A Cheapskates Guide To New York

New York has a well earned reputation for being very expensive, even a short visit can be ruinous to your budget. It’s one of the great ironies of the Big Apple, everyone wants to go there but few can make it work. When I visited New York this year, I was at the end of my sabbatical and my finances where pretty much in tatters. I had a limited budget and yet I was determined to make the most of my time in this incredible city. With a little planning I was able to go to the US Open, enjoy a Broadway show and explore the cultural and artistic side of this town with the limited funds that I had left.

Below is my cheapskate’s guide to the city.

Cheap Accommodations

Without a doubt, accommodations will be your biggest expense. Even locals struggle with their housing costs. They’re famous for paying exorbitant rents for what is basically a closet. It’s crazy. That said there are some options you can consider to keep your expenses down.

  • Couch Surf (Free): When I came to New York, I stayed with a friend for the week I was there. Even though she lived in Brooklyn and it meant a 20 – 30 minute commute into the city, this allowed me to stretch my budget on other activities I wanted to try.
    • If you have friends in New York, touch base with them and see whether they’d host you for the duration of your trip.
    • You can also try your luck on couchsurfing.com. Just keep in mind that finding a host might be a challenge. It’s the law of supply and demand. More surfers than people hosting.
  • Airbnb (starting from $35 for private room / $80 for apartment): Airbnb offers a wide range of apartments and prices for short term rentals. With a little work you should be able to find great deals
    • Tip: If you don’t mind a commuting look at apartments in the outer boroughs as they will be cheaper than those in Manhattan.
  • Hostels (starting from $55): Like any major city, New York has its fair share of hostels. Make sure you google the hostel for “Bed Bugs” prior to booking. Bed Bugs are a great way to ruin any vacation.

Cheap Transportation

Thankfully getting around New York is very inexpensive. There are many cheap options for getting around:

  • Walking (Free): This is a very walkable city. Whether you’re in Manhattan or one of the outer boroughs, odds are you’ll find yourself walking most of the time. This is one of the best ways to explore and to really get to know an area.
  • Biking ($12 for day pass / $24 for 3 day pass on Citi Bikes): All across Manhattan you’ll probably notice bikes available for rent as part of the Citi Bikes program. This is a great and affordable way to get around the city. It’s also my favorite way to experience the Brooklyn Bridge Walkway and Central Park. The traffic in New York is crazy so make sure you pay attention when you cross the streets.
  • Subway ($2.75 per ride / $1 to get the Metro Card): Public transport is a cheap and efficient way to get around town. While the subway can get grimy and busy, I never felt unsafe using it.
  • Taxi (Initial fare  $2.50 / Each 1/5 mile  $0.50  / Each 1 minute idle  $0.50): You’ll find the famous yellow cabs on almost any street in Manhattan. I’d only recommend using them when traveling from/to the airport if you have lots of luggage and don’t want to use the subway.

Cheap Food

New York food is simply A-MAAA-ZING!

Food will be a big part of your New York experience. The food culture is a reflection of the diverse background of the people that live in this city. You’ll find some of the best Asian, Italian, Jewish and Ethnic foods that your heart could desire. Below are my tips when dining out in New York:

  • Budget: This can be tricky. While you could get by on $25 a day per person (assuming you limit yourself to basic sandwiches) you’ll be missing out on some really great meals. This is an area of your budget I recommend you allocate a little more money to. Budgeting $40 – $50 a day won’t get you into fancy restaurants, but you’ll get to sample some of the local eateries that serve up amazing food. Below are some recommendations for meals under $10 you should try (sourced from Huffington Post):
    • Brisket sandwich from Mighty Quinn at Hudson Eats: $9.40
    • Taco de Adobada from Los Tacos No. 1 at Chelsea Market: $3.50
    • General Tso’s Chicken sub at No. 7 Sub: $7.75
    • Dandan Noodles at Han Dynasty: $8.95
  • Food Tips:
    • DON’T eat around Times Square or in any other tourist areas. Prices for everything are jacked up significantly.
    • Ask for regular (non bottled) water when ordering at restaurants or cafes. Tap water in NY is good and you’ll save a lot of money this way.
    • Watch out for the food trucks. People assume they’re a good option for cheap meals. The truth is, they don’t always offer the best deals.
    • Shockingly $1 oyster specials are a very popular happy hour feature in the city. I don’t enjoy them, but 5 or 6 oysters can serve as a cheap protein meal. Check out the following link for more details on where you can find them.
    • Pay attention to the health grade of restaurants you visit. They’re usually plastered on the entrance window. Anything lower than a B and you’ll likely be dining with NY’s famous “Pizza Rat”.

