5 Ways to Take Advantage of Living in Boston (or Other Big Cities) Without Going Broke

Let’s face it: living in Boston comes at a price.

While I love this city and am happy to both live here and base my business out of my downtown office (even though I can meet with clients around the country via virtual video calls), there’s no avoiding the fact that Boston is one pricey city.

But that doesn’t mean it has to eat away at all the available cash in your budget.

I believe in creating balance with your money. That includes living well today while saving responsibly for tomorrow, and the idea of balance applies here as well.

While I think you can enjoy living in Boston without busting your budget, I don’t think you have to go to extremes to do it. If you’d like to save a little more and spend a little less — without going to insane lengths to get there — try some of the following tips we’ve picked up over the years.

They’ll help you take full advantage of the city while creating that balance between spending wisely and saving enough to create the life you want to enjoy in the future, too.

1. Get on the List

The easiest way you can keep yourself busy without spending much, if any money at all? Sign up for newsletters and email lists from local brands, businesses, and institutions.

This is how we find out about a lot of things going on around the city that we can enjoy without spending anything to attend or take advantage.

Some of the lists we like include:

We also follow our favorite retailers, stores, brands on social media, which is another way to get notified when they have deals or freebies to enjoy.

In addition to email lists, check out local Facebook groups, too. A lot of people will promote or share about the events they’re hosting, part of, or helping to increase attendance for in community groups, so it’s an easy way to come across deals, discounts, and chances to get out without spending a ton.

2. Join Loyalty and Rewards Programs

While it can be overwhelming to keep a lot of apps on your phone or cards in your wallet, doing so can (literally) pay off in the form of freebies that allow you to enjoy a little extra something from your favorite shops and cafes without spending a dime.

This is one of our favorite, fast, simple ways to cut back on our spending. We identify the places we already enjoy shopping or eating at, and then make sure that we sign up for a loyalty or rewards program if they have one.

Here’s what we’ve been able to enjoy recently, simply because we joined a store’s program:

  • A free bagel every day this month, from Panera (not that anyone needs to eat a bagel a day — but we have swung by a few times this month, picked up our freebie, and then stuck it in the fridge at home. Those bagels are going to make some delicious homemade breakfast sandwiches one weekend).
  • Free coffees from places like Render and Jaho (and Render is really great for frequently sending out $1 and $2-off coupons to use).
  • A free burger from B.Good (which is another app that frequently sends out BOGO deals).

Obviously, none of these little things by itself makes a meaningful impact on our budget. And frankly, if one of us is dying for a coffee, we’ll go out and grab a coffee.

But our habit is to wait until we receive some sort of freebie or coupon before we buy these items out. That’s the underlying thing here that can give this little tip more power.

The trigger we use for these kinds of small (but usually impulsive) purchases is different. Instead of mindlessly buying lunch out every day, for example, our habit is to make meals at home — and then when an offer comes our way, we’ll use it.

Same with things like coffee. Our habit and our go-to is to make it at home. When we get a free coupon or a cafe sends us a coupon for a dollar or two off, that’s when we’ll go out and enjoy.

In other words, we wait for deals. Other ways to do this include signing up for and making use of sites like Gilt City or Groupon.

The trick is to know what you’d enjoy and then purchase the deal if it comes up. Don’t browse the site looking for things to buy! That defeats the purpose. You’re not saving anything if you buy something you didn’t plan for or need.

None of this is revolutionary, but that’s kind of the point. It doesn’t need to be; it’s just a simple way to cut back in some spending areas.

When you spend $20 on coffee per month instead of $100, you give yourself more wiggle room to either A. spend on something more important or B. bank a little extra cash.

Same goes for being patient and waiting for deals, rather than giving into instant gratification and buying stuff the moment you think you want it.

3. Identify What You Value — Then Recreate It for a Lower Cost

As you might start to notice, saving money while living in Boston — or living in any city without busting your budget — isn’t necessarily about cutting things out completely, or missing out.

It’s about taking what could be a super expensive outing or experience, and swapping it for something that doesn’t cost as much.

This is easy to do when you can identify what you value about a specific thing you like to do. I’ll use me and my wife as an example.

One thing we love to do is go out into the city for dinner. If we each get a drink and order an entree and leave a 20% tip, that dinner out easily becomes $60 to $80 in Boston. For one dinner.

Multiply that by 4 times per month, or even 8 times per month, and that’s a significant amount of money.

Don’t get me wrong: we love going out to eat, and we always enjoy the experience — but we also don’t feel like it’s worth that much money every single time.

When we consider what we value about the experience, here’s what comes up:

  • We like being out and about
  • We like being social
  • We like trying new things
  • We like having something to do that gets us out of the house (especially after a long day at the office)

What we value from this can easily be recreated elsewhere for a much lower cost (or no cost at all). Here’s what we can do instead of hanging out at one of Boston’s countless pricey restaurants:

  • Invite friends over to our place for drinks
  • Cook something new together
  • Go for a long walk and pop into wine shops that do free tastings along the way

We don’t do this every time we want to go out to eat — but often, we’ll choose to do one of these less-expensive or free things instead. That gives us the ability to go pretty much anywhere we want in Boston when we do choose to dine out, and we can order what we want, too.

That’s just one example, based on something we enjoy. Here’s another that my wife, Kali, started to do earlier this year:

She loves browsing bookstores and stocking up on new titles to read. But we own a lot — a lot — of books. So recently, she made a simple switch: she still browses bookstores, but notes the titles she wants to buy and then borrows them from the library instead.

