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A Small Home in NYC, Part 4: A Sample NYC Family Budget

Offering a sample family budget is difficult because people have very different lifestyles and priorities, but I thought it might be helpful to share our budget, with some modifications, and explain how it was different when we lived in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s shockingly similar except for a few areas like housing and transportation. Don’t take these numbers as fixed costs, they are about what we pay in most cases, your mileage will vary.

Sample Family Budget for New York City


  • We eat mostly vegetarian which keeps costs down. We also order our groceries from Amazon Fresh — delivered to our door is a great time and money saver!
  • Most NYC apartments require you to have income of 40x your monthly rent, and for a guarantor scenario, it can be as much as 80x the monthly rent! You can sometimes get around this rule by working with small landlords in standalone houses, but it’s a formula that is very common with most landlords in the city.
  • We rent our small home. If you own, you need to understand that co-ops and condos have monthly fees that can be very, very high.
  • NYC public schools are some of the best I’ve encountered anywhere. If you do your homework, you can find a great public school in NYC for your child.
  • We could save another $100 a month by not sending our laundry out — but the time savings really helps our family. And I could never fold clothing with such precision!
  • Our lease specifies that no more than 2 people can occupy any given room (living room or bedroom). You need to consider this when planning out your small space, especially if you have kids. We gave our daughter the full bedroom, and we divided the living room in half to create a small second bedroom for us.
  • We live in a modest apartment in the borough of Queens. The picture in the first post of the series is an outside shot of our building. It is not a luxury building, but it is very nice, clean and safe. As far as I can tell, Manhattan is the most expensive borough in NYC (there are 5), followed by Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.

Budget Killers

The budget killers for our family are eating out and using ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft. If you are going to eat out, you should consider trying a sidewalk cart, they are all over the city and sometimes have great food. Uber, Lyft, Juno, Via and taxis are great in a pinch, but they should be avoided whenever possible — it really adds up! Juno and Lyft are cheaper and pay the drivers better. You need to allow extra time to take the subway, bus or walk, but the benefits far outweigh any extra time. Yes, the subways are going through a renovation, but they are truly working very hard to renovate the system, replacing tracks, upgrading signals and stations. The service is definitely improving, and I ride it almost every day.

NYC Compared to Nashville

So how does this NYC budget differ from what we paid in Tennessee? The only major differences are in housing and transportation. If you look at the rent budget item for NYC, you will at first be shocked, it is a lot of money for a small 1 bedroom apartment. But we also pay very little for transportation, my calculations are about $500 less than most families who have multiple car payments, maintenance and fuel costs in other cities. If you subtract that $500 from our rent, it is very close to what our rent/mortgage was in the greater Nashville area. Our utility costs are actually a bit lower here which is probably because rent includes heat and hot water.

New York also has higher city, state and property taxes than Nashville, but the sales tax is lower. The money we pay in taxes goes to fund city services like public transportation, schools, public safety, garbage and tuition free college at state schools! In states that don’t have an official income tax, I think you’ll find that there are many extra taxes that get created at the city and local level to make up the shortfall, this was definitely the case in Nashville.

We make just enough money that we don’t qualify for any housing help from the city or state. There are programs to help with housing costs if you make less, but there are never enough, and affordable lower-income housing is not just a problem in NYC. If you are single or have no kids, a great option is to get creative with a cheaper studio apartment or look for a roommate to help share housing costs. Also, if you don’t need to be near specific schools, you have many more neighborhood options that have cheaper prices. I will be doing an entire post on how to find an apartment in New York City in the future.


So why would anyone do this, why pay so much to live in a small space? Because our small home is within one of the greatest large spaces ever conceived, New York City. Our home is a place to eat, relax and sleep; for everything else, we lean on the city for inspiration. This type of living also encourages walking, fewer cars, recycling and continued human growth. You could never absorb all New York City has to offer in a single lifetime, it’s just too big and constantly evolving.