How Do People Afford Living In Manhattan?

If you look at the housing prices in Manhattan, it costs more than a whole average mortgage payment to rent and millions of dollars to buy. How can a normal person with a college degree afford to live this way? I am not talking about people with already millions or billions of dollars to invest in real estate, I am talking about average people who makes 50k-100k a year. What exactly do these people do for a living to allow them the privilege to own/rent apartments in Manhattan? Please give some specific examples.

Affordability of Living In New York City (NYC)?

When you think of Manhattan you think of high rises and monkey suits. You think of abundant money and Times Square. With the bustle of activity and huge quantity of stores, businesses and restaurants, there must be a lot of job opportunities for the average Joe, right? There are, but with average rent soaring above $3,000 a month how can anyone afford to live there?

How Many People Actually Live In Manhattan?

Manhattan is the most densely populated County in the United States. In 2015, Manhattan had 1.645 million residents in only 23 square miles. Of these people, only about 20% live in a house that they own. This means that a whopping 80% of residents are renting! Because of the incredibly dense population in Manhattan, rents have skyrocketed. They are the highest rates in the US.

Cost of Living in Manhattan

Exactly how much does it cost to live in Manhattan? The answer depends on the neighborhood. According to this chart from Zumper:
Mountain View
The rent for a one-bedroom can range from an average of as low as $1,765 in Washington Heights (practically not in Manhattan) to $3,995 in Tribeca. The average cost in all of Manhattan being $3,350 and the average value of a home being $848,600. In addition to the sky-high (no pun intended) housing cost, all other costs associated with living in Manhattan are well above average as well.

CategoryPercent of average
Grocery145.6
Health124
Housing520
Utilities134
Transportation127
Miscellaneous148

How Can I Save Money When Living in Manhattan?

The answer is not a simple one unless you have a very high paying job. If you do, you can shop around for a reasonable apartment and live comfortably. If not, there are a few options.

  • Shop around for an amazing deal in a cheaper neighborhood
  • Commute from a neighborhood off of the island
  • Find a higher paying job (this is WSO after all)
  • Get a place you can hardly afford and live dirt cheap, likely not saving any money (bad idea)
  • Get help from your parents until you can afford to live yourself
  • Get a roommate. If you have a financial job or any other good job you should be able to afford a two or three bedroom with one or two roommates

Learn More About Living in or Near Manhattan

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Comments (77)

Jun 10, 2016 - 3:01pm

Pretty much every chick under 30 in WV and SoHo

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Jun 9, 2016 - 10:14pm

There are deals to be had in a lot of neighborhoods that are perfectly safe, if not the "coolest".

You really don't have to pay more than ~1300 per person for something decently sized with a reasonable commute to Manhattan if you really don't want to.

Jun 10, 2016 - 7:11am

As opposed to living where? Somewhere within walking distance?

When you're getting home in a car after midnight every night, 15-20 minutes isn't really affecting your sleep schedule that much, trust me.

Jun 9, 2016 - 11:12pm

Everywhere is expensive now with the development of new luxurious complexes all over. I'm from NJ and unless you're willing to live in bad area or crap hole, you're paying at least a grand even with a roommate. Living in Manhattan at least you get to cut a car cost and the commute expenses such as gas/train/etc.

Jun 9, 2016 - 11:43pm

Not sure about manhattan but in SF, lets take typical entry level position making 60 - 80k probably taking home around $3.5 - 4k/mo. They are spending about $1500-$1800/mo on a room in an apartment in the City. They also spend a ton of the income on lifestyle..bars/food and social shit. Probably don't have a car too btw. I think the thought process is its cool for a couple years, but you do really need to see the income go up pretty quickly within 5 - 7 years for people to stay there. By late 20's they are either moving out of the bay area somewhere more sustainable (or at least our of the City) or are making bank in lucrative field or made a windfall in tech industry and stay in the City. Then again I have friends living there in their early 30's in rent controlled apartments who could never leave as long as they are single and wanna party because they are paying cheaper rent than outside of SF. I never lived in the City proper but this is what I saw over the last few years

Jun 10, 2016 - 8:24am

If you are asking you are probably realizing you are not in the same boat as others (and are at a disadvantage).

