Where should I live in NYC on a very tight budget?
February 18, 2010 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Moving to New York to take on a low-paying job. Where should I live?

I'm moving to New York City to take on a job that pays only $35,000. Can't say where I'm working, but I will be an editor (I've never been an editor before - I'm making the transition from being a writer.) Working there will be a huge opportunity in career advancement and I really don't want to pass this up.

Where should I live? I need to get into Manhattan every day. And just how difficult will it be to get by on such a small salary?

posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (42 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Tough to say without knowing where you're working, or at least a general area. "Getting to Manhattan" isn't very specific.

If you're in downtown/lower manhattan, brooklyn is probably best. If you're in midtown, Queens is a lot easier commute. If you're uptown, harlem, morningside heights, inwood.

The ease of living on $35,000 really depends on your lifestyle. If you like to go out to eat and drink often, it will be hard.
posted by jckll at 10:51 AM on February 18, 2010

I lived in Brooklyn on 21,000 a year. It sucked. I also lived there on 33,000. It was much easier but still sucked. However, it is totally doable. You can still go out and have fun etc...But it won't be extravagant.

I recommend finding somewhere near the Atlantic/Pacific stop as that as a huge transport hub and would get you into anywhere in Manhattan relatively quickly.
posted by josher71 at 10:56 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's hard to tell you where to live if we don't know where you're commuting to. Can you give us an idea? Midtown? LES? West Village? UWS?

You can get by on $35k, but you will need roommates. No question.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:57 AM on February 18, 2010

I've lived in NYC for about 5 years. $35,000 isn't terribly low nor unusual in many fields - it puts you pretty much on the lower end of middle class for any of the outer boroughs. Most people from outside the city who make around that amount end up somewhere with roommates in Queens, Brooklyn, or New Jersey. You pretty much can't find a decent place in a decent location anywhere in the city for under $1000/month (not sure about Jersey, but I imagine the more desirable areas are the same in that respect), so you will need roommates no matter where you end up, but you can still live in a nice neighborhood close to the subway.

It's not difficult to get by on that salary as long as you keep your unnecessary spending well in check, cook for yourself as opposed to getting takeout all the time like a lot of city folk do, and, again, have roommates, so you can split the rent as well as utilities. Electric and cable/internet can easily get over $100/month each, so it's very nice to have to pay only a portion of that amount. If you're good at managing your money, you'll still be able to treat yourself to things now and then.
posted by wondermouse at 11:11 AM on February 18, 2010

Nthing that "Manhattan" isn't specific enough. It's a big place. Mail a mod with the specific area in which you need to work so they can amend the question? Or if you are unfamiliar with the city's terminology, any nearby street corner.

The idea of $35K to live here scares me a bit, but I'm a midtown person so I'm used to being ripped off for everything. In Queens or Brooklyn it is doable, though, and the trains are good/fast/cheap/frequent/safe. Essentials like food are also less expensive the further out you get, which can make a big difference over months or years.

Don't fear commuting: you'd be among the millions who come in from those or the other boroughs every day.

I've seen editors get pick-up work on the side before, which might help you increase your lifestyle budget a bit.
posted by rokusan at 11:11 AM on February 18, 2010

Nthing that it depends on where you're headed -- lots of publishing is in midtown, and queens is pretty popular for that. Don't worry too much about your distance from Manhattan, worry about the distance from your apt to the subway. Sometimes people are resistant to going an extra 10 or 15 minutes on the subway out into the boroughs, but if you're insistent on living somewhere very close to Manhattan you may well end up spending that time anyway on a longer walk to the subway.

Optimus Chyme wins the prize for his/her point that you'll need roommates, but that's less terrible than it seems, really.

