Saving money is a challenge in any metropolitan area. There’s no shortage of things to do, and pricey temptations are found on every corner. For those residents who are living on a budget, an expensive city presents quite a challenge. With its extremely high cost of living, the Big Apple is one of the worst cities to live in if you want to save money.
Many New Yorkers find it easier to save money during warmer seasons. Spring brings many more opportunities for free outdoor activities. “I’ve noticed it is definitely easier to come up with things to do in the nice weather,” says Sofia de Guzman, a Brooklyn Heights resident, “but I suppose if it’s winter your best bet is to spend all day at the Met or go find a cozy pub with cheap pitchers of beer and board games.”
Other NYC residents suggest taking advantage of the unique promotions New York has to offer, such as Restaurant Week and Spa Week. Sarah Turney, who lives in Manhattan’s Financial District, says working a lot will help cut costs as well. Many NYC residents are there for professional opportunities. “When you spend all your time at work, it’s hard to spend money, but it may result in you becoming a bitter hag,” Turney jokes.
Previously, we looked at how to save money when living in any expensive U.S. city, but there are certain cost-cutting tricks and bargain spots unique to New York. Here are the best insider tips, from actual Big Apple dwellers, for living on a budget in New York City.
1. Save at home
Saving money on utilities and rent is a big deal in NYC, where the rental market is one of the worst in the country. In Bronx County, for example, the percentage of median income needed to rent an apartment is 69%. New Yorkers with low incomes are being pushed farther and farther from Manhattan, so if you’re on a budget, be prepared to live quite a train ride away from Midtown.
- Live with roommates
- Don’t live in the best neighborhood
- Share Wi-Fi with your neighbors
- Be conservative with utilities
- Forego cable and landlines
2. Go outside
Many New Yorkers agree going for walks is one of the best parts of living in the city. There are countless interesting places to wander. Plus, it’s always good to get out of that tiny apartment. De Guzman suggests the following walking spots: the Union Square Greenmarket, the flower district on 28th street, the High Line on the west side, Central Park, 12th Street in Greenwich Village, and the Williamsburg Bridge (but stop for a beer and the view in the middle, she says).
- Take the train to the Rockaways and spend the day at the beach
- Get five-for-$1 dumplings in Chinatown and watch the bike polo players in the park
- Have a picnic at Greenwood Cemetery, a huge Victorian cemetery with amazing grounds in Sunset Park (plenty of cheap Mexican restaurants in the area)
- On Tuesdays, you can spend the day at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for free (cherry blossoms in May, rose gardens in June)
3. Shop online
In New York City, getting groceries and other goods delivered right to your door is gaining popularity, as it saves both time and transportation costs. Turney says she purchases everything from groceries and toiletries to pet supplies from online retailers for delivery. “I order almost everything online from Walmart, Target, etcetera,” Turney says, “that way I don’t have to pay outrageous Duane Reade or bodega prices.”
- Walmart.com offers free shipping on orders of $50 or more
- Target.com offers free shipping on orders of $25 or more
- AmazonFresh offers free same-day delivery with Prime membership
- Instacart offers same-day delivery for $3.99-$5.99
4. Take advantage of culture
One reason city dwellers put up with a higher cost of living is to enjoy the many cultural activities not found anywhere else. The good news is many of the best museums, concerts, and cultural events in New York are either free or very affordable. Lots of museums have free admission days once per month or even once per week. Even more of them offer donation-based admission, also known as “pay what you wish,” such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters, P.S.1 MoMA, and the American Museum of Natural History. Check out the full list at nyc-arts.org.
- Cobble Hill Cinemas in Brooklyn has movie tickets for $8.50 on Tuesdays and Thursdays
- Gallery openings are a great way to see new art and even get a free glass of wine (usually on Thursday nights in Chelsea)
- The Joyce and other theaters offer the opportunity to usher and see a show for free (most shows also have a student rush, or lottery, for cheaper tickets)
- The Met is open until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so it can be a fun, cheap date
5. Find bargain foods and drinks
Saving money on food is a huge challenge for New Yorkers. Whether you’re dining out or buying groceries, prices will be steep. If grocery delivery services aren’t to your liking, this is one area where buying in bulk can be useful. Brooklyn resident Elliott Keller notes, “Some people are members of a food co-op where you can buy products at wholesale in exchange for working, usually one shift per month.”
New York also boasts some of the highest drink prices, with the average cost of a cocktail in Manhattan at $15. If you want to go out for a drink, typically the only affordable option is happy hour specials. “I look for the places that do $1 oysters if I really want to live it up,” says de Guzman.
- Pizza slices
- Buy in bulk
- Cook and brew coffee at home
- Save your leftovers
- Happy hour
- Many restaurants are BYOB
6. Stay in shape
Gym memberships in big cities can be outrageously pricey, but there are plenty of other options for fitness. In addition to all the pleasant walks and bike rides you can embark on in NYC, you can also try ClassPass, which could prove to be a godsend in the winter months. This $99 membership allows you to take fitness classes at a wide variety of studios and training facilities for one monthly cost, instead of paying individual memberships. Even if that price is too steep, you don’t have to sacrifice physical activity. Plus, staying healthy will help you save on health care costs.
- Yoga to the People (donation-based classes in six NYC locations)
- Free kayaking on NYC’s waterways
- Free fitness apps
- Free workout videos on Hulu, YouTube
- Walking and biking
7. Save on transportation
City dwellers often joke about never leaving their neighborhood. Sure, it’s good to get out and explore once in a while, but staying close to home actually saves money. Transportation costs in New York can be a drain on your budget, but not if you travel smart. For example, apps like Uber and Lyft give you the option to carpool with people going to a similar destination, which will almost certainly be cheaper than taking a cab by yourself.
- Don’t own a car
- Avoid taking cabs
- Try Lyft Line or UberPool
- Take the bus and the subway
- Get a 30-day MetroCard (if you’ll use it enough to make it worth the price)
- Walking and biking (again!)