If you look at the property owners in manhattan (I'm taking about south of 90th street), you have a lot of people who are much older, i.e. they bought when the prices where literally 1/3 to 1/4 of what they are today (at least their 1st purchase).

Good news is, if you make 200k a year of say 5 years => 1mm. 300k taxes. Depends on if you are going hog wild (maybe 75k in a 401k but nothing left over or even credit card debt!) or a saver (75k in retirement, 2k rent=120k in 5 yrs, 200k in other expenses, leaving 300k). 300k can be a down payment on a 1br Manhattan apartment (or older coop 2br).

If you get hitched, and now have 1.5-2x that, you can afford a 3br.

Jun 10, 2016 - 9:02am

This is taking the conversation slightly off course but I've always wondered about people who live in NYC, make only enough to barely cover expenses, etc yet continue to live in NYC assuming they are not in a banking, consulting, or equally high-paying role.

Why is that? Why not move to another part of the country with a much more favorable pay to living expenses ratio or whatever you want to call it?

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Jun 10, 2016 - 12:56pm

As a fellow Texan - I have no fucking clue either.

Much better to commute to work in a big truck, and have enough money over for some good BBQ at the end of the day, than to have to take the subway and starve.

Jun 10, 2016 - 9:16am

Are you asking how people can afford the rent? If so, you need to make at least 40x the monthly rent if it is on you and if you are going to have a guarantor (ie. parents guarantee you will pay) they will need to be making 80x the monthly rent. Unfortunately, I have yet to rent from a landlord who is willing to factor bonus or commission into your salary calc for the 40x so keep that in mind. If you get a roommate it helps a lot as the price per room will be much cheaper as a 2 bedroom vs a studio or a 1 bedroom and you get to split utilities. Your 1st place probably won't be that big or spacious but if you spend enough time looking at places and hunting on NakedApartments.com and StreetEasy.com you will find something. I personally saw over 20 before I picked one. Also, try to find an apartment where you don't need to spend 15% on a fee. I will only spend 1 months rent tops.

If you are asking how do people save money living here then I would say the general philosophy is you are only here temporarily so don't expect to save money and instead enjoy what the city has to offer.

Jun 10, 2016 - 9:30am

The interesting thing is the long term effect disposing 50+% of your income on renting will have to your savings and lifestyle.

Interestingly, for those in their 20's in core markets like NY or SF landlords are creating a sort of "rental trap" where renters will never be able to get out of renting due to such a large portion of income going to rent and inability to save for future down payment on mortgage.

Jun 10, 2016 - 9:35am

It's pretty simple, on one hand there are a lot of people who aspire to live in New York, whatever the cost - even if that means a $1,000/mo box in Harlem with a communal bathroom down the hall - because they want to live somewhere culturally relevant and value it above all else. Or you have people who've learned how to play "the game" - they live in government subsidized/rent controlled housing, their entire life is a giant welfare scheme (filing paper work for disability, retaining handouts, waiting in line...). Then there's the rest of New York, like people on this forum, in advertising, consulting, etc. who made pretty decent money and pay for everyone else to be able to live in New York (because remember, getting to live in New York or anywhere else you want is a fucking God given right!).

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Jun 10, 2016 - 11:03am

You're paying for others, seriously dude? People in finance, consulting, etc. might be contributing more to taxes, but the prevalence of high paying jobs is part of the reason why NY is expensive to begin with, and it's partly returned to you by increasing your salary above other locations. Landlords wouldn't charge such rents if there weren't enough people in high paying industries who could afford it. Trust me, I work for one.

Rent controlled and stabilized housing game is abused by a lot of people, but I can't imagine what the city would look like if those programs were eliminated. The wage requirements would jack up the price of your coffee, that's for sure.

