Saturday, February 26, 2011

City Living, On the Cheap

The Topic: City Living, On the Cheap by VegNews Associate Publisher Colleen Holland

The Dish: There's a big rumor going around that's time to debunk once and for all: Living in a city is impossibly expensive. Yes, places like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle have some of the highest rents in the world (hello, $2k matchbox, rat-infested studio in NYC), but once you're in, you're golden. That means that if you can make rent each month, there are myriad ways to live cheaply in today's most desirable metropolises. Here's how, without resorting to a diet of boiled beans and rice for the rest of your (urban) life.

1. Eat at Ethnic Eateries. In smaller towns, there is often one token Thai restaurant, one Mexican place, and maybe an Indian eatery. When there's no competition, prices go up, so you end up paying a lot more than you should for a veggie meal. But in the city, competition is fierce, keeping the prices down at some of our favorite veg destinations. Think
Vietnamese sandwiches for $4, veggie burritos and falafels for $5, and Thai lunch specials for $6. And given the ample portion sizes expected in the city, these dishes can easily be spread out over two meals. Lunch and dinner for just $2.50 a pop? I like that.

2. Free Entertainment is Everywhere. Having lived in a city for most of my adult life, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of weekend activities that present themselves every Friday. We're talking multiple concerts, multiple walking tours, multiple lectures, plus hundreds of activities you never even hear about. Included in this lengthy list is lots of free activities. In San Francisco, I love summer concerts at Stern Grove, book signings at my local book shop, and roaming the aisles of our year-round farmers' markets. There are also plenty of museums that are either always free or offer free admission at least once a month.

3. No Need for Gyms. Besides the fact that I can't stand gyms, there really is no need to pay for a fancy gym membership in a large city. Urban parks provide miles of trails for walking, hiking, and bicycle riding; the local Y or high school offers cheap swimming passes; and free yoga classes exist in nearly every city, especially in the summer (don't miss Saturday morning yoga at Chicago's Millennium Park).

4. Huge Library Network. The bigger the city, the often better the library system—which provides absolutely free books and DVDs for your reading/viewing pleasure. Growing up, I loved my small-town library, but that hard-to-find book you just have to have will exist somewhere in the vast network of urban libraries. And with new state-of-the-art of lending systems, you can request and renew books online so to avoid those pesky late fees!

5. Living Car Free. Hands down, being able to ditch the car (and insurance and gasoline and parking and maintenance) is one of my favorite things about living in a city. This amounts to huge cost savings, even with a monthly bus or train pass along with the occasional cab fare and rental car charges. Because public transportation is often good in urban areas, there's just no need to have a car—and you'll get some free exercise while walking or biking to your favorite veg restaurant for that scrumptious lunch special.

The Final Word
: I admit: Rent doesn't come cheap in some of today's hottest veg-friendly cities. But if you're yearning to live
(or better manage your budget) in Seattle, Boston, or New York , and don't know how you're going to swing it, take it from me. It can be done, without sacrificing your quality of life.


  1. I love your positive take on this article! After moving to Los Angeles, its great to hear about something other than all the suffering I'll endure without a car. Go buses! (and libraries).

  2. I'll second that! It's great to read this refreshing approach to the doom and gloom that is so frequently said about big American cities.

    I'm just about to move to LA and I'm determined to do it without a car. The outgoings are just nuts if you own one. We'll see how long I last though :-)

    Anyway, thanks for the advice. I'm saving this page for future reference!

    Ross x