The Bargain Hunter

Although it may not always appear that way at first glance, New York has always been the place to get a bargain; after all, Manhattan was purchased in 1626 for a mere $24 in trinkets! A New York visit need not break the bank—just ask one of the many ... more

Although it may not always appear that way at first glance, New York has always been the place to get a bargain; after all, Manhattan was purchased in 1626 for a mere $24 in trinkets! A New York visit need not break the bank—just ask one of the many students wandering the streets—there are great ways to enjoy this city on the cheap. If you’re coming to visit and you don’t have very much cash to burn, we implore you not to worry…the rules for thrifty living are the same here as they are for any other major city. The most obvious thing to do to cut corners is to steer clear of the restaurants. Yes, the city is famous for its food, and obviously you have to eat, but there’s no doubt that New Yorkers enjoy the absolute best pizza, bagels, and deli food. There are also countless less expensive, non-sit down restaurants that line nearly every block in fun neighborhoods like the East Village, Union Square, and the Lower East Side. This is a city that provides a huge variety of everything, and good food is no different: the ever expanding palettes of the typical New Yorker (and visitors) ensure that even at the supermarket level you can find diversity. Whole Foods offers buffets of ... more

Although it may not always appear that way at first glance, New York has always been the place to get a bargain; after all, Manhattan was purchased in 1626 for a mere $24 in trinkets! A New York visit need not break the bank—just ask one of the many students wandering the streets—there are great ways to enjoy this city on the cheap.

If you’re coming to visit and you don’t have very much cash to burn, we implore you not to worry…the rules for thrifty living are the same here as they are for any other major city. The most obvious thing to do to cut corners is to steer clear of the restaurants. Yes, the city is famous for its food, and obviously you have to eat, but there’s no doubt that New Yorkers enjoy the absolute best pizza, bagels, and deli food. There are also countless less expensive, non-sit down restaurants that line nearly every block in fun neighborhoods like the East Village, Union Square, and the Lower East Side.

This is a city that provides a huge variety of everything, and good food is no different: the ever expanding palettes of the typical New Yorker (and visitors) ensure that even at the supermarket level you can find diversity. Whole Foods offers buffets of fully prepared hot meals with literally hundreds of options for under $6 per pound, and you can find everything from interesting salads to Indian food to American comfort food (and there are lots of healthy options too!) The store has five locations throughout Manhattan, which all offer the added comfort of being able to dine in-store for no extra charge:
• TriBeCa, 270 Greenwich St.
• Chelsea, 250 7th Ave.
Union Square, 4 Union Sq. South
• Midtown West, 10 Columbus Circle
• Bowery, 95 E. Houston St.
And as an added bonus, each of these locations is close to areas that are well worth visiting, like Union Square, the Lower East Side, and Central Park!

But of course, if you just want a quick bite on the go, our city’s street vendors have you covered with delicious food (look for Sammy’s Halal on West 4th Street for the best falafel in the city), hot dogs, and giant pretzels at hundreds of locations throughout the city. You can find some of them here, but you’re guaranteed to run into one every other block or so. Check out our extensive restaurant offerings for everything from burgers to Burmese.

New York is also a great city for the frugal in terms of entertainment. In the summer you can almost always find entertainment in Central Park as their Summerstage concert series features a number of free events throughout the warmer months. And with so many street performers and donation-based entertainment venues, you’ll definitely be able to find something fun! For some starting points, check out the events guide, where you can easily find free things going on at any time of day all over the city!

There are also the museums, which are great for families because generally children under the age of 16 or 13 are granted free admission. For example, the Museum of Modern Art is expensive for adults ($20), but if you bring kids under 16, they get in for free. As the collection is so incredible and eye-catching, they’ll undoubtedly be entertained while getting a bit of learning in as well. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the Upper East Side, is situated right next to Central Park and has only a “suggested donation,” which means that you are urged to give a certain amount but if you can’t commit to $20 a visit, you can pay less…and children under 12 are free! The museum’s collection spans from Egyptian art to Impressionist art, and everything in between, including a medieval section that will especially fascinate your kids with life-size relics and knights swords and armor! If you don’t think the kids will appreciate the museum on anything other than a rainy day, check out our guide to New York with kids for some other suggestions for how to entertain the young ones.

A Broadway show is likely one of your best bets for entertaining the whole family and you can get great tickets right here, and some shows are downright cheap. Aside from free Summerstage events and Shakespeare in the Park there are numerous venues in our event guide offering free fun.

As for accommodations, if you’re worried…don’t be. If you book your stay through NYC.com you can get a great deal on your room and have plenty of money left over to hit some of the amazing shops or restaurants that NYC is so famous for. There are also dormitory-style rooms at various hostels and you can even get a discount at some with an IYH membership. You can also check various websites that match people offering room exchanges, or renting rooms in their apartments for a short period of time. Craigslist is one of the best resources you can use for something like this, and you can almost always find someone looking to rent out their apartment, or just a room in it, for a week or two and it’s usually far more economical than a hotel room because you’ll usually get a kitchen where you can make some of your own food so you don’t have to buy it all! Typically this idea will seem strange to some people, but it’s standard practice in Europe and is just now starting to catch on around here. Of course, having friends in NYC always cuts down the costs, and you should never be afraid to ask if you can crash on their couch. No friends? Just make sure you don't break the golden rule of overstaying your welcome, as apartments in New York generally run pretty small.