Jun 10, 2016 - 10:25am

The simple answer for most "average" people coming straight out of college making decent money without help from their parents is roommates. You will quickly learn the term "flex" 2 or 3 BR which means a true 1 or 2 room apt with a fake wall in the living room that creates an extra room so another person can live there and split the rent and utilities. The apartment hunting process in NYC is a pain in the ass, but it isn't all that difficult to find a decent apartment with a couple of roommates for between $1000-$1300 per person per month.

Jun 10, 2016 - 10:32am

How do you live anywhere? .... Budget, adjust your spending/living habits. You do what you can with what you have

Honestly, I don't think it's too uncommon to find families with three kids living in the same house with other families. Most people rent or sublet/rent out and collect rent money that is then used to help pay bills. Everyone kind of just helps each other out. It's kinda the only way New Yorkers come together.

Jun 10, 2016 - 10:45am

OP's question wasn't about early 20 somethings in IBD, it was about "normal" people whose income is between 50-100K. I grew up in (and now live in) Manhattan, and though my circumstances were and are different, I knew plenty of people growing up whose parents fit the OP's specifications.

All of this comes down to personal choices. As has been discussed extensively on other posts about which city is "best", people are different and have different criteria for what the good life entails. That might mean living in a smaller space or in a less desirable (though still safe) neighborhood than someone in finance or almost anywhere else in the country would consider livable, but that's their prerogative. As a recovering snob, I understand the notion that living north of 96th street is somehow super- (sub?) human, I'm just not very sympathetic to it anymore.

The other thing I'd add is that, in my non-real-estate-professional opinion, Manhattan likely will continue to get expensive and more people will end up moving into other parts of NYC. We're pretty spoiled here, geography wise. People have 15 minute commutes, and expect to live in immediate (i.e. walking distance) proximity to entertainment. It's a 23 square mile island - physically, only so many people can live this way. In more dispersed cities like London, virtually no-one lives this way, but you'd be hard pressed to say that London isn't a great city in the same sense as New York.

Jun 10, 2016 - 12:57pm

The young kids that live in Manhattan are rich yuppies, non-native New Yorkers. A lot of them are students and, in addition the spending their parent's money, take on a lot of debt to party.

“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
Jun 10, 2016 - 2:56pm

Supply and demand. They charge what they charge because people will pay it -- i.e., there are a lot of high-paying jobs. The people who work in the city making five figures (or those who just want to save money) generally commute in.

Another poster above mentioned the "40x rule." This is true throughout the greater NYC area, where your annual income must be 40x-45x the monthly rent otherwise they won't rent to you. And bonus, commissions, and any discretionary pay doesn't count because it's not guaranteed. So if you want a studio in Manhattan (~$2,500/mo), you need a base salary of $100K.

It is worth it, though, to rent in Manhattan if it saves you a lot of time commuting. I rent in Jersey City for $600/mo (2BR, share w/ 1 housemate), but the commute is an hour each way. I work about 300 days per year, so that's 600 hours per year commuting.

The difference between what I could have had in Manhattan ($2,500/mo) and what I have now is $1,900/mo or $22,800/year. $22,800/600 = $38/hr. So if I valued my time at more than $38/hr I would gladly rent in Manhattan. As of this point, I don't, so I'm happy with NJ for the time being.

Jun 10, 2016 - 3:04pm

They either get a roommate, have their parents/ex-husband/sugar daddy pitch in, play the rent subsidy game, or live somewhere else. I had some friends move there a few years back. They were just engaged and both grew up in SoFla their entire lives. It was "their" dream, obviously her's due to years of watching Sex in the City, to move to NYC. They were back in a year. I pay $2k for a class A 1,200 sf 2/2 with ALL the amenities. 1 mile from downtown and 1 mile to the beach. SoFla rent is kinda high, but we have no state income tax, perfect weather 1/2 the year and great beaches.

Jun 22, 2016 - 3:10pm
MJ_RheniumCap:

They either get a roommate, have their parents/ex-husband/sugar daddy pitch in, play the rent subsidy game, or live somewhere else. I had some friends move there a few years back. They were just engaged and both grew up in SoFla their entire lives. It was "their" dream, obviously her's due to years of watching Sex in the City, to move to NYC. They were back in a year. I pay $2k for a class A 1,200 sf 2/2 with ALL the amenities. 1 mile from downtown and 1 mile to the beach. SoFla rent is kinda high, but we have no state income tax, perfect weather 1/2 the year and great beaches.

