Is Living In Cities Worth It?

I recently discovered a blog called Financial Samurai that got me thinking. Particularly the articles about living in cities:

I’ve mentioned before that living in New York forever might not be in the cards for me as part of my path toward FIRE.

It’s simply a shift in priorities.

The Good Things About Living in Cities

Note: you can replace “New York” with any international city. I just say New York because I’m here.

These streets will inspire you...

These streets will… inspire you?

Don’t forget the car

If I leave New York, I’d have to buy a car. I lived in Phoenix about a decade ago, and by far my biggest non-housing expense was my car.

Granted, I was younger and my insurance was higher. I didn’t have credit or the money to buy a car outright, so I got a terrible interest rate because I financed.

My car also overheated all the time (120+ degree heat I guess does that) and I had to get it repaired at least 3 times every summer.

And gas to get to and from work.

  • My rent in Phoenix (this was back in 2003, I’m sure it’s higher now), was ~$600 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment (my half was $300).
  • I’ll never forget about much my car payment was because I saw that number monthly for 5 years: $238.11.
  • My insurance fluctuated, but was about $150 a month.
  • And gas was around $50 a month, too.
  • So my car cost me $400 a month and rent was $300 a month.

  • But now that I’m in New York, my 1 bedroom in far-out Brooklyn is $1450 (my half is $725).
  • And a monthly MTA pass is ~$117.
  • Rounding up, that’s $850 per month.

So I’m really only paying $150 more for rent + transport in New York City in 2015 than I was in Phoenix in 2003 (kinda crazy when you think about it).

And there are many more opportunities here in New York. Average salaries are higher.

Also, I don’t miss driving. At all.

My Airbnbs

I now have 4 apartments listed on Airbnb.

I’m getting ready to write my Q2 update now that it’s almost over, but suffice it to say it’s better than my Q1 update.

It's fun being on the other side

It’s fun being on the other side

I couldn’t pull in those prices anywhere else, except maybe San Francisco.

I checked Airbnb prices in Chicago, and don’t think it holds a candle to operating them in New York.

It’s a valuable opportunity that is helping me with my FIRE.

Trust me, I’m not wasting it.

Food + Drink

Financial Samurai thinks all beers in New York are $5 and all lunches are $15+.

Not quite. I know plenty of bars with beers for $2 or $3 and lots and lots of $7 (and under) lunch deals. Keep in mind that New York is saturated with restaurants and that they must compete with each other in the form of special deals – and quality.

You can get great lunches for not a lot of money, if you know where to look.

#summer #margaritas #nyc #les #yassss

A photo posted by Harlan Vaughn (@harlanvaughn) on

I also shop at Costco, which has little variance in cost nationally – even in NYC. So I don’t feel like I’m spending that much more than the average person on groceries. Or restaurants.


I have to get out often. Fortunately, most of the world is reachable by 1 or 2 flights from New York. I love love love having such an easy exit when I need it. I don’t look forward to regional airports and an extra connection.

The Not-So-Good Things About Living in Cities


Home ownership can be out-of-reach

If you want to buy something in Manhattan, you need to have at least half a million dollars. And preferably over a million. Oh, and there’s no FHA loans here – you’ll need that 20% down payment. That is, if an all-cash buyer doesn’t beat you to it. And if you can find a bank that’ll give you a mortgage on a condo or co-op. Now, there are 1 bedroom co-ops in my neighborhood that start around the $300K mark. I’d still need $60,000 dollars for a down payment and around 3% more in closing costs. In short: there is an extremely high barrier to entry here. Especially considering that $300K can get you a lot more house in… well, pretty much anywhere else. Ah, but homes don’t appreciate in other places quite like they do in New York City. It’s worth it to have your home equity in New York. But man, is it an expensive headache to get started. I can understand why others would rather just buy a nice place somewhere quiet. Heck, I might be one of ’em!

