New York City is an expensive place.
For those of you saying “well, duh” right now, I envy you. When I first moved to New York City three years ago, I had no idea how much it actually took to live here. I expected expensive, but not subsisting-solely-on-cup-o-noodles, sell-your-stuff-on-Ebay-to-pay-for-electricity expensive. So, between paying an extraordinary amount for rent, food, utilities, plus paying back student loans, I didn’t have any money left for entertainment. For my first few months, I relied on my friends’ DVD and book collections to get me through the nights and weekends, and never went out to restaurants and bars.
But after a while, I began to think what’s the point of living in NYC, one of the most cultural and active cities on the planet, if I can’t actually go out and experience it? So I started doing some first-hand research on how to have fun in New York without lamenting the lightness of one’s wallet. As it turns out, having fun in New York City without spending a ton is possible. There are some pretty fantastic resources out there for cheap, and even free. I’d like to share my findings with you lucky FindSpark readers so you too can go out and truly experience one of the greatest cities on Earth.
Here’s how to have fun in New York City without going broke:
Use free event email lists
Luckily, there are a lot of companies and independent groups out there who realize that NYC residents need cheap entertainment. And even luckier, some of these companies send out daily/weekly emails listing some of the cheap/free events going on that day/night/week/weekend. Below are the best email lists for finding free and cheap events; the lists themselves are free as well. Take some time to visit their websites and sign up for the ones you like. I receive all of them and can vouch for their awesomeness.
–Scoutmob; sends daily emails. Scoutmob not only lists cool events going on during the week and weekends, but also provides coupons for 50% (sometimes even 100% off) your bill at different restaurants and shops.
–The Skint; sends daily emails. The Skint lists all sorts of events, from free movie screenings, to book signings, lectures, concerts, and street fairs. All of the events here are under $20.
–Nonsense NYC; sends weekly emails. Like Skint, Nonsense NYC lists events of all kinds, though I find they tend to lean more towards events in the arts.
Eat and drink on the cheap
Let’s face it, dining out was already expensive enough before adding the New York layer onto it, but a lot of the smaller restaurants in NYC tend to realize this and set their prices to where people can actually pay them. Here are some of my favorite places that offer great culinary and potable experiences for a really cheap price:
–Trader Joe’s Wine Shop. If you love wine, this place will become a necessity for you. TJ’s Wine Shop offers hundreds of bottles of really delicious wine for under $20. Most bottles range from $4-8, and you can get anything you want; a Merlot from Italy, a sweet Riesling from Australia, or a Chardonnay from California. They’ve got what you’re looking for.
–Bao Haus. You’ve never had Baos like these before. This hole-in-the-wall food joint serves up meats like braised berkshire pork belly or wagyu beef, veggies, or tofu on sweet, fluffy steamed buns with toppings like crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, and a special Haus sauce. They’re incredibly filling, and individual baos range from $3-6. Trust me, you’ll only need 1 or 2 to fill you up.
–Gray’s Papaya. Gray’s Papaya is a New York staple, and for a good reason: their hot dogs are fabulous. You can get 2 of these deliciously rotisseried dogs and a drink for only $4.95. Plus, they’re open really late, so you’re set if you find yourself hankerin’ for something savory at 2:00 a.m.
–The Witches Brew. This one is for those all the way out on Long Island. The Witches Brew is Long Island’s best kept secret; it’s a renovated two-story house that’s been converted into a Victorian era themed tea shop. All of the teas are handmade (as in, they mix the tea leaves with different ingredients, like nuts, chocolates, spices, flowers, and various ingredients, then serve them in individual pewter teapots), and they are all amazing, and only $4 for a large pot. They also have an incredible half-regular, half-vegan food menu. Their focaccia bread is one of the most heavenly things in existence, and their homemade cakes (from $3-5) will stay in your dreams for weeks. I also think they should win a design award for their wicked fun menu.
And if you want to get your drink on for a low-cost, try to visit bars during happy hours (usually from 4-7 pm). If you miss happy hour, then stick to well-drinks (mixed drinks sans name brand alcohol) and domestic draft beers when ordering. You’ll get the same effect for half the price.
Visit a museum
I’m sure you’ve heard this already, but it bears repeating: NYC museums are incredible. Most of their admission fees are pretty cheap, especially at the MET where they have a “pay what you wish” policy. Take a day to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) if you love art; The New York Hall of Science if you like to do experiments; or the Museum of Sex if you’d like to explore the “history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality” (a personal favorite of mine; it’s not at all what you’d expect.) An extended list of museums can be found here.
On that note, visit a park or garden
Sometimes it’s fun to just stroll through a park, enjoying the sunshine, grass, and thoughtfully placed trees. New York City has some wonderful parks. From the all-famous Central Park to Washington Square Park to Bryant Park, there’s a park for everybody in every borough. Not to mention the beautiful gardens in New York City. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is especially wonderful; it has so many varieties of flowers, each with a different blooming season.
There’s a better way for movies and plays
Movie tickets at large corporate theaters are insanely overpriced, especially in New York. The same goes for hit Broadway show tickets, though it’s a bit more understandable considering production costs. Still, it’s hard to shell out $15 bucks for a movie or upwards of $125 to see a play/musical. So, why not check out a show at a smaller theater? The Cobble Hill Cinemas shows a lot of the newest hit movies and a ton of indie films at a fraction of the price of the mainstream theaters; it’s only $6.50 for a ticket on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and $9.50 any other day. You can also see free screenings of independent films and documentaries at the SVA Theatre. For great plays and musicals, try going off-Broadway. Check out shows at theaters like the Ars Nova or The Chocolate Factory, which have tickets for under $25. If your heart is still set on one of the big shows though, wait for Broadway Week when tickets will be deeply discounted.
General tips for budget entertainment
-Do your math before buying a Metro card. If you’re traveling at least twice a day (to and from home) during the week and plan on going out during the weekends, then definitely go for a monthly pass. It’ll save you money in the long run. Otherwise, calculate how many trips you actually make during the week/month and buy tickets accordingly at the beginning of the month. This way you always know how much you have to spend and can budget for it. Also note that the MTA now charges for every new card you buy, so refill your card instead of getting a new one.
-Events, shops, and restaurants are cheaper in the outer boroughs and offer just as much excitement, if not as many advertisements, as Midtown Manhattan.
-If you’re worried about crowds at free events, get there early. Most hosts of free events anticipate large crowds so there should be room for everyone, but you never know.
Do you have any favorite places to go or things to see for cheap in NYC? Let us know in the comments.