As adults, most people have a choice in where they live. They have the free will to choose a job or career, select the city they’d like to be a resident of, and/or live where family and friends reside.

However, with that said, sometimes things come up that make it more difficult to move to your “ideal” location for all the exact, same reasons.

  • A job might pop up in another city that offers great benefits.
  • You meet your future spouse and are compelled to stay put.
  • Your family lives in the area or sometimes doesn’t live in the area and that gives you reason to stay or move.

Which brings me to….how to live in an expensive city without going broke. Now, based on what I just listed above, I’m not going to say, “Well, move to a cheaper city!” because that’s not always realistic. Instead, I’m offering some real-life solutions for staying in the expensive city.

So let’s look at what you actually have control over:

  • Food expenses. Some might argue that a person doesn’t have control over this, and in some instances food is more expensive in pricey cities, but there’s always a way to eat for less. Eat at home more often, shop at less expensive grocery stores, buy only what you need.
  • Phone costs. Many people today have pared down their phone bill to one cell phone. If this is the case, make sure you’re getting the best price for what you’re actually using. Check out different plans and different providers. You might be surprised how much you can save by shopping around.
  • Utilities. The cost of utilities is often dependent on the city in which you live – this is a gray area. However, you do have control over how much water, gas, and electricity you use. I’d also classify cable as a utility, though some might say this is an “extra.” Either way, there are ways to still watch TV without having to spend money on cable: get an HD antenna.
  • The “extras”. If you go out every night with your friends, then chances are you’re spending much more than someone who only goes out once or twice a week. Find less expensive ways to “have fun” with friends or select one or two nights to “go out.”

If you can focus on getting the basic expenses down to manageable amounts, chances are you’ll have more padding in your budget. Since you have more control over the above mentioned items, it’s a good place to start if you’re feeling a bit squeezed. Believe me, I know. I recently slashed my monthly bills by $219 a month, yet I have no control over my obscene rent!

Now, the items you have no (or little) control over:

  • Rent/mortgage. This is the biggest part of most people’s budget and unfortunately the most expensive category in a pricey city. There are always options, like getting a roommate or moving to a sketchy part of town, but if you can reduce the smaller bills, then paying more in rent or mortgage may not be so stressful.
  • Utilities. Again, this is a gray area – conserve and you could save money. However, if you live in an area that suffers from extreme cold in the winter, you don’t want to freeze to death (nor am I recommending this option, either).
  • Gas prices. I purposely left transportation out of the equation because there are ways to get around town if you can’t afford a car. However, if you do drive a car, you have to buy gas. For some reason, gas is much more expensive in expensive cities. Don’t ask me why, it’s not like the gas has to be transported farther, but my guess is that it has to do with taxes. Case in point: gas in Los Angeles is about $4.02 per gallon for regular right now, but in Phoenix, Arizona it’s only $3.26. Not really sure why there’s a 74-cent difference other than Los Angeles is crazy expensive!

It may not be the perfect or “ideal” solution to remaining in an expensive city, but reducing the costs of smaller, more controllable bills, helps alleviate the stress of the larger bills. Besides, there are usually benefits outside of the costs of living in an expensive city, like access to museums, cultural points of interest, or lots of variety.

Do you live in an expensive city? How do you manage with the high costs of living?


  1. We live in a moderately expensive city. It’s tough because the housing cost is so high. We choose to live in a bit smaller place to reduce the cost a bit. We could have chosen a nicer bigger place, but then we’d be paying a ton of money.

    • @MidLifeFinance – Housing always eats up the biggest part of a budget, but it’s more difficult in expensive or moderately expensive cities. Selecting a smaller place is a great way to save a little bit of money but still live in a nice area.

  2. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life Reply

    I live in New York City which is ridiculously expensive but at the same time has so much to offer that doesn’t cost a penny (well, maybe in all that taxes I pay). The parks, museums (on certain days/hours), an endless supply of free concerts.

    Also, the amount of competition between stores drives the price of some things down- happy hours, lunch specials, pizza, manicures- I’m always amazed when I go to other cities and towns and I can’t get as good a deal as I get in NYC.

    • @Stefanie – I have parents and siblings that live in NYC and I know the housing costs are exorbitant. But you’re right, there are so many other ways to save money in that city and at the same time enjoy lots of the free activities.

  3. Edward Antrobus Reply

    I live in a pretty inexpensive area, but for some reason, gas prices are about 5-10 cents more expensive in Northern Colorado than they are in the Denver metro area, which seems backwards to me.

    • @Edward Antrobus – I checked out the Denver/Boulder area online a couple of months ago (just toying with the idea of relocation) and the Boulder area seemed more expensive than Denver. Maybe it’s the fact that the northern part has gotten a lot of good press over the years as “great cities” to live in. I really think prices have to do with the popularity of a city.

      • Edward Antrobus Reply

        Boulder is very expensive; they seem to be working on pricing that working class right out of the city. But I actually love further North and east in Fort Collins. Still pretty flat there.

    • I think smaller cities usually do have slightly higher gas prices because of the transportation costs to get the fuel there. I know in mountain cities in CA gas prices are always higher because it takes more energy to get the gas up in the mountains.

  4. Residing in a high cost-of-living area can also play mind games with you. In other words, it’s mentally tough to pay out so much when you know it’s less expensive for the same things elsewhere. I guess you get what you pay for though, right? Meaning, in general, expensive cities are deemed more desirable places to live. I think family is what keeps most of us staying put.

    • @Mr. Utopia – Definitely a mind game. We’ve toyed with the idea of relocating somewhere less expensive, the only kicker is my salary would drop almost 50% (Literally) and I don’t know how I’d justify that move. To be continued…

  5. I live in the Chicago area, in a suburban part that tends to be more expensive than others in terms of prices per square foot, as well as real estate taxes. All about the schools, basically, which is fine with me since I’m a parent.

    My way of dealing with it is making a tradeoff in terms of housing expenses. There are people that see a certain type of “dream home” as an essential part of life, but I don’t. To me, it’s about location and lifestyle first, and less about the type of home. That’s my way of handling being in a pricier area: compromising big time on the home.

    A second area which I’ve cut back on is traveling.

    • @Tie the Money Knot – Housing is always the most expensive category in most pricey cities. Selecting a slightly less expensive house is a great way to reduce your expenses. In my area, I’d like to buy a modest home in an okay area. The problem is finding one!

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