Amanda is in a bind. She’s making all the right financial moves, but they’ve left her feeling broke. She’s come to the Get Rich Slowly readers for help.

I’m 23. I’ve been out of college and working for a year-and-a-half now. I have only $300 in credit card debt, which I will pay off this month. I also have an ING Direct account that I opened last month with $300 in it. Starting this paycheck, I’ll be putting $150 per month in that savings as an emergency fund. I’m hoping to get it to $5,000. (After that, I plan to start a Roth IRA). I also have about $14,000 in student loans, on which I pay $100 each month. (That’s twice the minimum, but I did decrease the payment from the max of $150/month to get my emergency fund set up. I figured that the loan was consolidated at a ridiculously low interest rate, and when I get a raise I’ll go back to paying the max on the loan.)

I live in New York City. My take-home pay (after taxes, health insurance, and 401k (which I’m funding up to the employer match at 5%)) is only $25,272. My rent is $12,000 per year. I spend more than half of my income on rent and utilities alone.

I’m living with two roommates in an incredibly cheap apartment (by New York standards — my rent is far less than the other modestly broke people I know), and I’m pretty good about not going out, buying expensive drinks and dinners, and not buying clothes/junk for myself. I treat myself once in a while, but I’m pretty frugal. But because of the cost of living in New York, I barely break even every month.

I definitely live paycheck-to-paycheck, and I hate it, but I can’t seem to get ahead! I take freelance work when I can to supplement, but it’s not steady by any means. Moving is not an option, as my industry is really only located here.

Do you have any advice for people living in cities where the cost of living is crazy-high? I feel like I have a good, solid financial footing, but I’ve already been living frugally and doing many of the things that you suggest to “find” the money to save. At some point I looked at my budget in Quicken and realized there’s just not a whole lot left over after the essentials.

Oy! What can I do!?!? Any advice?

First of all, Amanda is to be commended for her excellent choices so far. She’s way ahead in the financial game. But what are her best options here? What have others done to cope with high costs of living?