Inquiring city dwellers want to know: “Is it actually possible to save money while living in a big city?”
City living is expensive. No doubt. Data shows that those living in the 20 most expensive cities can fork out more than double for housing, utilities, food, and insurance among other things.
‘Saving money’ and ‘big city living’ can even feel like an oxymoron.
The truth is, saving money while living in the city is not only possible, it is essential for independent, money-savvy ladies.
Here are six ways you can save money and build your nest egg without moving to the ‘burbs.
1) Keep your housing cost down
Nowhere does the cost of city living hurt more than in our monthly mortgage/rent checks, but that’s literally the price one has to pay for living in the city.
Challenging to keep costs down? Yes. Impossible? No.
Even in a city like San Francisco or New York, you want to try to keep your living expenses to a maximum of 30% of your pre-tax income—or as close as humanly possible.
Being flexible on your “housing requirements” is key. You might need to get a roommate (or two) to help split the bills. And don’t get your heart set on living in any specific neighborhood. You can save significantly if you are willing to live in neighborhoods that are a short commute away.
If you still can’t seem to get your housing costs down to 30% of your income, review your budget and make a deliberate decision about which other areas of your budget you are willing to sacrifice in exchange. Note: Do not make “Savings” an area you will sacrifice.
2) Automate your savings
City dwellers have everything at their fingertips. Walking down the street, you’ll pass boutiques, bakeries, bars and an endless amount of entertainment options. It’s not easy to resist all the temptations the city has to offer… especially when you are confronted with these temptations daily—everywhere you go.
It’s oh-so-easy to justify one more dinner out, one more live music show, one more pair of boots in the window of your favorite shop. In the city, your willpower is tested daily—no hourly… or more.
Rather than leave it up to yourself to try to resist the often irresistible, put constraints on yourself. Put your money where you can’t see it so you won’t be tempted to spend it.
Contact your HR department and set up direct deposit to automatically put at least 10% of every paycheck into a 401K, IRA, or other savings/investment account. These savings and investment accounts should be at a different bank than your checking and credit card accounts so you are not constantly tempted to ‘borrow’ from these accounts. This money is exclusively reserved for long-term savings.
This out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy will help keep you from spending now at the sake of your future self.
3) Build a go-to list of free fun
The beauty of city living comes from the energy, the constant buzz of activities, the diversity of people and the rich, complex ecosystem that results. Cities bring together people of different traditions, cultures, personalities and interests.
No matter what your hobbies and passions, when you live in a city, there is guaranteed to be someone who shares your interests. You don’t have to pay big bucks to go to fancy shows or pay for expensive entertainment. Find your people and spend time doing the things you love most.
- Check out Meetup to find organized groups of people for almost any interest or hobby out there.
- Scan your local newspaper for a list of free events in the area
- Keep your eye on community boards in your local coffee shop or market for local activities
- Find your local resource guide for local happenings (like SF Funcheap in San Francisco)
- Create your own list of fun things to do and start checking them off the list one at a time (See for ideas: 12 Budget-Friendly Happy Hour Alternatives)
4) Slow your Uber/Lyft roll and walk more
Do you really need to call that ride to go down to brunch? Or could you walk and save a few bucks + get some free fitness in on the way?
Not willing to give up those cute heels that make walking a block seem like walking a mile? Invest in a pair of portable flats for your commute and toss ‘em in your bag for a quick shoe swap when you arrive at your destination.
Save some cash. Save your health. Save the environment. Win-win-win.
5) Eat out no more than once per day
Convenience is the name of the game for city gals on the go.
It’s astonishing how the days can just whiz by… You grab a Starbucks and a yogurt parfait as you rush into work. Work work work. You and your colleagues go to the corner deli and you get your usual salad for lunch + an iced coffee to go. Hustle hustle hustle. You hit the gym after work or grab a drink with a friend. Before you know it you are heading home and you are s-t-a-r-v-i-n-g. You open up your phone and put in a delivery order for your favorite Pho, hoping it doesn’t take the 45 minutes it says it will.
That’s city life. But it can get expensive, fast. If this lifestyle of convenience is eating away at your savings (pun intended), perhaps it’s time to reconsider your habits.
Options to consider to reduce your food spend:
- Wake up 20 minutes earlier and make coffee at home. Toss a yogurt and some granola from your fridge into your work tote to have later as you sort through your emails once you’re at the office.
- Find one office friend who might be interested in scaling back their spend. Make a weekly lunch date with each other where you both bring your lunch and eat in the park.
- Have a few easy frozen-meals on hand at all times (sexy, I know) so that when push comes to shove, you know you have something quick you can have for dinner. Think of this as your ‘in-case-of-emergency’ dinner plan.
6) Pick up a side hustle
In addition to reducing spend, you might also want to consider increasing your income. The gig economy is alive and thriving. It has never been easier to pick up a few bucks here or there.
- Check out the ‘Gigs’ section of your local Craigslist
- Sign up to deliver Doordash for some quick, easy cash
- Offer your talents as a freelancer on Fiverr or Upwork
Enjoy City Living While Watching Your Savings Grow
If gone unchecked, it’s easy to let your finances slide by blaming the high cost of city living. No one will blame you if you don’t save money while living in a big city. In fact, you’ll get sympathetic nods of understanding.
But if you’re a self-sufficient city gal who owns her independence, you can rise above the excuses and enjoy the perks of city life without sacrificing your financial future.
If you want it enough, you can actually save money living in a big city.