That being said- one of the questions I’ve gotten frequently over the last few months, was regarding my post on how I Lived On An $800 Budget In The City, about my time in graduate school. The suburbs are very different than the city, and consequently, my life in sprawling California as undergraduate was vastly different from my time living on the north side of Chicago. I get emails from folks that are thinking of moving to Chicago, or a big city and want to know if and how one can be frugal in a city setting that is known for both it’s windyness and it’s high tax rate.
Yes- you can live on a budget in the city (not just Chicago) but I will say, New York is another animal, but Chicago is a close second in terms of sky high prices! I attempted to move to Brooklyn two years ago, but my $300 a month rent was not even possible anywhere I looked in the greater NYC area, even with roomies!
My Advice For Living On A Budget In The City:
– Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. You pay more for convenience and you pay more for space. In the city, both of these things are at a premium. You have to be out of your spacial comfort zone by getting an apartment with roomies, taking public transportation and utilizing less glam, but equally effective public classes offerings for your fitness and entertainment purposes.
– Sharing Is Caring. It may be cliché to say “use your local library,” but it is one of my favorite places. I saved hundreds on my textbooks and personal development during grad school using both my school and public libraries. Additionally, if I couldn’t afford something, I borrowed or bartered for it. For some reason, Americans aren’t keen on borrowing things unless it’s from family.
Being in a big city, get out of your bubble (see, get comfortable being uncomfortable!) and experience the community of the city by sharing. Share appliances with your neighbors and find online communities with offline get togethers to share food, appliances or share experiences. You are paying a premium to live in the city, enjoy the fact that we’re packed in like sardines!
– Get Creative With Entertainment. You not only pay for space in the city, you pay for spontaneity. You can’t have fun on a whim (unless it’s free fun, then go for it), you typically have to plan for it. Plan ahead to see when specials are on for a restaurant you want to try or use a Groupon. Pregame or potluck at your apartment before going out for drinks (martinis are easily $12 each… four hours of that and you have a $70 bill for ONE night, not fun when you’re on a budget). Plan ahead to cut costs while having your cake and eating it too (hopefully it’s a Happy Hour special?)
Don’t be a shut-in, there are plenty of free things in the city. If the weather sucks (hello Chicago) you can potluck it at home for a really awesome themed night or a cheap wine tasting party. You can have fun without going to an overpriced, overcrowded club. If your friends don’t think so, you have the wrong friends. You can pay $34 for all the cocktail ingredients you need for a stellar themed party or you can go out and buy a martini and appetizer for just yourself.
– Your Hobbies Should Make You Money. People with money to spend can spend their money on hobbies. When you’re broke, any free time you have should be creatively spent to make you money. Not only should you make sure that your spare time isn’t costing you money (as it did with me for crafting….darn you craft store!) but it wasn’t helping me get ahead.
You can freelance as a writer, do freelance amateur photography (with amateur prices), volunteer for a good cause, or heck, as I would know, you could blog for extra cash, get some free stuff – or at least, something smart to put on a résumé later. Yes, setting up my blog cost me money, but the skills I gained helped me land a job I love- plus, while I was pinching pennies, it gave me a few hundred bucks a month to play with.