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What's the best place to live on a low budget given a life-consuming job in Manhattan near Madison Square Park? And how low can I go both before and after unintelligible-but-critically-important-tax-stuff?
January 6, 2013 10:50 PM   Subscribe

What's the best place to live on a low budget given a life-consuming job in Manhattan near Madison Square Park? And how low can I go both before and after unintelligible-but-critically-important-tax-stuff?

I've lived happily in Boston for two years on $300/month for all expenses beyond rent/utilities/internet. I love to cook, I bake bread, I bike everywhere, and most of the things I do for entertainment are cheep if not free. I really can't see ever spending more than $500/month on food and entertainment. So, I'd ideally like a nice kitchen attached to a shoebox containing a bed, a toilet, and a shower; an 8 minute walk through a garden full of sunflowers from my place of work. That said, I'm actually not married to living in Manhattan; however, a fast commute (ideally less than or around 30 min, certainly less than an hour) is definitely one of my highest priorities.

My prospective job in NY is one that I'm passionate about, but it's going to pay pretty poorly. Actually, the first prong of my question is "At what salary cut off should I turn down (or threaten to reject the offer if the salary isn't higher) the job? I don't care about 'what my time is worth' -- I mean this first question in terms of needing to know a minimum estimate for what I might live comfortably on, either living in or commuting a reasonable distance into the Manhattan area. Also, I honestly don't understand the tax system in NY, so please answer this question with 2 numbers: (1) how much money I'll actually get per month?, and (2) how much the job offer salary would need to be in order to result in that monthly paycheck?

My second question is then, where and how are the best places to look for housing given this circumstance? Where in terms of areas of NY, and how in terms of good sites to use to track down specific housing opportunities.

Any and all help/suggestions/insight appreciated. :)
And thank you so much!
posted by ch3cooh to Work & Money (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you have an idea of how much "poorly" is? A general range? Do you mean 25k or 40k? Do you have debt or student loans?

It's very hard to tell you just with salary information how much your take home would be. There are several factors involved, like how much they take out of your check for health insurance pre-tax versus how much they pay, whether they will provide metrocards pretax, and things like that.

Would you be willing to live with roommates?
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:15 PM on January 6, 2013


But anyway, if you google "paycheck calculator" there are sites where you can fiddle with this stuff endlessly and get an idea of what your pay would be after taxes. At 30k/year it looks like your monthly take-home would be about $1895. The taxes here are just like federal taxes, except there is a state and local income tax. They are taken out of your paycheck in a similar way and you file at the end of the year and get a return (or owe money) in a similar way. It's not complicated at all unless you work in NY and live in NJ. Even then, the HR or payroll person at your job should be able to easily explain it to you.

The three inflexible expenses here tend to be housing, health insurance/health care, and transit. It's really easy to eat and be entertained on less than $500 a month here, especially if you work a lot.

I am not super experienced with Boston, but I don't find the prices to be much cheaper than NYC as long as you stay out of the more touristy/wealthy areas of NYC. That goes for housing as well, and here the transit to cheaper and more outlying areas is more robust. The big difference is health insurance--if you don't get it here, you're screwed. It's a huge expense.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you can make it in Boston, you can probably make it in NYC on a similar salary as long as your health coverage is taken care of.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:26 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh and that work location is notably close to the PATH train, making it a one-train commute from multiple locations in New Jersey. During a recent search I didn't find apartment prices much lower in Jersey than their equivalent commuting distances from NYC (meaning that 30 minutes away in Jersey City costs about as much as 30 minutes away in Brooklyn). However, the apartments were significantly nicer, they were easier to rent without a huge hassle, and you would not have to pay as much in income taxes. So consider NJ.

The first place I'd live in the city would be in a cheap place with some roommates, then once you have a feel for the city you can sign a lease. It sucks to be on a lease when you hate where you're living, and it's not always apparent to newcomers what they will like or hate about various locations/commutes. I hate switching trains because it fucks up my commute reading and means I'll be more likely to stand. Some people don't care. Little shit like that ends up making a huge difference, though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:32 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is imperative to know your definition of a 'low budget' and whether you will live with roommates or require to live by yourself.
posted by greta simone at 2:38 AM on January 7, 2013


This question is really impossible to answer as given.

Tell us what your salary is and what you'd be willing to pay in rent and we can tell you what your realistic options are.

To give you a very high level overview of New York City housing: in Manhattan, money counts above all else. Rental inventory is very tight and landlords have their pick of tenants. Less so in the outer boroughs and NJ, though rental prices are still rather high compared to the rest of the country. I would forget about finding any livable space for the $300 you cite in your question.
posted by dfriedman at 5:25 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Salary
Sorry for being vague about the salary -- the issue is that I'm unfortunately not sure how much it will be. I'm expecting something between $30,000/year and $40,000/year, most likely pretty close to the middle of that I guess. An issue with this position is that I very well might need to negotiate for what my salary will be. I don't want to ask for too much, but I do need to ask for enough to live reasonably easily in NY.

