I grew up in the ‘almost-city’ of Milton Keynes, just north of London in the UK. Even though it’s grid system and boulevards were based on the layouts of American cities, it never really appealed to me as much as the other ‘real’ cities I visited in the USA. After moving to Central London for university (and then for work), I knew I was a proper city girl and Milton Keynes just wasn’t going to cut it. Now, even though I moved out of London a few years ago, I’m still drawn to the bright lights, pedestrian friendly streets and 24-hour noise of a big city – and that’s why I insisted on choosing New York as our first stop on our 3-month stay in the USA.
Unfortunately, the privilege of living in a bustling city like London or New York also comes with a hefty price tag! New York is not known for being the cheapest city in the world and when we said we were going to be living in Manhattan for 6 weeks, most people assumed we would be working out here to be able to afford it. Luckily, we had enough saved up (plus wedding present money!) to be able to allow ourselves a budget of $90 per day between us over the whole of our 12 week stay in the USA. This doesn’t include flights or accommodation but we also tried to keep these costs to a minimum (in case you missed it, I covered my flights and accommodation in this post!).
When we first calculated this amount, I had no idea if it would be enough or not – I actually assumed we would have to ‘slum’ it for a few days here or there but so far, it’s actually very easy to live within this budget without restricting yourself too much – even with our organic living! Of course, if you’re looking to do every single tourist attraction and eat in every fancy restaurant you’ve read about then this post is not for you! But, if you’re willing to make some sacrifices you could happily live on $30 – $50 a day per person (around $150 per couple including accommodation). In fact, we were averaging around $60 a day between us before we decided to splash out on some very expensive drinks on a night out last weekend!
For those of you interested in saving a few $$$, here are 11 tips on budget living in New York:
New York is so so easy to walk around and, if you’re staying in Midtown or Lower Manhattan, you can walk in almost any direction and find something interesting to see. The streets are pretty safe in these areas and within half an hour, you can walk through 1 or 2 different neighbourhoods. There’s really no better way to get to know the city and discover hidden gems and cafes to hang out in. You’ll also come across loads of small parks for you to sit down in and people watch for when your feet get tired.
2. Street food
Some of the best food in New York is found on the streets or in small ‘hole-in-the-wall’ restaurants. I’m not saying the high price tag venues aren’t worth it – I just haven’t tried any yet to be able to comment! What I can say, is don’t judge a food truck by it’s cover! Halal guys is a well known middle-eastern food trunk in the city. Their carts don’t look like much but the queues down the road speak for themselves. Just watch out for the hot sauce!
3. Prepare your own food
If you’re staying in an Airbnb apartment, try to make one or two of you meals at home every day to save up extra cash for better treats! We’ve been able to have one or two treats each day by saving money on breakfast at least. Buy a box of granola and some milk, and make your morning coffee at home – you’ve already saved $10! Even if you’re staying in a hotel, a few sandwich ingredients kept in your mini fridge means a picnic in central park can almost be a free day out!
Also check out the local farmers markets for picnic ingredients – you can taste loads of locally made goods for free before you buy and they often drop the price of perishable goods towards the end of the day. That way you can make your own meal AND try something local at the same time!
4. Use Google
Do your research and read reviews for places before you spend your money. Even if you don’t have any phone data, this should be fairly easy as a lot of places have free Wifi in the city. It’s especially useful if you walk past a cute looking cafe or restaurant (or pizza place!). Spend a couple of minutes checking it’s reviews on Google, TripAdvisor or Yelp and it may save you some disappointment! There are so many good places to eat and visit in New York that you can’t afford to be let down by a crappy slice!
This is especially true around Times Square – as with all major cities, the busiest area often has the worst food!
5. Discount Stores
There are discount stores around the city (in Lower Manhattan at least) where you can buy your essential items for much less than they are being sold for in the main areas. So far, I’ve found stores on Broadway (Chinatown end), the Financial District, and in Tribeca. They might be slightly out of your way to find but looking up your closest store will save you paying premium city prices. If you need any more convincing, I managed to buy a box of Raffaellos for $1.99 in one store! If that doesn’t sway you, nothing will!
Don’t be afraid to haggle in smaller stores – especially souvenir shops. There is so much competition that even if you strike out with one place, you can walk a few steps to the next shop and try again. Obviously try not to take the piss, but don’t take the first price they offer. I recently overheard one shop owner in Little Italy drop from $10 for a scarf to $6 without the customer even asking for discount! With a bit of haggling, you can get that scarf for a minimum of $5 guaranteed and that’s half the original asking price! Another good way to get discounts is to buy more than one item and negotiate a good price for them. Again, if you don’t feel like the price is worth it, walk on to the next shop and try again!
You can even try to haggle inside small shops apparently. I went to get my shoe re-glued at a small shoe repair shop near our apartment and the lady inside asked me for $10 with a little smirk on her face. I couldn’t help feeling a bit ripped off for a little bit of glue but what could I do?! Fortunately, when she didn’t have change for my $50, she accepted $5 without a second thought. Lesson learned – haggle anywhere that there are no fixed prices!
As much as you want to take a journey in one of those iconic yellow cabs, they can be super pricey! If you haven’t already got them, download Lyft and Uber on your phone for when you really need a taxi to get somewhere. Compare prices between the two apps before you book a ride. One is often cheaper than the other depending on where you are and the time of day.
If you’re signing up for the first time, you can help us both out by using my referral code to save $10 on your first ride with Lyft (PRIYA11103) or $15 on your first ride with Uber (kj108)! 🙂
8. Last Minute Theatre Tickets
Download the TKTS app to find out which stand to visit for the cheapest broadway show tickets that day. This works if you aren’t too fussy about which show you see or where you sit and you can often get tickets for half price! They also have a booth right in the middle of Times Square so if you’re just passing by, check it out to see what’s on offer that day!
You can get your laundry done by the hotel or by one of those companies that collect your clothes and return them to you freshly washed and folded. OR you can go for the full on, authentic, New York City Laundromat Experience! Yes, you have to wait while your washing finishes, but it’s really not that long and you can get the whole thing finished within an hour. Many of the pick up places have a 20lb minimum and that can work out expensive for holiday laundry! We managed to get 2 weeks worth of laundry (including bedding and towels) washed and dried for only $7.25.
10. Use Groupon
Groupon has hundreds of offers for both activities and places to eat in New York. Make sure you check the reviews for each place before you buy the voucher as many of the comedy shows and restaurants have bad ratings. Having said that, there are definitely a few hidden gems to be found! You can even buy discounted tickets for entry to the American Museum of Natural History (entry price is technically optional but totes awkward to refuse to pay when you get there) and the One World Observatory tower. We even bought discounted tickets to a painting night and an escape room game just for lols.
For some reason, my UK Groupon account wouldn’t work but it’s fairly quick and easy to set up a new one for the USA.
11. Make the most of your attractions!
Unlike London, New York’s museums charge you for entry, even if it is technically optional! This might mean you have to pick and choose which attractions you visit. Instead, try to maximise your budget by checking out free attractions around the city. Walk around Central Park and watch the street performers instead of going to a show! If you decide to visit the museums, try to go during their free admission times. And if you only want to see the Statue of Liberty and not actually Ellis Island, take a round trip on the FREE Staten Island Ferry from Battery park.