I’ve always considered myself a ‘city girl’ even though I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. With family and friends always intertwined with the city’s busyness, I was always there, always taking the train up, always finding ways to squeeze my dented little Honda Accord into the last street parking spot on the corner.
Chicago is—and always will be—in my blood. And although I live on the West Coast now, I’ve adapted that ‘city mindset’ to help me save money (regardless of where I am).
When I was twenty-three, I moved across the country to live in Southern California. Quite a few of my friends and family members were confused, worried, and even doubtful of my ventures. They thought I would end up returning back in a few months, bankrupt and unhappy. (I proved them wrong 😜).
Living in the city can get to be expensive, whether you’re in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or even where I am right now in San Diego. But you can still enjoy all that there is to offer without putting a major dent in your bank account.
Here are some simple tips for saving money while living in the city:
1. Make a budget.
Okay duh, but I’m serious! Have you ever actually made budget sheet or document? Have you ever actually recorded the money you spent, other than the year-end synopsis your bank sends you around tax time?
I was guilty of that for a while, until I decided to woman up and start keeping a budget. Before moving to the West Coast, I created an Excel spreadsheet of all my current expenses + estimated California expenses. I added up the columns, added extra money for emergencies, and budged out how much I could actually spend based on my current income plus other side hustles. This was a game-changer. It also taught me that if I wanted to live my ‘best life’ and not worry about finances at all, diving into a side hustle was a good idea.
2. Live where you can afford the rent.
There’s always going to be the appeal of your favorite district, pocket, or area of a city. Although it’s dreamy to live there, you have to be realistic. Calculate out what rent would cost and whether or not the risk is worth taking. Consider other options: roommates, smaller bedrooms, studios, etc. And above all, don’t get disheartened if you can’t afford the place you’ve been dreaming of. As you get yourself on track, you’ll get closer and closer to that ideal (when you’re more financially ready.)
3. Don’t be afraid to move often.
Rent will (unfortunately) always be increasing. Rather than being rooted in a particular place that may be quickly moving out of your price range, consider other options. There are plenty of places in a big city. Moving may not be the worst option, especially if you can find something more affordable and give yourself a change of scenery.
4. Avoid the splurges as much as possible.
An easy means of saving money while living in the city is to avoid splurges (when you can). We all love to spoil ourselves every once in a while. But make sure this is truly only once in a while. If you’re tempted to purchase something you think you probably shouldn’t, do the 24-hour rule. If you’re not thinking about that item after 24-hours, it’s probably not worth it.
5. Pack lunches (for work, afternoons out, day trips, etc.) and brew your own coffee at home.
You won’t believe how much money you absentmindedly spend on things like coffee, tea, and lunches out. You might think you’re grabbing the cheapest option in the drive-thru, or only eating out every so often, but if you’re not really keeping track, the expenses can add up.
If you’re already buying groceries, there’s no reason to be spending large amounts on food you can make at home. This doesn’t mean you can’t go out with friends, but it does mean you can strive to make smarter, more wallet-conscious decisions.
6. House parties > bar nights.
House parties may have been overrated for a little bit during your college years, but now that you’ve done the whole ‘bar scene’ thing—it’s time to head back in. You save literally hundreds of dollars per night by hanging at a house party rather than the bar. One round of tequila shots at a bar and you’re already $50 deep. Not to mention tip and any other drinks you might add to your tab!
You can still have fun and let loose with friends, but at a house party (or even pregame party for that matter!) you’ll save more than half of the night’s total cost.
7. Hit up all the specials.
This goes for bars and restaurants. If there’s a place you love to go, see when the specials are! Tap into Happy Hour! Enjoy the things you love at the times that are better for your bank. Specials are a great way to save without missing out on what you really love to do.
8. Wait until you settle down to invest in the big things.
I love to create an *aesthetic* for my apartment, but I’ll fully admit I’ve spent way more than I needed to on furniture and decorations. When it comes to home décor, try to be creative and frugal! Join apps where people are giving away their old things—you’d be amazed at what a new color of paint or a sanding job can do!
Try not to make any huge purchases (ie. couches, etc.) until you’re settled down or in a place where the expense won’t leave you stressed.
9. Sell your old stuff.
Finding ways to grab new things for cheap is always a must, but the same goes for selling your old things, too. From clothes to furniture, to housewares, you can find sites (like Craigslist for example) to pawn off your old things. No, you won’t make the big bucks on your old pairs of jeans, but you can make $20 here and there—and over time, that adds up!
10. Be smart when you’re working remote.
If you’re someone who works from home like me, it’s essential to be smart about where you’re going and how often you’re paying for the WiFi over using what you have at home!
This is probably my biggest financial struggle. I love being around people and I love the ambiance of good coffee shops, so more than likely, you’ll see me taking my work to a place and grabbing a beverage. Sure, I try to get the cheapest thing on the menu as often as possible. And sure, I stay there for quite a few hours to make it worth my trip. But even $3/day gets to be pricey by the end of the week! If you really think about it, it’s $15 on internet that I already pay upwards to $30/month for!
You don’t have to be stuck at home when you work remote, but there are other options. Join a coworking space that has free beverages! Have other remote friends over to work at your house and vice versa. Meet at other business owners’ locations. Work outside for a change of scenery. Or bring your own breakfast/lunch and splurge on the drink only. There are options.
11. Buy in bulk.
Saving money while living in the city is simple when you’re buying in bulk. And I don’t care what anyone says, buying in bulk has been the greatest decision! Even when I was single and living alone, I would make my once-a-month trips to Sam’s Club or Costco and load up. This was a great way for me not only to meal prep and prepare food in advance, but it saved me tons of money because I could freeze anything I didn’t eat in time and be smarter about my long-term eating habits.
You don’t have to be in a family or live with other people to buy in bulk—it’s something you can do as a single person, too!
11. Exercise outside.
There is a lot of appeal to joining a gym, trust me, I get it. But if your budget is really tight, consider working out outside as much as possible. Depending on where you live this may or may not be applicable, but in the summer months, you can take your yoga mat and weights to a park, or join with a workout group that does outdoor sessions (there are free ones!).
Another option is to workout inside (especially when it’s colder). All you need is workout tapes (which you can rent from the library!) and a space to get sweaty. I’d also advise you to see where you can partner with smaller businesses/studios. For example, I offered to do content writing services for a local studio in my town in exchange for a membership that I couldn’t realistically afford—it’s now a win-win for both of us!
12. Use public transport whenever you can.
Saving money while living in the city can be a breeze when you rely on public transportation. Take advantage of the deals offered for residents and perks for long-term membership cards. Even though it might seem like a bit of a hassle to jump on a bus or train, this is a great way to save money (especially with rising taxi, Uber & Lyft prices!).
You can, whenever possible, also opt to ride your bike which is a great way to save money and get a workout!
13. Don’t stress over every little thing.
Okay, so sometimes you’re going to go to the bar on Saturday night and spend more than you should or buy a big brunch because on that particular afternoon you were starving. It’s okay.
Saving money while living in the city doesn’t mean restricting yourself to the point that you’re not even able to enjoy the beautiful place you live. Be smart, but also let loose once in a while. As long as you’re budgeting and being conscious of the money you’re spending/earning, you’ll be fine. Living in the city is one of the best things ever! Celebrate that.
Featured Image Credit: TONL