Roommates
I'm a bit spoiled when it comes to roommates, I've been sharing an apartment with 2 great friends for the past 2 years. I've also been scarred by a stint with 2 roommates who were pretty hellish to deal with (never around to the extent that collecting rent became a very stressful ordeal.) I like living with other people, but I'd want them to be roughly my age; and the idea of moving in with someone without knowing them first kind is almost unacceptable. If there's a way around that concern though, I'd be all ears.
posted by ch3cooh at 5:40 AM on January 7, 2013


This will sound dismissive, but I really mean it as just a factual answer. I've been living in NYC for 12 years and for the kind of lifestyle you describe, $30-$40K is really good money. I've never made more than $40K, ever. The cutoff is more like $20K for a frugal hipster lifestyle (let's be real, for lack of a better word).

Get the paycheck calculator and look at your loans, if any.

The days of $300 past rent are gone..more like $500 past rent for me.

The sticking point is a 30-min. commute. For closer to an hour you have many options.
posted by skbw at 5:52 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and some ideas:

Monthly Metrocard: $104
Landline + verizon DSL: $55
Virgin Mobile cell phone: $33

Northern Manhattan groceries:

Dozen extra large eggs: $2.09
Coffee: $2 for 9 oz.
Milk: $1.25/quart (small fridge :D)
Bag of hard rolls: $3.50 (give or take)

Pint on happy hour (way uptown): $4
VHS movie at Goodwill: $1
60 blocks in a livery cab (just in case): $15
6-pack of Magic Hat or similar foofy beer: $10
posted by skbw at 6:00 AM on January 7, 2013


Ah, okay, thanks, that helps a lot. 30-40k is doable if you have no other debt, but I wouldn't call it easy. In that scenario I wouldn't move to the city with less than 40k and about 100 or less taken out of my paycheck per month for GOOD health insurance. I'd ask for 45k at first.

You can only qualify for an apartment that is your annual salary divided by 40. So from 30-40k you're looking at places that are $750-1000 per month.

So looking at a few resources here:

Commute map: only does NYC
craigslist mapview set for $1000 max

Check out the quality of apartments and the commuting distance to get an idea of what you can get for that price. It's not looking too great.

Do you have money saved for a broker's fee? If so, set craigslist to include broker apartments. Brokers, ugh, but it might help.

In terms of roommates, that's one reason why I suggest getting a short term place before you settle down. It gives you a few months to ask around, make some friends (depending how good you are at making friends), and find roommates you might like. People are often looking for friends of friends or your coworkers might know someone. You might have to deal with weird/shitty roommates for a few months in that case, though. I know I did when I moved here (sigh).
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:02 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


(when I say it's doable but not easy, I'm talking SPECIFICALLY with your own apartment, just for people reading this later! I think 40k with roommates and no debt is not bad at all).
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:04 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


If roommates are a true sticking point with you, I would think twice about the whole moving venture.

Then you will be talking about $1400 for a 1BR (let's say) and only $600 left from your $2000 take-home from a $40,000 annual salary (ask me how I know). This is doable but not too much fun.
posted by skbw at 6:06 AM on January 7, 2013


Here's a counterpoint: with a $2000 take-home and a roommate, I lived on $1000 and put another $1000 in the bank. (So then I used the money in the bank after I made various mistakes, but it sure was nice to say F you, I have $10,000 just sitting around.)
posted by skbw at 6:16 AM on January 7, 2013


There are plenty of people who work in NYC on your salary, but they live with roommates and/or in an outer borough or in Harlem or north of that. I have a friend who lives in lower manhattan whose place was very much like "a nice kitchen attached to a shoebox containing a bed, a toilet, and a shower", and it cost her $2000/month. You don't want to pay that kind of rent on less than $50,000/year.

Also, keep in mind that of you commute to work by subway, that's $4.50/day, 5 days a week, roughly $100/month.
posted by deanc at 6:35 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


At that salary point, you're going to need a roommate, or live pretty far away.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:37 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, you will absolutely need to do a roommate situation if you are going to afford to live a remotely enjoyable life. At 40k, you could maybe maybe get a place of your own, but it would have to be $1000 a month which is incredibly hard to do even way out (but not impossible--I'm one of the lucky ones, but it took lots of maneuvering and right place/right time stuff), and you still wouldn't have much left over. So I would find a roommate situation.

Start with finding a sublet, maybe for a month or two or three. Craigslist is really only the place to go unless you can send out a facebook or email blast to everyone you know who might know someone in NYC who needs a roommate. With a sublet, you can get a feel for your commute, neighborhoods, cost of living, etc. and figure out what you'll really need/want. You can find rooms that are in safe not-too-far-out neighborhoods for $800 a month easy. $900 easier. Again $500, $600, $700 are harder, but not impossible (again, I've done it, but again, I've been lucky). But you can do it on $30k, though you'll have to be very frugal. What you want in a neighborhood will determine which neighborhoods you look at. Speaking only for Brooklyn, the closest neighborhoods in which you will have the easiest time finding an affordable room are Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Ditmas Park, and anything east and south of those (but east and south get to be a long commute, or in some places, not very safe).

