New York City, NY

How Much Does a School Teacher Need to Earn to Live in New York? And what lifestyle can they afford?

New York Culture
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I recently wrote about the lifestyle Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City” would realistically be able to afford on a columnist salary, and one of the commentators had a request: they asked to review the lifestyle of a single public school teacher living in NYC.

I cannot even comprehend how most New Yorkers afford to live within the city borders, especially in the Manhattan area. According to Zumper, the average rent in NYC for a 1-bedroom apartment is currently $3,215. It’s an excessive amount of money, and I cannot fathom how a teacher would be able to afford anything in that place. But let’s see if a public school employee would have a shot — after all, there are public schools in NYC, and their staff somehow pays their bills.

We’ll call our hypothetical teacher Berry; he’s in his mid-20s or pushing 30. He’s single and works full-time at a public school in one of the boroughs of NYC.

How Much Does an NYC Teacher Earn?

We need to establish Berry’s earning power. New York’s public school resource indicates the following:

Salaries are based on prior experience as well as academic coursework and degrees earned. For 2019–20, starting salaries for teachers range from $57,845 (bachelor’s degree, no prior teaching experience) to $87,510 (master’s degree, eight years teaching experience, plus additional coursework). New teachers with a master’s degree but no prior teaching experience will earn $65,026.

Our Berry is a new teacher and doesn’t have much experience under his belt, but we shouldn’t give him a Master’s degree — those are expensive and would translate into a large number of student loans. So, let’s be conservative and say that Berry has no Master’s but a few years’ worth of experience and earns $65,000 per year. That’s $57k indexed for inflation a few years in a row, right? I think a $65k salary is a fair assumption.

By using the pay stub calculator, we get a semi-monthly take-home pay of $1,892 or a monthly post-tax amount of $3,784:
Screenshot via

This is what Berry is working with every month, and let’s assume he spends his Christmas bonus on unnecessary purchases and Christmas gifts for family and friends.

Now, let’s move on to the juicy part: expenses.

What Are the Expenses?

I highlighted each category separately, with all the small expenses being grouped together under “Miscellaneous.”

Rent (the Biggest One)

We need to be real here: there’s no way our public school teacher can afford the “average” rent of $3,215. Berry would have to look for a good deal on housing or live with a roommate.

Berry won’t be living in SoHo, Tribecca, or anywhere in Manhattan unless he’s okay having 7 roommates, one of which would probably share the room with him. Therefore, we’re kicking Berrie out of the “cool kid’s club” and moving him to Brooklyn, Queens, or possibly even Staten Island. However, we won’t let him live as far as the Bronx or New Jersey — after all, NJ is a different state.

There are hidden gems in NYC when it comes to rental prices. This article points out at top 10 most affordable neighbourhoods in the city. Berry can easily reside in Sunnyside, Queens, where the average rent for a studio is $1,600. It’s almost half of his take-home pay, but sadly, that’s how much our teacher has to spend. Otherwise, he may not be able to afford to live and work in NYC. Not to mention, this cost is a steal.

Sunnyside is also near Manhattan, and Google Maps claim it only takes 26 minutes via transit to get to the Empire State Building. The furthest Manhattan point is only 45 minutes away.

Rent: $1,600.

Money left: $3,784 — $1,600 = $2,184.

Health Insurance

According to NY’s government’s website mentioned above, teachers get benefits. Suppose Berry is very lucky: he’s almost fully covered and doesn’t get sick often. We’ll allocate $100 per month towards health insurance for rare sickness episodes and maybe some vitamins here and there.

Groceries estimates an average grocery bill to be $471.34 per person. Berry may not be the math teacher, but he would have to do some math daily and budget a little bit. We would need him to go to cheap grocery stores. I often go to Chinese stores as their prices are almost always the lowest ones in my area. We’ll give Berry $400 for groceries.

Going Out and Having Fun

Sadly, our teacher wouldn’t be able to go out too much as he’s not a high-earner. Berry will be mostly buying groceries and cooking at home. However, we’ll give him a $25 weekly lunch & coffee budget and a $25 weekly entertainment budget. Overall, Berry enjoys life while spending $200 per month on happy things like tacos, macchiatos and movie tickets.

Personal Hygiene

We made our character a man, so he wouldn’t have to fork out a ton of money on hygiene items, pads and tampons with a pink tax attached to them, or make-up. We’ll assume Berry enjoys a pedicure once in a while and takes care of his skin, and skincare isn’t cheap.

Between an occasional pedicure, moisturizer, cleanser, shampoos, toilet paper and others, I’m giving Berry $150 per month to spend on toiletries.

Money left so far: $1,334.


Good news! Teachers get their metro pass covered per the same schools’ website above.

Other Miscellaneous Expenses

We won’t allow Berry to have a car and waste money on car payments, insurance, gas, etc. After all, he cannot afford it. Also, NYC has an excellent transit system.

I will, however, add an additional $300 a month on “extra” expenses, which may arise once in a while. Berry would need to buy some clothes a few times a year, and maybe his microwave breaks down, or he has a buy a new laptop. That’s a yearly budget of $3,600 for those, which I believe is reasonable.

So, the after-living expenses money left is $1,034.

That’s a lot of money! Our teacher can save it for a down payment and then invest in a property! It’s amazing, eh? Wait… I think we forgot about a necessary expense which would make that money disappear. I’m talking about:

Crippling Student Loans

Unless Berry has well-off parents who paid for his studies, he owes student loans. Business Insider reports that 42% of teachers carry student loans, with an average loan amount being $56,500.

Berry is a pretty typical guy, so we are to assume he has student loans. But there’s one more caveat. New York is known for its diversity. We cannot let our character be Caucasian. This is a perfect time for me to remind my readers about the racial disparity and segregation in many cities and countries worldwide. Also, according to the National Education Association, black educators carry on average much more student loans compared to their white colleagues due to less generational wealth and other factors. NEA averages the student loan amount to be around $68,000 for a teacher of colour. Therefore, we’ll assume our Berry is black, and he owes $68k worth of student loans.

All of a sudden, that extra $1k a month is gone. All the extra money Berry earns will now go towards student loans. Surely, there are student loan forgiveness programs for teachers, but Berry would have to work for school for many years. I tried calculating how much would be a monthly payment for the “Pay As You Earn” program (PAYE), which allows making smaller debt repayments, but sadly, Berry earns too much to qualify for that.

I used a repayment calculator to calculate how much are repayments for a $68,000 loan on a 10-year plan and with a 4% interest. Here’s what the results are:

Screenshot via

Yep, $688 a month is what Berry will end up paying. Therefore, almost $700 will go towards student loans, and he’ll get to save $300 for emergencies.


So, how much does a public school teacher earns while living in NYC? The answer is: very little. And his lifestyle would be really modest. A hypothetical Berry wouldn’t live in poverty, but he’ll be entering a rat race, possibly working long hours and barely making ends meet due to massive student loans.

The saddest part is that Berry may not have a family of his own until his mid-30s. He would have to either work two jobs or have a few side hustles on top of his day job to pay off his debt faster and then start investing. Under normal circumstances, Berry would be broke — with negative net worth — under he’s around 35 years old.

Berries of this world are the people who educate our children. I believe they deserve a better quality of life.

*This article was originally published on Medium

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