How to Survive New York City without Breaking the Bank

We all know the Big Apple has been consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Why not? Because as I’ve written before, it is an inspiring city to be in. It’s only a valid fact since more than 8 million people call it home, with even more outsiders wanting a piece of New York City life and reach for their dreams in this city of possibilities. Not to mention the 50 million annual tourists scouring for accommodation and touristy deals and ready to spend, it only safe to assume that visiting this city ain’t cheap.

The horror is real. Just look at the expensive parking fees and you know it’s not going to be easy from here. If parking is this expensive, how much do you think your hostel room the size of a single parking space would cost?New York City Parking Rates

I went to NYC by my own some months ago, and I was welcomed with surprises along the way. From outrageously expensive 1×2 meter room in Chinatown to delightful freebies, I must say New York City is full of surprises, and you have to be ready for it. Sure, it’s expensive, but if you really want to avoid splurging while still enjoying the city, just know where to look coupled with research (which is why you’re reading this), some generous flexibility on your part and some luck, I’m sure you’ll be able to survive a trip to NYC and not break the bank while doing so just like I did.

In this blog post I’ll share with you all the things I’ve learned about visiting NYC on a budget and show you the ropes so you don’t have to stress yourself out on doing all the research.

1. Accommodation is very expensive, especially if you try to book last minute

Wow, I thought Chinatown hostels offer the most reasonably priced accommodation around in any city, but I was wrong. I needed a place to stay at for 10 days in NYC so when I arrived at LaGuardia Airport, I went up straight to one of Chinatown’s hostels located in the second floor of most buildings, only for them to slap me in the face with a $2,000 bill for 10 days. That was too much, and I thought to myself that if small dilapidated rooms would cost me 2 grand, how much more would a decent room at a hotel cost me? I went up to a decent two star hotel in Manhattan just to see for myself, and yes of course, it’s much more expensive than Chinatown’s. I really felt so nervous and scared that time because if I wasn’t able to find myself a place by dusk, I would most likely be sleeping in a public place again, same as when I went to Japan.

It’s not going to be easy finding inexpensive accommodation in NYC. This ad at a local grocery is box office already.New York City Room for Rent

Now, it’s not entirely New York City’s (or Chinatown’s) fault. It’s my fault as well because I had the audacity to book last minute which is a no-no when booking, unless it’s a love motel you want to end up sleeping in. Just to give you a back story, I was in San Francisco to visit my mom and when I was about to return to Manila, I looked at Delta airline’s website to see if I can use my miles to finally see NYC. Turned out I can do so for only 25,000 miles round trip plus $11 transaction fee, but the thing is that flight is coming in 2 days. Being the spontaneous guy I was, without any hesitation I booked right away, trusting everything to luck.

So yeah I was there in Manhattan with all the hustle and bustle, and I can still remember me being so scared at all that’s happening around me just because I still wasn’t able to find a place to stay at for the next 10 days. But I still had luck at my side – I did a shout out on my Facebook wall calling on all friends who live in NYC asking for help in finding accommodation, and boy was I glad when a friend I hadn’t seen in forever responded right away. He was able to find me a comfortable enough accommodation in Queens for only $300 for 10 days. Whew! I felt so glad right then and there.

My cozy yet inexpensive “mansion” in Queens, NYC for the next day. Sometimes you just really have to be flexible and not picky. As for me, I loved this place because it gives me a bang for my buck.My one-bedroom accommodation in Queens, New York City

Queens, NYC. My ‘hood and my home for 10 adventure-packed days. So glad my place was near the subway.Queens, NYC. My 'hood and my home for 10 adventure-packed days.

To sum it all up:

  • Don’t even think about booking last minute. I learned this the hard way. Search for accommodation way ahead in advance to give you enough options. Use AirBnb, Trivago, or Expedia for starters. If you want to meet new local friends and sleep at their place for free, try Couchsurfing.
  • Use your connections to help you in your search. It’s always most likely that you’ll have connections in diverse New York.

2. If you want to see NYC and the Statue of Liberty from the waters via a cruise, but don’t have the extra pocket money to do so

That’s where the Staten Island ferry comes in. The ferry services residents of Staten Island to and from the borough of Manhattan, provided free of charge by the NYC Department of Transportation. The 5 mile trip (around 45 minutes each way) lets you see the skyline of the financial district where the One World Trade Center is and you’ll also cruise across Lady Liberty (however it is gonna be quite a distance from your route). The good thing here is that this free service is available 24/7, so you can try seeing the city sights during the day or at night.

Arriving passengers at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Manhattan

Arriving passengers at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Manhattan.

NYC’s Financial District (FiDi) as seen from the Staten Island FerryNYC's Financial District (FiDi) as seen from the Staten Island Ferry

Lady Liberty as seen from the ferry. Not that near, buy enough to see her beauty. Hey, I’m not complaining here – the ride is free anyway.The Statue of Liberty as seen from the Staten Island Ferry

And have some beer while you’re at it. Reasonably priced food and beverages are for sale in the ferry.Have some beer while cruising on the Staten Island ferry

3. Going to the American Museum of Natural History? Hold the purchase

The general adult admission to this museum made famous by the movie “Night at the Museum" is $22, however, if you purchase right at the ticket counter of the museum instead of online or anywhere else, you can pay any amount you feel like paying. And yes, they do accept $1 as payment. If you wish to see MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), it is free to enter from 4-8pm every Friday.