So start on Craigslist. Just know that when you find a place you like and you think you have a good vibe with the roommate(s) you need to offer them money pretty much right then and there to secure it, because they will have tons and tons of people interested. You need to be prepared to pay first month plus deposit upfront. Possibly even first month, deposit and last month (i.e. 3x month's rent). So make sure you come to town with a good bit of money in the bank. You need to learn to trust your instincts in this regard, because you won't be allowed much time to deliberate.

On that note, if you'll be here this summer, I might know of a room in a really nice place, in a nice neighborhood with roommates late twenties/early thirties that would be a 30 minute commute for $700-$800. So memail me if you're interested. Must love cats :)

Do keep in mind though, that if this is a standard 9-5, you can always try to supplement your income with extra work at night or on the weekends or freelancing or ebaying stuff. Bottom line, if you're scrappy and don't have high standards, then you can make it work. But under 30k will definitely be pushing it.

Good luck!
posted by greta simone at 8:08 AM on January 7, 2013


Here is a visualization courtesy of TripTrop showing which neighborhoods are 30 minutes from Madison Square Park. Might be helpful to cross-reference with, e.g., Padmapper.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:18 AM on January 7, 2013


I'm a bit spoiled when it comes to roommates, I've been sharing an apartment with 2 great friends for the past 2 years. I've also been scarred by a stint with 2 roommates who were pretty hellish to deal with (never around to the extent that collecting rent became a very stressful ordeal.) I like living with other people, but I'd want them to be roughly my age; and the idea of moving in with someone without knowing them first kind is almost unacceptable. If there's a way around that concern though, I'd be all ears.

You can't afford to live alone, so you have to get over this. Sorry. I've had some good roommate experiences on Craigslist, and I've had some bad ones, but unless you know someone in New York who can help you find a roommate, you really have no choice.

A Craigslist roommate situation might also allow you to sublet and sort of feel out where you'd like to be without having to sign a lease.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:49 AM on January 7, 2013


I think Hudson Heights, in the Washington Heights neighborhood, might be okay for you. It's in Manahttan, but it's less expensive. I think it looks pretty, but I'm a weirdo, and I'm comfortable with lots of Spanish speaking folks in my world. YMMV.

I love the pre-war buildings (they remind me of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh where my Grandparents lived.) This part of Washington Heights looks very suburban and quiet.

I saw a few 1/1 places for $1,250 per month. Which is do-able if your dream job offers $40,000. (Less so on $30,000)

This was an incredibly cursory look, you might find less expensive places with a deeper-dive.

Just a thought. If you got to NYC, take the subway and walk around to see if you vibe on it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:46 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finding a roommate you (sort of) know: network network network. A lot of people I know post roommate openings on Facebook and send out emails to everyone they know before going the Craigslist route. Tell everyone you're looking.

Shorter commute: follow the subway. Astoria or Lefferts Gardens (bonus: near a big park) might work for you. Or, if you lived in Harlem, you could bike through Central Park to work and have a pleasant and decently short commute. (Sans sunflowers.)

Don't choose a neighborhood until you have a chance to explore a little. Try getting a short-term sublet first, then look for a longer-term situation.

People have roommate interviews around here, so no one goes blindly into a living situation. You will find people your age, unless you are, like, 65. (I'm guessing not.) You will not be able to live alone, full stop.
posted by the_blizz at 10:43 AM on January 7, 2013


(1) how much money I'll actually get per month?, and (2) how much the job offer salary would need to be in order to result in that monthly paycheck?

When I made 40k, my take-home, after taxes and health and 401(k) contributions, was a bit under $2300/month. Revise downward from there.

My second question is then, where and how are the best places to look for housing given this circumstance? Where in terms of areas of NY, and how in terms of good sites to use to track down specific housing opportunities.

Astoria/Sunnyside/Woodside/Jackson Heights in Queens would probably work well for you. Crown Heights or Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, or Harlem in Manhattan.

At 40k, you could get your own place for $1000-$1200 (if you don't wind up with a landlord who is a stickler for the 40x income requirement), but money would be real tight and you'd probably be looking at a long commute. You could also get a share for $700-$900, have more disposable income, and probably a shorter commute. At 30k, or even 35k, the your own place option is essentially out.

A Craigslist roommate situation might also allow you to sublet and sort of feel out where you'd like to be without having to sign a lease.

This is excellent advice.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:56 AM on January 7, 2013


NYC is all about subway lines, and Madison Square Park is, as breakin' the law points out, very handy to the nearer parts of Queens (F, M, N and R lines). A studio to yourself with a half-hourish commute is going to run around $1200; with a 45 minute commute you could probably find something for $1000 or even a bit less depending on your tolerance for sketchiness.

Either way that is a lot to be paying in rent out of the hypothetical $1800 take-home mentioned above, so you might want to think about, for now anyway, a share, which still is likely to be in Queens or the nearer parts of Brooklyn.

I am not a huge fan of Upper Manhattan, because it's a long haul from 201st Street down to Madison Square. On the other hand the apartments up there are mostly pretty big and there are a lot of owners and renters looking for someone to share.

Assuming you get decent medical insurance through your employer, this is do-able for $40K. Below $30K you may need savings or help from parents to get by for a while.
posted by La Cieca at 11:25 PM on January 7, 2013


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