14 Ways to Save Money When You Live in a Big City (It’s Actually Possible!)

General shots of architecture in New York City, New York.
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I know I don’t have to tell you this, city dwellers: Living in a big city is expensive.

I was slapped with that cold reality when I moved to Denver. After living in two relatively rural college towns, I was used to paying a rent I could almost afford; groceries that were, well, normally priced; and a night out with friends that never remotely creeped close to $50.

Then there were those times I visited New York City and San Francisco for long weekends… Don’t get me started.

Anyway, kudos for making it work — but I know it’s got to get difficult sometimes. That’s why we put together a list of ways to save money when you live in a big city.

1. Save Money on Any Debt You’ve Already Accumulated  

Credit cards
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Moving in general is expensive, but moving to a big city and adjusting to that new cost of living is difficult.

If you accumulate any credit card debt in the process that’s still lingering, consider refinancing or consolidating it to find better interest rates.

A good resource is Fiona, a search engine for financial services, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. If your credit score is at least 620, its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

2. Claim Cash Back on Drinks and Takeout Orders

Man eating a burger
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Life tends to be a bit more stressful in the big city, and it’s important to take time to unwind. Whether you prefer to do that with alcohol or takeout, claim cash back.

Traditionally, Ibotta is known for its cash-back offers on groceries, but it’s also available for restaurants, bars and food-delivery services.

For example, we’ve seen deals for:

  • 10% cash back for new DoorDash users.
  • $5 back on two bottles of Stella Artois.
  • $2 back on a glass of Cupcake Wine.

Just download the app for free, then select “Find Offers.” When you claim your first cash-back offer, you’ll pocket a $10 bonus.

3. Ease the Pain of Those Higher Car Insurance Rates

City view
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The good news is big cities typically have public transit systems, so sometimes you can get away with selling your car and living that car-free life.

If you still need your car, though, you’ll probably face higher car insurance rates.

Here are three options to help alleviate the pain associated with those high costs:

  • First, find a pay-per-mile insurance policy. If you live in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia or Washington and drive less than 200 miles a week, consider getting insurance through MetroMile, a company that lets you pay for insurance by the mile. I you only drive 5,000 miles per year, you could save $500, according to MetroMile’s calculations. Find out if it could help you save by snagging a free quote.
  • If you still drive quite a bit, take a few minutes to compare rates from other providers. A service called Gabi will do it for you, and you don’t even have to fill out any forms. Simply link your insurance account and provide your driver’s license number, and Gabi will go to work. Gabi says it finds an average savings of $720 per year for its customers.
  • Help offset big-city costs by renting your car out when you’re not using it. With the Getaround app, you can safely rent out your car to people in your community and neighborhood. The company insures your car for each trip, offers 24/7 roadside assistance and screens drivers for a safe driving record.

4. Count Your Many Steps and Turn ’Em Into Cash

Man walking up stairs
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Whether you walk to work or take public transit, you tend to spend more time on your feet in big cities.

Go ahead and reward your barking feet with the Achievement app.

Achievement connects to your phone’s health apps and runs in the background, so it works passively. Many users report being happily surprised when logging on and checking their progress.

Once you earn 10,000 points, you’ll score $10, which you can deposit directly into your bank account.

Pro tip: Achievement connects to more than 30 Android and iOS health-related apps, including MyFitnessPal and Garmin. The more apps you connect, the more earning opportunities.

5. Negotiate Your Monthly Bills (or Have This Bot Do It)

A woman looking at her bills
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

A great money-saving tactic when living in a big city is to negotiate your bills. Some may be more difficult to negotiate than others (you can even try negotiating your rent), but we suggest starting simply with a free negotiation tool.

Download TrueBill, an app that’ll negotiate your bills, cancel unwanted subscriptions and refund your bank fees.

After downloading the app, create an account and link your bank account and/or credit cards. Turn on the bill negotiation and outage protection features. Boom. TrueBill is already searching for potential refunds — it might get you a refund even when you didn’t know an outage occurred.

On average, Truebill says it helps customers save more than $700 a year by lowering their bills, canceling necessary subscriptions and getting refunds.

Signing up and using the service is free, though there are some paid premium services that are totally optional — but could totally be worth it.

6. Set up Your Big-City Budget

Woman budgeting
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If money’s tighter than you’d like, it’s important to keep a budget.

Budgeting can be a little scary, but it doesn’t have to be. The first step is to find out how you’re doing now. Luckily, you can have a financial assistant right in your pocket to help you out.

The Empower app is a powerful budgeting tool that can help you figure out how you’re spending your money and develop a budgeting plan to keep you on track.

Link the app to your bank accounts, and it will track your spending. It will also categorize your spending so you can see exactly where you are overdoing it. That’s right: It will show you just how many times you went out for dinner because you didn’t want to do the dishes.

Set a monthly spending limit and the app will show you a graph that can tell you in one snapshot just how you’re doing for the month. Are you over the line or under it? It’s that simple to see how you’re doing so you can adjust your spending accordingly.

7. Declutter Your Space — and Earn Some Extra Cash

Cds and speakers
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Affordable apartments tend to be small, so if you’re feeling a bit cluttered in your space, clean stuff out.

