How one writer survived in Manhattan on $1,000 a month

This woman will keep you from crying over your bank statement.

Amy Hayden: This woman will keep you from crying over your bank statement.

Making it on a budget in New York is never easy, what with the fun rentshigh public transportation costs and that damn $5 beer. But one writer’s been able to survive in Manhattan for $1,000 a month, and she’s willing to share some of her secrets in a tell-all she’s penning about living life on the cheap in the big city.

Amy Hayden moved to New York from Chicago last year, and despite having two Masters degrees and full-time editorial jobs under her belt, she struggled to find a job that paid the rent. So, with $52 in the bank, Hayden crashed on a friend’s futon in Harlem and went to interview after interview. “Everybody thought I was nuts,” she said. “My situation was really grim. There was really nothing here for me except for possibility.” But that possibility was enough for Hayden, and, having already mastered a frugal lifestyle in Chicago as editor and founder of bygone website, she learned to make do with little cash over here. She networked, and signed up for every focus group and paid gig out there to pay the bills. “I got to the point where I was earning about a thousand dollars a month,” Hayden said.


Kayaking, free. Also free? Falling into the East River, thrashing around like a goof

Kayaking, free. Also free? Falling into the East River, thrashing around like a goof. Via Flickr user ceonyc

But that didn’t stop her from experiencing all that New York had to offer: “The advantage of being in a really big city is that there’s always something going on that you don’t have to pay for,” she said. Her favorite activities? Int he summer, the free movies, “they’re all over the place, in every borough” and kayaking. “In Brooklyn and along the Hudson River, you can kayak for free.” In the winter, instead of hibernating, she hits up free days at the city’s museums, Friday nights at MoMa being a favorite. She also leverages the power or an email address to see movies. “Sign up for free movie screenings, which you can do at sites like the, or there are a few Meetup groups that are for free movie screenings. They let you know how to get your name on the list.”

But don’t think she stays in every night counting pennies: like any good brokester, Hayden’s got an active social life. “I’m on a lot of e-mail lists,” she said. “There’s an e-mail list that’s got all sorts of intellectual events going on, I’m on another that’s got concerts, I’m on Twitter all the time, where I follow music venues that sometimes offer free tickets. I tend to seek out events that are free, but I feel like I’ve cultivated a knowledge of the city and I’m on the right e-mail lists that I know what’s going on for free.”  A few email lists Hayden recommends are Platform for Pedagogy, which lists free lectures and readings around town, in addition to lists for music sites like Oh My Rockness. Then again, Hayden doesn’t spend all her hard-earned bucks drinking champagne or even the champagne of beers. “Part of what has been important to me is putting things in perspective, and what it means to make it in New York City. To me, being able to go out drinking in New York City every night isn’t what it means to make it.”


For $135/month, you can get more than this

For $135/month, you can get more than this

After living rent-free with friends for a few months, she scored a cheap apartment in Washington Heights for $135 a week. “That includes a furnished room, television, internet, every utility. It’s a really inexpensive living situation I’m in, but it’s not unusual in the city.” Hayden still lives in the apartment on a month-to-month deal and shares the space with her landlord. And though she’s since picked up better paying freelance gigs over the past year, she still maintains that $1,000 budget.

Almost one year later, Hayden’s frugal city style’s going strong, and after a friend suggested she share her experience with other budget-hungry New Yorkers, she decided to pen NYC: Ten Lessons in Frugality and Faith, a part memoir, part how-to guide on getting through life on the cheap. She’ll be self-publishing the book using SoHo bookstore McNally Jackson’s self-publishing software, but she needs a little help financing it: a $5,000 Indiegogo fund set to expire at the end of the month aims to give her the cash to keep it going, so consider making a contribution to keep this important project in the works.

32 Comment

  • * You can easily charge your cell in various public places.
    * There’s free wifi in countless spots (not including open residential hotspots)
    * There are free gatherings every day with free food and/or refreshements including beer
    * If you’re a remote freelancer, you can easily work out of a cafe with said free wifi.

    So far everything I mentioned is free all you have to do is worry about breakfast, lunch, cheap single room studio, and prepaid cell service.

    Now you’re living cheap and off the grid.

  • Good luck getting the funds!

  • I assume she’s not paying for any health insurance.
    So she makes a choice to live on the bottom and get’s her life style subsidized by people like me. Gee, let’s all slack off!!!

    • Living on the bottom? It sounds like she works VERY hard to make enough money to not be homeless. A little perspective please? Realistically maybe she should move back to a cheaper place, but she wants to pursue her dreams and be a functioning member in society. So don’t write her off as a bottomfeeder. You only have one life and I applaud her for doing it.

    • She is also

    • Perhaps rather than assuming things about my life, you might want to ask. I’m easy to find online — if you have questions about how I manage to afford health care, I’m happy to answer them (as long as you’re respectful and not an idiot). Otherwise, I’ll keep working my ass off (literally — I’ve lost 45 pounds since moving to NYC) and keep my eyes focused on the goals ahead. The book is scheduled to be out at the end of May, regardless of the assumptions made about how I manage… so feel free to purchase it then.

