With 35 colleges and universities, an innovative economy that many say is the best in the nation, some of the country’s most beautiful historical and cultural attractions, proximity to breathtaking scenery at every turn and a tremendous quality of life, Boston is one of the most desirable places in America for young professionals to call home. It ranks 30th on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Places to Live list. And many of them are doing it alone.
About half the American population is currently single, and a greater number of people than ever before — 31 million — live on their own. That’s more than a quarter of American households. In Boston, that number is even higher, with 37 percent of Bostonians choosing to go it alone.
And why wouldn’t they? There’s no need to share that remote, no worrying about picking up your mess or stepping over someone else’s. You can feel free to let your freak flag fly. And it may help to know that science backs you all the way on this: living alone gives your brain the downtime it really needs, which is essential to improving productivity and creativity. In our increasingly over-connected society, living alone may be one of the only ways we can get that desperately needed alone time.
But what’s life in Boston really like? And how do you go about living in Boston on your own? We have a few ideas.
Single Life in Boston
Boston is an incredibly diverse city, made up of people from all races, ethnicities, nationalities and lifestyles. According to the U.S. Census, in the heart of Boston in Suffolk County, the population is 48 percent white, 20 percent black, 20 percent Hispanic and eight percent Asian.
Part of what draws people to this area is its age — the city is one of the nation’s oldest, and it’s renowned the world over for its history and for being a seat for democracy in America.
It also has more institutions for higher education than any other nation in the country, which makes it highly attractive, particularly for young singles. A large percentage of the population is college students, and the median age in the city is a relatively young 38.7 years. This drives much of the city’s rhythm. For instance, most landlords and property owners rent Boston apartments on a full-year, school-calendar basis (Sept. 1 — Aug. 31 is the most common lease period).
The young-skewing makeup of Boston’s population makes for a high number of special events, late-night entertainment options and arts exhibitions and performances, all of which tend to target young professionals. For example, the HUBweek festival was created to address this burgeoning population growth among young professionals, bringing together more than 130 organizations to celebrate innovation in art, science and technology.
The event brings some of the world’s most brilliant and creative minds to attend and present curated conversations, summits, film festivals, open studios and art tours, a massive Demo Day and even opportunities to sample craft beer.
Working in Boston
Because Boston’s population is among the most highly educated in the world, innovation and job creation are happening here at a voracious rate. Forbes says Boston is more highly sought after for tech pros than Silicon Valley and New York, because it’s cheaper than both and captures the most highly educated population of workers than any other place in the country. Massachusetts ranks highest in the nation for its per-capita ranking in tech-related patenting, licensing and venture capital, and it also places first nationally in high-tech research and development, testing and life science industries.
Major industries driving economic growth in Boston include:
- Financial services
- Medicine and life sciences — Harvard, MIT, the National Institutes of Health, Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Institutes are located here, as are biopharmaceutical companies Celgene Corp. and Roche Holding and medical devices company Baxter International.
- Fishing — More than 2.5 million pounds of fish are caught in the waters around Boston each year.
And the area is even more attractive to young single professionals now that the city is devoting considerable effort to create more affordable housing for entrepreneurs, with a startup village in the works to give companies low-cost options for housing while they get off the ground. And a higher percentage of 18-to-34-year-olds were employed in Boston (71 percent in the 2009 — 2013 period) than the average for the nation (65 percent) for that same period.
With high rates of education come high salaries, and younger adults earn comparatively high wages here, especially those who work right in the city. The median income for millennials is $44,548, while the median income is $33,883.
Affordable Things to Do in Boston
There are far too many things for Bostonians to do in their leisure time for us to name them all here. Young singles in particular will appreciate knowing that this Colonial city steeped in historical monuments, green spaces and culture also provides access to most of these things for free or at a low cost. Along with hundreds of music venues, theater and performance companies (including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Ballet), you’ll find free outdoor concerts, attractions and festivals throughout the year.
For instance, take the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, which offers performances in significant historical or cultural settings throughout the Boston area. These events are always free.
Here’s a roundup of some noteworthy, favorite, affordable things for young people to do in Beantown:
- Parks and scenic outdoor spaces — The collection of scenic outdoor spots for strolling, playing or people-watching available in Boston is truly astounding. This is a sports town, after all, and there are plenty of places to watch or play them. And simply walking the city streets is a veritable feast for the senses.
We love the Emerald Necklace park system, a 100-plus-year-old system of six parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted that stretches from the Back Bay to Dorchester and features hiking/biking/walking trails, sailing, golf, tennis, softball, baseball, basketball, a cricket pitch, fishing, a bridle path, a wildflower meadow, playgrounds, an arboretum and a zoo. This destination draws more than a million visitors a year and could one day be right in your backyard.
Other mentionable spots nearby include Boston Common, offering 50 acres of public land for roaming and relaxing. A short drive away, there’s the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Middlesex Falls, historic Salem and Thoreau’s famed Walden Pond. Or, check out the night sky at Coit Observatory at Boston University, with public open nights. And, of course, there are numerous historic walking tours, including the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that offers visitors glimpses of 16 nationally significant historic sites. Unlimited free outdoor adventures await you here.