20 Cheap Or Free Activities In New York

  1. Brooklyn Bridge: Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge has always been one of my favorite things to do in New York. You can either walk or bike across the bridge and you’ll get one of the best views of the city.
  2. Brooklyn Flea Market: Wander through hundreds of booths selling vintage clothing, antiques, jewelry, furniture, artisanal foods, and more.
  3. Bronx Zoo: The Bronx Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the world, is open year-round. Tickets usually range from $12.95 to $19.95 but are pay-what-you-wish all day on Wednesday.
  4. Chelsea Art Galleries: Between the 20’s streets and 10th & 11th Ave lies New York’s most concentrated area for art galleries. For complete listing of galleries check out westchelseaarts.com or gallery guide.
  5. City Architecture: Walking through NY you’ll see some of the greatest high rise buildings ever created. The architecture that’s on display is unique spanning different generations from the art deco styling of the Chrysler Building to the modern and sleek design of the Freedom Tower.
  6. Enter St. Patrick Cathedral: The architecture of the cathedral is neo-gothic and it’s an amazing structure to behold. The cathedral has recently underwent restorations and now has a freshly cleaned exterior, but the inside remains largely untouched.
  7. Explore Ethnic Neighborhoods: Once exclusive immigrant enclaves, Chinatown and Little Italy have changed with gentrification. Yet it’s still possible to get a taste of the old country with strolls down Mulberry or Mott Street.
  8. Free Museums: Sadly not all museums are free in New York, but there are number museums that are open to the public at no charge. For full list check out the following link.
  9. Free Book or Poetry Reading: Bookstores, universities, and libraries often host free book or poetry readings. Club Free Time keeps an up-to-date list.
  10. Festivals: It feels like there’s always a festival or event that’s going on the city. The great thing is some of them are free. My favorites include the Summerfest in Central Park and Bryant Parks Outdoor Movies festival. Check out the following link to see what events are currently being held.
  11. Highline: The Highline, which used to be an elevated railway track that’s been repurposed as a walkway, is one of New York’s newer popular attractions. The path gets very congested during the day, but it’s a unique experience to walk next to buildings (and peer in) and you get nice views of the Hudson River.
  12. Kayak For Free: From May through mid-September, the Downtown Boathouse offers kayaks (limited to 20 minute), bike locks, lockers, and sunscreen to the public free of charge.
  13. Outdoor Movies: Summertime in New York means one thing. Free outdoor movies in Bryant Park. Just make sure you show up early to get a good spot.
  14. Parks: New York has some great parks. I’m not only talking about Central Park there’s also Prospect Park, Battery Park, Flushing Meadows and more. It’s always a great day when you’re outside, lazing on green lawns and people watching.
  15. Pay-What-You-Wish Tours: Free Tours by Foot offers more than 30 pay-what-you-want tours of the city. Check out the following link for more details.
  16. Staten Island Ferry: Rather than paying $12 for a Ferry Tour to view the Statue Of Liberty, you can take the State Island Ferry. This is a free commuter barge that has been running since the early 1900’s.
  17. Visit Times Square (preferably at night): Yeah, I know it’s a tourist trap. But you can’t come to New York and not visit Times Square. It’s best to go at night, when the square is bathed in the vivid neon colors of advertisements blaring from the megatron screens that line the street.
  18. Walk Coney Island’s Beach & Boardwalk: The boardwalk is at its best during the summer months. This legendary beach & boardwalk offers sand sport courts, playgrounds & a few rides.
  19. Yoga and More in Bryant Park: You can try tai chi, yoga and more in the park during the summer months. These are public events that are free and you check out the schedule here.
  20. 9/11 Memorial: The attached museum costs $15 to $24, but the 9/11 Memorial is free. Two large reflecting pools mark the footprints of the Twin Towers and honor the lives lost.

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