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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 the mountains, the ocean, the beaches, the forest.  You can go swim in the ocean or kayak and go snowboarding in the same day (it will be cold, but you can do it).

Living in an “world class” city like Vancouver has its advantages.  It is a melting pot of culture, and this results in ridiculously delicious and often cheap and 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 (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 our 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 news paper, 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 watch 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 lets 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 night life and culture lacking.  Many say it’s because most people stay home to save money and all the parties are usually at homes 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? 

Article comments

john says:

You can also download the free Mobile Bandit App and grab a free icecream at Marble Slab creamery or get half off a meal for 2 at Quiznos, participating Boston Pizza locations or any of the other amazing places like Jugo Juice, Olive Garden or Mucho Burrito just to name a few.

The App is free and so are thousands of deals on it. It is the best way to save in Vancouver.

There is no catch thats the best part. Dont take my word for it see for yourself. Go to the App store annd look up Mobile Bandit.

Danielle says:

Hmm how to save money.. lots of ways! Choose to cook at home instead of eating out and pre plan your meals so you don’t have an excuse to go out to eat. Ok, that is something I am still working on but I’m sure it will definitely help the bills : )

Young says:

@Danielle- Yes, preplanning is SO important. It has certainly helped me a lot!

Free activites are the way to go, man! Cities have tons of them! Movies on a big screen in parks, free days at the zoo, drum circles, etc… you can do tons of stuff for absolutely no money at all!

dave says:

i think the best bet is to live in a smaller city close to a larger one like vancouver. That was the cost of living is cheaper in the smaller one but you have easy access and can visit the larger one easily by car. Car insurance is also cheaper in smaller cities. THe best of both worlds. Large cities are ok for a while but the crowds and traffic pollution etc are too much to live there full time.

Teacher Man says:

These “bedroom” communities often become suburbs as the city expands Dave. Plus, with so many people taking this advice, I have found house prices almost as high in these “small” fringe hubs, as in the actual city. I think you are definitely on to something there, I just don’t believe it works nearly as well as 10 years ago.

leslie says:

I was always an advocate for hosting in your home. Then I moved to NYC where most people don’t even have living rooms…

young says:

@leslie- Is that the reason why there is so much night life eh?

leslie says:

Yes. And not as much “night-life” as just bars that you can use as a living room.

Also, if you’ve ever lived in another city maybe this should be titled “Tips for Living in Vancouver”?

Sharing expenses with a roommate is a great way to save $$$, but even living with a friend has it’s ups & downs! (By the way, is there a serial killer problem in Vancouver? Just curious:) Commuting by bike could be another way to save on transit. I live in Toronto, so it’s not as expensive as Vancouver, but I save by making my coffee at home & almost always bringing my lunch to work.

young says:

@Pamela- LOL no, no serial killer problem in vancouver- except for Robert Pickton but he’s behind bars now. I’m tempted to move to Toronto because of the relatively cheaper real estate. I was looking the other day for fun and you can buy one of the houses featured on Income Properties in Toronto! How cool is that?

CF says:

We try to do #1, #3 and #4. Hosting wine tastings is especially fun!

We’ve done #2 in the past but that just ended quite badly – we shared a place with a friend, but we were not on the same page in terms of expectations and communication. I think next time we share a place, it will be a strictly landlord-tenant relationship.

I would also add: Search for good deals on housing. It doesn’t have to be expensive to live in Vancouver. You just need to be diligent in searching. I’ve lived in one-bedrooms in the West side for the last 10 years and never paid more than $1000/month. Brian has lived in nice one-bedrooms in the south-west corner of the city (still close to retail, transit and ammenities) for only $700/month.

young says:

@CF- Ooh wine tastings! I haven’t tried that before. How does one go about it? (I guess I’ll google it 🙂 ) We’re hosting a BBQ at our place and its going to be a potluck BBQ! Isn’t $1000 a month expensive for a 1 BR? I guess it’s not bad at all split between two people. But you’re right- considering some apartments in downtown rent for $1500 to $1700, $1000 is a steal of a deal.

Hm, I actually employed all of these when I lived in the Washington, DC area, so I definitely agree with the list. I would add in “live in the suburbs” along with the roommate suggestion. I know that doesn’t work for geographically constrained cities but there are plenty with urban sprawl as well. Living in a 4-bedroom house with roommates in the suburbs, I paid less than half the rent of some others in my program who lived downtown in overcrowded apartments. Renting a place with plenty of square footage also enabled having those large house parties!

young says:

@Emily- That’s true. There’s a great Money Sense article in the recent mag about how someone may save more on housing in the ‘burbs but less on gas (and time) though it still works out better.

superUnknown says:

A couple grey area money saving tips:
Shop at stores with good return policies! Walmart, Sears, Home Depot and Cosco might be the ugly, evil trolls of capitalism. But you can use that to your advantage!
Need to convert your first 5 seasons of Golden Girls from VHS to DVD? Buy a player at Walmart then RETURN IT! No questions asked! Need a stereo for your next house party? Cosco.

