There is one question that every 20 something who moves to the city on a budget asks:  How can I find cheap apartments in NYC?   Certainly a worthwhile question… after all, rent will account for the lion’s share of your expenses while you are living in NYC.

So how can you find a cheap apartment in NYC?

The first step is to realize that in New York’s apartment rental market cheap is a relative term.  Even apartments that would be considered dirt cheap by NYC standards still rent for outrageous sums in comparison to any other city in the country.

That being said- there are a number of ways that you can help yourself find a great deal on an apartment.  And while your new place might not exactly be cheap, it will at least be affordable.

Check out these tips for finding cheap apartments in NYC.

#1 Understand the apartment hunt process

In order land a cheap apartment, it is helpful to have solid understanding of the overall apartment hunting process.  You will need to know what apartments you can qualify for, how the application process works, how to review a lease and also what documentation landlords are likely to ask for.   Another important consideration is how much you can actually afford to pay for an apartment.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you can qualify for an apartment that you can afford it.  (read – how much apartment can I afford?)

#2 Keep an eye out for red flags

Cheap apartments in NYC are all on the small side.  Many of them are also quite old- and are short on amenities, while others still are downright unlivable.  Learning to recognize red flags can save you from committing to live in a place that makes you miserable- possibly because it is infested with roaches.

#3 Learn to beat the competition

Competition for cheap NYC apartments is fierce.  However, with a little work you can beat them.

There are two ways that you can beat the competition for a cheap apartment in NYC.  1) Find out about apartments that are becoming vacant before they are listed on the market.  2)  Be first to respond to new listings as they come available.

Strategies for beating the competition range from tapping in to your social network, to using software to automate your Craigslist apartment search.  The tips in this article will help you beat the competition in New York’s apartment rental market.

#4 Focus on NYC’s affordable neighborhoods

While it is true that cheap apartments can be found in every neighborhood in NYC, the majority of budget apartments are found in NYC’s affordable neighborhoods.

By limiting your search to neighborhoods known to offer apartments at a good value, you can make the time you spend apartment hunting much more productive.  Limit your search to a few key neighborhoods so that you can avoid wasting time.

#5 Apply for an 80 / 20 Apartment

If you earn less than 50 percent of your neighborhood’s median income, you may qualify to live in a ’20 percent’ apartment.  20 percent apartments are offered to lower income earners at rental rates substantially below market.  If you qualify, and can win a lottery, you can live in an amazing NYC apartment for next to nothing.  Read more about 20 percent apartments here. and here

#6 Join an existing household

By far, the best way to save money on rent is to move into an existing household with roommates.  If you are moving to the city and earn less than $85,000 a year, you should strongly consider getting roommates.  Read about finding a roommate in NYC

#7 Elect Jimmy McMillan to public office

In the immortal words of Jimmy McMillan – “The rent is too damn high.”    If Jimmy McMillan is elected to office, he will do something to lower the cost of rent.  Presumably, this is more of a long term option, and might not help with your immediate apartment search.