The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History

Whatever the amount is that you choose to pay, it’ll all be worth itExhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City

4. Don’t have internet access? Take advantage of the free WiFi connection during your subway trips

‘Nuff said. Or if you want anytime access to the internet, buy prepaid sim cards from any of their carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Cricket, etc.) for around $55 per month (as of posting date).

Connect to network: TRANSITWIRELESSWIFI as seen below. Thanks NYC subway!Free WiFi at New York City Subway

5. Buy monthly/weekly unlimited subway passes and save a lot on transport

Depending on the length of your stay and on how many times you are planning to use the subway, MTA’s monthly/weekly MetroCard can save you quite a lot. In fact, I recommend that you purchase an unlimited pass so you can ride the subway anytime you feel like it without worrying too much on cost, plus, having an unlimited pass allows you to explore the entirety of NYC for cheap. You can buy the prepaid MetroCard from most stations at vending machines or station booths – fixed rate for a one-way trip (no matter the distance) is $2.75 each way, and the unlimited pass costs $31 for 7 days and $116.50 for 30 days.

Bonus Tip: Get your free map at the airport or download one to your smartphone. Most NYC attractions are near one another, so cluster together all the attractions you want to see in a day to save you on travel time and subway/taxi ride.

This will be your best friend as you hop from one station to anotherNew York City MTA MetroCard subway pass

6. That water bottle sold at a Halal truck actually only sell for $1.

If you look like a tourist, they will try selling it to you for $2-$3. Don’t give in and insist that it’s only $1 in the next truck. Or much better, why not bring your own re-usable water bottle that you can refill at each stop?

As you walk along, you’ll find another Halal food truck before you can even say “Eureka!”
Halal Food Trucks in New York City

7. Looking for inexpensive eats? This can’t get any cheaper than this.

The $2 thin sausages at Halal trucks are so light these just won’t fill your raging hunger. 7/11 stores are all around NYC and when you spot one, ask for their $2.50 combo which includes a large sausage sandwich (plus the works: free unlimited condiments including onions, tomatoes, pickles, jalapeno, ranch sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, cheese sauce, and Chili con Carne) and a nice serving of Big Gulp of your choice to quench your thirst. Food-filling! Not only does it save you some serious cash, but it also saves you serious time spent on eating. Note however that it’s not all about saving; so please make sure that you try and experience the pleasure of eating at one of New York’s hip restaurants from time to time.

This $2.50 tandem could possibly be your lifesaver when in NYC
New York City Cheap Food

8. Avoid frustrations during your trip. Always keep small denominations ($5-$20) with you.

This is because most establishments in NYC (especially cheap eats) will only accept cash and will require a minimum purchase (or worse, a credit card transaction fee) if you plan on using a credit card.

9. When planning to see Broadway theater musicals, buying tickets at a regular price should be your last option.

Regular priced tickets to Broadway can cost you more than $100, which for most is too expensive. Thankfully there are easier in-your-face ways to score tickets at a discount.

  • At the TKTS counter (pictured below) right under the red steps of Times Square, buy your same-day tickets at 25-50% off. The thing is, you have to physically wait in line, and you can only get discount for same-day tickets.
  • If you want to book in advance and avoid the queue, and are your best bet to get tickets up to 50% off.
  • You can also get same-day rush tickets at the theater’s box office for as low as $25 each. You just have to go there as early as you can to check availability.

The Lion King Broadway Show New York City

The TKTS counter is actually under the famous red flight of stairs at Times Square. See the white markers below and you’ll get what I mean.TKTS counter at Times Square

10. Free TV show tickets

If you’re not a fan of Broadway and are more keen on seeing Hollywood A-listers, you can actually do so without spending a single dollar. Just go to Rockefeller Center and the nearby Radio City Music Hall and see if you can snag a free ticket to the Jimmy Fallon Show or America’s Got Talent. You can also catch the Today Show just by reserving at their website. More details about the free shows on my guide to celebrity spotting in NYC.

Just wait ’til you find out Jimmy’s special guest for the dayThe Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon at Rockefeller Center in New York City

11. For the gentlemen reading this, just an FYI. Entrance to any of the regular NYC cabarets is just $20.

Don’t give in to anything higher than that. Competition is so stiff, they had to standardize the fees. And it costs $20 per song, if you know what I mean.

12. If you are in NYC, you might want to take the opportunity to see some of the great attractions of the eastern United States.

Since you’re already in the east coast and depending on your schedule, it might also be practical and worthwhile to take 3 days off your tour to see the Niagara Falls, White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Independence Hall. I myself did it without breaking the bank for only $132. Here’s my write-up about my tour experience.

Just so you know, Niagara Falls is also in the Empire State. Yeah. You might also want to experience it in all its glory.Niagara Falls, New York Empire State

Stay awesome,


Did you go on a recent trip to NYC? What is your number 1 tip to survive an expensive NYC tour? Feel free to comment, share your tips, or ask a question. Please feel free to share this with your friends, and also like me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks!