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These days, I reside in a typical New Jersey suburb in a house with several bedrooms and a backyard. But there was a time when I lived in much smaller quarters — a studio apartment, in fact.

During my 20s, I lived in New York City to be close to work, friends, and activities. And while NYC wasn’t quite as expensive back then as it is now, it still cost a lot of money to call it home.

The studio apartment I rented in NYC cost me over $1,300 a month. Considering that same apartment today would likely cost me around $3,500, that doesn’t seem so bad. But it was a lot of money at the time. (I won’t tell you how long ago my 20s were, but let’s just say it was a while back and call it a day.)

Despite the high cost of rent in NYC and the constant temptation to spend money, I managed to pad my savings account and retirement plan nicely while living there. Here’s how.

1. I spent next to nothing on transportation

While I did spend a lot of money on rent to live in NYC, my transportation costs were negligible. NYC has a subway system that runs constantly. Granted, it doesn’t always run well, but it runs nonetheless.

Because of this, I didn’t have to own a car while living in NYC. That meant avoiding auto loan payments and not having to pay to insure a vehicle.

Not only that, but I used to go weeks at a time without taking the subway. I would commonly walk to and from work, and many of the social plans I made were in my neighborhood so taking public transportation wasn’t even necessary.

All told, I’d say I spent $100 a month or less on transportation while living in NYC, and that includes the occasional subway ride or taxi. That made a huge difference.

2. I minimized my expenses outside of rent

Unless you’re willing to live in an apartment with no kitchen and a shower that doubles as your toilet, you’re going to spend a fair amount of money to rent in NYC. That’s the case now, and it was the case back when I lived there. But one thing I did was keep my non-rent expenses to a minimum.

Rather than pay for internet service, I struck a deal with my neighbor upstairs where I’d get to use his wifi in exchange for the occasional baked item (he actually let me use it for free, but I wanted to repay him in cookie form). I also got the cheapest cable plan possible and did all of my own personal grooming minus haircuts, which I got once a year at most.

Food-wise, I brown-bagged my lunch almost every day instead of buying it at a place close to my office. I also ate out sparingly. And when I did, it was at inexpensive restaurants where the portions were large.

And let’s not forget happy hour. If I didn’t make it in time for discounted drinks, I skipped out on the plans. I also hosted gatherings in my apartment fairly often to save money on restaurants and bars.

3. I put my savings on autopilot

By the time I moved to NYC, I had a pretty solid emergency fund. But I still wanted to add to it.

More so than that, I wanted to make headway on my retirement savings, since I knew I was lacking a bit in that regard.

What I did was set up automatic contributions to my employer’s 401(k) plan so that money would get taken out of my earnings during each pay period. That way, I didn’t have to think about specifically setting money aside in savings form.

I also worked in an industry where bonuses were very generous. I made a point to bank my entire bonus every year. This allowed me to spend down my paychecks — minus my 401(k) contributions — without guilt.

Living in NYC was an expensive prospect when I did it. And unfortunately, it’s gotten even costlier to take up residence there. But if you’re willing to make some compromises, it is possible to live in a pricey city and work toward your financial goals at the same time.

Had I rented a one-bedroom apartment instead of a studio, for example, I would’ve had a much more comfortable home. I also would’ve spent an extra $400 or more per month in rent. Instead, I sent that money into my 401(k). So if living in a large city is something you’re eager to do, run the numbers and see what it will take to maintain the lifestyle you want while continuing to save.

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