How to Survive a Move to the Big City on a Small Budget


When moving to a big city on a small budget, expect to experience pros and cons. After all, large cities typically offer quality educational institutions, established arts and culture scenes, and unique locally owned restaurants. But drawbacks include increasing rent and hefty moving fees.

For these reasons, moving to a new city often feels both exciting and daunting. Despite relocation expenses and a higher cost of living, the right amount of planning ensures an easy transition. Keep reading to learn how to move to a big city on a small budget.

What to Consider When Moving to a Big City

Before considering how to move across the country, research the city you plan to move to. While many large cities offer job opportunities in multiple industries, not every career enjoys a positive job market. Students moving to pursue a college education can look at current job postings to learn more about the availability of their desired career and the average pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics serves as a good resource for industry pay and wages for certain geographical locations.

Also consider housing and moving costs. Prospective students relocating for school usually find student housing, but many schools allow students to live off campus. Some large cities primarily offer apartments, while others feature a large rental home market. Getting a roommate also saves on rent costs.

People preparing for a relocation sometimes overlook moving expenses. Moving van rental companies typically charge per mile, so the further the move, the higher the cost. Additionally, most rentals charge a downpayment.

Tips for Moving

A small budget does not necessarily prevent a positive and successful moving experience. Knowledge and planning make avoiding financial mistakes easy. It just takes budgeting in advance, knowing your method of travel, and finding an affordable moving company. Keep reading for an in-depth look at each of these tips.

Budget in Advance

Creating a budget 1-2 years before a move gives most individuals enough time to save up. A budget helps create a realistic monetary goal to reach. When creating a budget, overestimating often prevents an unexpected financial burden.

A typical budget includes a car rental or airline ticket, a moving trailer or van, a downpayment, and professional movers, if necessary. In some situations, purchasing new furniture in the new city can cost less than paying for a moving trailer or van. Certain moving companies help individuals make cross-country moves, but opting for a Uhaul often saves money.

When creating a budget, call multiple vendors to get quotes. Geographical location also impacts rates. For example, professional movers located in a small town usually charge less than movers located in the big city.

Consider How You Will Get There

People often assume that driving saves money, but sometimes airline travel actually costs less. After all, individuals without a reliable car must rent one, and most professional moving companies or moving trailer rental businesses charge per mile.

Additionally, lengthy road trips require overnight accommodations. However, hiring a car relocating service costs a lot of money, so car owners often save money by driving themselves.

For movers who do not own a lot of possessions, airline travel often proves the cheaper option. Early morning flights tend to cost less, and some airlines offer credit cards that accumulate points for flight credit. Individuals who choose to fly pay extra for overweight luggage.

Train travel presents another affordable option. Amtrak, a leading railroad company in the U.S., operates locations in many large and small cities. Taking an overnight train saves on hotel expenses.

Research Moving Companies or Do It Yourself

Before deciding whether to hire a moving company, compare the costs. Moving large furniture sometimes results in broken pieces or bodily injuries. For movers who own multiple heavy items, a moving company prevents costly mistakes.

Downsizing helps movers save money on moving fees and reduces the number of items that require moving. Additionally, most big-city apartments cannot hold many things, so moving too many items wastes money. Individuals often pay to store their items for temporary moves. Some businesses in larger cities offer furniture rental services, and certain apartments come fully furnished.

After weighing options, research reviews and prices before hiring a moving company. Some moving companies negotiate prices to earn an individual's business.

Ask for Moving Expenses

Individuals moving for a job often negotiate their moving expenses into their contracts, sometimes in the form of a sign-on bonus. Even if a company does not explicitly offer to cover moving expenses upfront, individuals can still make a request. Even without an explicit policy, companies sometimes cover moving expenses for people working in high-need roles or who display high hiring desirability.

When requesting moving expenses, provide an estimate with bids from multiple vendors. Some employers require multiple bids and pay for the lowest bid amount. This payment often takes place in the form of an upfront check or reimbursement.

Similarly, students relocating for school often qualify for privately-funded scholarships that cover moving expenses. Certain loans also help students moving across the country on a small budget.

How to Save Money in a Big City

Living in a big city does not necessarily entail exorbitant costs. Getting a roommate, living in a cheaper area, using public transportation, and getting a second job make living expenses more affordable. Keep reading to learn more about ways to save money in a large city.

Find a Roommate

Finding a reliable roommate to split rent and utilities reduces living expenses. Metropolitan cities hold a reputation for high rent prices, but also attract higher numbers of individuals looking to share costs with a roommate.

People often wait until they move and establish a network before selecting a roommate, or they post on online forums to connect with other individuals looking for a roommate in the same location. As a safe option, consider asking friends and family if they know of anyone looking for a roommate in that location. Before selecting a roommate, ask for references that can speak on behalf of the potential roommate's reliability.

Individuals unable to find a roommate often rent a small studio apartment or rent out rooms inside a home with shared common areas.

Go Outside the Most Popular Areas in the Big City

In any city, certain neighborhoods cost more than others. Apartments and homes further away from the city's main attractions and business districts often cost less. Many up-and-coming neighborhoods offer unique benefits in addition to lower housing costs, like a sense of community, fewer tourists, less traffic, and unique neighborhood businesses.

Before selecting a neighborhood with a significantly lower cost of living, research crime maps to ensure the safety of the area. Many prospective renters or homebuyers also visit the area at night to get a feel for the atmosphere at that time of day.

Moving to a suburb serves as another option. These areas often charge less in rent and sometimes offer affordable homes for purchase. Keep in mind that a longer commute entails higher gas costs, bus fares, or taxi expenses. However, some businesses offer rideshare services for individuals living in the suburbs.

Use Public Transportation

Costs associated with a car in a big city can accumulate quickly. Most apartments charge extra for garage parking, and street parking adds up, as well.

Luckily, many major U.S. cities offer affordable public transportation. For example, Chicago provides trains and buses, and New York City's subway stops in nearly every corner of the city. Purchasing monthly passes costs less than purchasing rides on an as-needed basis in most cases.

Learning how to navigate a large train, bus, or subway system takes time. However, many mobile map apps provide directions using buses and subways. Commuters generally enjoy the safety of public transportation. That said, riders should remain aware of their surroundings and keep a close eye on valuables. Alternatively, many cities offer bike and scooter rentals with multiple drop-off and pickup locations.

Find a Second Stream of Income

Sometimes, living in a dream location or studying at a dream college makes a second job worthwhile. Students can get a part-time job, work-study position, or paid internship to pay for the higher rent and grocery prices. Some students also create their own flexible self-employment positions, such as tutoring business for high school and middle school students.

Many professionals also get a second job. Some individuals choose to get a part-time job that offers a break from their normal day job. For example, some teachers work weekends as baristas. Other people choose to pursue an additional revenue stream that relates directly to their profession, which boosts their resumes while providing additional income. For example, some public relations professionals offer freelance services if their contract allows. Many people turn their hobby, like photography, into a part-time job.

Enjoy Your New City

Do not forget to budget for leisure time in your new city. Residents of many large cities enjoy parks and free museums. Even taking a scenic stroll to look at the architecture with a cup of local coffee makes for a pleasant afternoon. Taking full advantage of the perks of city living makes the higher cost worthwhile. Stay flexible while moving on a small budget. Keep these tips in mind, but remember to take actions that make the most sense for your situation.