Because we live in Boston and it’s a big city, resources like the library are excellent and high-quality, and she can almost always find exactly what she wants to read to check out — even cookbooks, which she now will research at the library before deciding to buy herself.

Super simple, super easy, totally free.

And again, that doesn’t mean we never buy books. But it does mean we buy them less, and therefore spend less overall.

That creates more wiggle room for other things we do want to purchase, or it makes it easier to stick a little extra in savings.

Look at the things you like to do in the city — and ask yourself, what about that thing do I really enjoy? Can I get that same enjoyment and value from something that costs less or is free?

The answer won’t always be, “yes, I sure can.” And that’s okay. But when the option is available to you to make a money-saving swap… go for it!

4. Network and Get to Know People

In a city like Boston, there is always something going on. It’s just a matter of A. knowing about it, and B. knowing someone who can get you in.

This isn’t some high-society thing. Often, brands and companies (and sometimes the city of Boston itself) host events or entertainment and they want to have people attend, so they spread the word.

But if you don’t bother to be actively reaching out and in contact with folks, you may miss out on hearing about these things.

In other words, network. Create new connections, try to meet new people, get involved with groups and communities, volunteer for organizations — the more people you know, the more likely it is that you’ll hear about free and fun events, goings-on, and parties you can attend.

Using Kali’s example again, she writes for a site called Just Us Gals, which is a community organization that hosts events and creates content for 20- and 30-something professional women in Boston. She writes for their blog for free, and in exchange, she often gets invites to events around the city that we otherwise would never know about (let alone get an RSVP for).

You can do the same: volunteer or help out with a local group or brand, or get involved in an organization that allows you to be more engaged with your city. While we’ve found out about a ton of events through the newsletters and email lists we subscribe to, we’ve found out about even more through friends, connections, and acquaintances.

There’s usually something going on that we can attend, which helps us stay entertained without spending a ton of money to do it — but there’s a lot we wouldn’t necessarily know about if we didn’t stay in touch with colleagues, friends, and people we’re connected to who told us about the event or sent us an invite.

5. Leverage What Boston Has to Offer

The items on this list above are more like strategies that anyone, anywhere can use to spend less and free up more cash to save. If you’re local to Boston, however, I also wanted to share a few specific things that you can leverage to take advantage of our city a little more:

Get your produce from Haymarket.

We recently switched from shopping at Whole Foods to getting produce at Haymarket on Fridays and Saturdays, and going to Market Basket to get staples and pantry items — and it’s saved us A LOT.

We did a price comparison, and found the produce we spent $12 for at Haymarket would have cost over $40 at Whole Foods!That’s money we save each and every week.

Use Gametime to save on Boston sports.

This is a big one for us. We love going to Bruins games — but no sporting event in the City of Champions comes cheap! Gametime is an awesome app that allows you to buy tickets from sellers directly from your phone… and the trick is to wait until 5 minutes before the game starts, or even wait until after the official start time. If someone can’t go to the game but has the tickets, prices will often drop extremely low.

Get more than just books from the Boston Public Library.

We got this tip from Boston Blogger Alexis Fallon Kozmor of South End Style. “If you get a library card, which is free from any branch, you can reserve complimentary tickets to museums all around Boston,” Alexis shared. “It’s a great way to explore the city and to ‘treat’ your visitors without spending any money.”

Take advantage of free museums, too!

In addition to getting passes from the library, Boston does a series in the summer where a different set of museums offers free admission on Fridays.

The ICA offers free admission every Thursday evening, as well — and we learned from local blogger Victoria Trogani that the MFA offers free admission during the last hour of it’s operating hours. “If you want to check out a particular installation or exhibit, that’s a great time to go — it’s not only free, but also, it’s usually less crowded,” Victoria says.

If you want to enjoy an attraction (or take out of town visitors to the touristy stuff), check local discount lists first.

We usually try to avoid the tourists crowds in Boston, but that doesn’t mean we never take a Duck Boat ride (when our nieces are in town) or point visiting friends and family members to interesting tours around the city.

When you plan for something like that, check the comprehensive lists of discounted attractions on blogs like Boston on Budget first. No point in paying full price if you don’t have to do so.

Our Best Trick to Living in Boston Without Breaking the Budget

Ultimately, I think a lot of these tips circle back to one basic habit that we’ve developed since living in the city: before we make a purchase or buy anything, we tend to ask, “do I need to spend money right now?”

Sometimes, the answer is no: there are coupons to use, free events to check out, discounted activities to enjoy. As often as we can, we’ll go for the option that we can enjoy for free.

But sometimes, the answer is yes. The thing we want or the thing we want to do costs money — and not doing the thing means missing out on enjoying life today.

In that case, we might ask a follow-up question to see if there’s a lower-cost option to get the same or a similar experience for less.

And other times we don’t worry about it at all. We spend freely and relax — because, again, this isn’t about doing anything crazy or going to extremes to cut back on costs.

It’s about creating balance and making mindful choices. You can enjoy living in Boston without going broke if you simply choose to pay attention to your money and your options.

Staying aware means being proactive, instead of just reacting to what’s happening around you. It gives you more power and control over how your money gets used — and it leaves it up to you to use it wisely and well to get more of what really matters to you.

Want More Advice That Goes Against the Usual Grain?

Get real-life context for practical money rules and the theory of financial advice when you subscribe and tune into Beyond Finances, the podcast from Beyond Your Hammock.

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