What Is the Cost of Living in NYC?

FT Contributor  | 

New York City is home to the highest cost of living in America. This pricey city’s cost of living is 129% higher than the national average, with astronomical property values, high state taxes, and a steady love-hate dependence on public transportation.

It’s not easy to make it in NYC when the minimum wage barely makes a dent in property prices while wages remain stagnant as the cost of living continues to climb. Prices are so high that New York City imposes its own minimum wage separate from the rest of the state in an effort to help residents with the growing metropolitan costs. Worse, everyday expenses such as groceries and utilities can easily break the bank.

To make it in NYC, you need to make smart choices, and many must live on a minimalist budget just to pay the bills.

Average Rent in New York City

There are no stately four-bedroom homes in New York City and forget about a picket fence. NYC is full of apartments, studios, and condos for today’s city slicker, and you will pay more for those precious square feet than you would for acres in a more desolate town.

How much you pay for your rent or mortgage will depend on the kind of property you choose. Factors such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, how many roommates you have, and whether utilities are included will all influence the total price you pay. Location is also an enormous factor — properties near Times Square and Wall Street feature exorbitant prices compared to those in the Bronx.

This is the average rent for an apartment in New York City:

Borough Studio 1-Bedroom 2-Bedroom 3-Bedroom
Manhattan $2,550 $3,100 $3,662 $4,950
Brooklyn $2,350 $2,400 $2,600 $3,000
Bronx $1,450 $1,600 $1,997 $2,500
Queens $2,175 $2,100 $2,600 $2,999

Because rent is so high, the Rent Guidelines Board of New York City has ensured that about 40% of the city’s apartments are rent-stabilized, so rent does not get out of control based on high demand. Still, prices remain high.

In 2020, the median Manhattan rent is $3,450. To be in the center of the action, you will pay dearly, but for many, it’s worth it, because there’s just no place like New York.

NYC Housing Prices

With rent as high as it is, many New Yorkers may look to buy instead, but the cost of buying a home in New York City is no less stressful.

According to Zillow, this is what you can expect to spend when buying a home in New York City:

Borough Median List Price Median Sales Price Price Per Square Foot
Manhattan $1,525,000 $942,500 $1,372
Brooklyn $735,000 $664,173 $718
Queens $580,236 Not available $528
Bronx $379,000 Not available $305

Although median sales price figures aren’t available for Queens and Bronx, Zillow does list the median home value in Queens at $529,085; for the Bronx, it’s $321,587. The median listing price in 2020 for a Manhattan property is more than $1.5 million, but costs will vary depending on the home you choose.

Amenities such as laundry, fitness facilities, security, and parking are all luxuries that can immediately drive up the cost of a property, landing it squarely out of budget before you even consider all the hidden fees of buying a new home. As a first-time buyer, you have enough to worry about without adding high inflation and an uneven price-to-square-foot ratio.

The market is also prone to fluctuations given the constant demand that never seems to be quelled for New York City life.

Cost of Utilities in New York City

New York City, with its harsh winters and sweltering summers, can be taxing on your utility bills. You could watch your bank account balance fall in time with the temperatures, as you are forced to battle subzero temperatures with a rattling, subpar window unit.

The average New York City utilities are $366 each month, which includes the following:

  • Electricity: $106;
  • Gas: $96;
  • Water: $44;
  • Sewer: $70;
  • Cable: $50;
  • Internet: $30;

Where you live will greatly determine how much you spend on utilities. Newer properties may feature energy-efficient appliances that regulate temperature without draining your budget. In contrast, older properties may force you to deal with cranky machines that never seem to quite do the job. Larger homes are also harder to regulate, so you may have to dedicate more resources to feel some relief.

Average Cost of Food Per Month in NYC

New York City is a melting pot of cultures, and as such, it has some of the best cuisine available in the entire world. It makes sticking to a budget that much harder when tantalizing smells envelop you around every corner from many a café, bistro, and bodega. In New York City, it can feel like an impossible challenge to save money every week when such culinary temptation awaits, but it is possible.

Here is the average cost for some of your everyday food expenses:

  • Inexpensive restaurant (one meal) — $20;
  • Combo meal at McDonald’s — $9;
  • Domestic beer (one-pint draught) – $7;
  • Coke/Pepsi — $2.11;
  • A gallon of milk — $4.36;
  • A loaf of bread — $3.37;

If you shop organic, it could cost you up to eight times more than the cost of regular groceries.

Where you shop has an enormous impact on your total grocery bill. New York City certainly has its share of exclusive, upscale markets, but these places are often prone to exorbitant markups and few sales, so it’s better to stick to more reasonably priced markets and stores when you can. Some markets may feature special deals and regular savings that can save you countless dollars each year.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ever go out to eat. A lot of restaurants feature early dining menus, happy hour deals, or daily specials that make dining out an affordable treat.

There are many ways that you can save money on groceries and eating out; it just takes a little planning.

New York City Transportation Cost

There are some places in the world where you want to avoid driving, and New York City is at the top of the list. Endless bottleneck and clogged traffic, combined with nonexistent street parking and a shortage of garage space, has made driving in New York City all but impossible. Driving is even discouraged by the government, with extra city taxes levied against car owners.

With little ability to drive, many New Yorkers turn to public transportation instead. Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are popular with the upper-class crowd, but the average resident is forced to tough it out amongst the overstuffed masses in public transit instead.

The subway is perhaps the most popular method of transportation in NYC. Buses are less popular but still heavily used by many commuters, given their convenient routes and affordable pricing.

These are some of the transportation costs for New York City:

Bus and Subway —

  • One-way: $2.75;
  • Monthly: $127;
  • Express bus: $6.75;

Taxis and Ridesharing —

  • Uber base fare (non-surge): $10.75;
  • Taxi starting fee: $3.00;
  • Taxi mileage rate: $2.85 per mile;
  • Taxi waiting (one hour): $30.00;

NYC Gas Prices

There are times when you just need to have a car, even if you do live in New York, so for some New Yorkers, the cost of gas becomes very important. In addition to the heightened property tax and insurance that you pay, you will need to fill your car, too. Unfortunately, New York City doesn’t get a break here, either.

The average cost of gas in New York City in 2019 was high, with the following prices per gallon:

  • Average: $2.708;
  • Regular: $2.617;
  • Midgrade: $2.924;
  • Premium: $3.099;

It is possible to make it in New York City, but many suffer a zero-based budget and minimalist lifestyle until they are able to open the right doors and settle into one of the higher-paying careers that the New York City job market has to offer.

Life isn’t easy in New York, but if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Just a few smart decisions will help to get you there.


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