New York City on a Budget: 17 Money-Saving Tips

New York City is notoriously expensive, but that doesn't mean you can't stick to a budget. There are plenty of free things to do in NYC and other ways you can save money during your trip.

We've put together our best money-saving tips for traveling in NYC so you don't come home from vacation completely broke!

Whether this is your first time visiting New York City or The Big Apple feels like your second home, these tips will help you travel NYC for cheap!

1. Visit NYC at the Right Time

New York City is busy year round, but during peak tourist times, like the summer months and during the holidays, hotel prices will be ultra high. If you visit during a less busy season for out of town travelers, you’ll find much better rates.

Cheapest times to visit NYC:

  • January - early April

  • September - November (excluding holidays)

2. Find a cheap flight to NYC

Getting there doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are often times great flight deals to NYC because it is a major hub. Be sure to include both JFK and La Guardia, or even Newark, in your search.

Try seaching with Google Flights to come up with the best deal that suits your needs.

Here is an entire article dedicated to finding cheap flights around the world!

3. Take the train to and from the airport

Whether you fly into JFK or La Guardia, you will be pretty far from the city when you land. Instead of hailing a taxi or Uber, which will cost you at least $40 - $50 (maybe even $65), take the shuttle to the metro. It is super easy to do and will save you a lot of money. 

Here's how to do it:

For us, it was easiest to buy the 7-day metro pass (see tip #6), which allowed us to use the bus and metro unlimited times for our entire time in NYC. You can purchase the pass from the Metro Card vending machines which have very simple instructions to follow.

Once you have your card, simply use Google Maps and direct yourself to your hotel via public transportation.

Getting from La Guardia (LGA) to Manhattan:

From La Guardia Terminal B, take the Q70-SBS bus to Roosevelt Av/74 Street stop. Get off the bus and enter the metro at Roosevelt Av - Jackson Heights Subway Station. If you’re a little disoriented (I sure was), just ask the bus driver where the metro entrance is located. Once in the metro station, take the E line to 50 Street Subway Station toward World Trade Center, or connect a line leading you to your hotel/Airbnb. Total time is about 1 hour.

Getting from JFK to Manhattan:

Leaving from JFK Terminal 4, you have to purchase the $5 JFK AirTrain ticket which will take to Jamaica Station. From there you can connect to the NYC Metro and buy the 7-day Metro pass (tip #6) or a single ticket for $2.75 (plus $1 for the card). Then take the Long Beach line, Babylon line, or the E line into Manhattan and to your hotel/Airbnb. Total time is about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

4. Find Cheap Accommodation

Hotels in New York City are notoriously expensive, even for low quality digs. So when we say “cheap accommodation”, we mean relatively cheap.

Basically you have 3 options when it comes to finding cheap accommodation:

1) Go super cheap-o

This is what $100 a night will get you in NYC. Yuck.

Find the absolutely cheapest room you can find and be prepared for the worst. We paid $100 a night for the sh!ttiest hostel we’ve ever stayed at (pardon my language, but it has to be said). It was basically a closet with a window looking out to a wall and a dirty shared bathroom.

2) Pay a little more than you’d like

Alternatively, we stayed at a hotel for the last 2 nights of our trip that was a little more than double the price of aforementioned hostel (so it ain’t cheap!), but it was 1,000 times better. It was more than we’d typically spend anywhere else, but hey, it’s NYC.

3) Best Option: Book an Airbnb instead

Airbnb is actually a great option when it comes to accommodation in New York City, and the quality to price ratio can be much better. There are a ton of options out there that are a really good value. Most of them even have a kitchen so you can save money by cooking your own breakfast and other meals.

But make sure you book far enough in advance, as many of the good places fill up quickly. By the time we started looking, just 2 weeks before our trip, there were only the "scraps" left over.

Use this Airbnb link and we’ll give you for $40 off your first Airbnb stay: There’s no catch.

5. Find Free & Cheap Things To Do

There are tons of things to do in NYC that will cost you absolutely nothing. Fill your days with free and cheap activities to save yourself some dough!

We've put together a pretty long list of free and cheap things to do in New York City, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Walk along the High Line

  • Picnic in Central Park

  • Explore the street art in the Bushwick neighborhood

  • Watch the Today Show being filmed

  • Take a Free Walking Tour

  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and explore the Dumbo neighborhood

6. Get the Metro Pass

Getting an unlimited Metro pass saved us a ton of money during our trip to NYC. You can either get a 7-day unlimited pass or a 30-day unlimited pass. We were only in the city for 4 full days, but even so, the week-long pass was a great deal. 

It costs $32 (plus $1 for the reusable card itself), but if you use the metro 11 times (which we definitely did in 4 days), it will pay for itself. 

Taking an Uber is another option in NYC (cheaper than taxis!) depending on where you want to go.

Maybe you’ll get lucky like us and have the whole car to yourself!

Insider Tip: If you do want to take an Uber, the Uber Pool option is cheapest. This means the driver might pick up another passenger going on a similar route, but your total cost will be less expensive.

We would NOT recommend renting a car in NYC, as traffic is ugly and the cost of parking garages is insane!

7. Get the NYC CityPASS (maybe)

If it's your first time visiting New York City and you want to see many of the major attractions, the New York CityPASS can be a good option. Starting at $126 per adult ($106 per youth), it’s not cheap up front, but it will truly save you money in the end if you want to hit all the major attractions (a 42% savings for an adult).

It gives you entrance to 6 activities throughout the city. Plus, at most attractions you will stand in a separate line, which in every single attraction we visited was much shorter than the line for purchasing tickets.

