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Ways to Save Money in Expensive Cities

9 Painless Ways to Live Out Your City Dreams and Still Save Money


I think we can all agree that "adulting" is hard. But carving paths in the "real world" while trying to live out your city dreams can sometimes be even harder, not to mention expensive! While I have been fortunate to call both New York City and San Francisco home since graduating college, I wouldn't have been able to live in either one of these outrageously pricey cities without learning a thing or two about budgeting.

But, can I let you in on a little secret? While the combination of city living and saving money sounds daunting, it's actually not as tricky as you might expect. So go ahead and shed that unnecessary layer of anxiety, as I'm here to share nine surprisingly simple tips for saving some major dough, all while maintaining a healthy bank account and living out your dreams. Because let's face it, why move to any city if you can't enjoy yourself a little in the first place?

1. Make best friends with your budget.
To really take control of your money, you need a budget. And while the thought of budgeting might send a hair-rising chill up your spine, the truth is it doesn't have to be scary. The key is to think of a budget as your friend, not your enemy. When you track exactly what comes in to your bank account vs. what goes out each month, you can easily see how to best allocate your money.

I've found that by keeping a list of all my fixed expenses, I have a deeper understanding of how much money I have leftover to spend on other pleasures, such as eating out with friends or spontaneous weekend getaways. Tracking my spending not only keeps me focused on my future goals, but it also allows me to be the driver of where my money is going and how it's going to work for me instead of the other way around.

2. Become your own barista.
Coffee-lovers, I know this one is hard to hear, but even the smallest cup of your daily brew can add up to one big expense in the long run. Think about it: even if you only spent $3 a day on caffeine, that's $15 a week, which then becomes $780 a year. That's almost $1,000 spent on nothing but a caffeine! And let's be real — where can one even find a cup of coffee for only $3? So while the idea of brewing your own cup at home might not sound as enticing as waiting in line at the corner cafe, think about all you can do with $780. I don't know about you, but so many trips start popping up in my mind!

3. Embrace public transportation.
After a long, grueling day at work, the door-to-door car services of Lyft and Uber sing quite a sweet melody. And given that this alluring luxury is only an app-click away, it's hard not to give in to temptation. But can I ask you a question? OK, two questions. When was the last time you checked your ride history? And how scary was that number?

I challenge you to resist the Uber urge and embrace public transportation. Not only will you save tons of money, but chances are you'll probably arrive to your destination faster. While I might be an anomaly, I preferred to ride the subway when living in NYC. Of course it had its own set of cons, but my experience in the underground silver shuttle was always more efficient than in any car. And with an unlimited monthly pass only costing around $115, it was much more cost effective, too.

4. Prep and plan.
Oh, meal planning, how I love you so. Where do I even begin to discuss the advantages of this concept? Think about all the time you spend standing in front of the fridge asking yourself the same mundane question: "what's for dinner?" By taking the time to plan out a week's worth of meals before heading over to Trader Joe's, I have saved myself so much time, energy, and, of course, money. Meal planning is such a vital part in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and is one of the easiest things you can do to make your life, well, easier.

My only regret with meal planning is that I didn't take advantage of this idea sooner. And the best part? You can prepare an extra serving to be used as tomorrow's lunch to finally forgo the fancy, overpriced salads!

5. When it comes to meals, scope out the deals.
What would city living be without partaking in a little takeout every now and then? Just make sure to gravitate toward the daily specials! For example, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco has great taco deals on — yep, you guessed it! — Tuesdays, and another bar has drinks specials on Thursdays. And let's not forget about the joys of a delightful happy hour! By keeping track of these good finds, you can chow down on local cuisines at extra-affordable prices.

6. Scratch the subscription.
This one is a no-brainer. Think about it: how much do you really use cable? Not only is cable expensive, but with online-streaming options like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now, it's an unnecessary expense. And with digital media players such as Roku and Apple TV, you can stream all your favorite shows and movies without the subscription fee.

So go ahead, cut those cable ties once and for all, and start watching your bank account — and productivity level — inch its way higher.

7. Prioritize the purge.
If your closet mirrors anything like what mine used to look like, it's practically bursting at the seams with clutter. So do your wallet a favor and sell your clothes. With websites like Craigslist and Ebay right at our fingertips, decluttering has never been easier. Although listing your items online will take some time upfront, the future pocket change will make all those minutes worth it.

And don't just stop at a closet clean-out. Take a look around around at all the stuff you've slowly accumulated but quickly fallen out of love with and sell it! From old technology to unwanted furniture, books, and trinkets, you know how the saying goes: "one man's junk is another man's treasure!"

8. Don't be afraid to speak up.
Hands down, one of the most important lessons my parents instilled in me growing up was to never cross the lines of living outside my means. In other words, avoid "keeping up with the Joneses" and spending money to simply impress others, as you will paint a false picture. Going out to grab dinner and drinks night after night can be quite the money-suck and will add up quicker than you think.

Don't feel pressured to always say yes. If you can't afford to partake in certain plans with your friends, speak up. They will completely understand. Instead of the fancy meals and expensive outings, catch up over a cheap bottle of wine in the comfort of your own home. Talk about a fun night in yoga pants and plenty of Two Buck Chuck to go around!

9. Free is key.
While living the urban lifestyle does come with a hefty price tag at times, one of the best things about buzzing metropolitan areas is that you can have tons of fun without venturing down the dangerous road of credit-card debt.

With so much excitement taking place around you, as well as the abundance of ultracheap things to do, see, and explore, the city can quickly become your playground. All you have to do is keep an open calendar! I continuously check sites such as Thrillist and TimeOut for upcoming affordable events, not to mention staying up to date via the ever-so-reliable source of Google! By keeping your eyes out for budget-friendly activities, you'll not only have a packed — but feasible — social calendar, but you'll also keep your wallet full and happy.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryn McLamb
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