Believe it or not, I am not a trust fund baby (that’s why I count the quarters I earn off of some of these ads. Every little bit helps) and that’s why I’ve created a budget backpacker’s New York City guide, or some essential, money saving tips in New York City.
I have a budget and I actually have to stick to it, otherwise I can’t pay my rent and will have to live in a cardboard box (insert sad puppy dog face here).
New York City may be expensive but it sure is pretty.
But that’s because I’m a local. I live here and can’t get all spend happy every time I see a new Broadway Play advertised. Sometimes, I even have to act like one of the cheapskate’s of New York City and use certain money saving tips in New York City, every single day, otherwise I don’t get to eat, let alone travel.
These tips can be unfamiliar to a lot of tourists since well, they’ve never been here before. And I know that feeling because when I’m new to a city, I sometimes do things that are easy, and not necessarily fiscally responsible.
You know, like eating at the first restaurant you see because you are just so hungry from walking around all day that you just don’t care where you eat? Yeah, that kind of thing.
The truth though is that New York City is ridiculously expensive, and if you’re not careful, you can spend way more money than you ever intended (or more money than your budget allows).
That’s why I am sharing these money saving tips in New York City with you. I want you to actually enjoy your trip to New York City and not sit there, counting every penny, worried that you’re gonna go over budget.
Plus, most of these money saving tips in New York City are actually pretty easy and something that may even want to do (For more on where to stay and what to do in New York City, click here).
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
If you’re booking a trip right now then I IMPLORE you to get travel insurance – even if it’s not from me.
After all, this past year has been a wild ride and I don’t want you to lose money because government regulations have changed.
Truth be told though, I’ve never traveled without travel insurance and don’t think you should either – especially since I think we’ve all had plans drastically change because of the pandemic.
Therefore, find an insurance agency that covers travel changes related to COVID-19, like my two all-time faves World Nomads and Safety Wing. You can also read more about which policy is right for you in my full review here.
1. Never take a cab, always take the subway.
Slowly back away from the cab and your wallet won’t get hurt.
Locals (or any resident cheapskate’s of New York City) never take taxis and always take the subway. Not only is the subway cheaper but its faster too since the traffic in New York City is horrendous (and that is putting it nicely).
Therefore, you never actually know how long your cab ride will take or how much it will cost.
Thats why its always better to take the subway, which has a fixed price and a set arrival time (minus any crazy, impromptu delays).
Plus, I will be the first one to vouch for the subway’s safety. I have been on mass transit all across the globe and feel that the subway in New York City is just as safe as the public transportation found in any other country.
Sure, you’ll get your occasional beggar or someone trying to sell your their rap CD, but you’ll be fine as long as you don’t ride the subway at some insane time like 4 am.
I think I partied in the meatpacking district exactly once and it was a nightmare. It felt like a total cattle call of people who wanted to be seen (by who I don’t know but it was annoying).
There was also absolutely nothing real or authentic about the entire experience (including people’s body parts).
Plus, the drinks were insanely expensive (like $15 a piece back in the ye olde year of 2013). So do yourself a favor and stay away from the meatpacking district altogether.
If you are trying to live in a budget backpackers’ New York City, then head over to the East Village or Harlem, where things are low key and WAY cheaper.
Trust me, these areas are MUCH safer than they used to be and you will meet real New Yorkers and have a more authentic, New York experience act people who live here need to act like the cheapskate’s of New York just to make rent.
3. Eat out for lunch or breakfast, not dinner.
Go to Underwest Donuts for breakfast (or lunch or dinner). It’s cheap and amazing.
Dinner is always way more expensive than breakfast or lunch. Therefore, one of my money saving tips in New York City is to eat out at some of these cheap places to eat in New York City in either the morning or afternoon.
This way, you still get the experience of eating out in New York City, without creating a check balance that will make you want sell your blood plasma just to pay the bill (I had friends who did that in college).
Then when it’s time for dinner, head over to a local grocery store and pick up something that is relatively inexpensive. If it’s nice out, take your food to go and have a picnic in one of New York City’s many parks.