- Arts and culture — As if 57 National Historic Landmarks (including the Beacon Hill Historic District, Boston Common, Boston Naval Shipyard, Bunker Hill Monument, U.S.S. Constitution, Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House and Symphony Hall) weren’t enough to keep you occupied, you’ll also find no end to the artistic and cultural experiences you can have here.
There’s the Museum of Fine Arts, which is home to nearly 450,000 pieces and one of the most comprehensive exhibitions in the world; the Institute of Contemporary Art, showcasing contemporary art in all media; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, showcasing fine and decorative art; and the Harbor Gallery, where emerging and re-emerging artists from around the world show their work.
And, of course, the Boston Public Library — the first municipal library in the U.S. — offers free tours to the public every day. Cultural activities include the SoWa Open Market, featuring a steady rotation of artisans in an open-air market; Faneuil Hall Marketplace, featuring performances and exhibitions; and numerous cultural festivals year ‘round.
- Night life — Bars and pubs usually stay open in Boston until about 2 a.m. and can easily be accessed by public transportation. The bar scene thrives in Fenway, Brookline, Faneuil Hall, Brighton and Mission. One of Boston’s liveliest scenes for night life is in the West End near TD Garden, with dance clubs, Irish pubs and sports bars.
Historic taverns and the Samuel Adams Brewery call Boston home as well, and don’t forget the famed Cheers bar.
- Professional networking — The Boston area offers more opportunities than most other cities for young professional singles to meet others and share professional development and friendship. Most of them offer events that are free or cheap to attend, anyone can join or pop into an event unannounced, and you might even come away with a new friend or job lead.
These include Boston Young Professional Association, Greater Boston Chamber Young Professionals Network, Boston Social & Professional Networking and Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (specifically for young Bostonians in the nonprofit sector). There’s also the Boston Young Professionals and Boston Newcomers, both established by the Boston Event Hub, a citywide effort to bring Bostonians together in a number of ways. It offers dozens of groups for meeting others.
Maximize your budget as you explore your new stomping grounds. Pick up the Go Boston Card, where you pay one low price and choose from more than 40 Boston attractions, and save up to 55 percent on gate admission prices. There’s also Boston CityPass, which costs only $55 for adults.
Check out CityOfBoston.gov and BostonOnBudget.com for information about stuff to do around town — much of it free or low-cost. You also can check out Meetup.com’s list of free and cheap things to do in Boston, with information about free outdoor activities, lectures, workshops and more.
Getting Around in Boston
Driving in Boston may not make sense, between paying for gas and parking, and many apartment buildings don’t have parking lots. But the good thing is, you may not need to drive at all. Beantown was ranked the 3rd Most Walkable City in the U.S. by the George Washington University School of Business, thanks to its urbanized suburbs (in which neighborhoods are totally walkable and provide all one’s daily needs) and mass transit options. In fact, the GW survey projects that Boston is just around the corner from being #1 on that list.
In a survey by The Urban Land Institute Boston/New England, 80 percent of millennials in Boston ranked mass transit as being “very important” in choosing where they live, and 81 percent say having an easy commute is very important as well. The city has one of the highest shares of non-car commuters in the country. Only 26 percent of millennials drive alone to work or school — the rest walk, bike or use the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, or MBTA (affectionately known as “The T”), which offers an efficient system of buses, subways, ferries and a commuter rail line.
The MBTA also offers a useful app that shows schedules and real-time arrivals for buses, subway trains, commuter lines and ferries, and keeps you informed of delays. It stops throughout Boston and runs all day and evening.
Living in Boston Alone
So let’s talk for real about your options for living alone in Boston. Is it doable? Is it really as expensive as they say?
First, some hard facts. Yes, the cost of living in Boston is about 20 percent higher than the national average. Stuff just generally costs more here than you may be used to paying. It’s the fourth most expensive city for housing, with the average rental price hitting more than $2,000 in 2015 — 2016. More than half of Boston-area renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and a quarter more spend more than half of their income on housing.
What’s behind this? Mostly, the city’s age. As we’ve explained in other posts, a high percentage of real estate tied up in historical buildings — not to mention some, shall we say, interesting city planning by our forefathers? — have led to a situation where space is at a bit of a premium. While some cities can just keep sprawling outward, Boston’s waterways have bound it tightly. As jobs grow, demand is simply outstripping supply. People charge high rents because, frankly, they can — and people tend to pay them.
But remember this: salaries tend to be higher in Boston too, and the fastest-growing jobs in Boston right now are also some of its highest-paying, which may help you in selecting a place to live.
What’s nice is that the homes in and around Boston have a charming, historical appearance that you often can’t find elsewhere. What Boston lacks in sleek or contemporary homes, it makes up for in character.
Here are some tips for finding and affording a home in Boston:
- Select the right neighborhood. On your own, you’re probably not going to be able to afford a place in downtown, South End, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the Financial District, Fenway/Kenmore or Chinatown. Rather, look for up-and-coming neighborhoods farther out of town that cater to young professionals. These include Allston, Brighton, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Charlestown. These areas tend to be more diverse and welcoming to young adults and new families.