This is totally doable, though. I started in NY on 28,000/year (in Astoria Qns); I make more now, thank God, but it was livable and I was still able to go out and have fun. It will really help if you don't have credit card or student debt you're trying to pay off, though.
posted by alleycat01 at 11:14 AM on February 18, 2010

I've lived successfully in NY on much less. If you're not too old to have roommates, roommates are a great way to keep your costs down. Also, there are lots of neighborhoods in brooklyn and queens that are on the express lines, are really nice, and not terribly expensive. They're just not trendy, so they aren't bristling with hipster bars, organic boutiques, and fair-trade coffee shops. There might be one or two, though. In Brooklyn, look for places in Ditmas Park, Prospect Heights, Lefferts Gardens, Clinton Hill, Sunset Park. I know Queens less, but Astoria and Sunnyside are supposed to be pretty cool.

As for saving money in other ways: Chinatown is your friend. Get your vegetables on Mott St. between Grand and Canal (or if you're conveniently located, in the Brooklyn Chinatown in Sunset Park). Such places also boast noodle shops and dumpling houses where one can get a delicious and filling lunch for 3-5 dollars.

Buy your bread and cheese from the East Village Cheese Shop on 3rd ave and 9th street. Nowhere else. Once you go there, you'll see what I mean.

There is lots of ridiculously overpriced clothing in New York, but there are places to outfit yourself reasonably. Marshalls is a good one. Trendy stores will often have sale racks of last season's swag, and if you have brands you like, check out their sale racks.

The one thing you can't get away from in NY is expensive drinks. Even at a beer distributor, a sixpack of good beer is $8-9. Don't go to bars to get wasted. Or if you must, pre-game with friends at home first, and/or bring a flask.

Lots of the museums in the city are "suggested donation." This means you can get into the Met, the Brooklyn Museum, PS One, and the Museum of Natural History for a nickel and a shrug. Take advantage of this.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:16 AM on February 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Publishing is either at a house mid-town (upper 40s-50s) or you're working in Soho basically... I'm generalizing and there are always exceptions to the rule. If you can handle roomates, you can find a situation almost in any area you like. There are still good thing that go to lucky and prepared people. If you're looking to live alone, you will have to be Brooklyn-bound and further out I think. Then again, you never know when you'll get lucky. The commute is too expensive from Staten Island and even the further Queens/Bronx area not in access by the subway will cost you extra commuter train $.

The better question is how to find an apartment?

I found every good apartment I ever lived in at villagevoice.com. I understand folks like Craigslist.org too but I have never had good luck there.

There are also roomate services in the downtown area worth checking out but better be sure it's reputable.

posted by eatdonuts at 11:21 AM on February 18, 2010

Roommates in Brooklyn off the L or the AC.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:23 AM on February 18, 2010

Also, getting to brass tacks: The average New Yorker spends 50% of his/her income on rent. That should be your upper boundary. Your monthly income is about $2,900 before taxes, so I wouldn't pay more than $1,200/mo for a single apartment. If you have roommates, you can get a fuckin' ballin' pad for that price, or $600 for a reasonably nice place and two roommates.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2010

Roommates in Brooklyn off the L or the AC.
Bullshit. Anywhere along the L train will be a fantastic ripoff. A/C is a fine place to live, though.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:27 AM on February 18, 2010

Jon_Evil, not true. Getting six or seven stops out into Brooklyn you can find some good stuff.
posted by josher71 at 11:27 AM on February 18, 2010

You can definitely live in Manhattan if you're willing to live very cheaply, other than paying your rent. Otherwise, Astoria and Long Island City are great options if your job is in midtown, with roommates, in all situations.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:29 AM on February 18, 2010

If you know nothing about the outer boroughs, here's what I'll offer. I've lived in Astoria, Queens, for all of the 5 years I've lived here. Love it. I like Queens a lot and prefer it to Brooklyn in many ways. I've got two roommates, both of whom are in their 30s. In New York, I don't believe you are ever "too old" to have roommates. The rents are just too damn high.

