Moving to Manhattan
November 11, 2004 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I am nervously moving to Manhattan from an urban European center early next year. What salary is needed to live reasonably in New York? Every New Yorker I know talks endlessly about how much everything costs, but I never ask what they happen to make.

I've seen the salary calculators, I was just wondering individual experience.
posted by four panels to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It depends on a number of things. Are you wedded to living in Manhattan or would you consider Brooklyn or Queens? Would you be willing to live way uptown (which can be a longer subway ride than Brooklyn, depending on if you spend a lot of time downtown)? Do you expect to live alone or with roomies? Do you tend to go out or stay in? Are you willing to take the subway drunk at 3 in the morning or is that cab-time for you? Do you cook or eat out? (I think life is expensive for many New Yorkers because many New Yorkers don't cook.) Are you/do you associate with label whores?

I live in a cheap neighborhood in Brooklyn, in a loft where my four roomies and I did a lot of the construction; I don't take cabs and ride my bike a lot; I don't tend to go out drinking and I'm not fashionable in an expensive way; and my SO usually pays when we have dinner & a movie, so I manage on about $23,000 a year. Some people I know would die if they made less than say $60,000.
posted by dame at 10:24 AM on November 11, 2004

To my mind, a "middle class" salary in New York is in the $50K range. My wife and I each earn in that ballpark. The rent for our Brooklyn duplex is around $1800 a month. It costs close to $80 a month to ride the subway.

About Brooklyn (or one of the other boroughs). When some people first move here, they don't want to live outside of Manhattan, because they have big dreams of "moving to New York City," and they only think of Manhattan as New York City (officially, all 5 boroughs are part of the city). Friends ask, "so where do you live?" and when you say, "Brooklyn," they seem less impressed.

But very quickly, you learn that New Yorkers don't think that way. Brooklyn and Queens aren't "subburbs" they are legitimte parts of NYC. And you can, in general, stretch your dollar further in Brooklyn than in Manhattan. No way could we afford a duplex in Manhattan.

From my Brooklyn apartment, it's a 20 minute subway ride to my job in lower Manhattan.
posted by grumblebee at 10:41 AM on November 11, 2004

'More than you think', would be the reasonable answer. But since you ask, I'll throw some numbers at you.

I work for a non-profit, so I only make around 67,000 a year (it's low for what I do)

My wife makes about 37,000 (she just got out of college last year)

We pay about 1500 for a medium sized, but rundown, place in a pretty popular section of brooklyn. For where we are, it's a really good deal.

Out last place was a big loft that we had to leave because of noisy neighbors. We were paying about 1850 for that, it's since been raised to over 2000.

All that being said, we're doing okay. We are pretty comfortable and able to put some money in savings, but there's at least one week a month where we're left with zero disposable income.

Now, some economic rules of ny.

1. The 1hr/20$ rule.

Every time you leave the house, it will cost you one hour and twenty dollars. I don't care if you're going down to get the paper, or even just check the mail. It will take you one hour and twenty dollars. Remember that when you unlock your front door.

2. Money wants to be free.

There are so many more fun places for money to be in NY than in your wallet. If you had to choose between being in somebody's stinky jeans and chilling with your friends in a cool bar or righeous bookstore, which would you pick? That money wants nothing more than to leave your hands. If you're trying to save, leave the bank card at home. I mean it.

3. Money ain't what it used to be.

Coming from 'an urban European center' you're probably not going to have this problem, but those of us who grew up in the staes, especially outside of NY are constantly flipping out about how expensive things are. Remember how 100 dollars used to seem like a flash amount to pull out of your wallet? Well, you can spend a hundred here without drawing a breath. Pulling a hundred out now is likely to make somebody say 'yeah, you just get the tip'.

4. ask, ask, ask

Most ny residents have a pile of their favorite places to get stuff cheap (or not punishingly overpriced, as the rest of the country thinks of it.) They may feign reluctance, but really they want to tell you about them. It's one of the ways we prove we're 'real'. Remember them. Collect them. Trade them. That's how NY thrives.

5. Easy is hard.

There's a lot of things the budget minded person can do really cheap here in terms of luxury items. If you're not hung up on living the sex and the city lifestyle, that is. We have great thrift stores, fun resteraunts, great dive bars, odd sights and sounds on the streets and museums non pareil. However, every normal thing you take for granted everywhere else is harder and much, much more expensive here. Except for stamps. There're the same price everywhere. Or so I'm told because I've never been able to take the three days off work it would require to buy them.

Joking aside, it's expensive. Rent is a killer, especially if you're going to be living in Manhattan. You can expect to pay double what I do for a studio. On top of that, staples are sinfully overpriced here. There used to be a saying in my family that if you were making your rent every week you were in the lap of luxury. Here you're just doing 'okay'.

