Surviving on an Entry Level Salary

Aug 28, 2008

“How much money do I need to live in NYC?”

I get this question all of the time and in all honesty, the answer really depends on what you mean by “live.”

Based on my conversations with people, many want to be able to go out at least twice a night, party all day and all night in an effort to take in “all the city has to offer.” First of all, unless you are leaving in a few days, there is no reason to try to do everything as soon as you get here. Second, unless you are a big baller shot caller, that kind of lifestyle can leave you broke and on the financial edge (not good in NYC where so many things can go wrong that will require you to spend money).

The key to having fun and being financially sound in NYC is balance. So, in order to give you some insight on what you will need to be happy in NYC, I am going to share personal information about how I “live,” how much I make, and how much I spend.

My Lifestyle:

Since I am originally from NYC, I will admit that I have some privileges. For one, family is near by so I do get occasional home cooked meals. I also have lots of fun hanging with my siblings without spending any money, and my friends who are from NYC have no desire to attend big events, fancy restaraunts, or other “must do in NYC!!111!!” type of activities. At the same time, I prefer to buy breakfast rather than make it (since that requires waking up early) and my friends, while being low key, still enjoy going out regularly. So my lifestyle expenditures are as follows:

1. Home based gatherings: once a week (with friends or family).

2. Eating out: a. Buying breakfast and/or lunch: 5 days a week (I usually buy breakfast). B. With friends: once every other week.

3. Movies, shopping, other entertainment: once every other week.

4. Academic/Volunteer/Professional events: at least once a week. This is what keeps me busy, allows me to connect with other people, explore the city, and are usually FREE!

5. Neighborhood: I live in Queens in a two bedroom apartment that was recently renovated. Everything I need is close by and it takes 15 minutes to get to Union Square (the hub of youth nightlife and shopping).

My Income:

Annual Income: $36,000 before taxes. Take home pay: $2224/month

My Budget/Expenses:

As I have mentioned before, I use the “All Your Worth” model as a budget guide. 50% of your monthly take home pay should go towards your “Must-Haves” things you can absolutely not live with out and cannot get out of paying (i.e. legally required); 20% should go towards saving/investments; and 30% is for you!

Here is a rough breakdown of where my money goes each month:

Must-Haves (Maximum 50%): 1,112
Rent and utilities: $720
Health insurance: $24
Transportation: $81
Cell phone: $45
Groceries: $125

Total: $995 (45%)

Savings (Minimum 20%)
ING: $445
**I really need to look into better investment/savings opportunities for my money. I’m kinda slow on this but Im working on it.**

Wants (Maximum 30%)
Text messaging for phone: $13
Gym: $60
Clothes: $200
Eating out: $250
Netflix: $14

Total: $537 (24%)


1. I try to put any money that I do not spend in Wants and Must Haves into my Savings for that month. I’ll admit it doesnt always happen, but Im trying. Also, if I over spend in Must-Haves, I take it out of Wants but Savings is always at least 20%.

2. I clip coupons, making shopping lists, and often only buy what’s on sale (I grew up dong this so it’s a pretty hard but useful habit to break).

3. The Must-Haves are pretty fixed but Wants are always changing. When September rolls around, I’ll probably spend more on clothes for the season, and less on going out since students will be returning and I’ll have more work on my plate.

4. I owe $600 on my student loan (which I am paying off at the end of this month), I pay off my balance on my credit card asap (which is usually less than $100), and mainly use cash.

5. No cable/home phone/internet.

So far, so good. Clearly, I’m a more low-key person so my lifestyle and the way I budget isn’t for everyone. But one of the things I always do is look for inexpensive yet fulfilling ways to take in all that the city has to offer.


Fabulously Broke said...

Wonderful post. I am going to link this.