***Grab some reasonably price food from a local deli or from Trader Joe’s grocery store. Then head over to Central Park or Bryant Park and find a scenic picnic area that is not down wind from the bathrooms (Bryant Park even has chairs, tables, and ping pong tables).
4. Party during Happy Hour.
I am not a drinker but I remember way back when, during the years of my more delinquent youth, when all my friends and I were totally broke because we had just graduated from college and had mountains of student loan debt.
We totally became the cheapskate’s of New York City and partied during Happy Hour, when great drink and food specials were available (Our motto back then was party like a rockstar and kick a little ass. Now I’m lucky if I make it out of the house on a Friday night).
In New York City, happy hour is usually between 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and from 1:00pm to 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Most of the happy hour deals in New York City generally offer all well drinks for $3, while beer and wine will typically be a $1 off.
Usually you can get cheap appetizers too but that depends on the restaurant or bar you are at (TGI Fridays used to have pretty good Happy Hour deals. But that was way back in my youth when sleep was optional).
***Some of the best happy hour hangouts on my budget backpackers’ New York City guide include Alameda (195 Franklin St Brooklyn), Allswell (124 Bedford Ave New York), Amélie (22 W 8th St New York), An Béal Bocht (445 W 238th St New York), Bar Matchless (557 Manhattan Ave Brooklyn), Cooper’s Craft and Kitchen (87 Second Ave New York), Corkbuzz Wine Studio (75 9th Ave New York), Drop Off Service (211 Ave A New York), Full Circle Bar (318 Grand St New York), Mess Hall (2194 Frederick Douglass Blvd (Eighth Ave) New York), Réunion (357 W 44th St New York), Sidewalk Café ( 94 Ave A New York ), and Skinny Dennis (152 Metropolitan Ave Brooklyn).
5. Visit Museums on Pay What you Wish Nights (Or days. Whatever works).
The MET is one of my favorite museums of all time.
Don’t you wish that everything in life worked on a “pay what you wish” basis? That would be awesome because then I could pay like $15 for a new Ferrari. Not that I am into cars but that would be amazing.
Well, while the rest of the world doesn’t operate on a “pay what you wish basis,” many of New York City’s world class museums do. That’s why one of my favorite money saving tips in New York City is to visit the museums that offer these amazing deals.
But rather than make you search out this information for yourself, I have created a cheapskate’s of New York City cheat sheet with the hours and days that New York City’s major museums have “pay what you wish” rates.
That way, even if you are using a budget backpacker’s New York City guide, you can still get a little culture in your life but at a much lower cost (three cheers for saving money).
***The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters, Socrates Sculpture Park, the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Museum of Arts, and the Brooklyn Museum all operate on a pay what you wish entrance fee system, every single day.
***Museums with select pay what you wish times or days include the Frick Collection (pay what you wish Sunday 11am – 1pm), the New York Botanical Gardens (Saturdays 9am – 10am), the Guggenheim (Saturdays 5:45pm – 7:45pm), the Whitney Museum (Fridays 7:00pm – 9:00pm), MOMA (Fridays 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. (and until 9:00 p.m. July 1–September 2), the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens are pay what you wish on Wednesdays, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is pay what you wish on Tuesdays.
6. Eat Falafel (And lots of it).
Just looking at— this Falafel is making me hungry.
So growing up, I didn’t even know what a Falafel was. It sounded to me like some weird rabid dog so I just kind of ignored it.
But then I went to college and discovered the pure culinary wonder and delight that is deep fried, chickpea patty (Seriously the best drunk food for college students ever. A total staple for us former cheapskate’s of New York City).
This iconic food of New York City is a vegetarian dish that is typically served in a pita, that is loaded up with deep fried chickpea patties, lettuce, tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce. And while falafel is indeed, amazingly delicious, the best part is that it costs just $2-$3 a dish. A totally economical way to try some of the best street food that New York City has to offer.
