Personal Finance

4 Ways to Save Money Living in an Expensive City

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youngandthrifty shares some tips on how to live more frugally in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco or Vancouver.

In my 2-year blogiversary contest, a reader asked me to write about ways to save money (or share some tips about how to save money) while living in an expensive city.

Vancouver has been ranked as one of the most expensive cities to live in. In 2008, Vancouver was ranked only second to New York as the most expensive city in North America. Vancouver is beautiful, there is no doubt about it. It has mountains, the ocean, beaches, and forests. You can go swimming in the ocean or kayaking and go snowboarding on the same day (it will be cold, but you can do it).

Living in a “world-class” city like Vancouver has its advantages. It is a melting pot of culture, and this results in ridiculously delicious and often cheap, good eats. It does have its disadvantages though (other than the 300 days of rain we get here, of course).

The cost of living is ridiculously high and it can be very expensive to live, work, and play.

Other cities can be notoriously expensive to live in, namely Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, Toronto, Montreal, Singapore, Tokyo… the list goes on.

So here are some ways I thought of to save money while living life up in an expensive city:

1. Ditch the Car if You Can

The usual “plus side” of living in an expensive city is a robust and easily accessible transit system. I live near local cheap grocery stores (for example, bananas are $0.59/lb and at the local Safeway, it is $0.89/lb). Living near a bank, a post office, and the local library can make life much, much easier. Cycle to work, take transit to work, or walk to work if you can. If you need a car, you can always find one of those co-op rent-a-cars for a short-term rental (e.g. if you need to move something, or are doing a major shopping trip).

Estimated cost savings per month if you ditch the car?

  • Car Insurance: $150 (approx.)
  • Car Financing or Leasing: $300 (approx.)
  • Gas: $50-$150+ (depending on how far it is to work and how much you drive)
  • Total: $500 to $650+

2. Get a Roommate

Scary serial killers aside, a roommate can be a great way to offset the cost of living. I know of a few people who have mortgages and rent out a room in their home to a student or someone else who wants to rent for less. It can be a win-win situation as long as the person isn’t a serial killer. In Vancouver, unlike renting out a basement suite, if you are the landlord of the home and are renting a room out to a roommate, you can kick them out if you just don’t like them (safety first, of course). It is apparently much more difficult to kick out month-to-month renters living in basement suites.

However, the downside is sharing a living space. Some people don’t mind living with others (hey, you might make a new friend, and it can be less lonely!). I know of a few people who are renting out rooms in their homes.

Estimated Cost Savings/Income per Month:

  • $325 to $500 is the monthly going rate in Vancouver for sharing a living space

3. Scope out Free Activities

Living in a big city has its perks because there are usually a lot of free events. Free and fun events are a quintessential part of a world-class city, and there is no shortage of free and fun events around town.

All you need to do is keep an eye out for bulletin boards, read the local free newspaper, watch the local station on TV, and listen to the radio. There is no shortage of things to do. I find that the best thing to do for free in a big city is people watching and it is one of my favourite things to do. I especially love watching couples interact with each other (though I don’t love watching obvious PDA).

Here are 25 Fun and Free things to do in Vancouver if you happen to live in Vancouver and need something free to do. Oh, and visiting Wreck Beach is one of them (yes, that’s the nude beach we have here in Vancouver…and no, I have not visited it!). According to National Geographic, Vancouver ranks as one of the top 10 beach cities in the world. I wonder whether our nude beach had something to do with that….

Estimated Monthly savings:

  • $100- well this is an ambiguous estimate, but let’s say you spend $20 a week watching movies or eating out… you can save that amount and instead spend date day or date night doing free things 🙂

4. House Parties!

A lot of people who are new to Vancouver find it difficult to meet people and find the nightlife and culture lacking. Many say it’s because most people stay home to save money and all the parties are usually at home instead of people going out and spending big coin $$$ clubbing or spending it at bars.

Most of the socialization that goes on in Vancouver (I can’t say this for other cities because I haven’t lived in them) happens at parties hosted by friends or acquaintances. You can host a potluck and tell everyone to BYOB. Everyone still has a great time and you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to entertain your guests.

Readers, can you share any other ways to save money while living in an expensive city?


Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals.

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