Thursday, June 18, 2009

How To Live Cheaply In An Expensive City - Part 2

Tip #156 - How To Live Cheaply In An Expensive City – Part 2. In part 1 of this series, we discussed how to keep housing costs (the biggest part of most people’s budget) low when living in an expensive city. Today we will talk about lowering costs of transportation and food while living in an expensive city.

Next to housing costs, a car is often the next biggest expense in someone’s budget. This is the one area of expenses that people living in a large city have got beat over people in the suburbs or rural areas. Many New Yorkers and residents of other large cities can get away with not owning cars. Besides the ridiculously high costs of parking one in a city garage, there really is no need to own a car to get around the city. If you cannot walk to work and other places, the subway will take you anywhere you need to go. For travel to areas surrounding the city, there are many commuter rail lines that will get you there. And when you want to travel somewhere else, the cost of a taxi, renting a car, or a flight will do the trick. Even the high costs of using these latter alternatives are cheaper than owning a car throughout the year, when you factor in gasoline costs, upkeep, and insurance. Not owning a car while living in a big city is one of the best ways to keep your transportation expenses low.

The next most expensive part of most people’s budget is food. Food can be tricky when you live in a large city. Depending on where you live, many times there are only small grocery stores available, rather than large supermarket chains. There may be very little competition, and the grocer can often get away with charging high prices. In this case you have to be creative in lowering your food costs.

--For fresh produce look for a farmer’s market. They are often plentiful in cities, offering higher- quality produce than you can get in a supermarket.

--Travel to some ethnic neighborhoods such as Chinatown which often have lower-priced grocery stores.

--Talk to people in your building or your neighborhood. Find out where people shop for groceries. People are often your best source for gathering new information.

--Travel outside the city (even to a suburban supermarket on the subway line) to stock up on items from a warehouse store or lower-priced supermarket. Or anytime you are outside the city, bring home food from lower priced grocery stores.

--If you have close relatives visit you often (such as Mom and Dad or a sibling), ask them to bring you supplies. Keep a running list of necessities so it’s easy for them to shop for you.

--Look online. While I generally find groceries to be more expensive on places like Amazon, it may not be more expensive to someone who lives near high-priced grocery stores. Utilizing search engines such as Swagbucks can earn you gift cards to Amazon, which could translate into low-priced or free groceries.

--Grow a container garden. There are many small plants you can grow that can yield food for you to eat. Look online for resources for container gardening. Alternatively, many cities have community gardens that you can participate in. Living in the city does not mean you cannot grow fresh food.

--Take advice on lowering your grocery bill that is common sense no matter where you live. Don’t buy convenience foods and cook from scratch as much as you can. These options are almost always cheaper, not to mention healthier.

In Real Life (IRL) – While I have always had a car, I could have gotten along without one if I were to have just needed it for work. While I lived outside the city, I took the Metro (subway) everyday for 9 years to my job downtown. I always lived near public transportation that got me to my job. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I drove into the city to work – two. And I can’t remember why I needed to on those two days. I loved not being dependent on my car. Weeks would often go by where I didn’t use my car at all. But being that I did not live directly in the city and I drove back pretty frequently to see my family in Philadelphia, I still owned one. For me the expense of a car still made sense. But it usually doesn’t if you live directly downtown.

As far as groceries, when I first moved to the DC area, Giant foods seemed to have a monopoly over the grocery store scene. While there were a few other chains around, they weren’t as big or in as many neighborhoods. So I was often stuck shopping in a high-priced grocery store where I lived. Whenever I went home to visit my folks, though, I would go food shopping. The prices on the food there were often much lower than my store. So I stocked up on non-perishables and brought them home with me. And when I was running errands in farther out DC neighborhoods, I would often stop on the way home at cheaper grocery stores.

Now that I live out in the suburbs and more grocery stores have come into the DC area (Yay, Trader Joe’s! Yay Whole foods!), I can see how the competition has lowered the prices at Giant. And my access to more grocery stores is greater, resulting in lower costs. It is something city folks in DC can take advantage of. Taking the Metro out to Arlington can bring them to bigger supermarkets with lower prices than the corner grocery store in DC. While prices are often higher in the city, it just takes a bit of creativity and effort to lower your costs.

In the last segment of this series we will discuss lowering the cost of entertainment in big cities.

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