***In this budget backpacker’s New York City guide, some of the best places to try falafel in New York City are Adel’s Number 1 Halal Cart (on the Southeast corner of Maiden Lane and Front Street in the Financial District), Azuri Cafe (465 west 51st Street at Tenth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen), Taïm (222 Waverly Place between west 11th and Perry Street in the West Village). Wafa’s (100-05 Metropolitan Avenue between 70th Road and 70th Avenue in Forest Hills, Queen), Hazar Turkish Kabab (7224 5th Avenue at 73rd Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn), Bedouin Tent (405 Atlantic Avenue between Bond and Nevins Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn), Ba’al CafE and Falafel (71 Sullivan Street between Spring and Broome Street), Mamoun’s Falafel (119 Macdougal Street between West 3rd Street and Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village), and King of Falafel & Shawarma (Northwest corner of 53rd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown East).
7. Walk along the Brooklyn Bridge.
The best thing about the Brooklyn Bridge is that not only is it one of New York City’s most iconic sites, but its free!! So on a nice, sunny day (preferably in summer because it will be hella cold out there in winter), take the 4, 5, or 6 train down to City Hall and walk across a living piece of history: the world’s first suspension bridge.
As you leave Manhattan and enter Brooklyn, take in all the stunning views of the East River that this bridge has to offer. Also marvel at the bridge’s immortal suspension towers, which have captivated the hearts and minds of artists for many generations.
***Don’t go in the middle of the day when the bridge is mobbed with tourists (you’re not the first person who has thought of walking this bridge). Instead, get up early and take pictures when no one is there (your Instagram fans will thank you).
8. Attend a free Taping of a Television Show.
So I swear, Law and Order isn’t the only show that’s taped in New York City. Actually, there are a bunch of shows that tape episodes in front of a live audience, from New York City. And believe it or not you can actually attend these live tapings for free.
Just as a little FYI, each show distributes tickets differently and tapes at different times, so just check each show’s individual website for more details.
Also note that most of these shows are talk shows since well, that makes up most of what is taped here (No idea why but thats how the proverbial cookie crumbles. Where’s Jerry Springer when you need him).
***Shows that give away free tickets to live episode tapings include the Wendy Williams Show, SNL, the View, Live with Kelly and Ryan, Good Morning America, the Today Show (you don’t need tickets for this one. Just stand outside the live tapings in Rockefeller Center), the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (my friend went and said it was awesome), the Rachael Ray show, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Inside the Actors Studio, the Doctor Oz Show, and the Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
9. Take the subway from the airport (not a taxi).
If your flight arrives at JFK International Airport, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT take a taxi. First of all, the traffic into and out of JFK is a nightmare (I once had to wait over two hours to get into JFK on a random Friday night. Not fun).
Plus that taxi ride will cost you a whopping $45, plus tolls (a taxi to where I live is over $100. Really takes a chunk out of the vacation budget).
Instead become one of the cheapskate’s of New York and take the subway, which only costs $2.75 a person. Sure, it is kind of a schlepp and will take you over an hour, but it is one of the many great money saving tips in New York City.
***Another one of my money saving tips in New York City is to take a van service from JFK airport to New York City. Not only is it a lot easier than the subway, since they drop you off right at your destination, but vans only cost between $10 — $25 a person (so if you’re traveling solo you may want to make some friends during your flight). You can also try taking an Uber or Lyft to the airport, but just note that they CANNOT pick you up from the airport ( for a detailed list of all the services that can get you to and from all major, New York City airports, click here).
10. Use the TKTS Booth in Times Square to get Broadway Tickets at half price.
One of the best ways to score cheap Broadway tickets it to go to the TKTS booth in Times Square. This booth, located under the bleachers in the center of Times Square, resells unsold, Broadway tickets to THAT DAY’S matinee and evening performances.
I like to arrive about an hour before opening since ticket sales operate on a first come first serve basis (so the earlier you come, the better your tickets are).
Generally, tickets sold here are 50% off, or between $80 and $90. And while it is annoying to wait on line outside, the bonus is that you can score cheap orchestra seats if you go early enough (This happened to me when I saw Beauty and the Beast and it was AWESOME.).
If you don’t feel like waiting outside in line, there are also several online, discount ticketing options that you can choose from. To learn more, click here.
