I Tried It: Living in NYC on $10 a Day

August 1, 2016

SJP has one version of NYC…the rest of us have another

I’ve been thinking a lot about my spending lately for various reasons. Also about Gwyneth Paltrow (her cookbook + goop is offering me lots of recipes for a gut detox I’m in the middle of). In that spirit, I decided to channel her much talked-about challenge to buy her family’s groceries on $29 worth of food stamps for a week. Because I don’t have all the awesomeness, or the infinitely long, shiny legs of GP, I attempted something maybe slightly easier: living in NYC for just $10 a day, including all out-of-pocket expenses (not just food).

Of course, living in NYC for $10 a day wouldn’t be a total breeze. The cost of living in this notoriously expensive city is estimated to be 68% higher than the national average–and we’re not just talking rent! Clothing, food, and entertainment are all marked up. During this challenge, I’d also need to resist the shopping habits associated with my generation. After all, millennials are more likely to make impulse buys than older generations; meanwhile, 70% of millennial women view shopping as a form of entertainment.

My budget challenge didn’t include the basics of my yearly spending like rent and utilities, which I factor into my real budget as a given month-to-month. So my real challenge was in limiting extraneous purchases to make those necessities feel even more in the background than they already are, or should be.

Here’s the breakdown of my spending:

  • I had luckily just stocked my refrigerator with a fresh CSA delivery of produce, which I get every 2 weeks. The weekly cost of the delivery is $15.00 over the course of the season.

Day 1: Despite my full crisper, I couldn’t resist a super deal on strawberries and blueberries at one of the many fruit stands I pass on my way to work. I resisted bananas, though, for while many smoothies were on the menu for the week I knew I had some in the freezer waiting to be blended away.


Day 2: A lunch break spent browsing online for things I “needed” landed me at the Groupon checkout page, with a deal for my favorite local natural food store. It was an unexpected spend, but when I made my way home that night with a bag full of good-for-me goodies–vitamins, oats, some natural body oils, and a fresh stock of Yogi teas–I thought it worthwhile. The internet definitely led me astray during that initial shopping trip, and my need for a new sports bra (encouragement for a new running routine–gotta look good when you sweat!) was making my clicking finger twitch a bit when I found this lovely option. To sale or not to sale? Ack! I was in turmoil, but thankfully that little thing called work started up again, and I had to turn back to my mounting Inbox before I could press “buy.” I still need a bra, but I suppose not today…


Day 3: Again, those fruit guys got me! But this time, it was for my weekly treat of apples at the farmer’s market. Who can resist a fresh, organic Mutsu, dripping in dew?

green apples


Day 4: I haven’t seen one my friends from yoga teacher training in a few weeks, so we made a date to take class together and get a bite to eat afterward. We went back and forth between two nearby cafes with similar menus, one decidedly more pricey. We were all sent to go with the latter, despite my inner budgetista say NO NO NO, but my wallet’s fairy godmother stepped in and closed the restaurant before we got out of class (okay, maybe that was just their normal hours that we’d failed to check prior, but I like to think I have much more influence over the universe…) My sensitive gut appreciated the delicious kale and zucchini soup I ordered, and I wish I could have ordered a side of falafel to give it some more bulk (this place has particularly good falafel, and our class had been particularly hard–and sweaty). And though I could have made the same thing at home it would have been missing the most important, delicious ingredient: companionship.


Day 5: Stuck in the apartment working all day, improvising with the contents of my fridge when eating time came. Oh, how I longed to escape the heat at a café with a tall iced coffee (or even a hot one!). That might have been a warranted indulgence, and may have helped the day go a little faster, but ultimately I felt productive and accomplished for this beauteous balance of


Total: $62.00/5 days=$12.40/day

It’s clear where I could have saved in this experiment, but overall I’d say I did pretty well! What’s also clear to me, though, is that I have a pretty iron will when it comes to “fun” purchases. It’s easy for me to say no to myself–after reading Gretchen Rubin‘s book, I know that I’m an upholder and abstainer–for something I don’t need for living (i.e., food–I bet you noticed a trend in these expenses, too), and yet is that really living? Perhaps not. After examining my spending habits more closely, I can’t say I can or want to spend more money, but I can try to shift things around to allow for more splurges or things that will just make me feel good about myself without “need” attached.  In the end, then, I might need more psychological and emotional budgeting tips than financial ones! Harder to quantify in dollars and cents and red and black numbers, but as they say, it’s about quality over quantity.

What would your city’s budget allow you to buy? 

Also by Jennifer: Spend v. Save: A NYC Book Editor’s Vegan Budget

Related: Spend v. Save: Pilates Instructor and Fitness Editor

What Happened When I Decided to Live on Less Money

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Photos: Sarah Jessica Parker via Instagram; Daniela via Unsplash

Features Editor Jennifer Kurdyla is a New York City girl with Jersey roots and a propensity for getting lost in the urban jungle. An experienced publishing professional, yoga instructor, home chef, sometimes-runner, and writer, she adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in 2008 and became vegan in 2013. She has written for The Harvard Review Online, The Rumpus, and Music & Literature and maintains a wellness-based website, Be Nourished, which features original writing and recipes. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @jenniferkurdyla, Twitter @jenniferkurdyla, and Pinterest.


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