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How I Live Cheap In An Expensive City (And You Can, Too)

I see a lot of people who feel like living in an expensive place is some kind of sentence to a life of constant drudgery and living hand to mouth. Oh you live in NYC? There’s no way you can save money there.

But I really believe that in most expensive places, you’ll find that you actually can save money if you’re smart about it.

I also believe that the less money you “need” to spend on a regular basis, the more free you become – after all, the less money you need for spending, the less you need to earn and the more time you can free up for yourself.

I live in Los Angeles, well known for its flashy movie stars, car worshipping culture, expensive rent, and general fanciness. Most people would agree that LA is a high cost of living city. In fact, there is even an entire website dedicated to trying to solve the problem of high rent here.

But does life really have to cost so much, even in LA? Below are some frugal ways that I cut costs that should be applicable to anyone living in an expensive city.

Roommates! This one is mostly aimed at the younger crowd, but it doesn’t have to exclusively apply to 20-somethings. I shave several hundred dollars a month off my expenses by not only having a roommate, but having 2 of them (one is my SO, for full disclosure).

Living with roommates will cut down your housing costs dramatically, allowing you to share the burden of rent and utilities. If you’re not willing or able to have a roommate, consider listing an extra room or even your couch on Airbnb to make a little extra cash.

A friend of mine lists her room in NYC any time she is out of the city for a night or two (pretty frequent) and makes a good amount of money doing it.

Frugal Transit. This is a huge one. I don’t own my own car, which cuts down my transportation costs immensely. I save hundreds a month on car payments, insurance, gas, repairs, and maintenance. I know this isn’t feasible for everyone, especially in LA, but really think about if you need to drive your car next time you drive.

I’m lucky enough to work downtown, so I can take transit to work every day. I also bike pretty frequently, which is a great workout and gets me from point A to point B. Girlfriend has a car, so when we drive places together I chip in for gas. Overall, though, not having a car has saved me an immense amount of money and has not even been very inconvenient.

Home cookin. If you’re trying to create a more frugal lifestyle for yourself, cooking at home is your best friend. Girlfriend and I cook the majority of our meals at home, and we bring leftovers to work for lunch.

This saves us each $50/week on eating lunch out, plus probably $100/week compared to if we ordered our dinners in as well. We spend an average of $60/week on groceries for both of us for the entire week (and this includes a little vino, too!).

Think you don’t know how to cook? Check out Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown and Reddit’s Eat Cheap And Healthy forum for penny-pinching recipes that are easy to make and will save you a chunk of change.

Hiking in Topanga Canyon

Cheap Fun. A lot of people think you need to spend money to have fun in the big, bad city, but this just isn’t true. We have a few go-to fun activities that are all cheap or free:

Hiking costs only as much as the gas to get you to the trailhead. It’s fun and it’s good for your body, so that’s a total win-win.

Beach days also cost only as much as the gas to get you there – or the bus or train fare. Bringing your own snacks is cheap, and all you need is a library book and a towel and you’re all set for a perfect day that barely touches your wallet.

Gatherings at home are fun as well. We have a semi-weekly event we call “Wined Down Mondays” where we invite friends over for homemade snacks and some wine. Friends usually bring something to contribute, and at the end of the evening it only costs a few bucks per person, compared to the probably $20-$20 per person it would have cost us to get together at a bar.

Picnics are great as well, and only cost as much as the goodies you decide to bring.

Hang drying laundry doesn’t save quite as much as some of these other tips, but it certainly saves me a few bucks every week.

If you’re like me, you don’t have your own washer/dryer and rely on shared facilities either in your building or at the local Laundromat. Our building charges $1.25 per load in the dryer, and frankly it doesn’t work very well.

At the local Laundromat, one dried load costs $1.00. On my balcony, hanging the laundry costs $0 and works perfectly. Over the course of a year, those dollars add up.

The library is something I recently rediscovered, and it has already saved me so much on impulsive Amazon book purchases. It is free and has everything, so if you don’t already have a library card you should run down to your local branch and get one Mine even has a huge selection of Hindi books, which has me in Hindi nerd heaven.

I’m certainly not perfect, nobody is. Girlfriend and I still go out for sushi happy hour every once in a while, or for drinks with friends, or splurge on a weekend trip. The way I see it, frugal living is a general lifestyle choice, not a concrete set of rules.

It’s about deciding that you have a choice to be smart with your money, and decide what really matters most to you. Sometimes, it really will make you feel better to just get some take out Pho and sit on the couch for an evening. Those times just have to be the exception, not the rule. They wouldn’t be special otherwise.

Personally, frugal living has made me feel healthier and happier in general, and my student loan debt amount is dropping faster than ever. What are some ways you live cheap? Do you have any frugal tips I overlooked? Share in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. Beth Beth

    No cable (I know that’s anathema to some) saves bucks.
    Also libraries will rent movies either free or cheaply.
    Don’t “join” anything without a lot of thought. It can be cheaper to belong to the gym but only if you consistently go.

    • Flo Flo

      Good point about movies from the library and about joining things. Thanks 🙂

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