16 Sneaky Ways New York Can Make You Go Broke (Hint: It’s Not Your Rent)

When I moved to New York City from Paris nearly two years ago, I assumed that, between the powerful Euro and high Parisian rents, things couldn’t get any worse for me financially. I was under the impression that New York City was only expensive if you were living on the Upper East Side (thanks, Gossip Girl!), but was otherwise decently affordable. Two years older and city-street-wiser, I can officially say that I could not have been more wrong. Rent is nearly twice as high here, the Upper East Side is one of the more affordable neighborhoods to live in, and the city bombards you with a never-ending stream of unexpected expenses. Everything from laundry to cross-borough dating has a costly (and unforeseen) price, and sometimes it feels as though rent is actually the least of one’s problems at the end of the month. We asked 16 women about the most surprising financial land mines they've encountered since living in the concrete jungle. Whether you're looking to relocate to New York or simply love to gripe about the city you call home, read on to find out about the Big Apple's biggest money-wasters.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“Not having normal grocery stores. I live in a 'hipster' Brooklyn neighborhood that has basically two options for food: bodegas and super-pricey ‘health-food grocers’ who charge you $2 for a piece of fruit. If I want to shop somewhere with an okay selection and prices, I have to head four stops on the subway and carry everything back in bags. I usually end up grabbing dinner supplies at one of the health-food places, and it ends up costing me as much as a restaurant dinner would.”
– Katy, 25 “The fact that everything is available via delivery has become my Achilles’ heel. I get stoned and order Insomnia cookies. I get bagels Seamless’d to me when I’m hungover, even though I could walk a block and a half to avoid the delivery charge. I have even gotten groceries delivered from the local bodega because I had a cold and didn’t want to go downstairs to get medicine and soup, which is something I never would have done in any other city. Somehow, my mind doesn’t even process the extra money I spend on it, because I feel an addict’s rush from the convenience of it. It’s like you’re a medieval king.”
– Simone, 23 “I never used Uber in my hometown, but for some reason, when I moved to NYC, I got it in my head from one or two trips that it was so much cheaper than a taxi (it really isn’t). Then I started justifying like two to three times the trips, because I was ‘saving money by taking an Uber.’ My transportation budget is way, way higher now, because I went from taking a cab sparingly in my hometown to now calling a car at least a few times a week. The convenience of the city killed me.”
– Nat, 30 “There’s just an impulse to, like…buy stuff as you go places, rather than pack it all with you and carry it around all day. It’s food, mostly, but also things like — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to buy a phone charger because I forgot mine at home and would have rather wasted another $10 than have a dead phone.”
– Ellie, 25
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“I ruin about three pairs of heels per year just walking around the city. Fuck sidewalk grates.”
– Beth, 26 “If you had asked me a year ago [when I was living in D.C.] if I was the kind of girl to ‘dress up’ for work, I would have laughed in your face. But since I transferred to the New York office of my employer, I have become the kind of girl who wears J.Crew and Michael Kors and gets once-weekly blowouts, because the level of 'professional chic' at this office is just way, way higher. I work in a client-interfacing job, and even my clients in New York are much better-dressed and better-styled. Luckily, I live right near a TJ Maxx, so I can often find the brand-name stuff for cheap, but it’s still way more than I ever spent on clothes in D.C.”
– Lana, 33

"One thing I didn't anticipate when moving to New York was the cost of doing laundry. When looking at apartments, it truly didn't dawn on me that there were no washers or dryers in the unit or the building. I wasn't sure as to how the dirty clothes would get clean, because it completely slipped my mind. Up until that point, I lived with my parents and took our washer and dryer for granted. Now, we use a laundry service that isn't crazy expensive, but it does add up. It's one of those unforeseen payments that sting a little bit and require budgeting for."
– Lauren, 25

“I am one of those people who chose to live in a less-central apartment to save money, and have instead ended up spending it on transportation costs. I live in South Brooklyn, and everything from the money I spend on subway rides to the extreme cost of the occasional emergency (or drunk) taxi adds up to hundreds per month. I had the opportunity to live within a 20-minute walk from my Midtown office, and I chose not to. As it turns out, I’m actually not saving that much money when I break it down. Transport creeps up on you.”
– Jackie, 22
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“Coffee. There are so many tempting coffee shops and cafés to try, and I never thought I would indulge as much as I do. There's a much higher concentration of coffee shops here than out in the suburbs of New Jersey. It's much harder to head home and throw on a pot of espresso when you're walking by a café with a heavenly scent of brew and pastries wafting out of the open windows."
– Jenna, 29

“Before I dated a guy who lived far away from me, I never knew how expensive it was going to be to be in a 'long-distance city relationship.' I just thought that everywhere was easy to get to via subway, and that dating someone in your same city was not going to be a big deal. But I live in Queens and my boyfriend lives in Battery Park, so I essentially had to buy a duplicate of everything I own in order to be able to go to work (in Midtown) straight from his place, or stay the weekend. Especially because you can’t drive (and therefore store a bunch of stuff in your car that can go both ways), you really have to be prepared that everything you need is at this person’s house, or else you’re stuck taking an hour-long subway trip back home to get whatever you need.”
– Melanie, 29

“I'm guilty of spending $39 four, five times a week to go to SoulCycle (class, shoes, and water)...and then getting a $10 Organic Avenue smoothie afterwards.”
– Dana, 24

“Brunch. Brunch, brunch, brunch, brunch. Brunch, brunch. Every time someone asks if I want to ‘meet up for brunch this weekend,’ I can feel my wallet cringing in my purse. Brunch is an evil meal.”
– Ty, 30
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
“For some reason, living in New York, I find myself way more inclined to buy expensive makeup than I ever was before. I honestly don’t know what it is, but I go to Sephora at least once every two weeks, whereas before it was this rare, special thing. I guess it’s because my friends/co-workers here all have their individual 'miracle product' they swear by, and now my drugstore mascara doesn’t seem as good.”
– Josie, 23 “Non-restaurant restaurants. Whenever it’s lunchtime at my office, I think I’m saving myself money by not going to a sit-down restaurant with a waiter and a tip, so instead I go to Chop't, Potbelly, or Au Bon Pain. In the end, I still spend about $15 a day, which is not really saving much money, and I could probably get the actual restaurant experience with some good lunch specials instead."
– Mikayla, 30

“My biggest NYC vice is tattoos. I love getting them regardless, but there are just so many amazing artists here that I find myself wanting a new piece every month.”
– Jane, 25

“Exercise as a social activity. I work in a startup with a lot of really active people, and the gym in our office building costs $90/month. Of course, I signed up for it, because I didn’t want to be the only lazy asshole in the office who doesn’t work out with everyone. Then there are the weekend yoga classes that my friend loves to drag me to, which are $25 a pop. And don’t forget boot camp in the park once a month in the summer, where I pay $65 for the privilege of suffering with my more athletic friend.”
– Jessica, 27