Life in NYC with $50,000 salary
May 26, 2007 11:46 AM   Subscribe

How much does it suck to live in Manhattan on a public school teacher's salary? Can you make me a budget?

Is it possible to live on the island of Manhattan with a pre-tax salary of $50,000-60,000? I'm going to be a public school teacher, so I'll start out at $43,000ish and eventually get about $70,000.

Obviously it's possible, but what kind of lifestyle would a single guy have? I don't want a roommate, either. For someone who visited and fell in love with the city, what's it actually like to live there on a tight budget? (For a Manhattanite, is $50,000 considered a tight budget?) I don't go out a lot and I don't spend money on unnecessary things. But I also don't want to move somewhere and be a prisoner in my apartment because I can't afford to do anything. Does anyone have a simple budget that includes rent, necessities, transportation (subway), entertainment, etc.?
posted by HotPatatta to Work & Money (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Brooklyn on appx. $18000/y (college student, loans).

If you insist on living in Manhattan, not one of the outer boroughs:
Rent - you'll be paying about $2000/month unless you want to live in Washington Heights (at the northern tip of the island). So that's $24,000/y.
Subway: $76/month for an unlimited metrocard, so about $900/y.
Bills--I pay about $30-40/month for electricity and $20/month for gas. You'll likely pay more, so count on about $1000-1100/y.
Food--I subsist on about $100/month, but it's pretty meager fare. Count on food costing you about $2,500/year.
Clothing--varies. Depends how you dress. It'll be much more expensive than elsewhere unless you go to Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn and shop at a low-cost clothing store there.
Entertainment--I don't know how much you go out, but a movie is usually $12, and the lowest price for a beer is usually $4-5.
Internet--$40/month, so $500/y (with fees).

total: $29,000, plus clothing and entertainment.
posted by nasreddin at 12:14 PM on May 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Weird that you haven't gotten any responses yet. Anyway, I'm not a New Yorker, but most of my family and many friends are, so here's what I've observed from them (and the short periods of time I've lived there on little $$):

I think you can do it, but it takes careful budgeting. The thing about New York is that, partially because there are so many immigrants, there are lots of cheap places to eat and drink, but there are also ridiculousy expensive places to do everything, too. So you need some discipline.

Are you attached to living in Manattan? Brooklyn and Queens have nice neighborhoods, some of which are actually nicer/cooler than many neighborhoods in Manhattan. Where is your school? Alternately, Washington Heights/Inwood have some great deals. A friend of mine lives in Inwood in a very nice, large one-bedroom that's about $900/month, though I think she got really lucky.

My brother lived on $50,000 in Manhattan a few years ago and had absolutely no problem - he even saved money. He brought his lunch every day, never took cabs, and isn't into upscale nightlife. He did have roommates, though. You wouldn't want to do it with kids, but if it's just you, I definitely think it's do-able.
posted by lunasol at 12:17 PM on May 26, 2007

Live in Brooklyn. Your quality of life will be much much better--bigger apartment, more spending money, more neighborhoody. I'm a public interest lawyer, so my salary is less than a teacher, but only a little. I would not waste my money on a Manhattan apartment. If you need a Manhattan fix, go out to dinner, drinks, etc. in the borough.
posted by Mavri at 12:27 PM on May 26, 2007

You don't have to spend as much as $2000 on rent; a studio apartment in upper Manhattan can be had easily for $1500, a one-bedroom for not much more if you search. I live pretty comfortably in the Upper East Side on $50k, although my rent is only $950 because my employer is my landlord and I walk to work. But nasreddin has pretty much nailed it.

Unless you will be living conveniently close to work, consider neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens which may present a more convenient commute and be nicer than the affordable parts of Manhattan.

Short answer to your question is "yes".
posted by nowonmai at 12:31 PM on May 26, 2007

I was doing it for a while, because I found a room rental for $450 per month on the UWS. Don't let people tell you it can't be done. You just have to decide what kind of compromise you're willing to make.
posted by bingo at 12:39 PM on May 26, 2007

Unless you have a co-signer, many places won't rent to you unless your annual salary is 50 times the monthly rent. I'd strongly consider getting a roommate, especially if you're young, just starting out in the city, and need to live on a budget. After a year you'll have a more realistic idea of what your budget should be.

