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New York City is expensive. If you live in Tokyo, Osaka, Oslo, Sydney, Melbourne, Paris, Caracas, Geneva, Zurich or Singapore, then fine, you can do New York City for cheap compared to living your city. Otherwise, New York City is indeed the land where if you can make it here, you can (probably) make it anywhere. You can barely even catch a break living outside of Manhattan. If you consider the five boroughs independent cities, three of them still often still rank in the top 10 most expensive places in the United States.
First-time readers (welcome), I should tell you I live in New York City (Queens, to be precise). People have asked why I choose to live in such a pricey place. My youthful obsession with Friends aside, I always wanted to live in New York and started saving money in college to finance a move post-graduation. Luckily, I landed a job here three weeks after receiving my diploma in May of 2011. Sure, it is a really expensive place to live, but I’ve managed to thrive because I know how to handle my money and more importantly find a deal.
A few readers asked for me to share any inside knowledge about how to plan a trip to New York City for cheap (or finding cheap entertainment for those who live here). I found many of these ideas by reading The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to New York City (thanks, 妹妹).
A few of my favorites things to do for cheap include: Improv Everywhere’s MP3 Experiment, volunteering to usher shows and got to see them for free, tour of the New York Public Library, free movies in Bryant Part, free comedy shows (not even a drink minimum) and free hours at museums.
Please note, some of these suggestions require standing or waiting in lines for the free perk. If it comes down to a time vs. money value, you may not feel it’s worth your time. Clearly, I do.
My first tip, carry your university and/or military IDs. There are a lot of perks for college kids and military personnel.
FREE (some of which are seasonal):
- Explore Grand Central Terminal (do it by yourself for free. If you’re a Mad Men fan then grab a drink at the Oyster Bar or Campbell Apartment)
- Take the tour of the New York Public Library (a personal favorite)
- Walk around Central Park (it’s obvious, but had to be mentioned)
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
- Walk the High Line
- See the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island by riding the Staten Island Ferry
- Exercise classes via Shape Up NYC (Zumba, Yoga, Bootcamp, Kickboxing etc)
- Go to a comedy show – improv theaters often host free shows. UCB hosts ASSSSCAT 3000 for free on Sunday nights at 9:30. Stars often include cast members from SNL, 30 Rock, The Office and The Colbert Report. The PIT offers free shows on Wednesdays.
- Attend a live taping of a show (yes, they are actually free if you can secure tickets. I’ve done Letterman, Fallon, MTV’s Nikki & Sara Live and SNL — many of which date how long I’ve lived here).
NYC based shows include:
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
- The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
- Late Night with Seth Meyers
- The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
- The Dr. Oz Show
- Good Morning America
- Today show – you don’t need tickets, but here’s tips on making the most of your experience.
- The Wendy Williams Show
- Live! with Kelly
- The Rachel Ray Show
- The View
- Saturday Night Live (the Holy Grail, it’s really hard to get these tickets)
- Broadway in Bryant Park
- Movies in parks around New York – Bryant Park isn’t the only one
- Summer concerts
- Sign up to usher at playhouses (off-Broadway) and they’ll, usually, let you watch the show as payment — I’ve done this with both the 2econdStage Theatre and the Classic Stage Company.
- Participate in Improv Everywhere’s Annual MP3 Experiment (monitor social media for details about this year’s event, photos below)
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Seeing the b
alloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day get inflated (night before) – one of my favorite holiday experiences in the city to date.
- Visit Santa Land at Macy’s
- Holiday markets
- Ice skating at Bryant Park or Central Park – only free if you bring your own skates and don’t need a locker
- Walk 5th Avenue to see the Christmas decorations
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade
- Halloween Parade (the Village)
- Fourth of July hot dog eating contest – Coney Island
- Fourth of July fireworks – be sure to check to see which river (Hudson or the East) gets the view
(Night before Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Growing up riding subways in Japan were the prep for this moment in my life. I can elbow my way through a crowd like you wouldn’t believe.)
GETTING THE BEST DEALS FOR MUSEUMS
- American Museum of Natural History
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The 9/11 Memorial
- P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center (MoMA’s sister museum)
- Brooklyn Museum of Art
- Queens Museum of Art
- The Cloisters
- Whitney Museum of American Art – Friday evenings 6:00 pm – 9:00 (pay as you wish)
- The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – Friday evenings from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
- The Museum of Moving Image – Friday evenings 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
- Brooklyn Botanical Garden – Saturdays from 10 am – noon (I highly suggest going in late April/early May during cherry blossom season.)
NOT ENTIRELY FREE, BUT CHEAPish THINGS TO DO
Cheaper with ID’s or Standing in Lines
- Broadway Student/General Rush Tickets
- Met’s games offer student rush tickets
- Yankee’s game (certain games have discounts for military IDs and/or college)
Yes, the cost of living in New York is atrocious, but if you’re willing to stand in long lines, elbow through crowds and pack a PB&J in your fanny-pack instead of buying lunch, you’ll learn to love New York City for cheap (ish).
For those interested in restaurant options feel free to tweet/email me! Eating out isn’t high on my list of frugal activities in NYC, but for my NYC foodie readers, please leave your tips in the comment section!
Please share other entertainment/frugal finds in the comment section!
Image via Pexels.com