Five ways to spend less in (of all places) NYC!

Spend what you can or pay the recommended price of admission -- it's just one way to save a bit when seeing the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

You know it.  You just do.  Going to NYC will cost ya! (Well, to tell the truth, traveling anywhere has its unavoidable expenses and serendipitous must-have purchases.)  But there are things you can do to ease the financial pain.

Enjoying the sights of Chinatown costs little -- unless you're shopping for folks back home!

Enjoying the sights of Chinatown costs little — unless you’re shopping for folks back home!

When we decided (on a lark, I might add) to trip off to the Big Apple in December to get into the Christmas spirit, we knew we had to be budget travelers.  Oh, sure, you say.  Stay on a budget during one of the busiest seasons in one of the most traveled places in the U. S.?  But cut corners we did.  And here are some tips that worked for us.

1. Do your homework on transportation.

First, take a look at airline flights if that’s how you’ll get to NYC.  Once you click onto an airline, enter the Flexible Days arena.  There you’ll find flights that can be half the cost of flying on a busy weekend in and out of the city.  If you have the luxury of flexible flying, you can save a bundle, and that’s good news for retirees, casual travelers, and last-minute tourists like us.  (Our weekday Delta departure and return from Knoxville to New York’s LaGuardia was $173.00 compared to the over $300 and $400 flights on the weekends.)

Delta Airlines Flexible Day rate

And do a bit of research, too, on ground transportation from the airport to your destination.  We were directed to Carmel Limousine Service by the owners of the apartment we rented, and, despite some not-so-favorable reviews on the web, the limo and driver couldn’t have been more accommodating or affordable.  Other sites to check are Uber, Lyft, and the Super Shuttle (which could add numerous stops depending on who’s in the van at the time).  Just enter your destination, time of day, etc., and do a bit of comparing.

carmel mobile app

2.  Think about lodging and location.

Of course, if you’re only visiting NYC for New Year’s Eve, you may want to stay near Times Square.  But if you want to blend in with the locals, experience some of the neighborhoods, and stay in quieter locales, look for alternative lodging.  We found an apartment on the Upper West Side near Central Park with positive ratings on TripAdvisor, but other sites may also have just what you’re looking for:  AirBnB, HomeAway, or any of the B&B sites like, or

The advantage?  You can save money and see another side of the city by staying in the ‘burbs, so to speak, where you can avail yourself of what the area affords permanent residents.  Our apartment with one bedroom with queen bed, kitchen and newly remodeled bath cost $170.00 per night, a far cry from what we’ve paid before to be near the theater district and Times Square.  Plus, our owner/manager knew the city well and shared invaluable tips on transportation, eating, sightseeing, etc.

3.  Get a MetroCard.

Because we needed transportation to all the museums, parks, and department stores (We wanted to see the windows, after all!), our apartment owner gave us the best piece of advice for saving money:  Buy a one-week MetroCard for $31.00.  With the price of one subway or local bus ride costing $2.75, we knew we had a bargain with unlimited rides for seven days for only $31.00.  (Be sure to check the MTA site for more info on how and where to buy, use, and reload.) The side benefits can’t be stressed enough:  on-time subways offer expediency, and buses let you see the city from the comfort of your seat — without the hassle of driving yourself!!!

Subways were our friend! Punctual, safe, nearby. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Subways were our friend! Punctual, safe, nearby. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

4.  Watch what you eat!

Now if you’re a foodie hoping to traipse through the city in search of highest rated restaurants and chefs, skip this section.  You’ll have to map out your locales, hire drivers or use your MetroCard, and pony up for foie gras! But if you’re more interested in sightseeing than eating, pace yourself.  First, eat only two meals a day.  If you’re staying where breakfast is free (like the national chain hotels usually), then dig in and enjoy the savings.  Eat a big dinner in early evening.  But even if breakfast isn’t free, consider cooking if you have a kitchen or eating a continental breakfast in your room.

Eat local: Jason's Pickles on the Upper West Side

A meal at Jason’s Pickles on the Upper West Side will fill you up for the day!

Second, head to the local convenient store/neighborhood market for fresh produce, baked goods, quick snacks, or precooked items.  It’s fun to see what’s served locally (and how much food costs in a different part of the country), and you’ll save money over those restaurant prices, too.  If you’re lucky, you may stumble onto a sidewalk market — usually on the weekends — where you can do the farm-to-table thing right in the big city!

5.  Strike a bargain at the museums.

Our apartment manager gave us another tip that even some of our friends who live in NYC didn’t know:  you don’t have to pay the recommended prices for tickets at museums subsidized by the city of New York.  If you see Recommended Price at the admission booth, you can offer less to tour the museum.  Museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, The Cloisters and many others will take what you feel you can afford to pay.  Other museums (like Guggenheim Museum Soho, Museum of American Folk Art, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center) are free every day.  (Click here for the complete list.) You can also weigh the option of passes such as CityPass, the New York Pass, or New York City Explorer Pass that bundle multiple sites for one lower price.

Inside the stately Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Inside the stately Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Don’t forget:  Some of the best things in NYC really are free — visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, talking to vendors in Bryant Park, watching food handlers in Chinatown, creating an avatar at Macy’s, and strolling through neighborhoods.

What you spend on a trip to NYC is up to you!  Hope you can use one or more of our ideas, but please feel free to add your tips below for how to see NYC on a budget.

And check out other posts in the Christmas Holiday NYC series.  Thanks for traveling with us!!!

— Bert and Rusha

Credit:  Image of subway from Wikimedia Commons

This post has been linked to Monday Escapes #27.  Check out the other great posts on My Travel Monkey and Packing My Suitcase.


25 thoughts on “Five ways to spend less in (of all places) NYC!

  1. mytravelmonkey

    Really great advice – I like the idea that you only have to pay what you can afford in the museums. And getting a metrocard! We walked everywhere, too! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  2. Julie Smith

    Good tips – as a former New Yorker, I’m always happily surprised by the deals to be had in NYC. One other tip – there are a few weekly email subscriptions that I used to get that would detail all of the free/cheap things to do in the city all week (I think it’s called The Skint). It was a fantastic resource!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Julie, thanks for passing along this suggestion. I’ll Google to see what I can find from Skint or something similar. I know that big cities are more expensive. They just are. But we had no problem finding affordable transportation, entry to exhibits, and even food. I’m already calculating on when and how we might get back to NYC. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Camp That Site

    All great trip especially the free activities. There are so many thing to do that do t cost a dime or at least do t cost many dimes. I love it there and would return in an instant

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You are so right, Amy. I should have mentioned that. And most travelers do the same as we do. I just thought it bears repeating — don’t stay home just because you think it’s not doable. Even NYC is affordable!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You are so welcome, Janet. We have never had quite the same experience in NYC, and I think if we get to go back, we’ll either stay in the same apartment or another one. Living local is a lot of fun!

      1. Curt Mekemson

        Burning Man actually takes place around the Labor Day weekend, Rusha. I am writing about it now because this is the time of the year when people get tickets for the coming year. It’s a way of giving newcomers a view of what they are getting into and old times a way to reminisce. –Curt

      2. Oh, the Places We See

        I thought it wasn’t happening now, but didn’t get on the Internet to confirm. I’ve enjoyed reading your “round-up” posts that gather like things together. I’m a bit behind, however, but will soon have catch-up day. You’re quite the writer, Curt. And an adventurer, too!

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