Are you in Miami? Or Fort Lauderdale?

Jun 10, 2016 - 3:15pm

you can definitely find places in the "typical neighborhoods" for NY young professionals - lower east side, murray hill, upper east side, midtown east, even FIDI and now (parts of) alphabet city. there's no reason you can't find a place for under $1,700-1,800 a month - not saying it's cheap, but it's definitely doable on a salary of $70k+

Jun 10, 2016 - 5:37pm

You'll never get approved for those apartments with a 70k salary unless someone that earns 100x rent cosigns and f you have fantastic credit.

“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
Jun 11, 2016 - 9:43pm

I've got a friend (not in working in finance) that takes home about $80K/yr before tax. They share a 4 bedroom and saved $20k last year. Still has a social life, although they happen to be very allergic to pretty much all alcohol so I'd imagine that contributes to their ability to save.

Jun 12, 2016 - 2:30am

I grew up here, on the UWS of Manhattan and was delivered at Lenox Hill in the ##s. I've been to school with Sting's daughter as well as some children of diplomats. My parents were by no means wealthy but I did manage to rub some elbows of people who had some serious cabbage. A friend of mine growing up was the Knick's surgeon(for minor injuries) and was the only kid I knew who went to school in a limo. This was of course when I was in elementary school.

When I and my friends got out of school we lived with our parents for a good number of years, one of my friends got married at 23 which we have never stopped giving him sh#t for. Another one of my friends still lives with his parents, they do have a nice place in a great place in Brooklyn with outdoor space, I can't blame him. Around 24-years old several of our grade lived together on Colombus Ave around Columbia U. in a walkup when it was still barely developed. From their 20s they lived with 2-3 room-mates in not the best areas but with the rent split they managed to save a good amount money. As of recently one put himself through B-School but he did have a good job and still can't stop talking about fund of funds; this was without any debt.

RIght now and for different reasons we are all over Brooklyn, Hoboken, Jersey City because of significant others and because of the price of rent in ncy for what you can afford. I also know of some very successful people who live in BK because it is "hot" and also because it is suburb light. I have hear the phrase thrown around that the best restaurants in Manhattan have moved to Brooklyn, and it is true especially in affordability, where I can get Chiptole in Manhattan I can get a stellar dinner for $20 bucks with a marg or two.

In short, people live in Manhattan by rooming with 2-5 roomates, eating cheap food because of course when you are young you can burn off almost anything if you are underfed. Young guys pregame, like buying malt-liquor, for the price of $8 you can drink the equivalent of 10 beers. You learn to make the best of a really terrible situation, and of course in the end by the time you are 30 you should ma making 100k+; the pay curve is steep.

If you truly get bored of this life then you can transfer to another other state with a higher base and live for half the cost.

Jun 12, 2016 - 12:23pm

Roommates. And not Manhattan, try Queens. Commute? Long, but use it - read, listen to podcasts, etc. it's doable. My friends and I shared a four bedroom (the rooms were tiny) in Queens and it was very affordable, and very crappy.
Here in CA I see the same - roommates. Or parents helping. I know tons of people 25-40 living with their parents despite good tech salaries.

Jun 14, 2016 - 1:12am

I was living in East Village off of Ave C. That part of the city is still "Transitioning". There's public housing right off D. Kind of ghetto at D and further south there's a few blocks that are sketchy. But around C I for sure would be selective about which streets I'd walk at night.

Needless to say I was subletting a bedroom in a 3BD w/ A/C in each bedroom and a nice kitchen (small 700sf apt) for $1200 and the guy I was subletting had his room for $1400/mth I think.

THat's pretty good for NYC.

Jun 22, 2016 - 10:44am

And it shouldn't take 50+ replies to this thread to determine an answer to the question. When you have a lot of high-paying jobs concentrated in one area (among the very best jobs in the world) combined with a lot of wealthy and upper middle class people living there, the rents are going to be a bit higher. Supply and demand.