Home Depot is great for DIY projects. Buy more than you think you’ll need, including tools! Instead of running back to the store a zillion times, you just return what you didn’t use for full cash back. I’ve returned tons of tools, including a hardwood floor nailer after using it for 3 weeks. No questions asked.

Ethical? No. Money Saving? Yes.

Use your reward points credit card for everything. Be sure to set a budget so you pay the full balance every month. Then use the points for fun stuff, like movies and car rentals.

young says:

@superUnknown- Haha I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or if you’re actually sharing your own experiences…!

It really is the housing costs that are a killer aren’t they? I know it is for San Francisco where I’m looking at 2/2 apartments for $4,000+/month! Yikes.

young says:

@Financial Samurai- Yikes, that’s a lot for an apartment. Sounds like housing costs are crazier over in SF than Vancouver.

Eat Mac and Cheese for a week 🙂

See youngandthrifty’s previous post… Come to think of it, cheese isn’t that cheap. Ok skip the cheese and just eat Macaroni. That could save you a fortune every month so you can afford the 1K per month in rent it takes to live in Vancouver!


young says:

@TDN- Oh wait, or you could invest in Saputo (which I should have) and roll in the dividends!

Unfortunately the strong Australian dollar has recently launched most Australian cities high into the ‘expensive place to live’ category. Apparently my home town is now ranked 17th most expensive in the world ahead of London, Rome, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Hong Kong, Beijing etc.

Might even have to lay off the house parties!

young says:

@Shaun- I didn’t know you were Australian! Yeah, Melbourne and Sydney are more expensive housing wise than Vancouver I think! The economy is booming over there.

Haha about the roommates. Love the tips. The city I live in is actually pretty affordable, so unfortunately I don’t have much to add.

young says:

@femmefrugality- ahh I thought you were in the Tdot!

Aloysa says:

House parties is the way to go if you have a space for it. We live in a one bedroom condo and we cannot invite more than six people. But it is definitely a money saver.
I always wanted to go to Vancouver. So one day I did some research and found out how outrageously expensive it is. Very disappointing!

young says:

@Aloysa- Come and visit anyway! (In the summer.. because if you come in the winter/ spring and it’s raining you’ll be sorely disappointed). LOL I once heard a young 9 year old tourist say to their mom “CAN WE GO HOME NOW??? VANCOUVER SUCKS!”

TheDailyThinker says:

I live in Toronto. Ya, I know. You could consider using discount websites like GroupOn when you do want to spend a few dollars. These sites tend to be really geared toward the big cities.

I live with my girlfriend in 800 square feet, so no interest in a roommate. Unfortunately, I cannot get rid of the car, either, as while there is some stuff within walking distance, there isn’t that much, and my grandmother lives 50km away and I visit her nearly every weekend. ;). However, if you can swing it I agree that this is a *very* good way to save a substantial amount of money.

young says:

@Invest it Wisely- Awe you visit your grandmother every weekend? I wish I did that when she was alive too 🙁 Yeah, definitely no roommates with relationships- it’s already awkward enough for me as it is with basement tenants….!

Money Infant says:

Bangkok is probably cheap compared to Vancouver, but it is quite expensive compared with the rest of SE Asia. They do have great public transport here though so #1 is covered. We don’t really do the club scene and with a young daughter I don’t think a roommate would be a viable option. We do save significantly though on the cheap cost of food and there are always plenty of activities to keep everyone happy.

young says:

@Money Infant- You live in bangkok?? That makes you instantly cool!! I think earning USD while living in SE asia is ‘the dream’ and a very viable option. I would love to do that one day.

Money Infant says:

It was quite a good dream when the dollar was 37-38 against the baht. Not as dreamy at 30, but since I made my plans based on 25 to the dollar we’re not sunk yet. Damn the Treasury printing presses and the weak dollar policy!

Sarah says:

I’m a fellow Vancouverite who just recently found your blog- love it! You really should check out Wreck Beach, but NOT for the nudes- go during the winter months! It’s usually deserted and the scenery down there is beautiful.

young says:

@Sarah- Thanks Sarah! Ooh okay sounds like a good weekend plan. Would now (feb) be okay?

Thomas says:

Now is GREAT. It can be virtually deserted down there if you pick the right time. a beautiful beach all to yourself…

young says:

@Thomas- Ahhhh sounds so nice!

Joe says:

Vancouver Nightlife Idea: can we play fiddles while the condo market burns?

young says:

@Joe- haha… yowza! That sounds fun?

Way to throw in random hints at serial killer roommates. Subtle, YT, subtle.

young says:

@Marissa- LOL… you never know..!

I couldn’t have a room mate, and the club scene isn’t really one of my vices, but I have to say that tips #1 and #3 would work well for me if I lived in a big city.

I think people sometimes under-utilize their homes as venues to host parties. You are right that it can be a great alternative and even provide a “less threatening” scene if going clubbing is out of your comfort zone. For me, the roommate one is a no-no.
To each his own” is the saying though.

young says:

@Roshawn- I couldn’t do the roommate thing either, unless it was a friend I knew of course. There are just too many strange people in the world. 😉