How To Survive New York City On An Entry-Level Salary

It’s no secret that New York City is an expensive place to live. Whether you've actually lived here or not, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with the fact that the Big Apple is full of staggering rents, expensive restaurants, pricey laundry services, and happy hours that attempt to convince you that a dollar off a $9 glass of wine is a deal. For the many people do call the city home without a finance bro salary, navigating the city — while still managing to enjoy it — is a full-time job in and of itself. Believe it or not, New York can be a fun and exciting place even when you're facing limited funds. To find out exactly how to make the city work on an entry-level salary, we talked to 11 young locals for their biggest tips and tricks to get by — and do it well.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“I’ve learned to keep a running list of what I want/need, and don't purchase anything unless it's on it. I have avoided making a lot of impulse purchases this way, especially when a walk home in the city entails walking by seven or more dreamy retail stores. Sigh.

"I have also found it much easier to avoid binge shopping (I'm a recovering addict!) by giving myself a bigger financial goal, like a trip or class. Suddenly, when a 'necessary' $50 pair of boots is taking away from my dream trip to San Francisco, it's not so necessary anymore. On the social front, I am appalled by what $20 can get you in New York City. So my roommate and I have challenged ourselves to do things around the city (restaurants and bars don't count) that cost around $20. So far, we've found: " 1. Tickets to Shaggy (Front row) at Webster Hall: $20
2. Tickets to Gilmore Guys at The Bell House: $15
3. Tickets to The Moth StorySLAM: $15
4. Daybreaker Fitness Class: $25
5. Oktoberfest Waterfront Event: $35
6. Celebrate Brooklyn! at Prospect Park (Stayed behind the fence): $0”
–Bella, Advertising “When I started my job just out of college, I was really naive about what was expected in terms of a social life for someone with a ‘grown-up’ career. I would say yes to pretty much all social engagements, especially things like coffees, lunches, and happy hours, and by the third month, I was already in nearly $1,000 of credit card debt. So I started being open with my friends and colleagues about really wanting to save money — I actually sent out a fun, list-y email with GIFs explaining that I was going on a new budget, complete with cheap activity suggestions — and no longer agreed to something just because I should. Within six months, I’d paid off my credit card debt and actually managed to save on my objectively-awful salary.”
—Lianne, Marketing
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“Definitely do not underestimate the incredible thrift store scene New York has to offer. I live in Brooklyn now, and I would say about 80% of my clothes come from thrift stores. With the exception of obvious things like underwear and bras, there’s basically no need to pay full retail price for clothing anymore. Shout out to Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads!”
—Maddie, Education “Divide your spending into a ‘new’ and ‘used’ category. Figure out what you need to be buying for full-price, and what you can be getting second-hand. For me, a lot of clothes, books, furniture, and home supplies can be bought used — which can cut out a lot of unnecessary spending. On the opposite end, for things you want to buy new, I recommend getting Amazon Prime. It costs $100 upfront, but you almost immediately make that up, especially when you're living in a city like New York, where you can’t just go to a Costco or Sam’s Club. I buy a ton of basic food and cleaning supplies in bulk off of Amazon, and it’s delivered for free each time.”
—Julien, Real Estate

“My biggest strategy is definitely to walk everywhere I am able to. I specifically chose a small room in an apartment near where I work (in Brooklyn) so that I would be able to save on transportation costs. I could have gone further away and saved a little bit in rent, but I find that being close enough to walk makes me want to do it all the time and not mind walking even further to social things when I’m done at the office. This means I spend almost nothing on transportation, I don’t need to pay for a gym membership (I walk over 15,000 steps a day), and I am just generally always feeling energized and in a good mood.”
—Matt, IT
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“I found a Craigslist roommate when I moved to New York. I was relocating from college in Indiana, and it was extremely scary — honestly, I thought I would find a murderer, but I really needed a roommate. I made sure to specify in my ad that I did a lot of home cooking and needed someone who was into the same. My current roommate is also an entry-level girl, and we make about 90% of our meals at home now. We have a crock pot, freezer bags, and lunch boxes, and are basically always eating healthy — and for cheap.”
Sam, Academia “My roommate and I have turned savings into a game (we’re both broke as hell with post-grad jobs). We: "1. See how little we can spend on transportation by walking basically everywhere. I easily walk 20,000 steps a day now.
2. Try to find the best deals for everything, from Indian food (our favorite) to happy hour.
3. Stick to strictly no-spending activities at least once per weekend. We’re big on free concerts, museum days, and events.
4. Cook nearly everything at home and freeze our leftovers religiously. (We’re currently working our way through a new cookbook!)
5. Go on big spending freezes, clothes-wise, and allow ourselves a treat about one time per season.
6. Keep each other strong!”
—Hanna, Healthcare Communications

“I admit I kind-of game the system when it comes to my money-saving strategies. I work for a tech company that allows us to order Seamless every day at lunch (one of the perks we get in exchange for utterly-shit salaries), so I always make sure to get a big meal with sides and a drink, and save precisely half of it for dinner. It keeps me from overeating and basically covers most of my weekly food budget. For breakfast I just have coffee, which I make at home.”
—Dawson, Tech
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“Look on Craigslist for free furniture. Not stuff that could have bedbugs in it, of course, but things like desks, chairs, tables, and bookshelves are all over the NYC Craigslist, and they’re often super cheap or free if you’re willing to pick it up. My boyfriend and I basically furnished our entire apartment that way, and it looks really good!”
—Jamie, Graphic Design “I had to learn really early on that you can’t let people guilt you into doing things. You have to set your boundaries and know how to say no when people invite you everywhere. It’s hard at first — especially when you work in the hospitality industry, where socializing is supposed to be your life and your passion — but it gets easier every time you do it. Now, I am slightly above entry-level. Even though I’m making more money, I have established really good habits when it comes to setting my limits and spending reasonably. People now know that if I say no to something, it’s not personal. It’s just finance.”
—Natalie, Hospitality “I think the only way to survive in NYC on a starting salary is by living in an outer borough. I chose Astoria, Queens, where my rent is $100 cheaper than those in Manhattan, which allows for more spending money and more room to save. I'm also someone who prefers beer over a cocktail, which is always cheaper at the bar. And I like to cook big meals and use them as leftovers for the rest of the week. I prefer not to splurge on housing, food, or too many drinks, so I can save my money for traveling and events."
—Caty, Media