You can sell virtually anything on Letgo. This easy-to-use app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes a lot of the hassle of selling things online, and it’s 100% free to use.

If you’ve got old technology lingering (think: phones, CDs, DVDs or video games), download the Decluttr app, and start scanning the barcodes on your media to get immediate quotes. It’s completely free to use, you won’t pay listing or seller fees, payment is super fast and even shipping is free.

Plus, enter FREE5 at checkout to get an extra $5 for your trade-in order!

8. Entertain Yourself on Your Commute (and Win Cash)

Woman traveling
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While you’re swiping around on your phone and wasting time on your commute, go ahead and download the Lucky Day app

You could win up to $10,000 playing digital scratch-off tickets or even a whopping $100,000 in the daily lotto. You’ll also have a lot of chances to win gift cards to cool places like Amazon, Walmart, Dunkin and Target.

It’s all free to play, with no in-app purchases. The company has already awarded more than $3 million in prizes to winners since 2014.

Try to resist an embarrassing happy dance on the subway if you win money.

9. Create an In-Case-of-Emergency Fund Without Thinking

Man counting money
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When you have to spend a lot of money just to get by day to day, the task of saving money will easily fall to the wayside.

Don’t let that happen. Digit allows you to save money without even noticing.

This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Bonus: Penny Hoarders will get an extra $5 just for signing up! Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

10. Protect Your Abode and Belongings With Affordable Insurance

Street view of city
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If you’re renting, you know some cities and states require renters insurance. It might seem like a pain at the time, but it can really save you in the long run.

For example, when my boyfriend lived in Denver, a hail storm hit and destroyed his complex’s roof, causing water to flood into his apartment. After his deductible, his renters insurance paid for him to move into a hotel near his workplace for about three months. If any of his items had been damaged, it would have covered those expenses, too.

If you don’t yet have renters insurance — or want to shop around for a better rate — start by getting a free quote. We recommend the online insurance company Lemonade, through which renters insurance starts at $5 a month.

Beyond affordable rates, Lemonade adds a layer of transparency you don’t often see in the insurance world. Instead of profiting extra when it doesn’t have to pay out claims, the company keeps a set 20% of your premium for itself, and 80% goes into a pool for paying claims. Money left over after paying claims each year goes to a cause of your choice.

That also means Lemonade isn’t going to be super stingy about granting customers the claims they deserve — ’cause the money isn’t going into its pockets.

Lemonade is available in Arizona, California, Connecticut Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

11. Find a Side Gig (Opportunities Abound)

Dog and money
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Big cities are basically playgrounds for side gigs. If you’re struggling to make rent or are racking up credit card debt, consider increasing your income, even if only temporarily.

Here are some of our favorite side-gig options for folks in the big city:

  • It’s no secret big cities attract more tourists, and that’s good news for you. If you have a spare room, try earning some extra money by listing it on Airbnb. If you’re a good host with a desirable space, you could add hundreds — even thousands — of dollars to your savings account with Airbnb.
  • If you’re looking for a flexible, independent way to earn money — and you love hanging out with dogs — Rover might be your perfect gig. The online network connects dog walkers and sitters to local dog owners through its 4.9-star-rated app, so you don’t have to staple flyers on every utility pole across town. Rover says sitters can earn as much as $1,000 a month.
  • Need a fun, flexible way to earn money while also meeting lots of new people? Try driving with Lyft. To be eligible, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old with a year of driving experience, pass a background check and own a car made in 2007 or later.

Right now, Lyft is offering a $300 sign-on bonus to new drivers when you use code EXTRA300.

Here’s what you need to qualify:

  • You must be approved to drive within 30 days of your application start date.
  • Once you’re in, just complete 100 rides within your first 30 days of being a Lyft driver.

And just like that, the bonus cash is yours. Easy, right?

12. Call it Quits With Your Expensive Cell Phone Provider

Woman talking on phone
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If you’re sick of of paying your cell phone carrier hundreds of dollars each month, look beyond the so-called Big Four and into the discount carrier Twigby.

That’s what Zak Wilson did. He’d been paying Verizon Wireless about $180 a month for two lines. So he tried Twigby. For both phones, he’s now paying $60 a month.

Plus, new customers get 25% off the first six months of service.

Pro tip: Big cities mean big Wi-Fi opportunities. Whenever you can, tap into free Wi-Fi to save on data.

13. Don’t Let Laundry and Dry Cleaning Shrink Your Budget

Cat helping with laundry
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Laundry’s a big expensive chore in big cities. And dry cleaning? Don’t even get us started…

You’ve probably already invested in that magical Febreze Fabric Refresher spray (if you haven’t, just trust us), but now it’s time to tackle the costs of dry cleaning.

For some fabrics, it’s totally necessary. But for others (even if the tag says dry-cleaning only), it’s not.

Dive into your guide to saving money on dry cleaning. It just might change your life (or at least your budget).

14. Find Fun (and Free!) Weekend Activities

Man hiking
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All right. We’ve addressed all your big recurring bills, but you’ve got to have some fun, too. After all, you live in a city where there’s tons to do and explore.

Look into your neighborhood’s farmers market, check out free museum passes from your local library, take a hike (genuinely), plan a picnic or window-shop.

Get some inspiration from our list of free things to do in Orlando.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.