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New York City is an exhilarating (and sometimes maddening) whirlwind of neon lights, diverse cultures, people with strong opinions about everything, and endless opportunities. Its unique soundtrack is made up of the underground roar of the subways, incessantly honking horns, screaming sirens, the songs of sidewalk performers, and the constant conversation on packed streets.
It’s the city where no dream is too big, and honestly, there’s no other place quite like it. But all those thrills and chills don’t come cheap. NYC was once a refuge for broke artists and other oddballs, with affordable apartments tucked away in many peculiar corners of the city. These were fine places, if you didn’t expect modern conveniences like air conditioning, closets, working elevators, ventilation, and a place to shower in the bathroom (my first NYC apartment featured a combination bathtub-countertop-table-storage unit in the kitchen).
Sadly, those famously cheap neighborhoods of the past are now fancy, with monthly rents that are well out of reach for most of us. But don’t despair, big city dreamers on a budget, there are still places you can live in NYC without needing a billionaire’s bankroll.
Cost of Living in New York City
Before we start talking locations, let’s get the bad news out of the way. You already know living in NYC is going to be expensive. What you may not know is just how crazy expensive it is. Here are some not-so-fun facts that may make your wallet whimper:
- The cost of living in New York is 30% higher than the national average.
- Housing is 78% higher than the national average
- Utilities are 4% higher.
- Groceries are around 12% higher
- Clothing costs are 12% higher.
New York rentals average $3,395 for a tiny studio rental to $6,995 for a 4-bedroom rental. And that’s the average – those prices go way up, real fast. So, what passes for cheap here might be ridiculously high in most other places.
And rent isn’t all you need to think about. On average, a family of four can expect to spend an average of $8,977 per month on living expenses, while a single person can expect to spend an average of $6,261 per month. On average, you’ll need an annual salary of $75,000 to $100,000 to live comfortably in NYC.
Still with us? Ok, here are some great, comparatively affordable, places to live in NYC.
Manhattan’s Cheapest Neighborhoods
This is the northernmost neighborhood of Manhattan Island. It’s a slice of suburban bliss amid the urban rush, with average rents that are a sweet relief from the city’s norm. It offers green spaces galore with Inwood Hill Park, and proximity to one of Manhattan’s most beautiful museums, the Cloisters. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Inwood is $2,125, and you’ll also find that the apartments here give you more bang for your buck, especially when you’re hunting for that elusive extra square footage. It’s an easy commute into midtown NYC via the A express subway train (30 minutes to midtown), but it can feel far away from the heart of the city – whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.
Also in northern Manhattan, between 155th and Dyckman streets, this area is known to its friends as “The Heights.” The hilly streets and huge swaths of green spaces make this vibrant and very diverse neighborhood a great place to live, with a community feel that isn’t always easy to find in the city. It’s not way-out-in-the suburbs cheap, but it’s a great deal for NYC. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights is $2,350. Not too long ago, this area was mainly single-family homes and mansions (the Morris-Jumel Mansion remains standing as the oldest house in Manhattan). There are some impressive old NYC-style apartment buildings here. Commute time on the 1/A trains is about 30 minutes to midtown.
A neighborhood rich with history and culture, Harlem boasts a thriving music and cultural scene and a warm community vibe. Plus, with its culinary scene exploding, you can feast on delicious food at locally owned restaurants (Latin American, Caribbean and some Italian) without a side dish of financial guilt. East Harlem is bounded by 96th Street to the south, Fifth Avenue to the west, and the East and Harlem Rivers to the east and north. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,567. Grab the 4 or 5 train to Grand Central, and you’re in midtown in about 30-40 minutes.
Lower East Side
Once the home of artists and other outliers, the LES sure feels a little tamer these days. But it’s still a place where edgy meets the old-school. While it’s not the cheapest on this list – 1-bedroom apartments range from $3,495 to $3,500 – it offers a livable compromise if you’re after that downtown vibe without the hardcore downtown prices. It doesn’t have set boundaries, but locals figure the LES is between the Bowery and the East River from Canal to Houston streets. There are plenty of bars, music venues, interesting art spaces and unique restaurants and shopping to enjoy here, some with direct links to the area’s immigrant history, along with survivors of the neighborhood’s grungy glory days in the 1980s-1990s. Pack some roommates into your tiny apartment to make it more affordable for a classic NYC experience. You can get to midtown in 10-15 minutes via one of the many subway lines that run from the LES to Midtown.
Those Affordable NYC Boroughs
Folks who live in Manhattan have an annoying habit of looking down on the “bridge and tunnel people” but don’t let them discourage you. There are some excellent neighborhoods outside of Manhattan that will delight you and your bank account.
With its Greek coffee shops and beer gardens, Astoria offers a friendly neighborhood feel that’s hard to come by in the busier parts of the city. It’s becoming increasingly popular with people who have been priced out of Brooklyn and is an interesting mix of traditional immigrant neighborhood and trendy city outpost. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,550. You can get to midtown in about 20 minutes via the N/W subway line.
Sunset Park (Brooklyn)
Perhaps the best views of the NYC skyline, and the expected gorgeous sunsets, can be found in this hidden gem of a neighborhood. People tend to live here for generations, and it’s got a family friendly, “city within a city” vibe. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Sunset Park is $2,095. You can easily access Manhattan by train or bus, but for a different kind of commute take the subsidized ferry service. The Sunset Park stop offers quick access to downtown (Wall Street), with transfers available all along the East River. You’re also just one ferry stop from Rockaway for quick escapes to the beach.
St. George (Staten Island)
Speaking of ferries, St. George could be your blessed haven. Just 20 minutes from Wall Street on the Staten Island Ferry, St. George has a growing arts scene, affordable living spaces, and that ride across the NY harbor offers some of the best views of the city for free. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in St. George is $2,131. Staten Island is the safest borough to live in and the overall cost of living index is 43% lower than Manhattan. It also tends to be more conservative than the rest of the city.
Riverdale offers green spaces, a lower cost of living than Manhattan, and a tight-knit community vibe. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $2,200. This is a great place for young families, with quiet streets, a low crime rate and some interesting restaurants, bars, and shopping spaces. While you’re exploring the Bronx, check out Kingsbridge as well, for much the same costs and benefits of Riverdale. The commute to Midtown is doable, especially if your apartment is near a stop for express buses or trains.
Moving to New York City
So, there you have it, folks. Living in New York City on a budget isn’t just a fantasy —it’s totally possible with a little neighborhood know-how and a spirit of adventure. The city is brimming with hidden affordable spots just waiting for you to call one of them home. So go on, find your slice of the city, and live that NYC dream!
And count on Bellhop to help you make the move. Our local movers are familiar with the unique challenges of NYC, from the crowded streets to tiny elevators and lack of parking spaces. And from long distance to local moves, full-service and special project hourly rates, storage services and last minute moves – we do it all. And we are dedicated to making your relocation as stress free as possible.