      • Pretty safe to say you qualify for some government program for free’ish health care. Meanwhile I write a check for $900 a month (up 50% since 2008) AND pay heavy taxes property taxes to keep those schools functioning. Sorry, if everyone slacked off like you are society would collapse.

        • Again with the assumptions!

          I may qualify but I have never applied for government-subsidized health care. Again — if you have specific respectful questions I’m easy to find and contact. Otherwise please don’t bother — you clearly have a set idea about what I “must” be doing and are going to hold onto it no matter what I say. Good luck with that.

        • Actually, $1000/mo does not qualify for any subsidized insurance or food stamps, at least not upstate NY if you are a single individual who is employed. There may be prescription programs but it really just sounds like you’re bitter because of the cost of your own health insurance. Are you paying for just yourself or is it a family plan? Do you own a business or does your employer just not offer healthcare? Seems like the person you are questioning has the guts to throw herself out in order to make changes in her life that will make her happy. You, however, have chosen to be miserable and blame others for your problems.

          • Good reply Gerome. If someone is paying $900 a month for personal health insurance they are doing something wrong (or choosing to have a certain type of coverage).
            I’m assuming ‘greg’ has children or a family added to his plan. Do you hear the rest of us single folks complaining about having to pay taxes to educate your little cumshots? No. Because we realize the benefit of helping other members of society, brighter future and all that. Stop spreading negativity,
            I’m an a American without health insurance. I don’t qualify for subsidized health insurance, but I also can’t afford to buy my own. If someone does qualify for subsidized, I’m happy for them.

  • Sounds like she’s doing a kick-ass job — but I guess I’ve never understood why people insist on doing this in Manhattan exclusively. I live in a small 3 bedroom right by Myrtle-Bway, for less than she’s paying to live in Washington Heights. I love this neighborhood, and it’s an easy commute to Manhattan. Maybe I’m just not the biggest fan of W-Heights, but I feel like Brooklyn’s a better bet, even in this age of rapidly increasing prices. Overall though, she’s right — so many free things to do in town!

    • I think it’s all a matter of personal preference. A good friend of mine loves Queens, and I did stay in Brooklyn over the summer. I just prefer Washington Heights for a variety of reasons, and it doesn’t take me that long to get downtown. My internship is in Chelsea and it’s a 25-minute commute. I don’t have a grudge against any of the other boroughs, they just aren’t where I prefer to live. :)

      • Way to go Amy! I am going through a bankruptcy and keeping a journal. I’m planning to publish a bankruptcy memoir, but I’m going to keep it funny. Good luck to you. I am jealous of you–you are living in a great city. NYC rocks!

  • Minor correction, the movie screening signup site is , not (A/V sales site)

  • Its easy to live off a grand a month when you’re not raising or caring for your 2 kids. Funny how that’s not mentioned.

    • It’s not mentioned because (a) it’s not really anyone’s business what arrangement I have regarding my kids, and I have consciously kept them out of my writing and online life and as a result (b) the $1,000 a month doesn’t include money that goes to them/the travel costs I incur to see them — I don’t include that in the $1,000/month because the average person *doesn’t* have those expenses, and because I want to keep my kids out of this.

      So, sure, go ahead and judge me for being a noncustodial mother. (It happens all the time, and I’m writing a chapter in an academic book on mothering about noncustodial mothers as a result.) But I was a noncustodial mother in Chicago for four years before I moved to New York. My boys are healthy, well cared for, and in a wonderful environment. At least now I’m not homeless (which I would have been had I stayed in Chicago) and can actually contribute something to their lives rather than disappearing entirely because I was forced into the homeless population. Or is that what I “deserve” since they decided they want to live with their father?

      • Amy, I respect you for leaving your kids out of what you put out there publicly. Sadly, your situation, a non-custodial parent, moreover a noncustodial mother, is becoming all too common. I too am in a similar situation. I’ve come to the end of my rope trying to survive on what I have left when the dust settles from all the deductions coming out of the paycheck. I’ve come to the crossroads of having to decided where I’m going to move so I can live life and not have a nervous breakdown…and still figure out how to see my kids.

        What you’ve put out there is your success story…You live in Manhattan for $1000 a month and you are HAPPY and living life. That’s what matters. You’ve found what works for you, in spite of circumstances. Everything else is no one’s business. Kudos to you for finding a way to make it work for you! You inspire me, just when I thought living was impossible. Many blessings!

        • I’m sorry to hear about your situation. Feel free to contact me (amylhayden at att dot net) if you’d like to chat more about your situation. I’m writing a chapter for an academic book about mothering that focuses on the experience of noncustodial mothers and I’m looking for more people to talk to (if you’re willing). Or we can just commiserate. In any case, thanks for sharing!

