Nine years ago I took a leap of faith and moved from Atlanta to New York City. I had nothing but a few contacts in the city, $300 to my name, and one suitcase. Funny, right? It’s one of my favorite cocktail party stories. But the move was one out of desperation, and definitely not an easy one, so in 2015 I put together the guide below on how to move with no money….to any new city and it’s been one of the most popular on the blog ever since.
Even though I was broke at the start, taking a risk and moving to a new place ultimately helped me to land in a much stronger financial situation. Not to mention that it changed my life for the better and made me richer in emotional ways I could never have fathomed.
Moving to a new city with zero funds can be done. For those in a similar situation (broke, dissatisfied with your current job, in need of a change) and looking for a way out, the steps below are ones I took to successfully land in a new place with an income, friends, and an apartment.
How I Ended Up Broke, Unemployed, And In Need Of A Change
Flash back 13 (!!!!!) years ago to the Summer of 2010 (see photo, above. I was TWENTY-THREE. Holy f*ck time flies) It was my first post-college summer and I’d spent it singing and dancing in a country music show at a well-known American theme park. At the time, I was able to make a full-time living and support myself by being an actor, and was HIGH on the fact I was living out my dream and putting my theatre degree to use.
I Was Unable To Get Another Job In Atlanta, So I Had To Move Back Into My Parent's House Because I Couldn’t Make Rent Where I Was Living.
Back at home and on unemployment, I remember getting $122.00 each week in unemployment checks. This was 2010 (the middle of the 2008 recession) and after about 2 and a half months of being unable to find work, I called my best friend Jackie to cry to a listening ear.
She’d just taken her internship full-time and was living the glamorous life in NYC.
“Why don’t you just move to New York? There are tons of jobs here.” She suggested.
Addicted to Sex and the City re-runs, moving to New York was something I’d dreamed about doing my entire life. Being an actor, I knew I’d move there eventually, but every time I thought about actually doing it, I always had an excuse.
Sometimes the excuses were really good, and sometimes they weren’t.
I Was In A Bad Way That Summer: Chronically Unemployed, with No Money, And With It Being The Middle Of The 2008 Recession, No End In Site.
Why can’t I move to New York? I thought. I mean, it wasn’t like I had anything to lose.
So, I hung up the phone and my mind began to race. The only thing holding me back was money and fear of the unknown.
With zero to lose, I began to formulate my plan for how I’d get to New York City…with zero in savings.
How to Move to New York with No Money
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The following post details how I moved to New York City in 2010 with $300 and a suitcase. It's still one of the most popular stories on this blog. The steps can be used to move to any state at any time. Starting over is, after all, either a timeless coming-of-age tradition or an unfortunate circumstance. I do feel like the size of New York City and how many people seem to gravitate there lends itself to being an easier place to move and make a life — despite the expense, but again, these tips can work for anyone, no matter where they are trying to move.
How to Move Out with No Money
Prepare for the Move
As I prepared to move to New York I thought long and hard about what it was going to take to make a new life in a new place…with no money.
I knew I’d that in order to stay in the city, I’d have to get a job right away. Within my first two weeks of moving to New York, I had a job offer.
When I moved, I wrote a new resume I thought would be perfect for the type of admin role I was looking for. I’d spent years in high school and college answering phones and filing at Doctor’s offices.
NYC was rife with temp agencies looking for qualified new candidates for both short and long-term assignments.
I browsed mainly on Craiglist for listings (I know Craigslist isn't the way of things now in 2023, but catch my drift. Find a job site, and spam them with your resume.) I started by sending my resume off one week before I left.
Many replied to me that same day and wanted to meet before I arrived, but I was able to schedule appointments for the next week without making it look like I wasn’t an actual resident.
I Had Three Screening Interviews With Agencies On My First Full Day In New York Thanks To Me Scheduling Things Out.
It felt great to get up in a new city and have a place to be. I was sent my first “temp” assignment a week after.
Probably the most important “trick” I used when moving to a new city with no job was putting an NYC address on my resume. I used one of my friend's addresses (Yes, I got their permission first.) Whenever someone asked me during an interview how long I’d been in NYC I usually said I’d just moved a few weeks ago and was excited to start looking for work in the city.
Save your pennies
Create a Moving Budget
Creating a budget is the first step when you are moving with no money. It will help you plan, track and manage your expenses. A well-defined budget ensures that you don't overspend or take on too much debt.
To create a moving budget, start by writing down all of the expenses associated with your move.
- Transportation costs for you and your stuff
- Housing costs (rent, security deposit, pet deposit, etc)
- New furniture (tips for saving on furniture below!)
- Storage fees
- Packing materials
- Pet boarding if you have any pets
Once you have listed all of your expenses, calculate the total cost. This will give you an idea of how much money you need to save in order to complete your move.
Create a timeline for when you need to save your money. Consider setting up a budgeting plan to help you reach your goal. This might include cutting back on certain expenses and allocating more money to your relocation fund.