Oh, and I really hope your job provides healthcare. Because otherwise you're screwed.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:43 AM on November 11, 2004 [3 favorites]

$67,000 at a not-for-profit? Wow! I'm obviously working at the wrong FOR-profit.
posted by grumblebee at 10:47 AM on November 11, 2004

Oh, I don't know what Euro urban center you're moving from, but I've lived in NYC and London, and costs seemed pretty comperable to me (assuming you're earning money IN each country, as opposed to exchanging dollars for pounds).
posted by grumblebee at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2004

$67,000 at a not-for-profit? Wow! I'm obviously working at the wrong FOR-profit.

Well, i've been here for 5 years, and I guess that counts for something. Actually we could be living pretty high on the hog if (1) my wife made closer to what I make. Something about the tax system kicks your ass if one spouse is working but makes a lot less. (2)We didn't want to save money.

I'm still at about 2/3 the average for my job.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:57 AM on November 11, 2004

Well it also depends on what other debts/costs you incur each month; Student Loans? Debt? Car Loans? Have kids? Insurance?

All these make a difference.
posted by jeremias at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2004

Great stuff lumpenprole. Right on target. I'd add only a few things:

1. The salary and cost-of-living calculators are complete rubbish and should be ignored. The difference between, for example, the 10016 zip code and the 11122 area code are huge, but the salary calculators that I've seen don't have that kind of granularity. Many of them even try to assume that New Yorkers have cars, which most of us don't.

2. Besides obsessing about rent and money, New Yorkers also have a tendency to exaggerate or understate to make themselves seem more dramatic or significant. When it comes to money issues, this means that the friend who has a low-paying job but claims to get along fine and really does always seem to have money, might very well have rich parents or super-maxed-out credit cards they're not telling you about. So keep in mind people aren't always going to tell you about their misery, even though Americans seem very open and to share too much. Those people who seem to be doing great--unlike you might not be--might be big fakers who are teetering on the brink of total financial collapse. Don't try to keep up with anyone around you, because it's a big mistake.

3. On the other hand, don't lie to yourself either. I've got friends who are totally frigging broke, but they go out three nights a week, always for "special occasions" they can't afford. If they're happening that often, they can't be that special. If you're always doing special little expensive things for yourself, then put that down as an expensive--and multiply it times five.

4. Remember when you move here that you're not on vacation, so don't spend like it. That's one of the reasons NYC seems to expensive to visitors: the difference between living here and visiting here is hundreds of dollars a day. Completely different lifestyles, completely different behaviors.

Right now I'm making a third of what I made a year ago. It's a struggle--I've cut out movies in the theatres, drinking, gambling, having the laundry done by someone else, almost all new clothes, new books, etc.--but it just shows that once you know where to find the cheap stuff (as lumpenprole says) the range of salaries you can survive on here is very wide.
posted by TurkeyMustard at 11:11 AM on November 11, 2004

Thousands of underemployed actors/artists/musicians/writers who live in NYC manage to get by on very little income. One of my friends is a freelance writer whose income barely exceeds five digits, yet he and his wife (grad student, similar income) live a comfortable life in a nice apartment in Queens and make weekly visits to moderate restaurants. Another friend approaches six figures, spends much of his income on $12 cocktails, and wonders where the money went.

To take a stab at actually answering your question, though: a person with a reasonable rent (<$1200, which is do-able in the outer boroughs or if you're sharing in Manhattan), without debt or a car, could probably budget $2000 a month to live a fairly ascetic lifestyle, or $2500+ a month if a lot of the income goes to take-out food, bars, and dining in restaurants. But this doesn't factor in unexpected costs like presents, vacations, or that coat in the window of Barney's that you must have...
posted by hsoltz at 11:32 AM on November 11, 2004

I make just a little more than lumpenprole's wife (i freelance), have a 1-bedroom in Manhattan (1070/month/stabilized), and shop smart. I do okay, but it's all about priorities--there are tons of good inexpensive restaurants, free or cheap things to do, discount places for everything from (good) clothes to books to housewares, etc. I have friends who make much more and are always broke/in trouble, and i have friends who make less and always have money. Except for the lucky people who are in rent-controlled apartments (i have a friend that pays 450--we all hate him), rent is the biggest expense each month for everyone.
posted by amberglow at 12:27 PM on November 11, 2004

I live very comfortably in Manhattan on about 50K a year. It all goes away, though - I make more than that, but put it away.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:29 PM on November 11, 2004

But very quickly, you learn that New Yorkers don't think that way.

This is absolutely, fundamentally, entirely untrue.

One of the amazing things about NYC is that even though the physical area isn't that extreme (well, the important parts of it, anyway), and even though there's an incredible mass-transit system in place to get you just about anywhere you want to go, people will absolutely bemoan having to visit Washington Heights if they live in, say, the East Village. If you're in Brooklyn, that's a 10-15 minute walk to the subway, then wait for the next train, another 10 minutes to get downtown, then change stations to either the 6 or the ACE, depending on which side of Manhattan you want to go, then wait for the train, then another 10-20 minutes (depending how north you want to go, and depending if it's local or express), then walk another 10 minutes from the station to the person's actual apartment.

