How to Live in a Big City on a Small-Town Budget
Many young professionals and recent college grads dream of moving to the big city. Big cities offer excitement, culture, and activities that are hard to match in smaller locales. Plus, there are oodles of other young people to meet for the single set. But big cities are also known for their high cost of living, and if you don't have an equally high salary (something that is hard to come by in the current economy), you may have a hard time living your dreams. However, even with higher prices, you can get by in a big city with these helpful tips:
Choose your city wisely
You may dream of New York, L.A., or San Francisco, but there are many other big cities that offer the culture and entertainment benefits of these metropolises for less — especially if you are willing to venture away from the coasts. Chicago is a great example. As the third-largest city in America, it offers the amenities of its rivals at a fraction of the living expenses. (See also: City Shopping: Finding Your New Frugal Home)
Get a roommate (or two or three)
You’ll save a ton on rent and utilities. Also, 2+ bedroom rentals are much less in demand in many big cities, since young singles often opt for their own places. You’ll get a bigger, nicer place and for much less. Plus, it can be fun to hang out with roommates — just make sure you live with like-minded people.
Pick an inexpensive neighborhood
Some neighborhoods that are a bit off the beaten path can be great places to live and save. Look for where the artistic/creative set is flocking to, and follow. However, make sure you feel safe in the neighborhood. You don’t want to end up somewhere you are afraid to leave your apartment.
Ditch the car
You don't need a car in most cities. Use public transit, bike, or walk. If you have to have a car, remember to get something older, since you will likely need to park on the street, and dents and scratches are common. Or, look into car share services like ZipCar for short trips and shopping.
Save on restaurants and events
Restaurants and events are one of the big appeals of living in a large city, and while budgeting is great, sometimes you need to splurge. Save on dinners out by using sites like Restaurant.com or Groupon to buy gift certificates. Also, consider BYOBs that allow you to bring your own drinks and save. Groupon and Living Social can also be great places to save on tickets to shows and sporting events or other activities like yoga and rock climbing.
Share the groceries
Consider ethnic stands for buying produce and organize trips to the "burbs" to stock up on non-perishables with your friends. Split the cost of a warehouse membership, buy in bulk, and divide essentials to help save.
Host your own parties and get-togethers
Stay away from expensive social gatherings at bars and restaurants by hosting your own parties and get-togethers. Ask friends to bring their own refreshments or food. Plus, you’ll be known as a planner/connector, a great way to boost your social life.
Shop at thrift stores
This is a no-brainer, but a lot of big cities have great thrift stores where you can find clothes, appliances, and furniture. With large populations, these stores frequently get new items. Plus, the retro look is in, and you'll look cool in your young hipster neighborhood.
Forget the gym
Big city gyms can be expensive. Take advantage of city parks and limited urban sprawl. Walking or biking to work and errands can keep you in as good shape as a gym. Or check out the Y, which offers discounted memberships, and consider splitting a membership with a roommate or significant other.
Use the library
Most big cities have extensive library networks to rent movies, books, and even music. They also generally offer free Wi-Fi to help you save on Internet.
These are just some ways to help you fulfill your dreams of the bright lights in the big city without bankrupting your future. Saving money is important, but so is living your life.
This is a guest post by Jesse Lynch. Jesse is a Chicago-based marketing professional and freelance writer. When not plotting ways to save money, he writes for his food blog Fast Food Reviewed and his personal blog. Read more by Jesse: