How You Can Afford Your New Life in an Insanely Expensive City

Here’s the scenario:

You’ve made the spontaneously great decision to pack up shop and move overseas! You’ve travelled for a few weeks or even months and now you’re living in a new city; dead broke, verging on homelessness and barely surviving on an income that is a fraction of what you were used to back home.

Sound familiar? Let’s look at how you can survive the big move to an insanely expensive city.

how to survive an expensive city

[Quick note from Martin: This is a post from Chelsea, our new staff writer at Studenomics.]

You might be considering one of the following right about now:

  1. Calling up mum and dad to send you your inheritance in advance.
  2. Going home before your adventure has really even begun.

Let me (someone who learnt the hard way) help you with some handy-dandy ways to save and actually live out the dream that you pictured as you counted down the days until this once in a lifetime journey began.

Now before we really get into the nitty-gritty of it, let us cast our minds back to a happier time when the cocktails were flowing, the party life was at no foreseeable end and every girl you met in the bathroom was your new best friend and absolutely deserved you to buy her a round!

Flash forward to the next morning; you’re genuinely scared to check your bank balance, hoping by some miracle you didn’t spend the money that you had set aside for your apartment down payment; you cringe checking, because of course; it’s all gone. This story repeats for the most part of your travels before your party fuelled adventures inevitably come to an end and you now have to settle down in your new home; broke, maxed out credit card and longing for your favourite teddy bear and a home cooked meal from mum.

Before you continue to howl on your sofa whilst on the verge of booking a flight home, read the following tips on the best ways to save your hard-earned dough whilst settling into your new abode.

How can you survive in a brand new city?

Be very active on rental sites and know your price limits.

living in a big city on a budget

Attention all Tinder lovers! Rental sites such as Craigslist and Kiji are the ultimate Tinder for house hunting and are a must site for all those searching for homes.

One may even argue that the competitive nature of this site it is even more thrilling than the swipe left/right phenomenon.

Due to this blood bath type battle that repeatedly occurs, people are often quick to raise their initial price limits in order to secure the perfect place; in turn totally blowing out their budget.

Personally myself and my partner spent many a day (whilst watching the dollars tick over in the hostel that we were temporarily residing in) frantically messaging people to find a place. We were rejected a lot, had a few people say yes then totally flake on us and even had people not even reply to our perfectly scripted messages at all. This frenzy of uncertainty and desperation, coupled with an ever increasing hostel bill caused us to apply for anything no matter the price limit.

After assessing our finances, we quickly realised that we had to be a little stricter on our price range and that perhaps our dreams of a The Hills like apartment weren’t really that realistic.

When looking for an apartment online that fit your budget I would suggest the following things:

Set a minimum and maximum price range.

After all you don’t want to be living in a dump, but then again the penthouse is probably out of your range, especially if you are earning less than you were before you moved abroad. You want to set a realistic price that allows you to have some spare change to play with at the end of the month.

Inspect the house before saying yes.

This seems like a no brainer, right? Some people have some serious rocks in their heads and lock themselves into a place before viewing it. Although it may look and seem like the best deal ever, $300.00 a month and living in luxury; this is never the case.

I have personally inspected homes infested with bugs, non working appliances and even a roof so low that my partner couldn’t stand up. It’s not really saving money if you’re forced to live in the slums throughout a 1 year locked in contract and are too embarrassed to invite your future friends over for mimosas!

Look for furnished apartments.

This is great money saver and there are actually a lot of furnished options available on rental sites. The furniture may look a little circa 1980 and although it has been around the block a few times, but this saved us thousands that would have sent us much further into debt. If you don’t really enjoy sitting on the 30-year-old sofa, you can always upgrade in the future when you have the money to do so.

Be honest.

When applying for a place to call home type up a short bio, describing the kind of place that you’re looking for, as well as how much you are willing to pay. It is also useful to include a little bit about yourself. Be honest with this; nobody wants to say yes to the quiet, violin loving girl who actually turns out to be an amateur drum player who listens to punk rock until 3:00am on a daily basis and has a foot fetish.

Budget shop at Department and Thrift Stores.

Newsflash! It is hip to be cheap! Bargain bargain bargain shop! As much as I’m sure your $108.00 cushion for your overpriced sofa is pretty and really compliments the curtains, I’m sorry to break it to you honey, but it really isn’t necessary.