  • I don’t understand why this is a story? There are many people who are suffering financially and don’t choose to move to one of the most expensive cities in the US. There are actors who live there for years and work as a waiter until they get found, if ever. You could move to a cheaper area, like New Jersey, and find much cheaper rent. Your rent is actually less than what I pay and I don’t live in Manhattan. I understand that you are finding ways to find free activities to partake in on a fixed income. But, you chose to put yourself in that kind of position.

    • Um. I moved to NYC because if I’d stayed in Chicago, I’d have been homeless within a month. There is more work here. Also, my rent includes utilities, cable, and Internet — does yours? I’ve had a LOT of work since moving to New York; in Chicago I couldn’t even get hired at Target.

      Is there a threshold at which someone “deserves” to move to New York? Are people only allowed to move to cheap cities if their lives are at a turning point?

      • Amy please don’t let miserable people get you down. People are always authorities on how someone else should be living their life when they discover that things are not being done in a manner similar to their own. You give hope to many who have the desire to live in the best city in the world but don’t know where to start. You owe no explanations and will do well to ignore the hatters that will be miserable and judgmental no matter what you do. Thank you for the info and know that you have given hope to many in a time when it appears that in order to live in Manhattan you have to be extremely poor or extremely wealthy.

  • Very encouraging story, thank you Amy. You “deserve” to follow your dream, your path just as much as the next. I despise the negativity towards your story, and the sharing of. It is inspiring to know it can be done, and you are making it work for your situation. Thanks again for sharing!

  • If you plan to make it big, get used to your choices being scrutinized. Stop playing the noncustodial parent card to garner sympathy. If your kids didn’t live with their fathers, you could not live off so little.

    • First off, where’d you get the impression that I want to “make it big?” This is about sharing a message of hope to get through hard times, not fame and fortune. Otherwise I’d have gone a different route than crowd-funding and self-publishing. I also wouldn’t be trying to forge partnerships with homelessness prevention groups to teach people life skills that will help them make it through tough times.

      Second, of course I wouldn’t be able to do this if the boys lived with me. What’s your point? I also wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t have friends to help me out along the way, so is that held against me, too? I’m not the one “playing” any card — you’re the one who seems to care about a domestic situation you know nothing about and that has absolutely zero relevance to this project. I live in Manhattan on $1,000 a month. Period.

  • That is fantastic. The negativity of some comments is astounding. Sounds like you’ve found a way to navigate the city with greater financial efficiency.

  • I live on $1,000/mo in the city, too (Bushwick, BK). I just moved here with nothing, found an apartment and 2 jobs within 2 weeks, and spend little money while still having a great time. It’s a shame watching all of these homeless people begging for money when there are so many jobs out there. especially the ones with the dogs, they try for sympathy, but it’s really not that hard…

  • Hi Amy,
    I really feel your info works for me. I just moving to NYC because my sister is getting a surgery. It’s hard. Finally, after 4 months I get a transfer, ( and I’m working with a company has a lot of office in NY). About rent, Oh My God!!! Harder. So expensive. And like you, I like Washington Heights. I don’t know why, but I just prefer that place. Now after all this experience thru your experience I will try found a place to leave. Thanks for take a time to share your experience. And by the way GREG I pay every month my Health Insurance. I just looking for a cheaper place to leave for a Short term.

  • Clever life style kiddo. You aren’t the only Hayden to find an alternative path :) Pittsburgh is a good place to land for over-educated dropouts on budget. At 44 I’m living large on my Army retirement check.

  • My husband and I also live in Nyc on just $1,000 a month. We always lived here so it is pretty easy to do since we have so many connections. Unfortunately I can’t work because I’m disabled and my husband just started a new job. He was laid off so we’re basically starting again. Kudos to you for sharing and being honest, even if others decide to be rude about it.

  • Hello Amy. I love your story. I live Chicago currently wishing I could find an economical way to live in NYC.
    you have inspired me and now I will continue to seek out a way to do it based on my own personal strategy. Most of the negative idiots here should really get in touch with what the real Amarican Dream is all about. It comes in different forms and people have a right to choose what works best for them. Some want to bust there asses buy trying to keep up with every one else, while some just want to live peacefully by not having so many attachments. Living in NYS is a dream of mine and you have inspired me to find my own way of doing it economically. Thank you for sharing your story and best wishes to you and every step you make. All the negative idiots can suck it. Lol. Xoxo. YOU ARE AMAZING GIRLFRIEND!!!!

  • Well I DO live in Brooklyn for several years on $1000-1200 my parents send me each month. I’m 25 and I go in school full time and can’t work because of that. I would really like to work but it will screw up my school and a degree is the most important thing for me now. I still have 1.5 years to go on like that and I hope I will make it. I even managed to get into relationships, though it’s even harder, but at least I will try to find something for a summer. And I rent a half of the room with my friend in another half, so I only pay around 380 for rent each month.