benefits if you need them, so consider reaching out to local community resources to help you navigate these benefits if you believe you may qualify.
For those who are close enough to work for it to be feasible, biking, rather than taking the train, to work is another way to reduce the cost of their daily commute. As of February 2020, an annual Citibike membership costs only $167 — which is only $40 more than a single monthly MetroCard. If you already your own bike, your commuting costs are literally zero if you use your bike to get to work. Plus, it's great exercise!
While there are plenty of cheap eats in New York, as previously discussed, cooking at home is still generally cheaper than eating out. It's also healthier, too, so you'll likely gain some additional benefits.
Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.