This is a bit exaggeration, but Brooklyn's a pain. Queens is even worse. Fuggedabout da Bronx.

As for the original question, a lot of it depends on what your rent is. If you want to spend $3000/mo., there are a ton of places you could get. That's $36,000/yr. on rent alone. You don't have to, of course. But what you sacrifice in lowering your rent is one of the following: size of apartment, location of apartment or quality/cleanliness of apartment. You can get a pretty decent 1-bed in the E. Village for $1800/mo. if you look hard enough. In Brooklyn that figure would drop to $1200-$1500, depending how east it is or how close to a subway line. Once you get off the "mainland" of Manhattan, proximity to subway lines is worth more than geographic proximity to downtown.

If you like to go out drinking, you'd better bring your wallet. Personally, I'd buy a 12-pack and drink at a friend's place, where at least you might be able to smoke. :)

Ballpark figure: $35,000/yr. can get you living in the city, another $5k can get you on the island, another $10k can get you a happy lifestyle. If you're already used to the fineries of luxury, well, God help you. There's really no limit to what you can spend (or have to make/yr. to afford it).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:48 PM on November 11, 2004

This is a bit exaggeration, but Brooklyn's a pain. Queens is even worse. Fuggedabout da Bronx.

Or just don't make friends with whiny losers. As a friend used to say, "The only people who live in Manhattan are those who are constantly afraid they might miss something."

But really, none of my friends complain about coming to my house. Then again, they mostly live in Brooklyn.
posted by dame at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2004

Brooklyn is rapidly becoming SoHo with row houses and pizza.

Western Queens is convenient to Manhattan, affordable, yet quiet at night and unpretentious and not yet hipster-infested. My walk to the subway is four blocks, I have a two bedroom with a huge porch, a five block walk to an outdoor beer hall, and a 20 minute ride to midtown.

Plus all the cool mefite's live here.
posted by jonmc at 5:27 PM on November 11, 2004

people will absolutely bemoan having to visit Washington Heights if they live in, say, the East Village

Oh man is that true. I moved from the EV to Washington Heights (actually worse: Inman) because it was a drag getting to 168th st (Columbia-Presbyterian) from the EV because there isn't a cross-town train that hooks up with the frigging A train . I might as well have moved to Iowa. Do not move to Washington Heights. By some technicality it's part of Manhattan but in reality it's on some other planet, except space travel is faster and more pleasant than the A train.
posted by TimeFactor at 7:15 PM on November 11, 2004

I live in Manhattan, I pay less than $600 for a room including utilities, and I live pretty cheap. NYC isn't as expensive as people make it out to be, except rent, and that can be cheap too. Alcohol is also pretty expensive here (when you go out). A lot of people say that you have to be rich to live well here, but I think they're pretty much just making excuses for the crazy amounts of money they spend on things they don't need.
posted by bingo at 7:52 PM on November 11, 2004

I might as well have moved to Iowa.

[Civil covers his new monitor in Coca-Cola]

See, you know what I'm talking about. How fucking hard could it be to just build a single cross-over line across the freakin' park? Basically, if you fall asleep and go past, like 42nd street, you're fucked. You have to go all the way back again like a dumbass.

Don't get me wrong. I mean, the New York Subway system is still one of the coolest in the world, and one of the only real 24-hour subways in operation. It has an absolutely amazing amount of history in it. But for such a small city, you sure end up doing a lot of walking. In Super-Size Me the guy quoted some statistic that the average New Yorker walks something like 3 miles a day, just getting to the subway, going up and down stairs, walking up to their apartments (it still amazes me how some buildings I've been in are 8 stories tall and can get by with no elevator. Ugh!)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:54 PM on November 11, 2004

"I live in Manhattan, I pay less than $600 for a room including utilities, and I live pretty cheap."

Bingo has an outrageous deal that you are never going to find. Expect to pay around $2000 a month for a small studio apartment you don't like all that much. Also, don't expect to save very much. New York tends to eat up all your money. You will quickly find that you never cook at home, and find all sorts of excuses for going out to leave your small apartment. I lived ten years in New York and never really managed to save, but I wouldn't take it back - it was worth it!
posted by xammerboy at 7:45 AM on November 12, 2004

Well. My room is rather small.
posted by bingo at 6:10 PM on November 12, 2004

...also, you know, I get bothered when I hear talk like this, because it seems to ignore the fact that there are plenty of poor people living in New York.
posted by bingo at 7:15 PM on November 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

« Older Can all dogs cross-breed?   |   OS X WebDAV iCal server crashes. How do I restart... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.