NYC On a Budget — AKA Cheap-Ass Katy in The City

by Katy on October 9, 2013 · 29 comments

My younger son and I are currently in New York City for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. And because I am who I am, (completely, utterly and unapologetically cheap) I am using garbage picked paint to paint the town red. (In this metaphor, my frugal activities are “the paint,” and hanging out with my son is now considered “painting the town red.”)

Got it?

Here are my frugal tips for visiting New York:

Take public transportation from the airport. (JFK has subway service, and Laguardia has a $2.50 bus to subway option.) If this prospect is too scary for you, then might I suggest splitting a cab with someone. This someone can be the person you sat next to on the plane or anyone also in line for a cab. Because, guess what?  You are unlikely to be the only person who enjoys saving money. Just tell the cabby there are going to be two stops.

Take advantage of NYC’s fantastic subway service. It’s cleaner than you think, and filled with regular people. Get over your fear. Fast, cheap, easy? What’s not to love?

Even cheaper than taking the subway is to simply walk. NYC is pretty much flat as a pancake, so walking is a breeze. You’ll exercise your flabby body and get to take in all the architecture and sights. (Wait, what? Your body isn’t flabby? Must just be me. Dang.)

Avoid the high cost museums (Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim) and frequent the Suggested Donation museums which include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History and The Cloisters. They may suggest an admission price of $22, but no actual New Yorker would be caught dead paying that amount. Pay what you think is fair and fits within your budget. I promise you that the clerk won’t even bat an eye.

Go explore Central Park. It’s gorgeous and is hands down the best people (and nature) watching in the city. The photo ops never cease to wonder, and the price just can’t be beat.

Stay with a friend. There are 75 bajillion people in NYC, surely you know one of them. (Don’t worry, New Yorkers are used to freeloading friends.) Somehow missed out in the NYC friend department? Then give Airbnb a try.

Keep your meals simple and cheap. Head down to the Indian restaurants on 6th Street in the East Village and steer clear of stupid gimmicky tourist trap restaurants. (I’m looking at you, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company!) Use Yelp to find great cheap restaurants.

Shop for entertainment, not a spending activity. Look around, admire the merchandise and then leave it in the store. You have enough stuff, as do your friends and family.

Keep it real. Remember that show, Sex and The City?  Yeah . . .  it turns out it was fictional. Normal people repeat outfits, wear comfortable shoes and shy away from eating every meal in a restaurant.

Want concrete proof of Cheap-Ass Katy in The City?

Here she is gazing into a coin filled fountain. She is thinking, “How embarrassed would my teenage son be if I started scooping up some of those wet pennies?”

Sad Coin-Girl

Here she is hanging out with her friend Triceratops. She is too shy to admit how little she paid for her Museum of Natural History admission.

Katy and Sara

Here’s her fifteen-year-old son, who enjoys hanging out with glamorous movie stars such as the Easter Island head from Night at The Museum.


Just because New York can be expensive doesn’t mean New York has to be expensive.

Just ask that cheap-ass lady.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindi October 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Haha! Standing with Dum-Dum, the Easter Island figure was one of the highlights of our family’s relatively cheap-ass trip last January…that and Ethiopian food!! So tasty!


A. Marie October 9, 2013 at 1:04 pm

And don’t neglect NYC’s thrift shops while you’re there, if you’ve got time to hit a few. My invaluable NYC friend lives within two blocks of the 96th St. subway station on the West Side–and there are three good thrift shops within a stone’s throw of that station: a Salvation Army, a Housing Works shop (pricey, but funky stuff), and an excellent shop underneath the Catholic church whose name I forget about a block east on 96th. Shopping in NYC doesn’t have to be all Madison Ave. (or even any Madison Ave.)!


Katy October 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I am supposedly here to help my sister with pre-Bar Matzvah preparation, so I don’t think I’m going to have any time for thrifting.

So sad.



A. Marie October 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Bummer! But family first, of course.


Dan Garner October 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

We’re going to NYC next week. The museum tips are most helpful.




