10 money lessons from living in New York City

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

News article image

New York City is magical — mostly in how your money seems to just disappear. It’s very easy to spend a lot in a short amount of time, which means saving is crucial. Here are ten valuable money lessons New York City has taught me, including some I’m still struggling to master, TBH.

1. Set an 'ordering out' budget

Having food delivered at all hours is one of the beauties of living in the city that never sleeps. But making Seamless and such a regular habit (no matter where you are) is incredibly expensive, as delivery fees and tips rack up. To avoid blowing all your money on take-in, set a strict budget — and think of it as an emergency fund for days when you forgot to buy groceries or don’t feel well.

2. Get out of (Mid)town

Midtown — the best place to pay triple the price for sub-par diner food. Turns out, everything in Manhattan is more expensive and crowded just because of your proximity to Times Square. This surge-pricing goes for standalone shops and even chain restaurants.

That's why I always check a specific location’s menu before choosing a restaurant. The deals at home don’t transfer to Times Square. When looking to save, buy food and drink outside of Midtown, even if you only move a few blocks over to the Garment District. And catalog this tip for when you travel elsewhere: New York City isn't the only place known to jack up prices in high-trafficked tourist areas.

3. Watch out for 'early bird' spending (It's a thing now)

The early bird might get the worm, but it can also end up spending money to avoid awkwardness and boredoom. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you're mindful of the pitfall and how much it can cost you. Don't be late for things, for sure, but come ready to partake in free time-killing activities, like reading a book in the park or people-watching.

4. Pack a lunch

It’s ridiculously easy to drop $18 on a salad, but it’s even easier to bring a lunch from home. It's not as appealing, but certainly a huge money saver. When eating that sandwich from home, think of all of the wonderful things you could do with the $18 you didn’t spend.

5. Compare prices ... for everything

Remember that part of getting out of Midtown? The concept extends to all facets of life, not just life in New York City. When purchasing anything, including life insurance, it’s important to shop around and compare different prices and exactly what you’re getting. For instance, an order of tacos might cost $5 at one restaurant and $10 at another, but the $5 place might only give you one, while the $10 place sells orders in threes. Taco-talk aside, check reviews and compare value and prices before making a purchase.

6. Put your phone to work

You won’t believe the things you can find on Groupon. I’ve saved on experiences, tickets and food on this app. (Did you know you can find discounted flying trapeze lessons on there?) Before buying anything, especially something with a hefty price tag, search for on apps like Groupon, TodayTix and Retail Me Not to see if you can snag a discount. Oftentimes, you can. New York City is the best place for embracing a “ballin’ on a budget" mentality, but this savings lesson is universal.

7. Track your spending somehow

You can easily spend $30 before lunch and not have a clue where it all went. While I am not the greatest at tracking my income, I know the importance of doing so. Even writing down rough estimates — “Lunch $20, Makeup $10, Rent $600” — is better than nothing. That way, you boost self-awareness and learn exactly where you to cut back if you’d like to save more. (Psst: We created a simple budgeting tool that can help you easily see where your money is going.)

8. You don't need to pay full price for entertainment

A lesson learned, but oft-forgotten, from childhood: Remember how a stick could keep you entertained for hours? Like I mentioned, apps are fantastic for finding low-cost entertainment and so are local calendars. There are a ridiculous amount of free events happening at any moment in any part of the New York City. From out of town? Chances are, you can find free events in your area, too, by checking out the town's website.

9. Don’t buy something just because it looks good on Instagram

I blame Facebook videos. New York City is one of the biggest purveyors of the biggest and brightest foods that go viral. And, these days, places will charge extra when something looks really pretty, is excessively large or has gone viral. Try to avoid the whole “Do it for the Gram” mentality when your wallet is on the line. Or, if you still want to partake in the latest viral food trend, split the cost and the treat with a friend. You both get the pic for half of the price. Plus, who needs a 3-foot-tall milkshake all to themselves?

10. Stock your bag

If you’re carrying around an oversized purse or backpack, you might as well stock it with some “emergency items.” That way, you won't end up buying them while out and about. For example, toss a granola bar in your bag to avoid buying snacks. Bring some bandages and tissues for surprise scrapes or illness. It never hurts to be prepared.

Into staying 'extra'? Here are tips for dressing trendy without overspending.

Image: Chris Clinton