Research Towns and Cities with Low Cost of Living
I moved to NYC which is notoriously expensive. You’ll save money if you research towns and cities that have a lower cost of living. This can include looking up information on the local job market, rent prices, and other costs associated with living in that area.
For example, you can use websites such as Numbeo and Sperling's Best Places to compare living costs between cities. Additionally, look into the local housing market to find a place that fits within your budget.
Be sure to research the amenities that come with living in the area. For example, you can look into the availability of public transportation, access to healthcare services, and community resources that could help you get settled in the area. Having a good understanding of what the area has to offer can help you make an informed decision about where to move.
Make the Move
In order to actually make the move, I bartered with my Mom, who agreed to buy my plane ticket to New York in exchange for me organizing the garage.
I made a plan of when I wanted to fly up (I still remember the exact date!) – October 17th, 2010- and squirreled away my scant unemployment checks for six weeks. After paying off only credit card minimums each month, I had about $300 to my name when I moved to New York. (I also like these books that teach you how to save money.)
My best friend Jackie was already in New York working, as well as a few of my other friends from summer programs and college. (#theatrekids) So, I sucked up my pride and asked if I could stay with each of them for a week or two while I got on my feet. They were all so gracious and agreed to let me stay.
With any big decision, you always need an escape route/backup plan. I strategically decided to move in the middle of October.
I knew if I got stranded, my folks would at least buy me a plane ticket home for Thanksgiving.
So, I told myself if I didn’t have a job by Thanksgiving I would call it quits and come home.
Things ended up working out in my favor in a matter of weeks, but I felt stronger being able to say, “Yes, I can come home if it doesn’t work out.” I’m sure the kind, beautiful humans I was staying with at the time appreciated knowing I wouldn't be around forever, too.
Look for Free or Discounted Ways to Move
If you're looking to move with no money, start by researching options for finding free or discounted transportation. Consider asking friends and family for help, or look into bus or train tickets that may offer discounts for students, seniors, or veterans. You may also be able to find carpooling services or companies that offer rideshare programs.
Another option is to look into moving containers or pods. Moving containers are a great way to reduce the cost of moving because they are typically cheaper than hiring a professional moving company. Plus, you can pack and unpack them on your own time, meaning you won't have to pay for labor costs.
Finally, don't forget to ask around for free or discounted moving supplies. Friends, family, and even your local thrift store may be able to provide boxes, packing tape, and other materials you need to move.
Ask Friends and Family for Help
It might seem embarrassing or uncomfortable to ask for money or help, but if you are honest and clear about your situation and needs, you'll likely find that people are more than happy to offer their support.
Make sure you're specific about what type of help you need. Are you looking for someone to loan you money for the move? Do you need people to help you pack and move your belongings? Knowing what kind of assistance you need makes it easier for your loved ones to provide it.
And don't forget to show your appreciation! Moving can be expensive and stressful, so thanking those who help you can go a long way. A simple thank you card or a small gift are great ways to show your gratitude.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask. Your friends and family may not know that you need help unless you ask for it.
Find Affordable Housing
You can't couch surf forever. Be an adult and figure out a housing game plan before you move. If you don't have friends in the area, Couchsurfing is a service that links travelers with hosts who have space available. You can look through profiles and references to find people who would make great hosts for your stay. Then reach out and see if they have availability on the days you need a place to stay. This isn’t a long-term housing solution but can cover your first few days in a new place as you get settled.
For the longer term, look for low-cost apartments or housing options. These can usually be found in more urban areas and may require a certain amount of income or proof of employment. Additionally, some landlords may allow tenants to pay rent on a weekly basis instead of monthly, which can be a great option for those without much money.
Room rentals may also be a viable option. These are usually offered by individuals who are looking for someone to share their living space for a lower cost.
The Financial Side of Moving
I did temp work right from the jump, but it took me about two weeks to begin getting paid for the gigs. Based on my savings from my pre-NYC days, I only gave myself about ten dollars to eat each day.
Suffice it to say, I ate a lot of honey buns and Fritos from the bodega around the corner to stay on budget.
Walking everywhere helped keep the weight off. If I had an interview I would treat myself to Subway or Chinese food.
I started reading Learnvest, which was in its infancy back in 2010 and 2011. Now there are a number of amazing budgeting books, blogs, and TikToks, and Reddit threads that can help beginners learn to manage their money like a champion.
Eventually, I took their online course on setting up a budget, which is how I used the 50-30-20 method to split up my finances and start stacking away 20% of each paycheck toward my own apartment and a real bed.
Prepare an Emergency Fund
Having an emergency fund can help cover unexpected expenses or bills that may come up during the relocation process and can provide a cushion in case anything goes wrong.
The first step to creating an emergency fund is to determine exactly how much money you need to save. This amount will depend on the type of move you are making and the distance you are traveling. If you are relocating within the same city, you may only need a few hundred dollars in your emergency fund.
