5 Ways to Save Money in an Expensive City

By Quinisha Jackson
September 10, 2019

Saving money is already a challenge, but it gets even more complicated when you live in an expensive city. 

I recently moved to California from the Midwest. To say I’ve experienced quite a bit of sticker shock is an understatement.  

While cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City come with diverse cultures, endless entertainment, and amazing food, they also come with a hefty price tag. The good news is, you don’t have to sacrifice your bank account to live in the city of your dreams. 

Here’s how to save money when you live in an expensive city:

1. Sell Unwanted Items

We all have odds and ends around the house that we really never use. Rather than cluttering up space with a bunch of useless things, take a couple hours over a weekend to filter through it all. Then, sell the things you won’t miss.

For electronics, furniture, clothes, and everything in between, you can use apps like Letgo, OfferUp, or even Facebook Marketplace to list what you want to sell. Not only will you earn some extra cash but you’ll breathe easier now that you’ve freed up some room in your overflowing closet and other storage spaces.  

2. Use Money Saving Apps 

As you know, there’s an app for almost everything, and that includes those that help you save money and stay on track with your budget. The great thing about apps is that they do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. 

This is especially helpful when you’re living in a big city as you probably spend a lot of time rushing around, commuting, and running errands. Apps, however, can keep you organized and give you the ability to easily check in on your bank accounts while you’re on the go. Whether your goal is to save money, stick to your budget, or make sure you don’t forget to pay your bills, apps help you get it all done without taking too much time out of your busy schedule.

3. House or Pet-Sit for Friends 

Another perk of living in a popular city is that you probably have cool friends with busy lives just like you. It’s a perk because when their busy lives require them to go out of town for several days, you’re probably on their list of people to hit up for a house-sitting or pet-sitting gig. 

There are a lot of pros to this. Not only do you get a mini staycation, but you can spend some time with an adorable pet and make a few extra bucks. If your friend has a fully stocked fridge that you have access to, you’ve really hit the jackpot.

4. Recycle (Seriously)

Of the many things I had to adjust to when moving to California, one of them was paying an extra fee when buying beverages in plastic bottles or cans. The flip-side of that is that I can take those plastic bottles and cans to my local recycling center and get some money back.  

If you tend to chuck your empty bottles and cans into the nearest trash bin, you might want to rethink this. It only takes a couple seconds to set them aside for recycling, and just an hour or so to drop them off at a recycling center every few months. 

No, you won’t get rich from turning in recycled items, but when you’re trying to figure out how to save money, every little bit helps. Plus, you’re doing your part to make the environment better so it’s a win-win situation!

5. Rent Out Your Car or Bike

You might hear a lot about renting out a spare room in your apartment for extra cash, but if you’re a renter yourself, this might not be the best idea. Why? Because if your lease doesn’t allow subletting and your landlord finds out, you could be in big trouble. Making extra money is definitely not worth the risk of getting evicted or other legal consequences.

Still, if you can’t rent out your living space, all is not lost. With the “sharing economy” steadily expanding, there are quite a few other ways to make money.

Car sharing platforms like Turo, for example, give you the opportunity to rent your car to nearby drivers and earn anywhere from 65% to 85% of the total trip price. To give you peace of mind, the service also comes with insurance and allows you to meet the driver and check their credentials before handing over the keys.  

If you want to be extra economical (to go along with your newfound recycling habits), you can rent out your bike, snowboard, or surfboard on Spinlister. Like car sharing services, insurance coverage is included, plus you have the flexibility of setting your own rental pricing.

Finally, Enjoy Yourself

Yes, it’s expensive to live in some cities, but you live in your chosen city for a reason, right? 

The last thing you want to do is spend most of your time complaining about how much everything costs. So, use this guide for inspiration. Find a few money saving tricks, set them in place, and focus your energy on enjoying all your city has to offer. 


Quinisha is a freelance marketing consultant and writer based in California. She writes about topics on finance, careers, and diversity and inclusion, with bylines in the New York Times, Medium, and Business Insider.

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