Address: West 47th street & 7th avenue, New York, NY 10036
Hours: Open daily from 3pm — 8pm (only open until 7pm on Sundays).
***The average TKTS wait time is 25 minutes. Also be warned that you are not guaranteed tickets to any show since availability is limited (so you probably won’t score those cheap Hamilton tickets that you always wanted). Also be warned that some tickets may be discounted by less than 50%.
11. Attend free “Summer Concert Series” performances.
Various national news programs, like the Today Show and Good Morning America, host free, summer concert series where popular musicians perform in either Central Park or in Rockefeller Center. I myself have seen Maroon Five and the Backstreet Boys this way.
Now, if you want to do this, you will need to arrive at the concert venue the night before the show and wait outside all night for anything close to a decent view of the artist.
Therefore, bring friends and lots of snack so that everyone can take turns going to the bathroom while
someone else holds your place in line.
Also note that there are no seats at these concerts. Instead, its almost mosh pit like as everyone rushes towards the stage. Translation? If you don’t like confined spaces, don’t attend these free performances.
Now while this is a great way to see some of today’s most popular artists for free, I am at an age where I am not excited to wait outside all night and get crammed into a confined space with a million other people stepping on my toes (not my idea of a good time).
Instead, I’d rather buy the concert ticket and be comfortable but if you’re broke like a joke, this is one of the many great money saving tips in New York City.
***During summer months, public theater also offers a number of free shows in Central Park like the now famous, Shakespeare in the Park..
12. Drink tap water (the cheapskate’s of New York City don’t do bottled water).
Drinks of any kind are ridiculously expensive in New York City (and don’t think you’re gonna get an amazing discount from a street vendor.
Some of them charge like $3 or more for a bottle of soda). That’s why you should just skip the bottled water altogether.
Now I know its just $3 but all those bottles add up and can lead to huge savings. Plus, why buy bottled water when New York City has some of the highest quality tap water in the country?
Believe it or not, the water here is brought in from upstate New York via a local aqueduct.
So don’t get grossed out by the tap water and think you’re drinking that nasty water that inhabits the deep recesses of the Hudson River (Grosses me out just thinking about it.
God knows how many bodies are in that thing. I wouldn’t even swim in it, let alone drink it).
13. Grab a bagel.
I never met a bagel I didn’t like since I am a carb queen for sure. Wait, okay, that’s a lie. I have met bagels I didn’t like, just not in New York.
That’s because New York is known the world over for its epic bagels that are slathered in a rather generous (putting it mildly) amount of cream cheese.
But not only do these carb bombs taste amazing, they’re cheap too. I mean, go to a local deli and you can get a bagel with cream cheese for like $3 or less.
And we’re not talking about a wimpy bagel either. These bad boy bagels are enormous and come with an insane amount of cream cheese. So trust me, you get your monies worth.
My all time favorite bagel place is Ess-A-Bagel on 831 Third Avenue (Within walking distance of Grand Central). If you go here, get the cinnamon raisin bagel with chocolate chip cream cheese and you won’t regret it.
***Other great bagel places include Absolute Bagels (2788 Broadway between 107th and 108th streets), Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam Avenue between 86th and 87th street), Bagel Pub (287 9th street between 4th and 5th avenue), David’s Bagels (273 1st avenue), Russ and Daughters (179 East Houston Street), Bagel Oasis (18312 Horace Harding Expy), Kossar’s Bialys (267 Grand Street), Terrace Bagels (224 Prospect Park West), and Zucker’s Bagels (146 Chambers Street).
14. Skip the Hotel (and no, I don’t mean sleep in a cardboard box).
I was doing some research on hotel prices in New York City and I almost choked at the price. I mean, I knew hotels in New York City were expensive but I had no idea just HOW expensive they really were.
And we’re not talking the Plaza here either. I was looking up establishments that were akin to hostels and the price left my wallet quivering in the corner.
For that reason, skip the hotels and hostels altogether. Instead, try to sublet an apartment since many people rent out their apartments or rooms when they aren’t there.
