We live in an age where rental amenities seem like a must-have. Hundreds of apps have sprung up around the idea that convenience is king: Uber and Lyft; Seamless, Doordash, and Caviar; Taskrabbit; Amazon Prime; Instacart; Handy…
I’ve frequently spent extra to get my laundry, groceries, dinner, and even flowers delivered. While spending $1.99 a few times a week doesn’t seem like much, the extra expenses add up over time. Some convenience-driven expenses cost significantly more, but they’re hidden under umbrella budget categories like vacations, transportation, and housing.
My old New York City apartment had it all: a dishwasher, in-unit laundry, A/C in every room, a doorman, a gym, and a roof deck. I lived in a safe neighborhood just a few minutes away from the subway. My monthly rent reflected all of these conveniences and amenities.
In fact, I spent almost twice the rent of some of my thriftiest friends in New York. My apartment was a great value for what it offered – similar apartments in the area rented for up to 20 percent more – but still, when I wrote my rent check every month, I could think of a dozen things I would rather be doing with those dollars. At the end of my lease, I decided to downgrade my lifestyle and free up some cash.
During my apartment search, I became uncomfortably aware of just how much my quest for convenience really costs me.
Some of the amenities in my old apartment had a financial value that I would have paid for separately if they weren’t included in the rent. For example, to go to the gym, I would have to buy a gym membership separately if there wasn’t a free gym in the building. I wouldn’t bother paying for most of the other amenities I had grown used to, though.
I decided to experiment: what would happen if I tried to save money by focusing on criteria besides convenience?
Some requirements would still stand – a safe neighborhood and hygienic building were top of the list. But other previously “non-negotiable” amenities became less important, which allowed me to look at a wider variety of apartments, including some with unexpected perks.
My search expanded to include neighborhoods far from subway stations – a little extra walking or an additional bus ride wouldn’t kill me – and to exclude all of my purely convenience-driven criteria, such as in-building laundry facilities, a dishwasher, pre-installed A/C, and a doorman.
When I took the convenience factors of rental amenities out of the equation, I found a slew of clean, safe, reasonably sized apartments that were well under my budget.
I ended up choosing an apartment that lacked all of my previous rental amenities and added an extra 10-minute walk (or a quick bus ride) to the subway. My rent dropped by 34 percent.
The new apartment appealed to me for other reasons, though. It was bigger, had more storage in the kitchen, and there was a large balcony off the back. My old apartment had been close to the subway, but not much else. The new place was around the corner from restaurants, cafés, a library, and even a few art galleries. A massive grocery store and a big park were just a few blocks away.
There’s no denying that I miss my dishwasher and the quick post-dinner clean up that it promised, and no pretending that the longer walk from the subway isn’t a hassle. At the end of the day, though, I know that this was the right choice for me. If it means saving a few thousand dollars by the end of the year, I don’t mind getting my hands a little sudsy.