And then there’s the shopping…

Many people come to New York to shop because they figure there’s such a plethora of shops and goods that they’ll be sure to find a good deal somewhere, right? The electronics game is something that entices loads of tourists to buy while they’re in town so they can document they’re experiences. Midtown attracts so many tourists, and that's where you'll find dozens of electronics stores touting attractive prices, and owners willing to bargain with you. But buyer beware! Some of these places have been known to bait-and-switch, meaning they tell you the product you want isn't available, then they steer you to something more expensive you hadn't intended to purchase. In fact, it’s the national chains like Best Buy and P.C. Richards that generally have better deals than these Midtown places, especially because they come with certain guarantees that tiny, privately owned shops won’t offer. J & R Music & Computer World on Park Row seems to consistently have great prices on electronics, computers and other gear. Do note their return policy is one of the toughest and most inflexible, though. Do your research on the Internet first; it helps to come armed with printouts of exactly what you want, because some stores might actually meet or beat those prices. It’s important to remember to avoid impulse purchases while you’re here if you’re trying to save money, because the people who run these shops know how to “work” the tourists and you’ll feel like you’re getting the deal of a lifetime but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Also check our shopping section on shopping tips about deals that sound too good to be true.

If you’re in the market for non-electronic goods (read: clothes and accessories) we’ve got you covered. Everyone in New York who’s looking for designer clothes but can’t afford the Fifth Avenue prices flock to Century 21, Lohemann’s, Filene’s Basement, DSW Shoes, T.J. Maxx, and Daffy’s. All of these stores are huge, and feature the largest selection of discounted designer goods that you’ll ever find outside of an outlet center. Stores like Old Navy, the Gap, and American Apparel often draw huge crowds in New York because the selection in the NYC branches is much larger than in many of their hometown stores. But if you’re really looking for a good deal, you should check out the incredible vintage, thrift, and consignment stores that the City has to offer, which you can find primarily in the East Village, the Lower East Side, and in Brooklyn. You can find a detailed guide with the best of these shops on our shopping guru’s blog. Also, there’s a stretch of 34th Street around Macy's that has a number of fabric, bead, and clothing stores with sometimes fantastic deals. Finally, remember that in New York you will pay 8.375% sales tax in addition to the printed price on an item, but for clothing or shoe purchases under $110, there won’t be any tax.

Now we know that you didn’t just come to New York for the sightseeing, shopping, and food…you’ll want to have a bit of fun too, which can be a bit tricky here in Manhattan. Our site features a section on great bars & music, but we’re going to let you in on some places where your drinks won’t make you want to drown your sorrows because they cost so much. Neighborhood bars are a great way to meet people and get drinks relatively inexpensively. First off, if you’re on a small budget, stay away from any and all nightclubs. The average minimum cost for a mixed drink in any NYC club is $12, and that’s at the cheapest place. Most spots will charge you upwards of $16 for a shot or mixed drink, and if it sounds like we’re exaggerating…trust us, we’re not. Pubs and dive bars are the way to go if you’re looking to drink for less: the Blue and Gold Tavern (79 E. 7th St., near 1st Ave.) features $5 shot-and-beer specials until 1 a.m.; the Blarney Cove (510 E. 14th St., near Ave. A) always has the right price for beer and liquor; and Continental (25 Third Ave., at St. Marks Place) is famous for its slogan “5 shots of anything for $10!” All drinks there, from frozen margaritas to mixed drinks, are under $5.

Some more strategies for saving:
• Don't drive. Parking your car is either very expensive (garage) or you need to move it frequently (on-street parking). Arriving by plane, bus or train spares you the grief of dealing with your car. Check out our getting around section on parking and driving as well as airports for additional tips on how to get to and from the airports cheaply.
• Don't raid the minibar or eat in your hotel. These are some of the most outrageously expensive charges you'll find in New York. Ditto goes for using the phone in your hotel room. If you don’t have a cell phone, visit a nearby coin telephone or use a prepaid calling card available at newsstands and smoke shops everywhere. See our telecom section for more money-saving tips.
• Don't order bottled water at restaurants; New York is known for having some of the best-tasting and purest tap water in America, and restaurants make a lot of money selling you overpriced bottled water.

If you still don’t feel like you have enough information on how to live cheap in New York, check out our New York on a Budget Guide, which offers additional strategies on how to have a great visit for less, whether you're driving or flying, shopping or selling, walking or biking, web-surfing or dining out.

And, as always, you can subscribe to our RSS feeds of events to stay on top of things! As any real New Yorker will tell you, the best way to get around this city is on foot, and Walking tours are a great way to see NYC, and of course, are great exercise too.


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