You can also check out sites like AirBnb, Craigslist, or any other directories to get an entire apartment for way less than the price of a hotel room (Prices start at $50 a day and up. Key word there is “and up”).
***For people who are planning on staying in New York City for more than two weeks, check out extended stay hotels which are typically cheaper and provide larger kitchens/rooms for long term guests.
15. Grab a “slice,” or a pie. I don’t judge.
I bet you probably don’t know this, but believe or not, pizza is kind of a big deal in New York. I mean so much so that we have our own New York Style pizza.
So obviously you HAVE to try some while you’re here. And the best part is that the portions are HUGE and the slices are cheap. You can grab a slice on the go for just 99 cents in some places.
Just walk along 6th Avenue near 14th Street and you’ll find a ton of pizza places with huge signs that say “99 Cent Slice!”. Yup, you can’t miss them.
***For a list of some of the best pizza places on my budget backpacker’s New York City guide, click here.
16. Go to Chinatown.
I went to Chinatown for Chinese New Year and totally forgot how cheap it was. I mean, I am not a huge shopper but I got dinner and a drink for less than $10, and the food was really good too.
So if you’re strapped for cash then head straight for Chinatown. The food is great, the prices are reasonable, and the shopping is awesome.
My friends all love the shopping deals down here since they also have a ton of good quality, knock off designer bags (but you didn’t hear that from me).
Plus, you can get your haggle swerve on. It’s like the only area in New York City where haggling is socially acceptable (and if you get into it, trying to score the best price can be a ton of fun).
***Greenwich Village also has wonderful restaurants at great prices since ACTUAL New Yorkers live here.
17. Hop on the Staten Island Ferry
Hop on board the Staten Island Ferry.
O-M-G (Sorry, my inner millennial is shining through), you could feed a small third world country with the price of admission to the Statue of Liberty.
Besides, once you get on Liberty Island there really isn’t that much to do.
You just wander around, take a bunch of selfies, and cry because you just took out a second mortgage on your house to see Lady Liberty (A ticket into her crown costs $28.50.
There goes paying off my student loans. This price leaves the cheapskate’s of New York sobbing in the corner).
So instead of annihilating your credit score, hop on the Staten Island Ferry.
It’s free, operates 24 hours a day, and the views of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor can’t be beat (The ride across is about 25 minutes and you can board the ferry from the Whitehall Terminal at 4 South Street, Manhattan).
18. Watch the street performers in Washington Square Park.
Okay, let’s be honest for a moment. Broadway is awesome, but even a discounted ticket can cost you almost $80.00.
So instead of selling your future first born to see a Broadway show, try checking out some of the awesome street performers in Washington Square Park.
There’s everything from magic shows to break dancing to skateboarders.
Actually, this one guy brought out his grand piano and played it in the middle of the park. It was pretty funny.
But seriously, you can’t go wrong hanging out in Washington Square Park because its right near NYU so there is always something going on. Plus, Molly’s Cupcakes is right there, on 228 Bleecker Street.
So stop by and have a cupcake for me. Say Kelly sent you and they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.
19. Catch a comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.
If you like comedy, and I know you do because you are reading this HILARIOUS blog post right now (insert forced chuckles here), then you can’t beat the comedy shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.
Seriously, the shows are so good that you might actually see some celebrities performing there Plus, tickets only cost between $5 and $10 a person for an hour and a half show.
So even if it sucks (and it won’t), it’s not like you spent a lot of money.
Usually, UCB Theater offers three shows a night at 8pm, 9:30pm, and 11pm (additional night performances on Friday/Saturday nights and no 11pm performance on Sunday nights).
***One location is in Chelsea at 307 W. 26th Street and the other is in the East Village at 153 east 3rd Street.
***You can find some free comedy shows in Greenwich village at the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker Streets (not as good but they’re free).
20. Eat out during restaurant week.
O-M-G, (I know, its my text monger within), you HAVE to go to restaurant week. It is seriously the most wonderful time of year.
Think like Christmas for adults, only better because everyone eats and not everyone celebrates Christmas.