$2.5k-3k per month for rent isn't a lot of money if you're making six figures, and many do that directly out of college. If you want to save money and can't have your own lease yet (40x-45x the rent rule), you get housemates.

Jun 22, 2016 - 12:30pm

Roommates

I'm talking about liquid. Rich enough to have your own jet. Rich enough not to waste time. Fifty, a hundred million dollars, buddy. A player. Or nothing.

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Jun 22, 2016 - 5:54pm

Honestly, poor people don't live in Manhattan. If you make less than 100k a year you are poor.

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Jun 24, 2016 - 9:57am

I see that people are lacking in critical thinking skills. Making less than 100K and living in Manhattan will result in a poor lifestyle. But, lets not look internally at our failure to understand context.

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Jun 24, 2016 - 9:58am

How expensive is Manhattan really? (Originally Posted: 10/17/2007)

I don't understand something about compensation. If S&T analysts make something to the tune of $140k in comp., all in, their first year from college, I don't get how they couldn't live well in Manhattan.

'If I live relatively modestly, eat at home most of the time (I'm super into fitness so that's not difficult, I am very disciplined), I use the company gym discount, I live in an OK apartment with a roommate, I don't get why I couldn't save lots money and live LARGE on the weekends. And even with luxuries like a housekeeper and paying a laundromat for my clothing to be cleaned.

Even with bottle service and 5 friends, that's like 650 for a magnum of Belvedere at Stereo and thats like $120 per person if I'm deciding to "ball out". If I decide to drink at a bar or lounge, even if I get SUPER wasted, that's like $15/drink x 8 drinks. $120 won't break the bank. What I am asking is how nobody seems to save any money. I don't eat out often, I workout alot, I like clothing and that's pretty much my biggest expense. How do people squander a 6 figure salary so easily? Not to mention many of the people who live in Manhattan, heck, 90% of the people in NYC don't make $140k/year. Any clarificiation would be greatly appreciated, I have read all the other postings but I am still at a loss. And one last thing, how do taxes take 50% of your bonus. Isn't the highest tax bracket 35%?

Thanks again.

Jun 24, 2016 - 9:59am

I didn't bother reading all that. Manhattan is really, really expensive. We just ordered dinner at the office, pretty standard meal for 4, nothing special or extravagant, some Indian place (not Baluchis) and it came out to $170. This is a normal night.

Also at a lot of places, you have to have a minimum of 3 bottles or some limit, you can't just go in and buy one bottle. Also you only get your bonus at the end of the year. Also if the market tanks unexpectedly you are fucked. Also there are a TON of people who make > 140k in New York, this isn't Minneapolis. Also you can easily spend $3000 on a 1BR, $2300 (your share) on a 2BR, which post-tax is a shitload of money down the drain.

Someone parse the rest of the shit out. Trust me, 100k goes by FAST in this city.

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:00am

i didn't think it was that difficult to save (but im also a girl, and don't ever really need to pay for drinks, etc.). But as for your question about the tax bracket, people who live in manhattan are paying federal and city taxes, as well as other things that come out (social security, medicare, benefits, 401k, etc.) After all that, you are left with about 50-60% of your paycheck.

You should be able to live decently on 140,000. But like you said, you stay home and eat. Going out for good meals in the city often run up a high tab...say you do that 3x a week and its easy $300. Plus, if you eat breakfast and lunch outside too (and starbucks runs), etc. etc.

But in the end, i agree that if you have a little common sense about your financials, it should be easy to save. I do, however, know plenty of people who decide that they want to be 'ballers' after they get their bonuses and spring for really expensives watches/cars/vacations/etc.

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:01am

If you make $140K you will easily be able to save a lot, even living as you suggest. But I'm not betting that I'll be making $140K this year, given market conditions. And yeah, Manhattan is really, really expensive. Expect to pay about twice what you pay now for stuff like groceries. For instance, a box of cereal is like $6.50 and a 2-liter is $2.