And even though I live in and completely love Brooklyn, I'm actually going to suggest living in Queens. Astoria and Jackson Heights are neighborhoods filled with young professionals and is a mere 15 minutes from midtown Manhattan.
posted by turaho at 12:39 PM on May 26, 2007

Living in Manhattan on $50k a year with no roommates would be crazy. Possible, but crazy. In fact, I'd think long and hard about living in Manhattan on $100k.

Keep in mind that at $50k/year, that's about $4200/month, but after federal, state, and NYC income tax, Social Security, and Medicare, you could be looking at only $3000/month to spend, and putting almost 2/3 of that into a tiny, crappy apartment is not going to make you happy.

There are plenty of less expensive, nice neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn that have good subway access to Manhattan. You'll just have so much better of a life not having to pinch every penny.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:40 PM on May 26, 2007

I lived in Manhattan for 2 years on $29k, and in the 6 years I lived there, I never made more than $40k. It can be done, but you'll have to be careful.

If you're committed to living alone, your options will be limited to either a 100 square foot studio apartment in a nice neighborhood (what I had) or something very far uptown (Inwood, Washington Heights, etc.). If you're going to live that far uptown, you're not particularly convenient to most of the Manhattan stuff you'll want to do. There are parts of Brooklyn and Queens that will be closer by subway to the parts of the city you're likely to be hanging out in and may be more convenient to your job, depending on what school you're working at. At that point, you're basically paying a premium to have an address that ends in "New York, NY" instead of "Brooklyn, NY" or "Astoria, NY." That may be worth living in a smaller space in a crappier neighborhood for you, but you should know that that's the trade off you're making.

No matter where you live, expect to pay at least $1000 a month in rent. On your salary, however, do not settle for a place that costs more than $1500. You'll be too squeezed for cash. Hold out for a better deal, even if it's tiny and has fewer amenities. Trust me, you'll prefer having the money to do stuff outside your tiny apartment to having a nicer apartment that you don't have the money to leave.

Start reading some of the popular personal finance websites about living on a budget. Pay yourself first; that is, decide how much you want to put into savings each month and save before you spend money on anything else. Don't let your short-term lifestyle bankrupt your retirement and other long-term financial goals. New York is also a great place to get a lot of things you'll need, like clothing, very cheaply, if you're willing to shop for it and if you don't need to have the latest and greatest of everything.

You are likely to meet a lot of people who are doing what you're doing. I'm sure your fellow teachers will be in similar situations. Don't fall in with a group of friends who make twice your salary, because they'll encourage you, whether they intend to or not, to spend above your means. But this can definitely be done, and you can definitely have a great time with it. Feel free to email me if you want to talk further.
posted by decathecting at 12:42 PM on May 26, 2007

I lived in Manhattan for one year on a government salary right around what you'll be making at first. (I still live in NYC now, but different borough and different job.)

Rent: I paid $1,500 in rent for a studio apartment in a doorman building in one of the nicer parts of Manhattan. This consumed more of my net income than is normally recommended, but I planned on leaving NYC after a year and I wanted to be in the thick of things during that year. BUT this was several years ago, and $1,500 won't get you the same type of place today. You might be able to get a small studio in a walk-up building in a less-prime (but still ok) neighborhood for around $1,500. Fortunately online apartment listings are plentiful, so you will get a sense pretty quickly of what you can get for your money. If you are willing to compromise on the "no roommates" point, you have more options.

Food: There is a lot of cheap food in Manhattan, although it takes effort to find food that is cheap and healthy. Groceries are not cheap, and good groceries are very expensive. I subsisted on really crappy food during that year (hot pockets, noodles, fast food) both because it was inexpensive and because I was a young single dude who just liked that stuff at the time.

Fun: There are a lot of cheap/free things to do in the city. You can easily avoid being bored. You can also have a fine social life if you hang out with people with similar incomes/tastes. E.g., getting people together for poker/movies and activities like that are low-cost and fun. I did that and also saw a lot of movies, which are relatively cheap compared to other options. More upscale forms of nightlife (bars, clubs, etc.) are going to be very expensive. I only did that sort of thing once or twice a month, which suited me fine but may cramp others' style. If you plan on dating, find people who like to go dutch. :)

Transit: If you live near where you work, transit is nearly free. If you commute, a monthly unlimited-ride subway pass is currently $76. I took the subway everywhere and avoided taxis except where absolutely necessary, which worked out fine.

