Five things that are (probably) cheaper in the city than in your hometown
Fresh Produce: This may seem a little counter-intuitive. However, between the fruit and vegetable vendors that are all over town and the farmer's markets that many cities host, there are plenty of places to get good deals on produce. In New York, a key spot to visit is the Farmer's market in Union Square. Every weekend, farmers, cheesemakers, and bakers from across New York and New Jersey travel to the city to sell their wares. The prices are sometimes a bit steep, but no more than you could expect to pay in a suburban supermarket. Best of all, when you're done shopping, you can wander around all the artists' stalls. If you don't want to be bothered with Farmer's markets, there are always the fruit and vegetable stalls. These guys are all over the place. Some are attached to corner convenience stores or bodegas, but many are free-standing carts situated at major intersections and public areas. The key to shopping at stalls lies in finding a reputable vendor and making sure that he recognizes you. To do this, look over the available vendors carefully. If they try to hard-sell you, or won't let you inspect the goods, run like hell. Once you've found your guy, visit him during his slow hours. Ask his name. Comment on his shoes. Start a conversation. What you want to do is make sure he remembers you next time. After you've established a rapport, ask him for any specials, and let him pick your fruit for you. If he gives you a cruddy orange, be sure to complain. Doing this will indicate that you intend to continue the relationship, and will encourage him to keep your business.Child Care: I know it's hard to believe, but you will probably pay less for child care in the city. First off, there is probably a lot more competition for your business. Second, as many cities (including New York) post their licensing reviews online, there is little question about what you are paying for. In Southwest Virginia, daycare would have cost us around $650 a month, assuming we could have gotten our daughter into a decent program. In return for this princely sum, she would have spent the day with 20 other children, picking up bad habits and colds. In New York, we're paying $600, there are six other kids in her daycare, and she's learning Spanish. And, to be honest, we didn't really shop around all that much.
Transportation: Okay, let's get one thing straight-in most cities, it's pretty easy to get around without a car. This is particularly true of New York, which has an extensive, if incomprehensible, subway system. In fact, if you have a car, you are probably spending most of your driving time in search of a good parking space. This, of course, is assuming that you're not paying out the nose for a parking area. On those rare occasions that you take the car out for a spin, you're probably going to the suburbs to visit TJ Maxx or Trader Joe's. Get real! If Mayor Bloomberg can ride the subway, so can you. In New York, it only costs $76 a month for an unlimited pass, which is about a sixth of what we paid for gas, car payments, insurance, and incidentals in Southwest Virginia.
Eating Out: Of course, if you're planning to hang at Le Cirque, all bets are off. However, once you get out of the pricy midtown/uptown areas, you'll find that good food is all over the place, and it usually doesn't cost much more than McDonalds. In my neighborhood, for example, there's a Vietnamese place that charges $6 or less for all entrees. If I walk in the other direction, there's a Peruvian place where everything costs roughly $10. This, of course, is discounting the food carts, delis, bakeries, and cafeterias that constantly tempt me. Even if you absolutely refuse to cook a thing, you should still be able to eat like a king for around $15 a day.
Entertainment: We all know that movies are much more expensive in the big city. And, for that matter, so is live theater ($450 a seat for Young Frankenstein?!?), but if your idea of entertainment extends beyond Ticketmaster, cities are usually treasure troves of fun things to see and do. Go on an architectural tour of a neighborhood. Check out an open-air market. See where a movie was filmed. Visit a graveyard. One of the nice things about cities is that, as they are huge agglomerations of people, they tend to accumulate vast amounts of cool stuff to see and do. Best of all, a surprisingly large amount of it is free. On a side note, if you live in New York, check out Music Under the City. It is a music program, hosted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, that organizes the more skilled subway musicians. If you go to their website, you will find listings of who's playing, where, and at what times. Then, for the cost of a subway pass ($2), you can go and listen. The music ranges from classical violin to a lady who plays the saw and all points in between.
So there you are. Cities are not cheap, by any means, and the transition from the suburbs or the country can be tough, but urban living probably doesn't cost as much as you imagine, and the benefits are pretty considerable. Besides, where else can you get a knish on the street for only a couple of bucks?