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I want to move to New York after college graduation. Can I afford it?

After three semesters of online school, I've been in denial, but it's time to face it. I graduate in a month. I wish I could be in college forever (who doesn't?), but it's time to get ready for adulthood. 

And, like most soon to be graduates, I have some big questions to answer. Like:

1. Where will I live?

2. How much will I need to live independently?

3. How will I pay for 1&2?

4. How on earth do I get a job?

I set out to ask experts and friends who have successfully moved to a new city for advice.

Getting started

Since childhood, my dream was to get a job and move to New York. I sadly wasn't able to relocate for my internship at CNBC this past summer because of the pandemic but have focused a lot of my job search efforts in the area. I want to get a plan and do the math so I will be ready when I get my first job out of college.

My job search is focused on digital media and communications, so I did some research. The median salary for a social media associate (an entry-level position) in New York City is $54,000 annually. Wow! After seven years of hourly wages, it's hard to wrap my head around a salary. But, before we get hung up on that first number, there's something to consider: income taxes. You need to shave off about 25-30% of your income to find out how much you really make. In New York state with a salary of $54,000, my after-tax income would be $43,000 for the year.

Amanda's first budget, a four-part series for CNBC's College Voices:
1. Budget:
Here's what college students need to know about making a budget
2. Spending: Three easy ways for college students to cut expenses
3. Saving: Quick tips to help college students start saving money
4. Adulting: I want to move to New York after college graduation. Can I afford it?

Always know your numbers! Being an adult is expensive, especially in the big cities where I'm looking for work (like New York or San Francisco). Be proud of yourself for your grown-up job but remember that your budget is more important now than ever.

Where will I live?

Now that I have my hypothetical job lined up, it's time to figure out some hypothetical housing. Some of the advice I got from New Yorkers was to choose the neighborhood that fits you and your budget best, not what's closest to work, but to try to find something close to public transportation. With that in mind, I decided that if I were lucky enough to get a job in New York, I would search for an apartment in Brooklyn, which is more affordable than living directly in Manhattan.

But, with the rise of remote working, I could be based anywhere in the country! So, I also have the more financially realistic option of living in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and working remotely. 

I knew that it was significantly cheaper to live in Richmond than in Brooklyn, but I wondered just how much. To find out, I used NerdWallet's cost of living calculator to compare the two. You input your current area (in this case, Richmond), where you want to live (Brooklyn), and your pre-tax household income ($54,000). I knew it would be more expensive living in New York City but I didn't realize just how much: The tool told me that the cost of living is 170% higher in Brooklyn than in Richmond. That's nearly triple! And it's not just housing costs, although housing is 300% more expensive in Brooklyn. Transportation, food, entertainment, and health care were all more expensive in New York. To maintain the same quality of living that $54,000 buys in Richmond, I would need $146,000 in Brooklyn.

A morning walk in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood in spring.Hannah Goldstein | CNBC

This isn't unexpected, but it certainly is sobering. Doing more research, I found that there are definitely more affordable options for housing in Brooklyn, you just need to look for them … and be willing to make some sacrifices. But that's the price of following your dreams!

So, here's a quick look at the math: 

  • A one-bedroom in Brooklyn is out of the question.
  • A two-bedroom in Brooklyn costs around $3,000 per month which, if I got a roommate, would be $1,500 per person and within my budget!
  • A one-bedroom in Richmond costs $1,200 per month on average, and I could definitely find something more affordable depending on the location.
  • And, of course, living with my parents is free. 

Living with your parents may not sound like the dreamy way you imagined kicking off your adult life, but it is a financially smart move. Whether you have a job or not, you can save a lot of money. That will be money you can use to fund your move when you do finally move out on your own – or invest it for your future. Of course, not everyone has the option of living at home but if you possibly can – for any length of time – experts highly recommend it. This is one of the most important times of your life to build savings and make smart financial moves.

If I were to live at home, my primary expenses would be from food and transportation costs, and it would allow me to focus on saving for a year before a big move (New York, here I come!).

But, let's say I do get a job in New York and I decide to just go for it and move to Brooklyn. The question is: Can I afford it? 

Budget breakdown

I mapped out a hypothetical budget based on the annual post-tax salary of $43,000 per year. Here's what my budget breakdown would look like, based on 2019 averages for NY from

  • Monthly income: $3,500
  • Rent: $1,500/month
  • Average cost of utilities (phone, cable, gas/electric): $150/month
  • Average cost of groceries: $450/month
  • Savings: $300/month
  • What's left over for spending money: $1,000/month

That ends up being $2,100 per month on necessities, $1,100 per month for discretionary expenses, and $300 per month on savings. To say that doesn't quite match up with the 50/30/20 rule is an understatement. According to the 50/30/20 rule, my budget should look like this:

  • Necessities: $1,800/month
  • Wants: $1,100/month
  • Savings: $700/month

But, as a young professional going through a (hypothetical) major life transition, it's a start. The most important thing is to start saving something, get settled, and increase savings as soon as I can.

Where can I save money? 

But before you decide to hop on the next flight to the big city of your choice, remember: Moving is expensive. There are a lot of moving costs that you might not think of when you're planning for The Future, but they can sure add up. 

Luckily, I know a few "experts" – friends who already made the cross-country move to New York. Here are a few tips they offered to help you keep your moving costs low:

1.       Local groups. Join local Facebook groups a month before you move so you can find free/cheap furniture to have waiting for you when you get there.

2.       Rent a moving truck. If you rent a U-Haul to move, make sure you keep it an extra day to go pick up any furniture you may need, especially if you're moving without a car. If you use professional movers or fly, look into renting a U-Haul van for like $20 a day to do a big day of errands: picking up furniture, a Costco haul, your first grocery shop.

3.       Leave it! Be OK with leaving things behind, especially if you're moving into an apartment. You can always get used furniture and you'll definitely want new (thrifted!) clothing to fit in to your new city. 

4.       Sell it. You can always make some extra money by selling old things to underclassmen or posting in free or for-sale pages.

When it comes to housing, finding an apartment in New York is notoriously competitive, stressful, and expensive. But the pandemic sent a lot of city folks fleeing to the suburbs and that meant deals on city apartments! New graduates like me could benefit from this easier pandemic rental market but this is New York, after all – those deals won't last for long. Especially as vaccinations increase and renters flock back to the city.

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