However, if you are moving to an entirely new city or country, you may need to save thousands of dollars.
Sell Your Junk
One of the best ways to raise some cash when you’re trying to relocate without your own funds is to sell your unwanted items. This is a great way to have less stuff to move as well as raise money for your move or emergency fund.
- Make a list of everything that you can part with. This list should include all the items that you no longer need, use, or want. It also helps to categorize your items according to type so you can more easily organize them for sale.
- Take clear pictures of each item. The images can help potential buyers get a better idea of what they are buying and help you stand out from other sellers.
- Choose an online marketplace. Many of these sites offer free listings and will allow you to connect with buyers near you, making it easy to exchange items and receive payment.
- Or your offline marketplace. Garage sales, flea markets, and consignment shops are all great options.
- Don’t forget to set realistic prices. Compare the value of your items to those sold by similar sellers to ensure you’re getting a good deal.
Pick up a Side Hustle to Make Extra Cash
A side hustle is a way to make extra money on the side, often in addition to your main job or source of income. You can conside from many popular side hustles like:
No matter what type of side hustle you choose, make sure you do your research and understand the risks involved. Make sure you understand the laws and regulations in your area and that you have the proper licenses and insurance to cover yourself. With a little bit of effort, you can find a side hustle to help you move with no money.
And here are 45 ways to earn free Paypal money to help fund your next move.
Don't Rely on Credit Cards
One of the most important things to remember when building your new life is that you should not rely on credit cards to get you through. Credit cards are a tempting solution, as they provide instant access to cash and can help cover your expenses, but if you don't have the means to pay them back then you could quickly find yourself in a worse situation than when you started.
It is important to recognize that you may need to make some sacrifices in order to make your move successful. This might mean downsizing your belongings or cutting back on certain luxuries for a period of time.
Keep Your Living Expenses Low
If you're willing to put in the effort, you can also find creative ways to cut down on your housing costs. Try bartering services in exchange for a reduced rate. If you have a skill set that someone is willing to pay for, try negotiating a lower rent in exchange for your services.
Be mindful of your other expenses such as transportation, entertainment, and food.
- Use public transportation and give up your car
- Share a Netflix or other streaming service with a friend or roommate or give up TV
- Take turns with friends hosting nights in instead of going out to bars or clubs
- Instead of meeting out for dinner, meet for lunch which is usually a cheaper meal
- Cook in bulk and freeze meals for nights you might be tempted to order out
If you’re creative you can come up with lots of ways to keep your living expenses low.
Find Free Furniture and Household Items
Finding free furniture can be a great way to save money and get the furniture you need for your new home. Here are some expert tips to help you find free or low-cost furniture for your move:
- Check online classifieds. Many people are looking to get rid of furniture quickly, so you may be able to find good deals. Look for ads that offer free furniture or very low-cost items.
- Contact friends and family. Ask your friends and family if they have any furniture they’d be willing to give away or sell to you at a discounted price. You may be surprised at how generous people can be in these situations.
- Visit local thrift stores or consignment shops. Local thrift stores and consignment shops can be a great place to find free furniture. You’ll need to be patient and willing to dig around, but it’s possible you could find some great bargains.
- Contact local non-profit organizations. Many non-profit organizations offer furniture donation programs for low-income families in need of new items. If you qualify for this program, you could get high-quality furniture at no cost.
- Look for garage sales in your area. Many people offer great deals on furniture during garage sales. It’s possible you could find some items that are in good shape for a very low price.
- Check online auction sites. Online auction sites like eBay and Craigslist often have great deals on used furniture. With a little bit of patience, you can find some amazing bargains.
- Attend estate sales. When someone dies, their family often needs to liquidate their assets quickly. This means you could get some really good deals on furniture during an estate sale.
Moving far away from home on your own is hard.
Moving far away from home without any money or contacts is excruciating.
But, moving with no money is not an impossible task. With the right strategies and planning, it can be done successfully and you can start a new life in your new home.
While it was daring and fun and adventurous, I wouldn’t recommend such adversity to anyone who didn’t have to do it. Make a plan, save your pennies, and do things the right way. It’ll be a much easier transition.
New York didn’t work out for me in the long term. I eventually moved back to Atlanta, bought a house, started this blog, and started building real wealth. But I know I wouldn’t have half of what I have now if I had never taken charge of my own “financial best life” and made the move to New York City to try something new.
It taught me the value of tenacity, about the importance of being good with money, but most of all it taught me that if you don’t like something about your life it is up to you to change it.
Lauren Bowling is the creator of Financial Best Life. Writing about money since 2012 (formerly as L Bee and the Money Tree), Bowling is an award-winning blogger and money and real estate expert whose advice has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, CNNMoney, Elite Daily, Business Insider, Redbook, and Woman’s Day Magazine and more. After selling the site to a division of The Motley Fool in 2019, Bowling is now back as the owner and primary voice behind FBL and is excited to continue educating elder millennials everywhere about how to afford their best life.