how to do NYC on a budget

New York holds a wee sentimental sliver of my heart. It was where I met up with an old friend after a rough couple of weeks. It was one of my domestic stops with a top group of friends before I spent months backpacking and volunteering. I heart New York, I think I really do.

However, I'm going to preface this post by saying Tash, Keegs, Chelsea, and I spent a shit ton of money during our stay in New York. No ragrets. Not a single letter. We wanted to eat all the food and do all the things and see all the places, which is impossible. But, damn, we nailed most of it. We made smart decisions about where to pinch pennies. While our stay wasn't necessarily 'budget', it was sensible...mostly. 

Here are some tricks to make a trip to NYC easier on your wallet! 

Visit museums on 'donation days'

The lot of us purposefully visited the Guggenheim on Saturday between 5:45-7:45 p.m. This is a period of time when you can enter the museum and pay by donation. We got to experience the...interesting...modern art museum for a fraction of the cost. There are discounts available for most museums in New York, you just have to plan. 

Sleep outside of Manhattan

Our {perfect} AirBnB was in Harlem and cost us almost nothing. Especially since we split the bill 4 ways. Staying in Harlem where accommodation was cheaper allowed us to spend more on Central Park bike rentals and mimosas at Sarabeth's. I stayed in an AirBnB with S the night before we left for Niagara and, similarly, it was cheaper staying outside of Manhattan. All it means is a few more subway rides or extra blocks walked. Which brings me to the next point...

Walk + use the subway

We walked all over the city. I mean all over. Chelsea even hurt her foot at one point from walking so much in her sandals. We truly got a leg workout while saving our cab fare budget for times when it was an absolute must, i.e. getting back to Harlem after Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks. The subway is also a cheap alternative to cabs. Our experience with taxis wasn't the best anyway-- the drivers had no idea where they were going, it was pricey, and all of them were pretty rude. 

Take advantage of everything 'free'

I make a point of saying this in every guide, but nothing is cheaper than free. Chelsea, Tash, and I spent a Thursday evening doing free guided yoga in Bryant Park {while Keegan took pictures of the hot girls in front of us with my camera}. It felt like a true NYC moment, practicing in an iconic NYC park with yogi New Yorkers in the Manhattan summer weather. Sure, you could easily pay to go to a fancy studio where they serve green tea in BPA-free cups on any night of the week. But we used those saved dollars to visit the top of the Empire State Building! Every penny counts when you're traveling. 

Draft a plan

On night one, we sat down and formed a loose plan. I mentioned this tip in my advice for how to make Greece affordable, but I cannot stress it enough. Having some semblance of a plan allowed us to outline free/discounted days at sites we wanted to stop by. We could schedule out a free evening to do yoga in the park on our way to the Empire State building before our dinner reservations at Serendipity. We mapped out visiting the Guggenheim on 'donation day' before walking to our firework vantage point. If we hadn't sussed out some sort of plan, we might have missed cheap deals on things we wanted to experience. 

Know your priorities

This goes along with the point above. The New York Pass was an option we had been thinly contemplating, but ultimately when we looked at what interested us, it was less 'Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour' and more 'watch Tara make a fool of herself at the Brooklyn Brewery'. Knowing what our priorities were allowed us to save money by not purchasing the bulk pass and, instead, paying for just exactly what we wanted to see. The pass wasn't a deal for us when we only wanted to see 2 of the items on the list. This doesn't mean it won't be a deal for you, it only means you should know what kind of an experience you're looking for!  


Buy the cheap seats

Going to a Yankees game the day after Independence Day was going to be pricey. Luckily, we came to an agreement early on that being at the game to experience it was more important than sitting right by dugouts. We were in the 'nose-bleeds', but that didn't taint our experience {which was the most lack-luster MLB game I've ever attended, to be honest}. Likewise, at the Apollo Theater for Amateur night {something NOT to be missed}, we opted for the budget seats and found ourselves having the absolute best time. Our laughter did not stop the entire evening, despite being sat in middle seats and not front-row center. 

New York City is full of experiences to be had. Like any thriving city, it can be a bit hard on the wallet. But a budget-friendly trip to NYC is possible! I'll be making another trip to the big apple in a few weeks time and I can't wait to experience more on my ever-growing New York bucketlist! All suggestions in the comments are welcomed with an eager smile.