Why is it so awesome? Well, twice a year (January/February & June/July) some of the best restaurants in the city serve dishes at a fraction of their normal prices.
Typically, restaurant week has a set, 3 course menu that costs $25 for lunch and $38 for dinner.
But with prices like this, restaurant week is very popular (total shocker there), so I highly suggest making a reservation.
Also check the restaurant’s website to see what days of the week they offer the restaurant week special.
Many restaurant participants do not offer the restaurant week menu during the weekend so just double check before you dine because the bill could end up being a lot more expensive than you anticipated (Some of these places can cost you $250.00 a person regularly, so do your research).
***Like restaurant week? Well, believe it or not, New York City also has a spa week every year in early spring. Throughout the week you can get massages, facials, and almost any other spa treatment at a fraction of the usual cost. A great way to destress and save some money.
21. Eat at Food Trucks & Street Carts
If you’re searching for inexpensive lunch, check out the local food trucks, which are a favorite among office employees. Shawarma, hot dogs, gyros, halal products, and a wide variety of other grab-and-go meals are available.
Large parks like Central Park, Union Square, Midtown, or the large squares in the financial area are typically close by. We enjoy their fast, inexpensive food for breakfast and lunch (though many are around during the evening too).
The average dinner costs $5–$7 USD.
Don’t go on walking if there is a huge wait behind a street cart. Take a break, get a lunch. They are affordable, delicious, and a true city staple.
Even blocks away, you can smell the food trucks. I would stay away from carts that are parked in the sun and don’t appear to have a high turn radius, i.e. on the peaceful streets. The Halal Guys, the most recognizable street food vendor, are located on 53rd and 6th Avenue.
Want delicious meals in a relaxed setting? Look for a food truck. Find a location for a picnic or take it to go. In this way, you can maximize the use of your budget at the same time fill up your stomach happily.
I’m Fresh out of Money Saving Tips in New York City!
Sadly, we have come to the end of my budget backpacker’s New York City guide. It’s not because I don’t have more tips for you. Its because my hands are so gnarled from typing, that I can write no more. Ha! Totally kidding.
I really have nothing else to say and this post is so massive that you have probably quit long before this paragraph. You probably aren’t even reading this right now.
LoL. But that’s totally cool. As long as you’ve even found this article mildly helpful then read as much, or as little, as you want (Now you can become one of the official cheapskate’s of New York City.
Welcome to the club). So stay safe and save money wherever this crazy road of life takes you.
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Friday 21st of September 2018
thank you for sharing with us, I think this website truly stands out : D.
Sunday 23rd of September 2018
So glad to hear that. Thank you so much
Friday 29th of June 2018
Nice! Tips for budget backpacker style is very interesting and I love your article, I would use it as a guide during my trip in NY along with my friends, thanks Theapartmentscanggu.com
Friday 29th of June 2018
So glad to hear that. Always happy to help fellow travelers.
Saturday 12th of August 2017
I love these tips!!! But I seriously need a subway for dummies guide- the NYC subway intimidates me so much. I can do public transit on other countries but not NYC! ?? We also love to share meals or eat apps for dinner if we go out at dinner time!
Sunday 13th of August 2017
Oh great idea too!! I need to learn how to share my food more. LoL
Friday 11th of August 2017
Gurrrl I cannot tell you how helpful this seeing as I'll be back in our amazing city on Tuesday for a month or so. You know my situation so I'm still on a tight budget. I've taken lots of notes! Also perhaps when we meet up we can execute some of these tips?! ;) As always, terrific post!
Friday 11th of August 2017
Absolutely, given current events I am also on a limited budget so cannot wait to use some of these tips with you!
Roy A. Ackerman, PhD, EA
Wednesday 9th of August 2017
I used to live in the NYC area- and never took a cab or the subway. I walked. (It wasn't the money- it was the fact that they had just raised the fares and I was protesting.) And, when I lived in NY, college students could go to the theater for $ 3 (off-Broadway- but that's all I cared about anyway). And, learned to love the Greek restaurants (yeah, that's an exaggeration) on 9th and 8th avenue. Loved your advice and passed it along.