Kate October 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I can’t even tell you how hard it was to pass by a Salvation Army in Greenwich Village when we were there last year! We were, however, on a free guided tour of the neighborhood, and my son found a coin during the tour, so that helped. 🙂 We also toured the Teddy Roosevelt birthplace(a national park site, so not currently open) and took a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, both for free. We drove into the city, so we also took A LOT of food with us to save some money, and keep my way-too-many-food-allergies husband safe and fed. 🙂


Katy October 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I did find two pennies and a mysterious foreign coin today!



Kate October 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm



patti October 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Great tips!


AnnW October 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Is today or this week a free museum day everywhere in the country? Some museums in New York City have a free night once a week. We just found out the the Metropolitan Museum was built on city land and might have been illegally charging admission all these years. Did you know that Central Park has its own volunteer ambulance crew? It is headquartered near one of the transverses. Did you know, that tickets to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are free and easy to get? Have a great time while you are here. Don’t forget to look for free stuff on the street at night when the trash is put out. You Never Know what you will find. Ann


Sharon October 9, 2013 at 2:46 pm

And it’s Katy for the win!

Another clever, fun, and very, very useful post. Thanks for letting us tag along on your trip. We’ve enjoyed our trips to NY, and agree its a fabulous place. My DH actually planned a special day just for me to indulge my hobby of buying books, and took the boys to the park so I could scope out NY’s legendary used book stores. What a guy!


AFS October 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Thanks for the “Non-consumer guide to visiting NYC”
My friend is in NYC until April and I plan to visit NY before she comes home.


Adrienne October 9, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Went on a very similar low-cost NYC vacation last year. One of the best tips I got was to take the free Staten Island Ferry. It’s a great view of the Statue of Liberty. Also if you have museum or zoo memberships at home check to see where else they give you free entry.


Mauren October 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Don’t forget the free walk across the Brooklyn Bridge! I grew up on Long Island and it wasn’t until I moved away and turned 48 that I walked across. The views are very cool!


Hope :) October 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm

All great tips!! Speaking of shopping without spending (I always call this “window-shopping” even if I’m not actually shopping through a window ;)), Tiffany’s is great fun to play around in without spending a dime (because who can afford it — or, should I say, who WANTS to afford the merchandise?). As is Macy’s.

When the government’s not shut down, I also love all the national parks throughout the city. 🙂 And of course, just exploring/people-watching in the neighborhoods is great fun!

One last frugal tip I’ll share — my husband and I love the theatre, but who wants to pay full price? We drop by the TKTS booth at Times Square to get discounts on plays for that night. This is great fun, especially if you’re not wedded to what you want to see! We’ve taken in so many great shows this way that we never would’ve picked on our own.

OK, I’ve blabbed enough. And maybe talked myself back into another trip to NYC this winter sometime — on the $5 BoltBus, of course! 😉


Kori October 10, 2013 at 7:39 am

The TKTS booth at South Street Seaport almost never has a line, and always seems to have a good variety of tickets. If you haven’t tried that one, you should definitely check it out!


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary October 10, 2013 at 4:48 am

One caveat on sharing a taxi — here in Boston that is not allowed from the airport. (I’m not sure what the rules are in NYC.) You can try to make a special arrangement with the cab driver, but it is really frowned upon. There are special rates from Logan Airport to the surrounding towns, and cab drivers are not allowed to accept groups going to more than one destination. Fair warning.

I love all the frugal ideas, and have used many of them. The one museum that we paid full price for was the Tenement Museum ( I’d never seen anything like it, and thought it was worth every penny.

Enjoy the trip!!


jill October 10, 2013 at 7:15 am

Katy –
Have a great trip! My family was there for a few days in May and my two daughters were terribly embarassed that we weren’t paying the “suggested price” at the Natural History Museum so they waited far away while my husband paid for our admission. Then we got a hotdog off a cart for a cheap lunch and spent the rest of the day in Central Park. I will have to tell my husband that we did NYC the “Non-Consumer Advocate” way. He will be so proud!