Brooklyn and Queens have totally different scenes, even within themselves. They are big places. Where in Manhattan your job is, and what you want your social life to be like, will make a big impact on what neighborhoods you'd prefer. Upper Manhattan is another option to look into.
posted by wondermouse at 11:32 AM on February 18, 2010

If you're working in Midtown, consider places in Queens close to the 7 subway line ... that'll quickly get you close to Grand Central, Bryant Park or Times Square. Neighborhoods along that line aren't particularly trendy or sleek (with the exception of all the new hi-rises in Long Island City), but they're so diverse that you'll fit in practically anywhere.

Good luck! I lived off an editor's salary of $29,000 in the East Village in the late '90s, without a roommate -- rents there have gone up, but wherever you end up, there are lots of cheap/free ways to entertain yourself in NYC. Check out the listings in Time Out New York, for one.
posted by lisa g at 11:33 AM on February 18, 2010

Look into S. Park Slope or Windsor Terrace. There are still deals to be found on apartments in a good neighborhood with accessible trains. I agree, get a roommate or two. Especially for your first year here, that way you can figure out where you want to live for the long term, while having someone to split the bills with in the short term. If you are going to have roommates, I'd stay away from Manhattan, only because you'll end up splitting a much smaller place (excluding Harlem and all places north, but those'll have very long commutes).
posted by Unred at 11:36 AM on February 18, 2010

If you're working in Midtown, consider places in Queens close to the 7 subway line

Be advised that this might not be a great idea... there's a lot going on lately with the MTA shutting down 7 service over the weekends.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2010

I lived in Brooklyn Heights/Carroll Gardens area for nearly 10 years: 2 Bedroom apartment $1,600 per month. These rents can still be had and only 1 or 2 stops out of Manhattan.

Map of Brooklyn neighborhoods!
posted by eatdonuts at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2010

I lived off an editor's salary of $29,000 in the East Village in the late '90s, without a roommate -- rents there have gone up

Understatement of the year...rents have probably doubled.
posted by jckll at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2010

As an editor who makes basically the same salary as you, I highly recommend living in Harlem within a couple blocks of the 2/3. It's an express train below 110th street, so it gets you downtown (whether you're going to Random House or Conde Nast in Midtown or to the Flatiron on 23rd). Rents are reasonable, cultural activities in the neighborhood are amazing, and about the only part of Manhattan it's a pain to get to is the bottom part of the Upper East Side. It's far from Brooklyn, if lots of your friends are there, but not impossibly far.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:39 AM on February 18, 2010

therwise, Astoria and Long Island City are great options if your job is in midtown, with roommates, in all situations.

Long Island City is about to get really expensive. Also if you know ANYONE in the city who is also in an outer borough and you want to hang with on a regular basis, move to the same outer borough. Otherwise, if you are lazy like me the 1.5 hour commute to hang will overwhelm you and you will never see them.
posted by edbles at 11:40 AM on February 18, 2010

Man, that shit's gentrified all the way down to Broadway Junction.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:42 AM on February 18, 2010

You'll be fine. My first job paid a lot less than that, and I managed well enough -- as others have been saying, that salary isn't terribly unusual for outer-borough New Yorkers.

Brooklyn is great, but there are some fantastic and inexpensive neighborhoods in Queens, particularly if you're willing to commute. I have friends in both Astoria and Flushing who've been there several years on modest salaries and are quite happy. Personally, I live in Flatbush/Lefferts Gardents/Parade Grounds (it changes depending on who you ask) which is much less expensive than the trendier Brooklyn neighborhoods but gives you easy access to them.

If you can stomach having roommates, that makes a huge difference.

A couple other random little suggestions:
-- Don't pay a real estate agent fee unless you absolutely have to. There are plenty of "no fee" listings on Craigslist, and with the economy this bad there's a lot of competition for renters.
-- If you'll be commuting regularly, you'll probably want to get monthly "unlimited" metro card. Also, check to see if your employer is part of the "Transit Chek" program.
-- This might seem obvious, but cook your own food as often as you can, including bringing your lunch to work. It's very easy to get into the habit of eating out all the time in this city, but it can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly budget. (Dinner parties have become very popular among my friends for this reason)
-- If you go to the movies, you'll quickly notice that Manhattan theaters are expensive and have no matinees. However, chances are that one of your local theaters (assuming you're in Brooklyn or Queens) will have them -- $6.50 instead of $9.50-$11.00. Not a big thing, maybe, but it's the little stuff that adds up.
-- Learn how to mix great drinks and suggest people come over to your place instead of going out to a bar. A CHEAP cocktail will cost you $6 and I've paid $12 more times than I'd like to admit. Again, this is a particularly huge money-sink in NYC, and after a few drinks it's easy to forget how you'd only meant to spend $20 when you went out.
-- Don't buy regular groceries from bodegas/delis if you can help it -- they're almost always cheaper at the grocery store. And if there isn't a good grocery store in your neighborhood, you should check out FreshDirect -- their prices are competitive and their quality (particularly with produce) is very high for how much you're paying.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:44 AM on February 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't bother living in Manhattan--live in Brooklyn (if you work downtown) or Queens (if you work in midtown). I lived in Manhattan and I was so far uptown that my commute was longer than it is now from an outer borough.

I lived in a one bedroom apartment by myself in Astoria, Queens, on $35,000 so it can totally be done (and this was last year, not ten years ago). Living with roommates was much easier, but if you absolutely must live alone, you can manage. Luckily, as an editor, you won't have any time to actually have a life, so you won't have too many opportunities to spend anything aside from rent. Kidding. sort of.

Your rent should include heat and hot water, and electric/gas charges for a one-bedroom range from $60-120 depending on your usage (at least that's been my experience). If you live in a private home, your utilities might be included in your rent. I didn't have cable or internet when I lived on my own, although I probably could have afforded one. If you pay a broker's fee, anything from one month to 15% is fairly common, but these are negotiable fees so ask! Don't put down key money or pay any kind of ridiculous credit check fee.

My other suggestion for living at that salary level: plan to do a lot of cooking at home, and bring your lunch to work.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:44 AM on February 18, 2010

One thing you'll notice about New Yorkers when you get there is that they love to argue about New York. Don't even think of engaging in a discussion about the G train.

Now, pish posh Jon_Evil! It's still ok by Morgan. It's just a little bit gentrified. Still affordable though.
posted by josher71 at 11:45 AM on February 18, 2010

And everything that Narrative Priorities said.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:47 AM on February 18, 2010

(Yeah, I got a very lucky deal of about $825/month for a small place, but this was even at a time when people emphatically told me I wouldn't be able to find anything in that neighborhood for under $1,000 ... I just saw a Village Voice ad for a showing, and was one of the first to show up. NYC rents still do vary a lot even for comparable places in the same neighborhoods, though I'd guess my old place is at least $1,800 now.)

OP, do you have any friends you can crash with temporarily while you look around? Or maybe do a short-term sublet with roommates. It's really hard to gauge what you'll be comfortable with, and how long your commute will take, until you're actually there.

Money-wise, one thing not to skimp on is good walking shoes -- you'll be walking a lot!

Good luck & have fun.
posted by lisa g at 11:50 AM on February 18, 2010

If you go to the movies, you'll quickly notice that Manhattan theaters are expensive and have no matinees. However, chances are that one of your local theaters (assuming you're in Brooklyn or Queens) will have them -- $6.50 instead of $9.50-$11.00. Not a big thing, maybe, but it's the little stuff that adds up.

AMC theaters in Manhattan have matinee prices for showtimes before noon every day of the week.
posted by dorisfromregopark at 12:03 PM on February 18, 2010

I no longer live in NY but when I did, I lived first in Sunset Park and then in Ridgewood, Queens. Both were fairly convenient and inexpensive. Ridgewood has better train access (off the L, but as noted above, well past the hipster enclave of W'burg) but I liked the neighborhood in SP a little better (partly because of the proximity of Brooklyn Chinatown).

You don't say if you are male or female but I always felt very safe in both neighborhoods.

You'll do fine on 35k. I agree a roommate or two might be warranted, if only to clear some cash for going out with friends. The idea that people will come over for cocktails is implausible, in my experience.
posted by miss tea at 12:10 PM on February 18, 2010

First off, as you consider each possible neighborhood, go to Hopstop and figure out how long it will take you to get to work from there on the subway each morning. Your commute from any given neighborhood can be radically different (as in, an hour or more difference) depending on whether you work uptown, downtown, on the east side or the west side.

Next, I think you have to determine what your priorities are - to save money? To live in a cool neighborhood? To have a better quality living space (large apt., no roommates, etc.)? Unfortunately, at that salary you'll have to make tradeoffs there, sometimes pretty big ones.

I think if you want to save as much money as possible and still have a nice living space, you should live out on the NJ or Long Island suburbs and commute in on the NJ Transit or LIRR trains, respectively. I'm not talking Hoboken here (which is starting to approach Manhattan prices), I'm talking quite a bit further out. If you lived, say, 30 minutes outside of Manhattan on a NJ Transit stop, I am certain you could find a 1 bedroom in a nice suburb for $750/month.

If you want to save a lot of money and still live in the city, I'd recommend the neighborhoods around the eastern/southern side of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. If you go too far east, it becomes not the safest neighborhood, but right near the park it's still fairly safe and insanely cheap (though not that pretty in a lot of spots). The last time I was looking, a few years ago, I was seeing 1 bedrooms there for around $1000. It's quick to get from there to Park Slope, on the other side of the park, which has a lot of shopping/bars/restaurants, and it's verrrrry quick to get up Flatbush Ave to the Atlantic Center complex which has a big supermarket and a Target.

If you don't mind being a bit of a ways away from an exciting or fun neighborhood, I'd recommend Woodside in Queens, or the next few stops along the 7 train; or East Elmhurst (also in Queens) and the next couple stops along the R, for places that are around the same price or a bit less.

If you really want to live in a fun neighborhood, you will probably need roommates. My pick for that would be anywhere in Astoria.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:19 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Harlem, as I have editor friends who have lived there successfully on a similar salary. I also have an editor friend who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
posted by ekroh at 1:02 PM on February 18, 2010

You should either:
  1. Find the largest place you can possibly get on the island for under $1400/mo. This place, should you be astoundingly lucky enough to find it, will challenge every notion you've ever held about the word "apartment." If you are very lucky, the bathroom won't count as a bedroom. The funny/tragic part is that you probably think I'm exaggerating.
  2. Live in Queens or outer-Brooklyn. But probably Queens.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:02 PM on February 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

Depending on where you'll be working and your commute tolerance you can live quite nicely in some of the northern parts of the Bronx on that salary. In particular, the area around Pelham Bay Park (The last stop on the 6) is more than doable at that level. Also, you may want to consider the northern Grand Concourse (the D or 4 trains, north of Bedford Park Blvd), which should also be within your price range.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:13 PM on February 18, 2010

I make about that much. I live off the 1 in the Bronx with one roommate. It works fine for me. There are a lot of reasonably priced places in my neighborhood.

I'll Nth the comments about figuring out how far you are by subway to work. I'm about 20 minutes which is fine. Once you get up to more than an hour, it becomes significant. Then I'll Nth the comments about figuring out how far you are by subway to fun. I'm about an hour during the day and late night it becomes two hours. Which is painful when you're leave the fun at 2am and you don't get home until 4am. I'm old and 4am is painful for me now.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:15 PM on February 18, 2010

housingmaps.com mashes up craigslist and google maps. Spend some time perusing and you should start to get a feel what different areas will run you in rent.

It's fairly likely you will wind up sharing a place with a roommate.
posted by fings at 2:08 PM on February 18, 2010

Two thoughts:

1. This is so true: Also if you know ANYONE in the city who is also in an outer borough and you want to hang with on a regular basis, move to the same outer borough
You will seldom see friends in other boroughs - its far.

