How to Make Ends Meet in the Most Expensive U.S. Cities

most expensive cities

I live in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. In fact, San Francisco is arguably the most expensive city in the United States. Manhattan is the only other city where rent and mortgages compare to those in San Francisco. It isn’t uncommon to see $15 cocktails on a menu here.

Therefore, I have had to be savvy about making ends meet in order to continue living here. Some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way might be helpful to you, no matter where you live. So, I thought that I would share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned about making ends meet when living in the most expensive US cities.

Focus on Frugal Housing

Housing is the most expensive part of living in the most expensive U.S. cities. Therefore, you have to spend time and energy finding an affordable living situation. If you can reduce your housing costs, then you can afford the rest of your life in the city as well. Here are some of the ways to reduce housing costs:

  • Think small. I don’t live in a large apartment. I make do with the least amount of space that I can in order to keep housing costs down.
  • Consider different locations. There are a lot of San Francisco neighborhoods where I would love to live. However, some are pricier than others. I didn’t choose the least expensive of all of the options, but I was careful about selecting a neighborhood within my budget.
  • See what housing discounts you can qualify for. Living in one of the most expensive US cities means that the median income is higher than other places. Therefore, if you don’t earn a lot of money, you might qualify for affordable housing. Currently, a person living alone qualifies to purchase a below market value home if they make between $66,300 – $107,750 annually.
  • Get a roommate. Roommates aren’t just for people who are fresh out of college. In San Francisco, people in their forties, fifties, and beyond are living with roommates. Families live with roommates. Alternatively, some people choose co-housing, where you have your own private space but share a community kitchen.
  • Get creative. Work as a property manager so you can get housing included in your salary. Barter your skills and talents for a reduced housing cost. Look into loving in alternative spaces, such as a tiny home in someone’s backyard.

Live By the Rule that Food Isn’t Entertainment

Besides rent, the thing I spend the most money on is food. Groceries are expensive. Meals out at restaurants are even more expensive. It took me about a decade of living in one of the most expensive cities to realize that if I wanted to cut costs, I needed to cut food spending. More specifically, I realized that I needed to significantly reduce the amount of money and time spent going out to eat with others.

Food is a very social thing. Whenever my friends want to get together, they automatically offer an invitation to coffee, brunch, lunch, dinner, or drinks. I tend to spend a lot more on food going out with others than I would if I went out alone. Of course, I spend even more on going out than I do eating at home. Therefore, I needed to make a rule that food wasn’t going to be my entertainment.

If I’m going to spend the kind of money it costs to go out to dinner with friends, I’d rather skip dinner. I’d prefer to spend that money going to the theater, a comedy event, a local museum, or pretty much anything other than just eating. More than that, I have found a lot of free and cheap activities to enjoy with friends. It isn’t as common to ask a friend to go for a walk as it is to ask them to go for coffee, but it achieves the same aim and doesn’t cost anything.

If you really enjoy eating meals with friends, that’s great. Budget accordingly. Alternatively, find ways to reduce the cost. Potluck dinners are great. Picnics are also a nice choice. Yet another option is to get in the habit of ordering an appetizer and one drink instead of an entree and a whole bottle of wine.

Get Picky about Spending on Other Entertainment

Going out to eat isn’t the only social thing that costs a lot of money. Spending money on entertainment really adds up, whether you go out with friends or solo. I’ve learned to be picky about where I spend my money. I’m absolutely willing to invest in experiences and events that truly excite me. However, I limit those to a few times per year. The rest of the time, I aim for cheap (or better yet, free) entertainment.

The great thing about living in the most expensive US cities is that everyone is trying to make ends meet. As a result, there are actually a lot of free and cheap events going on all of the time. San Francisco, in particular, has an endless stream of free/cheap street festivals, comedy shows, outdoor movie nights, cultural events, art gallery openings, and so much more. I could probably find something to do every single day of the year without blowing my entertainment budget. It’s all about making those choices.

Be Up Front with Others About Your Budget

First, get honest with yourself. What can you afford? How can you make ends meet? Then don’t hesitate to be upfront with the other people in your life about the situation that you’re in. Many people feel like they have to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Being honest about your financial limitations is an appropriate way of setting boundaries. Moreover, it gives other people permission to do the same thing. Many folks mistakenly assume that everyone else living in the most expensive US cities has a lot of money. However, everyone is trying their best to make ends meet. It can actually be a relief to a friend when you say, “actually, I’m trying to save money right now so I can’t meet you at that fancy restaurant, but I’d love to have you over for dinner at my place.”

Find Small Ways to Save Money

Every little bit counts when you live in one of the most expensive U.S. cities. Therefore, it helps to learn how to live frugally and save money in every area of your life. Here are a few small ways:

  • Ride the bus, subway, or train. It’s cheaper than Uber and certainly cheaper than having your own car. Better yet, walk or bike whenever you can.
  • Use coupons, promo codes, and deals. There are constantly ways to save money on little purchases. Look for those ways.
  • Delay gratification. You don’t have to have the latest fashion, gadget, or decor just because it’s available. Pause and think before you spend.
  • Buy second hand. The most expensive U.S. cities also have some of the highest quality stuff in their second-hand stores. Why pay for something brand new when you can pay half the cost for something like new?
  • Find what’s free in your city. Almost all of the museums in San Francisco offer free days. There are amazing libraries in this city. The city is filled with parks that don’t cost a penny. What does your city offer for free?

In addition to finding small ways to save money, you should also look for small ways to make extra money. Sublet your apartment (if it’s not prohibited by your lease). Take on a side gig. Learn about ways to increase your passive income. If you spend less and make more, you’ll be able to make ends meet even in the most expensive U.S. cities.

Do you live in one of the most expensive U.S. cities? How do you make ends meet?

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