Claudia October 10, 2013 at 8:33 am

I live in New York City and agree with all your tips! If you’re going to eat out, I also highly recommend looking for mom-and-pop neighborhood ethnic restaurants for some of the cheapest and best food in the city. If you have a lot of self-control, browse and window-shop the fancy stores; the window displays and interior architecture are the best things about them, anyway. Also, if you can, plan to visit around the first of the month, when people are moving, for some of the best trash-picking and stoop sales anywhere.


Katie October 10, 2013 at 8:46 am

I live in NYC and I definitely taking the subway and staying away from Midtown…everything is overpriced there for tourists, even the street carts! Here are some other cheap ideas:

Pizza by the slice for lunch. NYC has the best pizza (as well as bagels) and there are lots of options.
Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and explore Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Catch an improv comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade, tickets are only 5 dollars.
Eat in Chinatown. There are many places you can get 4-5 dumplings for $1.
Check out the Brooklyn Flea, a great flea market with lots of local artists
There are LOTS of food trucks in Manhattan and Brooklyn at various locations and you can get a really good meal.
Wander around the Union Square Farmer’s Market
Lincoln Center offers cheaper tickets for plays for 21-35 year olds through LincTix. It is free to sign up!


Jill October 10, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I had my first trip to NY (all the way from Australia) a couple of months ago. What an amazing city. Surprised you didn’t mention the Highline. IMHO while tiny by comparison to Central Park, was my favourite NY Park experience. An amazing buzz, great views, surrounded by fantastic architecture, wonderful plants, art, outdoor furniture and of course all free. If you plan in advance they sometimes have free activities listed on their site. They also have free wifi and it’s a great way to stretch your legs between mid town and downtown.

I AirBnB’d and caught the subway everywhere. I felt utterly safe and had positive experiences of both. The best music I heard in NYC were buskers in the subway and there’s some worthwhile art in some of the stations as well.

By staying in an airbnb apartment we could eat breakfasts at home. We picked a great neighbourhood (West Village) and ate local. It was certainly cheaper than Australia (including tax and tips).

There were lots of free things we didn’t get the time to do, one was a free (or by donation) tour of Grand Central Terminus and environs run every Friday. One freebie we were totally lucky to be in town for was the Museum Mile – a golden night where 5th Avenue is closed for 10 blocks, with entertainment and free entry to most of the museums (we went to the Guggenheim and the Met). Amazing.

We also found that some of the train companies offer cheap deals on day trips out of NYC. We saved money on an upstate museum we desperately wanted to visit by getting one of these packages combining train tickets and museum entry.

Have written about some of these experiences on my blog if you’re looking for more ideas.


Katy October 11, 2013 at 7:02 am

I’d forgotten about The Highline, as it didn’t exist when I lived here 1988-1991.

Not sure if I’ll have time to check it out, but I may try to fit it in.



Maggie G July 3, 2015 at 6:44 am

One of my favorite adventures in NYC is to take the free Main library tour (Schwarzman building). (They suggest a donation which is up to you and goes for upkeep…there’s a dropbox for it.) The guided tour was fantastic and I learned so much about the city’s history, saw Charles Dickens’ desk, saw there are miles of books underground in storage, saw the original Winnie the Pooh animals, and more. After the tour, we ate our picnic lunch outside in Bryant Park and then went back inside to explore and also saw a small but excellent Art Deco poster exhibit. Excellent!


Thrifty Writer October 11, 2013 at 10:04 am

I tried to post this yesterday – hopefully, it’s not too late. You should look up – lots of great free and cheap stuff to do in NYC (including when bakeries and food trucks are giving stuff away!).


Katy October 13, 2013 at 5:02 am

Great site, thanks! We’re going to try to take in a few Open House New York sites today.



JaneUlness October 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm

On what did you do today.

I rested after planting my face on the cement walkway carrying in the weeks groceries that I bought 52 percent off.
I ventured out to rite aid where they paid me .49 to bring home a 3.50 tube of toothpaste. How I have two tubes for the women’s shelter stash and I was paid a total of .50 to purchase them.

I was told that if I hadn’t gone to the grocery store, I wouldn’t have messed my face up. Was it worth a smashed face to go to the grocery store! I guess I could have done the same going to the mail box. LOL


Katy October 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Yikes, take care!



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