The commute is painful

It is. I swear the MTA hikes fares and reduces service on purpose. My “commute” is about 35-45 minutes during the day. Not bad. But it can take over an hour if the trains bleep up or run behind schedule (which happens all the time).

Driving on a crowded highway isn’t exactly great, either. And it can be a lot more stressful than riding the subway for an hour.

Although after 10+ years of living in cities, I’d say that’s up for debate.

I miss fresh air and hiking

I do. Breathing the air here in New York I’m sure has taken 5 years off my life. And I miss seeing mountains in the distance. And being able to drive away for the weekend.

Renting and car and driving out of the city is such a monumental hassle.

Competition is fierce

This maybe shouldn’t be under “Not-So-Good” because competing makes you better.

It also makes you tired as hell.

This is one where a healthy, positive attitude can make all the difference.

Living in New York, you must understand:

  • Someone else is always more skilled than you
  • Someone else always makes more than you
  • Someone else is always younger than when you started
  • You are completely, 100% replaceable at any organization, at any level
  • Someone is waiting for you to mess up so they can take your place
  • Pressure = Stress = Death

So what?

But with all that considered, who cares? Your own happiness is up to you.

I focus on doing my work and pay little attention to anything else. This is good and bad, too. This is the thing you really must make clear in your mind about where you want to live.

I get tunnel vision. I forget what I’m working for sometimes. Balance is needed everywhere, but especially here. I’ve seen New York go through a lot of people.

Also, there are opportunities at every level. The upward mobility is here. Lateral career moves are here. Who wouldn’t want to do the same job for more money?

I say get as much as experience as you can and leave when you need to. Anywhere else, you’ll get to be “that guy (or gal) from New York (or Chicago or San Francisco or LA or wherever).”

Priorities are always changing.

It’s NOT About the Money

All things being equal, the money evens out. Yes, homes cost more in cities. You make more, too.

For me, it comes down to everything else.

  • What kind of life I want
  • How much house I want
  • What I want my commute to be like
  • If I want to give up work opportunities for other interests

Joni Mitchell said it best:

I’m gonna make a lot of money and then I’m gonna quit this crazy scene.”

I want to enjoy my opportunities a little longer. And then reassess.

Bottom line

So, is living it cities worth it?

Yes, if you prioritize opportunity over everything else.

Not to say there aren’t opportunities in other places. But there are more of them in cities.

And when you’re done prioritizing opportunities and shift into personal interests or a slower pace or bigger home or family, leave. Simple as that.

People I know that live in rural areas are just as busy as I am in New York. Don’t fall into “The Busy Trap.”

It just goes to show you: life is what you make of it.

And life goes on.

What’s your take on living in cities? Is it worth it… or nah? 

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Memphis, traveling, and working toward financial independence.

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  1. Taxes my friend, once you start making real money you’ll understand why those with means are fleeing the north by the millions. I want to move to New York City when I get rich…said no sane person. Young and dumb fill the cities, once people figure out the scam they move to the warm climates.

  2. Living in a city with easy access to airports is a great thing (I live in the DC suburbs.) There’s the convenience of easy access to many things, but I guess if you’re a hermit in the mountains, those things don’t matter.

    I think about moving somewhere more rural, but the benefits of living in a city outweigh the negatives.

  3. Taxes pay for services. We in medium to big cities generally get that and are willing to pay for it. Put another way, if you’re being taxed so much, something is going right for you! We’ve been in DC suburbs for a few years, then moved into the city proper two years ago. Definitely a high entry point even to buy a small condo, but so worth it. We never have to drive, have twenty five independent restaurants within a block of our front door, and a couple hundred more within a five minute subway or taxi ride. And hey, you can always leave the city to get some rural action in…. Backpacking in the mountains is free. The competition thing does kind of suck. You have to admit that you aren’t special or unique… Or you get facial tattoos to remedy those feelings. But it’s good to realize you’re not special!

    Lastly, when you then travel to other world cities, you aren’t blown away by the cost of hotel and food upon arrival. That’s a good feeling… My take on it so far.

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