New York City is known as the most expensive place to live in the United States. However, this perception largely comes from the presence of Manhattan, and particularly its high-demand areas such as the Upper West Side. The other New York boroughs, such as Queens and Staten Island, while still much more expensive than average, feature significantly lower living costs than you can find in Manhattan.

Determining Living Expenses

The amount of money you need to live in New York City depends on a variety of factors, the most important being which section of the huge metropolis you decide to call home. Another factor that influences your income needs is your stage of life. The cost of living in New York City differs based on whether you are a student, a professional or an unemployed job seeker.

The analysis below breaks down the average cost of rent, utilities, transportation and food in various parts of New York City. Keep in mind these numbers are only averages, and the city is broad and diverse. Based on your unique circumstances, you may need to make adjustments to these figures to arrive at how much money you need to live in New York City.

Average Big Apple Rent Costs

As of Oct. 2020, the average rent in New York City is $3,074 per month. Transplants from cheaper parts of the country may find this number intimidating, but remember the rents in extremely high-priced neighborhoods such as Soho at $5,301; Financial District at $4,142; and the Upper West Side at $4,668 inflate the average. At the other end of the spectrum, average rents for a one-bedroom apartment in certain parts of Queens and the Bronx, such as Bedford Park and Williamsbridge, come over $1,600 per month. 

Utility Costs in New York City

New York City features a true four-season climate. Summer can be oppressively hot and humid, while snow is known to pile up in the winter. Fall in New York is world-renowned for beautiful foliage and comfortable temperatures. Spring, in general, is not too hot and not too cold, though rain is abundant.

Because of the city's variable climate, your utility bill will also vary in price depending on the time of year. Expect to crank your air conditioning constantly from late May until mid-September. Likewise, plan on high heating bills from November through the end of March.

The average utility bill in New York City, for a 915-square-foot dwelling, is $146.26  per month, as of Dec. 2020. By making efficiency a priority, you can lower that number substantially. Consider trading old appliances for new Energy Star certified ones; you will even get a tax credit for doing this. A much simpler bill-lowering routine involves simply making a sweep of your home each night and powering down all unused electronic devices.

Budgeting Food Costs in NYC

Food costs are average to slightly above average in New York City. Due to abundant supply, mass-produced items such as bread, cereal, and canned goods are cheap in the city. Costs for fresh foods, however, such as beef, poultry, and milk, run high in NYC. As of Dec. 2020, a gallon of milk costs an average of $4.50, while a pound of chicken fillets is $6.16. A loaf of bread, by contrast, is inexpensive at $3.40.

Depending on your diet, you can live in New York and keep your food costs in the realm of $400 to $500 per month by purchasing in bulk, cooking at home and avoiding restaurants.

Transportation Costs in the City

Unless you are rich, living in Manhattan, and even in parts of other NYC boroughs, means taking the subway to get around. Most New Yorkers live without owning cars. Due to severely limited availability, the cost of parking alone is prohibitive. Traffic crawls around the city, often not moving at all, while gasoline is significantly more expensive than average. Taxis offer another way to get around, but at an average cost of $3.00 per mile, the expense adds up quickly.

A single ride on the subway costs $2.75, or you can purchase an unlimited monthly pass for $127. This is absolutely the best option for a typical New Yorker who commutes to work or school daily.

Student Living in New York City

New York City is home to several prestigious universities, including Columbia University and New York University. These schools are situated in the heart of the city and offer easy access to public transportation. Rents near campus, as you might expect, are expensive, but you can mitigate this cost by living with roommates. Sharing an apartment with three roommates brings your share of a $3,600 rent down to $900; it also reduces your portion of the utility bill from $125 to less than $35.

By eating cheaply, something college students are known for doing, you can limit your food bill to $400 per month. Purchasing a subway pass for $127 ensures you can get around the city when needed. With an income of $1,800 per month, you can meet basic necessities as a student with a few hundred dollars to spare for emergencies and extraneous costs.

Professionals Living in NYC

New York City is unique in that, because of high rents, the roommate lifestyle remains nearly as popular with professionals as with students. Therefore, your rent liability does not necessarily increase when you graduate and begin working, nor does your cost for utilities.

Building a little more into your food budget, say up to $700 per month, is advisable if you want to enjoy the world-class culinary scene the city offers. Your transportation expense, however, remains largely the same, since the subway takes you pretty much everywhere you need to go to in New York.

Meeting basic expenses in the city is possible on $2,000 to $2,500 per month, though you will have little to nothing left over for emergencies, nor will you be able to take advantage of the bountiful entertainment options at your doorstep. To live a comfortable and satisfying lifestyle in New York, even when you have roommates splitting the cost, a yearly income of $50,000 or more is ideal.

Job Seeking in NYC

New York City poses several challenges to an unemployed job seeker. In Oct. 2020, the city's unemployment rate was 9.6%. Unemployment compensation helps defray costs, but at the state maximum of $504 per week, paying bills and sustaining even a basic lifestyle in New York City is fraught with difficulty for the unemployed.

On the bright side, the city features jobs in abundance, many of them very high-paying. However, since landing one of these jobs overnight is unrealistic, and considering the city's high cost of living, having a nest egg of $10,000 or more is recommended before moving to New York City without a job.