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 this guide on how to move to a new city with no money 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 helped to land me in the stronger financial situation I’m in now. Not to mention 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 five years ago to the Summer of 2010. 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.
..Until we got laid off before our contract ended and I had no backup plan or backup savings.
I was unable to get another job in Atlanta, so I had to move back into my parents 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 beginning of the 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 asked.
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 they were really good, and sometimes they weren't.
I was in a bad way that Summer: chronically unemployed, no money, and with it being the middle of the 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 a New City with No Money
Step #1 – Save as Much as You Can Beforehand
With zero money, 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.
But I don’t recommend doing it this way.
For those who want to move but want to be more strategic and have a bigger nest egg in savings (highly encouraged) here are more ways to quickly generate cash.
- How to Save $1000 in 45 Days
- 11 Ways to Save That Take Just 5, 10, and 20 Minutes
- 5 Easy Things to Cut When Saving or Paying Off Debt
Step #2 – Coordinate a Place to Stay in Advance
The most important part of moving (whether you’re doing it with money or without) is having a place to stay when you get there. Seriously, accommodations are important. Since this is about moving with no money, I recommend checking out Couchsurfing.com or calling the local YMCA (if applicable.)
In my story, 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.
Step #3 – Have a Backup Plan
With any big decision, you always need an escape route/back-up 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, but I felt stronger being able to say, “yes, I can come home if it doesn't work out.”
Step #4 – Side Hustle Your Way to Extra Savings
At the time I wasn't a blogger or writer, but I did supplement my unemployment income by being a part-time assistant for someone I knew. It’s also slow going to make money with surveys, but it can be done and is a great way to scrounge up extra.
- 9 Reputable Money Earning Apps
- 8 Ways to Hustle Your Next $100-$5000 Dollars
- My List of Money Making Survey Sites
How To Move to a New City with No Job
It isn't enough to simply move to a new city without any money. You need a plan in place for how you're going to thrive when you get there. For most people this means getting some form of income so they can support themselves.
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. Here’s what I did to make that happen.
Step #5 – Create a Resume for The Type of Job You Have in Mind
You have skills. Everyone does. Sure, they may not be what you want to do, but you moved to a new city for a reason. In order to make it work in that new city, you’ll need an income.
Ask yourself, “Based on my background and prior work experience, what kind of job could I get very easily?”
Then, write a new resume based on that type of job.
When I moved, I wrote a new resume I thought would be perfect for the type of admin roles I was looking for. I’d spent years in high school and college answering phones and filing at Doctor’s offices.
It was tough putting my “Actor self” on the back burner, but that was what needed to be done.
Step #6 – Submit to Temp Agencies
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 and started sending my resume off one week before I left. (They have both admin jobs and other types of “gigs” if you can wait tables or play music, etc.)
Many replied to me that same day and wanted to meet before I arrived, but I was able to schedule out appointments for the next week without making it look like I wasn't an actual resident.
I had three screening interviews with agencies 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 some place to be. I was sent on my first “temp” assignment a week after.
If you are worried about your lack of administrative background, as long as you have a college degree this shouldn't be too hard. Literally everyone can type on the computer and answer the phone.
They mostly just want smart, reliable people.
Step #7 – Use an Address from Your New City so You Look Local
Probably the most important “trick” I used when moving to a new city with no job was putting a NYC address on my resume. I used one of my friend's (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.
It didn't really bother anyone that I was a newcomer. After all, it's New York.
How to Financially Land on Your Feet in a New City
Step #8 – Track Your Spending
I did temp, 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 off of each day.
Walking everywhere helped keep the weight off from my poor diet. If I had an interview I would treat myself to Subway or Chinese food.
Sound sad? It was. But that's the kind of grit and determination that gets you through those poor-as-a-mouse years in your early 20's.
Step #8 – Create a Budget and Live Within Your Means
Once I finally had an income coming in, I needed a great budget so I'd never have to go back to the “honey bun” diet ever again.
I started reading Learnvest, which was in its infancy back in 2010 and 2011.
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.
Step #9 – Save, Save, Save
If you move to a new city with no money and manage to make it work, the most important part of your new life in saving money. Not only will you need to save up money to get your own apartment, but you’ll also want to start saving for emergencies.
Watch the savings stack up over time.
Plan carefully and thoughtfully before making purchases.
Take heart: this period of watching every penny won’t last forever. The first year in a new place is a very precarious time until you can get a foothold on your finances.
- Need money for bills? Here’s all the ways to find room in the budget
- 82 New Ways to Save More Money in 2019
- 8 Small Money Habits (That Only Take Minutes Each Week)
How to Move to a New City with No Friends
Previously, I wrote an article on making friends in your 20’s and 30’s. Many of the tips I’d give for moving to a new city with no friends are similar to the ones I give in this article.
- Don’t be afraid to make the first move. Friendship is like dating – someone has to ask to hang out!
- Make continual efforts to see your new friends
- Find friends in sphere you already inhabit. Think your apartment, work, your nearby coffee shop, dog park, etc. You already have things in common!
- Let other people invite you to make friends. If you know someone else who is looking for friends, be a connector.
Really, I think the biggest thing to remember about making friends in a new place is that it takes time and continual effort.
Moving far away from home on your own is hard.
….Moving far away from home without any money or contacts is excruciating.
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 for the long term, but I know I wouldn't have the things in my life I have now if I had never taken charge of my own life and made the move.
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.
*this post was updated on February 13th, 2019