HOW TO: Move To New York City Sane And Not Broke

How do you move to New York City and stay sane and not be broke?

Look at this kid. That’s Ben Popken on the night he moved to New York City. He just spent the past three days on a Greyhound from Denver to Manhattan. The last leg of the journey was shared with twenty just-paroled convicts. Look at his smile. He has no idea what he’s in for.

After reading our post, “HOW TO: Re-Up Your Lease, Keep The Same Rent,” Tim in Wisconsin Falls, Wisconsin, asks,

    “You pay $1650 a month rent for an apartment. What do you eat? I am barely getting by with $425.00 a month for a house. I understand it is New York but I have always wondered how New Yorkers manage to eat after paying huge rents each month. I have never been to NY so I cant say much but I have been told that New York doesn’t pay that much more than other cities do. Do you have to have 50 roommates in a one bedroom apt to make it or what?

    How does one move to New York and survive? “

Here’s how…

First, ask yourself…

DO I REALLY NEED TO MOVE TO NEW YORK? Answering no to this is the easiest way to avoid the inevitable hassle and heartache of. New York City is a glittering emerald slut, full of potential and promise, but it can also be a total bitch. Nightlife is down ever since they enacted that cabaret law. The city’s conduits of power are increasingly rusty and incestuous. Parts of the city are becoming, or already are, Disney versions of themselves, like the Lower East Side and Times Square, respectively. There’s lots of other great cities in the world. The Bay Area has nicer weather. Philadelphia has dirt cheap rents. Even so, New York is awesome and is still the capital of the world for many a human endeavor. Let’s move!

TAP PERSONAL CONTACTS. The easiest way to move to NYC is to have a friend, or a friend of a friend, who will let you crash in their apartment until you get your shit together. Be cool and offer to help out with rent as much as you can. If you’re broke, maybe offer to clean up the apartment really nice all the time.

SCOPE OUT THE RENTAL MARKET. Determine where you would like to live and how much you can pay. Personal finance gurus recommend spending no more than 25% of your expected salary on rent. Realistically, you may have to spend up to 50%. But if you lock yourself into a high rent so you can live in “the cool spot” you may end up spending all your time inside your stupid little apartment cause you can never afford to go out. Think smaller and cheaper.

On this note, Brooklyn is a nice, cheaper-than-Manhattan place. Fort Greene and Carrol Gardens are good spots to look at in Brooklyn. Rents are relatively affordable, amenities are there, it’s not too far from Manhattan, and they’re fairly safe. Living near but not next to housing projects is a sure way to get more apartment for your money.

If you must live in Manhattan, Upper Upper West Side (past the 100’s) has become affordable. There’s places to be found on the more easternly points of the Lower East Side.

Cruise Craiglist for the going rates in your desired area(s) for 2+ roomies. Hone in what rent you think you’re going to be paying each month. This number will rule your life.

SAVE Five times your expected monthly rent. To move into a lease, you will probably have to put up two month’s rent + security deposit (usually another month’s rent). There may even be a broker’s fee, which is at least another month’s rent. You will need the rest of the money to feed yourself and not feel like a loser. Stuff it in a high-yield online savings account, like HSBC or INGDirect.

DUMP YOUR JUNK. You probably don’t need about 90% off what you own. Hold a yard sale. Donate. Digitize everything you don’t need a real-world copy of. Put stuff in local storage. Throw it away. Whatever you do, just get rid of it. A good goal is reducing your belongings to an essential wardrobe, books, and your “tools of the trade.” For most people this means a computer. For you it may be a welding torch. Shipping costs. Space in NYC is at a premium. Less stuff means less stuff you don’t have room for.

LINE UP JOB PROSPECTS. Send out feelers and resumes before you arrive. Tap those personal connections. Let people know you’re coming. If you went to college, call up the alumni office and see if they can hook you up with former students in New York. has never done anything for us. Craigslist has. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t initially seem that interested in you. Tons of people say they’re going to move to New York but never do, so NYC veterans learn to take a policy of, “I’ll see it when I see it.” That’s okay, just start cranking the wheel on getting a cash flow going as early as possible.

MOVE. Go Greyhound. Fly coach. Drive yourself. U-Hauls and the like can be expensive over long distances, so its cheaper to ship your stuff freight with a trucking company like ROADWAY and then get to NYC by other means. If you’ve already reduced everything to two pieces of luggage, bonus.

Once you’re here…

DO MASLOW. Take care of your pyramid of needs, working from the bottom up. If you have a choice between doing something at the top of this pyramid, versus something at the bottom, do the thing at the bottom. Not taking care of your needs at the bottom will thwart your attempts to do the ones at the top.


At the same time, maybe you will have to eat only one box of pasta a day so you can afford to go out for social drinks. That’s fine, just don’t make it a habit, or you may end up begging for quarters in Union Square.

GET A JOB. Even if it sucks. You need to make money just to tread water. Our first job was as a bike messenger. In winter. Saner folk go the temping route. Atrium is a fantastic temping agency. Tell them Ben Popken sent you. If you refer people to them who stay on for a few months, you get a small finder’s fee.

LEARN TO ENJOY SOLITUDE. It’s easy to feel lonely in a city of a gazillion people. That’s because you are alone and no one wants to talk to you. Be prepared to have no new friends for at least a year. Be prepared for people who say, “Oh, we’ll totally hang out once you’re here,” and then stand you up even after you set a date. Everyone’s got crazy schedules here so “hang out with the new guy” may rank pretty low. Be glad people do this, so you can scratch ’em off your list before they have time to really disappoint you.

BECOME AWESOME. Whatever your deal is, be it your job or your hobby, get really good at it. You will have lots of free time to work on this because you have no friends. Socializing is often centered around people who have “your thing” in common, so it helps to be dedicated and skilled in it. This is for both personal satisfaction, and that other people will take you seriously if you’re taking your thing seriously.

TUNNEL. Use the resources of your current crappy job to get you your next, better job. With the money from bike messengering, we bought clothes that made us look presentable for the temp agency. Between directing phone calls at the temp job, we blasted out hundreds of resumes that eventually landed us a job at an online marketing firm. While at the online marketing firm, we started an advertising blog on the company’s behalf that ended up getting us a job with Gawker. Now we’re tunneling towards building a six-month emergency cushion and doing more personal creative projects.

DON’T MOVE BACK. A lot of people quit New York less than a year after moving. That’s a personal choice, but if you’re trying to be in New York, obviously leaving it is not a viable solution. If things get so hard you want to move back, ask for help from family and friends. Evaluate the choices you’re making, the things you’re buying, and see where you can cut back. Realize you’re not going to get that super-star job right off the bat (see: BECOME AWESOME). Stiffen that upper lip. Or cry. Whatever you need to do, just don’t move back. Life is hard. Welcome to it.


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