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:02am

Yeah, you've got to figure you're going to be making about 1200 a week base. Then take out 35% taxes (that might be a little generous, but not hugely so). Let's call it 800 a week for round numbers. That's 3200 a month post-tax which you'll actually have, in your pocket, to live off of. Now take rent off the top; I think the 3000 a month is a bit high, if you're smart (and an IBD analyst esp, guess it's a little different for the S&T hours) you'll realize you won't be spending much time at home and will get a much cheaper place. Let's say, just to have round numbers, 2k a month (I bet lots of people live for a hell of a lot less, but I won't impose my own lifestyle on anyone else as an assumption). So we're talking 1200 bucks a month in disposable cash, not including any cash taken out for your health plan. Now, IBD analysts have the advantage (sort of - the hours do still blow) of getting the car home and the meal more or less every night. But if you've gotta cover approximately that much yourself (about 30 bucks a day, if you can eat for cheap) x (conservatively) 22 days a month = 660 bucks. Now you're down to 500 and change, before breakfast and lunch, for a month's entertainment.

So it's definitely possible to not be rolling in it until bonus season. Hell, even saving much would be nearly impossible, if you ball out to the tune of 120 a week. That's why you're going to have to disabuse yourself of the notion of living the baller lifestyle every week, unless you've got daddy's silver spoon still in your mouth.

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom. For IBD analysts, provided you can manage your expenses, you should still do well. It's not an unreasonable assumption that you'll never need to cook for yourself for two years, as all your dinners will be covered (more or less). Hell, if you eat light (and you all should plan to, or you'll turn into whales) you can probably squeeze dinner AND the next day's lunch out of your nightly allotment. And, also for the IBD analyst, an apartment any more lavish than a bed, bathroom and closet is pretty much unnecessary. Convenience to the office is the only sticking point for me. Throw the 660 back , and knock a couple hundred bucks off the rent and you're back to a thou a month disposable, which will treat you ok.

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:03am

60k base, turns out to about 3400 net income per month. throw in health insurance, 401k and you are down to 1500 max. unless you plan on living in a hole in the wall 8x8 studio, plan on dropping at least 1500 for rent. all of a sudden you have 1500 to last you a whole month. do that math, its not very much.

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:04am

And that 1500 per month post tax & rent has to cover your bills, food, clothing, etc. All of these costs are about 20% more than the rest of the country. Also you'll probably have a tiny kitchen with no storage so you're more prone to order takeout (especially after a 12+ hour day) and you'll go out sometimes because your tiny apartment will give you claustrophobia.

$120 on a night out is still a third of your supplementary income, so you won't be doing that every Saturday night either. Probably the best way to improve your supplementary income is if you get an apartment in Brooklyn, but I would only recommend that for people in IBD due to the longer commute and some neighborhoods are just as expensive as Manhattan (Williamsburg, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights).

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:06am

Typically need about 200k per year to live comfortably in NYC. You'll likely pay about half of your pay in taxes, and rent is about 3k/mo at a decent place. A night out runs around $100 per stop. Of course, you can save some money by cutting corners.

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:07am

Depends on your lifestyle, too...I think $3000/month for an apartment is way overstated unless you are renting your own 1 br which you only need if you have a family. Most analysts in my class spend $1400-11700 all in, and you can get a very nice studio for around $2000, maybe $2250. I have never spent more than $100 on a night out, but then again I have no desire to get bottle service or anything like that. Some analysts do live this kind of lifestyle, but many do not, and I've never felt pressured to.

Jun 24, 2016 - 10:10am

To be completely honest, I decided not to put pressure on myself the first year. I knew that things would be a little tight until the bonus comes in. I spend $1300 a month on my room (the place is $2700/mo). I'm honestly home for an hour every night before I go to sleep. I spend a little time there on the weekend.

The whole point of living in NYC is to go out, not stay in. Spend less on your Apt. and use the ~$500 you save each month to go out. If you are shying away from bottle service, $500 can carry you a decent way.

Also, don't buy RANDOM girls a ton of drinks/shots. I realize that some guys will never get close to certain girls without dropping cash, but in my experience it isn't worth it.

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