When moving overseas to a country with a wage that was much less than our home country of Australia, my partner and I quickly learnt that we were going to have to change our shopping habits if we wanted to firstly survive financially and secondly have any savings to play with.

This realisation meant no more late night trips to the shops which resulted in hundreds of dollars of ‘necessities’ that we forgot about in a week and certainly no more brand name items just because we saw them on Kim Kardashian’s snapchat.

I quite often feel like I play the classic mother role, having to tell my partner to put things back in the stores because we can’t always afford them. He may cry and throw a 2-year-old like tantrum in the middle of the aisle because I said no to the must have ‘vintage’ wrestling figurine, but deep down I know he will thank me for it… one day.

Look for free activities.

As tempting as it is to go to all of the “Must See” spots that seem to always pop up on various socialites Instagram stories that charge hundreds of dollars per ticket, it can be just as fun doing free activities.

If FOMO is a thing for you, I totally get it; but why not invite the gang along and do something off the beaten track without the major sting to your back pocket causing you to live on packet noodles for the following two weeks?

For this one, the internet is your oyster – simply search:

“Free things to do in — ” and bang; there are endless options.

Some cool things that I have personally done include hiking, checking out cool waterfalls, swimming in hidden lakes, checking out city landmarks, exploring flea markets, bike riding and even free walking tours.

Save any tips that you earn at your job.

When I first moved to North America the idea of tips was so foreign to me however I quickly learnt why they are so necessary in lower paying jobs.

Let’s just say, the girl working behind the counter of your favourite cafe who politely helps you dissect every aspect of the menu only for you to change your mind eight times isn’t doing this for the love of the job! Her smile is booming with dollar signs hoping and praying for your tips that she so desperately needs.

Saving your tips is a huge money saver if you can master it. The most effective way that I have found to save tips is to think of this money as “dead money.” As soon as you get it, store it away immediately out of your site and mind where you will not be tempted to spend it.

As hard as it may be to resist the urge to hit up the nail salon as soon as you have your tips, putting them aside for a rainy day can really come in handy and is quite amazing how much you can save in a short period.

After putting aside all of my tips for only 3 months whilst working in hospitality, I was able to save enough for an entire trip to the Rockie Mountains in Canada for a week – not bad for making coffees.

Prepare for your expenses by setting aside money for them each week.

Moving to a new city

This is a big one if you don’t want to be hit with a big old wad of bills come the first of the month!

Nobody wants to have to send this dreaded text to their landlord:

“We are $200.00 short this month for rent, can we make it up next month?”

It is a similar feeling to that of let’s say, individually removing every hair from your body whilst waiting for the reply.

Upon moving overseas, my partner and I fell victim to this trap due to a mixture of living the high life for a little too long, as well as not correctly understanding the differing wages between countries compared to expenses.

We now have a simple system to eliminate this situation occurring again; each fortnight we both set aside enough money into a joint account to cover everything – rent, utilities, food expenses, car insurance and internet. Doing this allows us to know how much we have to spend each month on the fun stuff, as well as ensuring that all of our expenses are covered.

The key factor in saving money and still enjoying a life abroad is to save for all the boring things first, leaving you with money to spend afterwards on all of the fun things that make this journey all the more memorable.

About Chelsea Lyndon: I am a 24-year-old Australian girl currently living in Toronto, Canada. I have a thirst for adventure and seeing all of the hidden gems of the world. I enjoy writing about my experiences in the hopes of making people laugh, as well as giving them the push that they need to get out their comfort zone and explore something new.

5 thoughts on “How You Can Afford Your New Life in an Insanely Expensive City”

  1. One of my favorite thing about big cities is that they often offer more free and low cost resources than most places (hello public transit). I honestly think big city living can be super affordable, as long as you’re realistic about making certain trade offs (like downsizing to a smaller apartment).

    1. Chelsea Lyndon

      I totally agree Stefanie! I have definitely made lots of trade offs to live in the big city! Coming from a small country town in Australia, it’s a big change but so worth it!

  2. I wish I had have know all this when I moved my family to Malaysia. With everything so cheap over there We lived like kings. But teaming up with some expats that taught us some does and dont’s did help . Like the beer truck coming ? Instead of paying 120 ringgit for a slab of beer the beer man sold them for 70 ringgit. We limited to 1 a week until our 15 year old son thought it was a good idea to help himself ???. Great read Chelsea can’t wait for the next one

  3. Great article. I also am a believer that you are going to have to make some sacrifices to be able to save for the things that really matter.

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