Utilities: I don't remember what I paid back then, but water/heat/electric/cable/phone will probably cost you around $200/month. You may not have to pay for all of those things (sometimes they are included in rent), and you may not need them all (e.g., cable).

There are other expenses as well, but these are the biggest ones. The upshot from my experience: I had a great year, but it took a lot of effort. If I had to do it over again knowing that I would remain in NYC, I would have lived in Brooklyn, which is cheaper (although the gap is narrowing), fun/hip enough for single people, and easily accessible to Manhattan. Best of luck to you, whatever you decide.
posted by brain_drain at 12:49 PM on May 26, 2007

This thread has some advice for living in that price range.

It's doable. You can live by yourself for $1000-$1500 in several neighborhoods including: Washington Heights (check out the "Hudson Heights" area south of Fort Tryon Park), Inwood, and Harlem. Lots of neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn, and Jersey City.

Clothing isn't really more expensive if you sale shop at the big department stores like Macy's.

Once you get to know the city you'll figure out the cool cheap places to eat and hang out. And there is plenty of free entertainment- concerts, museums, gallerys, people watching. With an unlimited metro card, you'll never be bored.

One thing you can't really do cheaply is drink in bars. I find booze to be insanely expensive here. The best deal I've ever seen is $2 PBR.
posted by kimdog at 12:53 PM on May 26, 2007

Ditto on the "crazy without a roommate" answers. You should not be spending half of your pretax income on rent if the rest of your pretax income won't cover other expenses, which I doubt. You might find a grungy studio on the UES for $1200-1400, which is still high on a $50K salary. But you can find $2000 two bedroom apartments in Washington Heights or Manhattan Valley, uptown.

On the plus side, a lot of the best of NYC is free.

A single person can do it on $50K. It is going to be tight.
posted by spitbull at 2:51 PM on May 26, 2007

Live in Brooklyn. Seriously. But with careful budgeting, you'll be fine.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:32 PM on May 26, 2007

Median income in Manhattan from the 2000 census was $47,000. I live in Inwood on less than $40,000 and I still manage to save some cash every month, both for retirement and for personal savings. You'll be fine. You won't get to go to all those great restaurants or whatever, but there's plenty to do for cheap.
posted by one_bean at 5:24 PM on May 26, 2007

Seriously, have you been to Brooklyn? It's right there, it's got its own stuff going on, and you won't have to share a closet with 3 people just to make ends not quite meet. The illusion that you have to live in Manhattan to enjoy New York is sad, dumb, and all too common. Not that there's anything wrong with living in Manhattan, just don't limit your horizons. New York City is a big and diverse place.
That said, it can be done. You'll either have to have roommates in a tiny place or live so far uptown (Washington Heights, Inwood, etc.) that you might as well live in Brooklyn (or Queens; there're plenty of cool and interesting neighborhoods in Queens, too. Plus you'll get the bonus chip on your shoulder about living in Queens when everyone thinks Brooklyn is the awesomest outer borough. Depends on which part of Manhattan you picture yourself frequenting; Brooklyn's more convenient to downtown, Queens to midtown). Jersey City's right there, too, but it's getting more expensive all the time. Damn shame; it used to be the secret awesome bargain place to live.
Living in the outer boroughs on a public servant's salary ain't too bad. You won't live by yourself in a huge apartment in a great neighborhood, but with some planning, you can probably find a studio in a decent building in a decent neighborhood with character. Here's an NYC secret: riding the subway is actually cheaper than owning a car in most of the rest of the country (owning a car in the city is another story; ask someone else about that cuz I don't know). If you have a car--especially if you're still paying for it--sell it, save the money for apartment fees, and watch your transportation expenses go down when you get to NYC (Unlimited MetroCard = $76/mo. That can be pre-tax dollars depending on your employer, too).
posted by willpie at 6:15 PM on May 26, 2007

If you live in Brooklyn or Queens, you will be totally fine.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:18 PM on May 26, 2007

Serioiusly - Brooklyn. I've been here 10 years. I can walk to Manhattan - I jog across the Brooklyn Bridge and back in 45 minutes. My rent is a fraction of what it would be in Manhattan, and I have way more space. If I DO want to take a taxi home, it's a little more expensive than if I were living in Manhattan.