- Use a realtor. Whether you’re looking for homes for sale in Boston or checking out Boston apartments or townhomes for rent, a realtor is a worthwhile expense. Realtors can find listings in your price range and in a neighborhood you like, and they can help you sort through the application and lease processes. Plus, they may have access to listings you don’t, and in a tight rental market like Boston’s, that’s really saying something.
- Focus on practicality over style. It’s better to have a tiny place that meets your needs and is convenient for your life, rather than a luxurious spot off the beaten path. It should be safe for walking and biking and close to mass transit options. Start with neighborhoods you know you can afford that are close to your work, grocery stores, your gym or other locations you frequent. And don’t discount proximity to grocery stores, either — if you’re too far from one, you might be tempted to default to takeout, which is a bad money move.
And consider other costs such as parking fees, whether you’ll need to pay for additional storage, laundromat costs and other non-refundables. You don’t need a dishwasher, but you do need a place that’s safe, warm and close by.
- Rent from the right people. Boston townhomes, apartments and rental homes that are managed by big corporations may be hard to work with and less likely to cut you a deal. Instead, look for small property management companies and individual landlords, who may be willing to negotiate with you, may be cheaper to rent from and may even become friends. This kind of personal connection can be valuable if you’re new to the area.
- Check that budget again, and again. Master your budget and really be honest with yourself about whether you can actually afford to live on your own. Remember that a budget isn’t just about living expenses. It’s also about groceries, utilities, transportation, furniture, clothing and a few other things that make up your life, some of them unexpected.
Try some budgeting websites like Mint.com, You Need a Budget, Reddit’s personal finance page or My Total Money Makeover, which offer tools for paying down debt and managing your money. And if you just aren’t sure whether you can make it work…
- …Consider a roommate. We know — you have your heart set on living alone, and we don’t blame you. But even if it’s just for a year, consider this: with an average rent of a little more than $2,000 in Boston, not to mention utilities, getting someone to share half of that with you is a bit like getting a $1,300/month paycheck. What could you do with that? One thing you could do is save up for a down payment on a future home purchase.
Experts recommend you keep three months’ rent on hand to cover costs such as first and last months’ rent, security deposits and broker fees, so be sure you’ve saved that up before you start shopping for a home. And maintain a high credit score, which can significantly affect your ability to get the place you want. Even one late payment can affect your score.
You’re entitled to one free credit report a year, so take advantage and stay on top of your credit before considering moving out on your own in Boston.
Saving Money in Boston
If living alone in Boston is where your heart lies, there are ways to make it happen. It may take some effort to save up, and you may have to live a fairly frugal lifestyle for a bit, but it’s likely to be worth it for the experience of living in Boston, one of the most exciting and culturally rich cities in the world.
Cut a few corners with these tips:
- Sell your car. Really, we’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: you won’t need it. Use public transportation or walk, or even get a bike or scooter. For the occasional weekend trip, rent a car. Otherwise, skip on gas and parking fees.
- Shop smart. Buy store brands and generics, and shop at cheaper grocery stores such as Market Basket (consistently the lowest prices of any chain in the Northeast) and Costco. Buy in bulk for big savings. Print coupons found online. Check grocery circulars for deep discounts and sales.
- Buy used. There’s a huge used market in Boston. Think about it — more wealthy people means more quality stuff that’s given or thrown away. Shop thrift stores such as Revolve (Belmont, Lexington, Winchester), Keezer’s (Cambridge), Buffalo Clothing Exchange (Somerville, Allston), Boomerangs (Jamaica Plain), Urban Renewals (Allston) and, of course, Goodwill.
- Buy nothing. Hit up the Buy Nothing Project, with a local chapter in Cambridge, where neighbors can give and share used things with each other. Freecycle is similar — this nonprofit grassroots website is a place where people can offer up their old belongings for free in order to keep those items out of landfills. You might just score some free treasures. And check garage sales and the sides of roads. The city’s biggest moving day is Sept. 1, and that may be a good time to do a little treasure hunting.
- Don’t eat out. Instead, pack your lunches. Americans spend nearly $1,000 a year on eating out for lunch. And that’s just lunch! Couldn’t you do something else with that money? Keep a tight rein on your dining out budget.
- Review your bills. Is there a place where you can cut expenses? Shop around for insurance policies that might save you money. Can you cut the cable bill, or cut back on channels? What about your phone bill? Can you negotiate a lower interest rate on your credit card?
- Find cheap entertainment. Don’t rent movies or buy books — the public library offers both at no charge (and the tennis court next door to the Cambridge Public Library is free for the public). Most local museums offer some time each week for free admission to adults.
- Sip wisely. Skipping alcohol could save you about $10,000 a year, and skipping your weekly Starbucks habit could save you about $780 a year.
- Pick up extra money. Rent out some extra space in your Boston apartment or townhome on Airbnb — a spare room, a mattress or the whole place when you leave town. Drive for Uber or Lyft a few times a week. Run errands for Task Rabbit. There might be a few ways to earn extra cash.
Living alone in Boston is doable, if you’re smart and plan ahead. When you’re ready to look at homes for sale in Boston or to check out what’s available in the Boston apartments and townhomes scene, let us know.