2. Brooklyn: Get South of Prospect Park, like Ditmas or Kensington or PLG or Flatbush or Cortelyou or Sunset Park. Assuming you are working in the publishing district, just 30 - 40 minute commute, w/ roommates you can get a very nice place for $800, and in some of those neighborhoods a 1 bedroom for 1000-1200.
posted by RajahKing at 2:24 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't bring a car (you weren't planning to, were you?)

If you can get a reasonable rent, either with or without roommates, you might be surprised how much money you have left over. Utilities, especially heat, tends to be included, and no car expenses goes a long way. If you can forgo cable and a landline, so much the better.

Prospect Heights north of Eastern Parkway is getting horrifyingly expensive, but south of it seems more reasonable. I have a friend who has a 1bdrm there for around $1200, and you should be able to get a studio for that or less. If you're happy to live with roommates, you have a lot more options. Also, it is not weird here to be 30+ and live with roommates. Totally normal.

I moved to Brooklyn because this is where I knew people, and I love it, but I have heard such good things about Astoria that I would seriously consider it if I were ever going to move.

For apartment hunting you basically have to have your stuff together, be willing to run around a lot, and be ready with your deposit and paperwork so the instant you find the deal you can live with, you can commit.

I got off track budgeting and that was bad. This is a very easy place to spend money. But if you can stay on top of it, I think you'll be fine on that salary and also be able to have plenty of fun - there's lots of cheap and free stuff going on all the time.

Also, come to Metafilter meetups - they're super!
posted by Salamandrous at 3:05 PM on February 18, 2010

People (by which I mean, pretty much, white and/or just-barely-middle-class people!) tend to ignore Washington Heights (circa 150th-165th Streets) in favor of Brooklyn. And yet the commute to Washington Heights is shorter; it is very handsome in general; and often you get WAY more bang for your buck in terms of rental apartments. I find that people live in the most hideous, far places in Brooklyn because they think they are supposed to live in Brooklyn.

I cannot believe no one has mentioned streeteasy.com yet??? Or did they and I missed it? Go there, click on rentals, narrow down searches by neighborhood for comps. Streeteasy is like drugs. You can find out how long everything's been on the market and then you can haggle the landlord down. FUN.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:21 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

My editor friends who were all living in Brooklyn have since moved to Astoria en masse, for what it's worth...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:15 PM on February 18, 2010

RJ Reynolds has a point, the southern end of Wash Heights is lovely. I lived on 180th St for a while and while from there the commute is a bitch, if you can get by the 145th St A/C/B/D trains, good times will be in store for you.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:48 PM on February 18, 2010

(but the place I have now in Lefferts Gardens costs half as much and is twice as big)
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:49 PM on February 18, 2010

See if you can get in with someone in a rent controlled apartment. Also, Ditmas Park is a nice area.

People who say don't bring a car just don't live out in the middle of nowhere.

If you're working somewhere trendy, all your friends are going to live in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Long Island City, and Astoria, with some in Park Slope, Red Hook, Prospect Heights, and a few other places. Those places are a pain to get to from each other. If you live out in the middle of nowhere (i.e. Red Hook, Ditmas Park, Kew Gardens and similarly far-from-other neighborhoods places) then having a car will be fantastic. I have a friend who lives in Greenpoint who has a car and she loves it (and her roommates do, too). I live in Kensington and use a car and love it. Most people who do this, though, insure their cars out of state or at least out of the boroughs, b/c car insurance is ridiculously high here.

You should know the G line is notoriously bad in terms of service in case you plan on relying on it to get to work. Look at the subway "report cards" online.

So yeah. I'd vote live in Kensington, Ditmas Park, or Midwood and keep the car... or move somewhere central to a ton of subway lines and don't bring the car (b/c you won't find parking too easily and you won't need the car as much). But then you won't be able to rescue your friends who have a 1.5-hour subway ride ahead of them at the end of a long night, or take a bunch of people out to Floyd Bennett Field for a day of frolicking or, you know, get the HELL out of the city when the walls start moving in on you.
posted by lorrer at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2010

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