Sarah’s note: We get a LOT of comments on this post in particular. If you’re here to ask a question or get advice from other newcomers, please join the conversation over at the NewNYers’ Facebook page.
Although there’s no sweeping answer for everyone out there dreaming of New York City (like I was), what I can offer are ways to help you answer that question for yourself. Only you know your circumstances and capabilities.
A little background: Though I didn’t have a job or an apartment when I moved, I *did* have savings. It took me 18 months to sock away the $3,000 or so I had in my hip pocket (not literally) when I arrived.
I hoped I wouldn’t have to — and didn’t — burn through all that money before finding a job, but what it bought me? Was TIME. Because hey, you don’t get something for nothing. You certainly don’t get New York City life for nothing. It takes WORK to save that money, but it takes more work to dig yourself out of debt. (And, might I add, it’s also work to stave off guilt while you’ve overspending on a life you know you can’t afford. There’s a reason you feel bad about that.)
As such, my honest take moving to NYC with “no money” (meaning no savings) is that you simply can’t. Yet people still ask me all the time if they can swing it. How much do you need to save? There is no catch-all answer, but I can tell you the answer is definitely not none or something close to none.
That said, there are obvious ways to put off a lot of the major expenses for a little while. Ask yourself:
• Can I bounce around at friends’ places for a time?
• How long am I comfortable staying there? How much could I chip in for rent and food?
• If I don’t know anyone in the city, should I research safe/cheap hostels? (As a comparison, a $900/month apartment equals $30 a night.)
• Am I willing to work almost anywhere, at least temporarily?
• Is there a good reason why going now is better than going after I’ve saved more?
If you’re bad with money and planning to move to NYC, I’d recommend getting good with money, and fast. Going into credit card debt in NYC is about as easy as going into a deli. (I’ve covered that before, so I’ll just do this.)
The cold, hard truth is that none of us are entitled to New York. It takes extra preparation for the extra expensiveness. But knowing you’ve earned your place in the city, even when you still can’t afford $14 cocktails — well, that is truly priceless.
**My latest book, The Guide for New New Yorkers, shows newcomers how to survive and thrive in your adopted city, with advice on everything from apartment hunting and salary negotiation to meeting friends and avoiding debt. Want more insight into what it’s like to build a New York life from the ground up? Check out Two Years in New York City, a memoir in snapshots of 20-something New York life, written as they happened.