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4 Big Ways to Stretch Your Dollar in an Expensive (but Inclusive) City

If you grew up in a small town, you may not have been able to live as your authentic self for fear of retribution, or even violence. Some rural communities and small towns might be much less welcoming to queer people than most larger cities. 

This could push you to settle in a big city as an adult so you can live in a more inclusive and welcoming environment where you can grow into the person you’re meant to be.

But big city living comes with a big price tag. Everything, from rent and food to entertainment, costs more in major cities, which can be a huge roadblock — especially true LGBTQ folks, who may also face discrimination in healthcare, education, housing and employment.

Living in a queer-friendly city doesn’t have to bankrupt you, though. Here are some tips to help you succeed in your new home and live within your budget.

1. Look for ways to save

There are many ways to save money and live frugally, even in a pricy city. Here are just a few examples. 

Buy used items 

New clothes can be expensive — and with mass-produced items, you always run the risk of showing up to a party wearing the same outfit as someone else. 

Rather than buying your clothes new, check out your local thrift and consignment stores. You can save a ton of money on your wardrobe and find unique items.

Also look for used furniture, books, exercise equipment and electronics. Scour your area for garage or yard sales or check out peer-selling sites like Letgo, OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace to find deals in your area. 

Pro tip: If you meet a stranger to pick up an item, take a friend with you and choose a public meeting place. You can never tell whether that stranger on the internet is legit or looking to rip you off (or worse).

Spend less on food

Buying food doesn’t have to be expensive; you just might need to plan ahead. Try these tips:

  • Meal-prep when you can so you’re not tempted to grab takeout after a long day. 
  • Consider couponing and rebate apps like Ibotta, Fetch and Dosh to find deals on grocery items you buy frequently. 
  • Buy the generic or store brand of most foods rather than the name brand. It can save you money over time — and it’s usually the same stuff!
  • If you enjoy eating out with friends, make a list of affordable restaurants and suggest those when you’re making plans. Meal swaps and potlucks are also a an alternative, affordable option and a great way to connect with your chosen family in a new city!
  • If you enjoy cooking, look for copycat recipes of your favorite restaurants and make them at home. Invite your friends over to sample your cooking and see how it compares to the real thing.

Look for free entertainment

Even in big cities, there is plenty of free entertainment to be found. Many museums and art galleries operate on donations rather than entry fees, so if you’re looking for something to do but don’t have any extra cash, you can spend an afternoon wandering around and looking at artifacts. 

Most big cities also have plenty of green spaces that are free to use. Consider packing up a picnic lunch and spending the day in the park with friends, people-watching or just chatting.

Look for free social events and meetups through your neighborhood LGBTQ center, especially when you’re new to the city. This is the perfect place to meet people and spend time in the environment you came to the city to discover.

Once you’ve connected, host game nights or movie nights at your apartment for your people. Have everyone bring a snack or drink to share, and you provide the entertainment. It’s not quite the same as going to the movie theater or the club, but you can have plenty of fun at home with the right people.

2. Find affordable housing

Housing is the biggest monthly expense for most people, and the proportion of your expenses it takes up is even greater in big cities. 

Most cities have a wide variety of neighborhoods, each with unique benefits, even if they’re not right downtown. Find neighborhoods with an average rental price that aligns with your budget, and ask the local LGBTQ center for advice on the most queer- and trans-friendly options. 

Start your research before you move to the city. Visit first if you can, and ask locals which neighborhoods they like. You can talk to baristas, cab drivers, friends you have in the city and LGBTQ groups and forums to get an idea of where to base your search. 

Explore the neighborhoods they suggest to make sure they offer the diversity and inclusivity you need. Then hunt for apartments and roommate-matching sites (or find brokers in New York) to see what’s available in your price range. 

Be prepared to compromise on some of your wants in order to find a place that fits your budget.

3. Consider smaller, yet still inclusive, cities

Big cities like New York and San Francisco are wonderful places to live if you’re queer, but the cost of living makes it impossible for many people to live comfortably there. 

Rather than living in an expensive city and worrying about money every month, consider a smaller city with a more affordable cost of living.

Cities like Minneapolis and Denver are welcoming to LGBTQ folks and have a lower cost of living than cities on the east or west coasts. In Minneapolis, check out the Lyn Lake neighborhood, which is known for its queer-owned businesses. Denver’s Capitol Hill and River North Arts District are popular places for queer people.

College towns also tend to be more progressive and LGBTQ-friendly than other cities, even in small towns or rural locations. Even in more conservative states, you can find solace in these towns. 

Check the Campus Pride Index to see which universities are considered the most LGBTQ-friendly in each state, and look at apartments and amenities in that area to see if it’s a good fit for you.

It’s also a good idea to narrow your search to states that rank high in the LGBTQ policy tally — for 2020, only 14 states ranked “high” on the map, while over half rank at “fair,” “low” or “negative.” Big cities in the lower-ranked states still tend to be welcoming for queer people, but state laws are not necessarily supportive of our community.

4. Reach out for help

Sometimes you try everything but still have trouble making ends meet. Luckily, there are several resources that can help you get back on your feet.

  • Food banks: If you’re short on food and don’t have the money to buy more, look into food banks and food pantries in your area. This might not be a resource you need to use regularly, but it can help fill your stomach if you’ve had a bad financial month and need assistance. You can search for local food banks through Feeding America.
  • Rental assistance: If you’re really struggling to find a place to live within your budget, look for rental assistance programs in the area. People who earn less than 50% of the median income in your area may qualify for assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Health care support: Organizations like Point of Pride can help if you’re having a hard time accessing gender-affirming care. Point of Pride helps fund essential care for trans folks so you can access the care and support you need.

Moving to an inclusive city can be an expensive choice, but by doing what you can to save money and live frugally, you can live your authentic life in a welcoming new city without worrying about being judged or discriminated against by the small-minded people from your hometown.

Catherine Hiles (she/her) is a writer, editor, mother, friend and ally. She lives in Ohio with her husband, two kids, and sweet but wild pit bull mix.

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