I remember a temp job I had a few years ago at a huge Wall Street Corporation - all these fresh MBAs were spending SO much money on rent for their Upper East Side apartments, when Brooklyn Heights is just ONE subway stop away, nicer, more diverse, and with more access to cooler neighborhoods. Ah, youth is wasted on the young.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:05 PM on May 26, 2007

I just moved to Brooklyn. It is the greatest city on earth!!!
posted by metasav at 12:34 AM on May 27, 2007

You say you're someone who doesn't go out a lot. Why would you need to live in Manhattan?
Queens is really the borough for you, my friend.
Get on the E train and take it to Astoria and Forest Hills. Then find a nice big studio for 850-1000.
Brooklyn definitely has the better night life, but Queens is nice living. Good subway service, the most ethnically diverse county in the country, awesome cheap food everywhere.
And you can find a nice apartment without a broker that you can afford.
posted by BillBishop at 1:21 AM on May 27, 2007

Yeah, I don't think you'd be able to swing it in Manhattan without a roommate. Although, who knows? I've heard that parts of Harlem are still pretty reasonable.

Shouldn't have a problem in BK or QS, though. Among the people that I've known, the Long Island City / Astoria area is pretty much the place to be if you want to live by yourself and don't mind a bit of a commute to MH.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:29 AM on May 27, 2007

I know a few public school teachers, and a lot of them have cars. If you're living in one borough and teaching in another (two I can think of live in Queens and teach in Brooklyn and the Bronx), doing the subway thing can be a loooooong ride. Something to think about.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

all of you people complaining about washington heights are haters. if you're the type of person who actually likes to live in latino section of manhattan, with all the perks that comes with living surronded by dominicans, mexicans, el salvadorans, puerto ricans, etc etc. then live there.

you're not going to be able to live in manhattan in a studio apartment and still be able to have a life, in my opinion. three years ago, i lived on the upper east side in a studio at that was 1200 a month.

I live in a HUGE 3 bedroom in washington heights right now with two roommates and we pay 2300 for it. My room is bigger than the studio I was paying 1200 for. With cable and everything else, I'm paying less than 900 a month. I'm also living with two other people but they're long time friends and they love watching my cat when I'm away. Living with roommates can be great but since you don't want to do that...

Your options are going to be limited to brooklyn or queens. I've seen living space in Astoria to start to go up. You can find one bedoorms and studios around 1100 in Astoria but that's about a 200 dollar increase over the last year. I know a gal who just started teaching public school in NYC and she tried to live without roommates but switched back to roommates because life was getting a tad too expensive.
posted by Stynxno at 7:07 PM on May 28, 2007

I'm in the same boat as you, and have been for the last 1.5 years. My 5 cents:

A lot of the stories you're hearing about apartment prices from people above don't apply to you. There has been a nearly 50% increase in the cost of MH apts in the last 2 years. I cant find the link, but just after Christmas the NYT reported that the median price for a new lease on a 1 bedroom in all of MH was $3,700. And it just keeps going up. Remember that rent control laws mean that people get to keep their apts for more or less what they signed for them the first time forever, so whatever rent Joe Blow has been paying for the last 5 years has nothing to do with you.

Wash Hts/Inwood is OK. I lived there for a while, but there isn't much to do there and it's a 45 minute subway ride to the village or whatever. Really there's no point in renting there. Buying there would be a different thing, but its much too late for than now.

Brooklyn/Queens: Mostly cheaper, but the nicer parts of Brooklyn are getting to be out of reach as well. It can be much closer to midtown than Wash. Heights. One good thing about these Borroughs is that since young people cant afford to live in MH anymore, the energetic underground artsy youth culture is centered there now. It has a nice energy (that used to be in MH). Lots of great parties, once you meet some people.

I've decided pretty much that you can survive on what we're making, but not in a good way. I think you need to make about $150K just to be middle class now, unless you already have a cheap apartment. So I'm enjoying my time here, but I know that at some point pretty soon I'm going to have to leave if I ever want to raise a family or buy something to live in. I wonder what the city will be like 20 years from now, with pretty much no middle class.
posted by overhauser at 10:42 PM on June 13, 2007

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