Go through the list of attractions included and mark the ones you definitely want to see to calculate if it makes sense for you to purchase.

CityPASS includes admission to (prices are for adults):

  1. The Empire State Building (value $53.25)

  2. American Museum of Natural History (value $28)

  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (value $25)

  4. Top of the Rock Observation Deck (value $39.20) OR Guggenheim Museum (value $25)

  5. Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (value $18.50) OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises (value $37)

  6. 9/11 Memorial & Museum (value $24) OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (value $33)

Only interested in a few… There is another option: You could purchase the New York C3 pass, where for $83 per adult ($62 per child) and you get to choose any 3 attractions above to visit. It’s up to a 25% savings off the original price.

8. See the Statue of Liberty for Free!

If your budget is tight, skip the Statue of Liberty tour altogether. Instead, take the Staten Island Ferry (which is free!) and brings you right past the statue. Just check out the picture above to see the sweet view you’ll get — right next to the sightseeing cruises!

Insider Tip: Be sure to grab a spot on the upper deck on the right side (west side) of the vessel as you leave Manhattan.

You can either get right back on the return ferry once you arrive in Staten Island, or wander around a bit and grab lunch at one of the affordable Sri Lankan restaurants in the area. The ferries depart every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour and are 100% free.

And even if your budget isn’t super tight, this is a good, less-touristy option.

9. Pay as you wish Museum Entry

Did you know that some of NYC’s most famous museums have pay-as-you-wish entry all the time? Yes, even the American Museum of Natural History! This makes these national treasures accessible to all.

And if a museum isn’t pay as you wish, there’s a good chance they have specific days or times that entry is free. Here are some examples:

  • 9/11 Memorial: FREE on Tuesdays from 5 - 8 p.m.

  • Museum of Modern Art (MOMA): FREE on Fridays from 4 - 8 p.m.

  • New York Botanical Garden: FREE all day Wednesdays, and from 9 - 10 a.m. on Saturdays

Take a look at this list of free museum days so you know when to plan your visit. Just know that on free entrance days, there is typically a longer queue.

10. Get Discount Broadway Tickets

Seeing a Broadway show is on most people's Bucket List when visiting NYC. If you don't do much research, you can expect to pay a hefty price for those tickets.

But luckily there are ways to score seats at a Broadway show for cheap! The most common way to get your tickets for cheap is to head to a TKTS booth where you can score same-day tickets that can be up to half-off!

Here’s everything you need to know about getting discounted tickets to Broadway shows.

And if you can’t get a cheap ticket, but still want to be entertained, head to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, order a milkshake and fries and prepare to be wowed by the talented performers that are sometimes up-and-coming Broadway starts!

11. Know Where to Eat for Cheap

You can easily spend your entire budget on food in NYC. And while we definitely had some worthy splurges, like a $24 lobster roll at The Frying Pan, we tried our best to find some cheap eats.

You’ll have no problem finding cheap eats if you know where to look:

  • You’ll find Food Trucks all around the city. Some are cheaper than others, but there are tons of intriguing options, from Korean BBQ to gyros.

  • Dollar slices of pizza are an NYC staple, and can be found all around town. Try Joes’ Pizza for the most famous $1 slice, or scout out one of the other 70 shops in the city that boast dollar slices (there’s even an app for that!).

Insider Tip: When looking for a meal, stay away from Midtown and other super touristy areas. The quality will be poor and the prices are high. Instead, head to nearby Chinatown, Greenwich Village or the Lower East Side for more affordable (and higher quality) bites.

  • Head to Chinatown for ultra cheap eats! Try to follow this DIY $1 Food Tour, where each stop is — you guessed it! — just $1.

  • Don’t miss Los Tacos No. 1. Their famous tacos are like little bites from heaven and start at $3.25.

  • Bagels filled with lots of toppings are usually a good budget option.

  • Famous NYC hot dogs at Papaya King or Gray’s Papaya.

  • Mamoun’s for quite possibly the cheapest (and best!) falafel you’ll find in the city!

Check out this local’s roundup of cheap eats in NYC!

12. Cook & Picnic

If you really want to cut costs on food, choose an Airbnb with a kitchen so you can eat in for at least a couple meals, saving money (and calories!). You can easily make a cheap breakfast of fruit, yogurt, toast and eggs, and save the splurges for later in the day.

And if you’re really trying to pinch pennies, try packing a lunch for the day. There are plenty of perfect spots for picnicking around the city. Umm, Central Park anyone?! Just be sure to pack your To-Go Ware utensils!

13. Hit up Happy Hour

Drinks in NYC can be pretty expensive, so if you want to indulge without cleaning your wallet, plan on hitting happy hour.

Here’s a round up of a ton of happy hour options in NYC.

And order a couple appetizers to split for a light dinner that’ll have a smaller price tag than a regular entree.

Or buy your drinks at a liquor shop and enjoy them at your hotel or Airbnb before going out for the night.

14. Drink from the tap… err, fountain

It is totally safe to drink the tap water in New York City, so go ahead and drink up! You’ll find plenty of drinking fountains all around the city (check out this map!), especially in public parks. Fill up your reusable bottle to save plastic waste and cash.

15. Plan out your splurges

When you’re visiting NYC, you won’t want to miss out on those bucket list items you’ve been dreaming about. Make the most of your time here, plan ahead and budget accordingly.

For example, if you want to get an iconic view of the city, there are many options. But do your research and choose only one.

Insider Advice: Our pick is the Top of the Rock instead of the Empire State Building, since you won’t be surrounded by glass and you get the iconic Empire State Building INSIDE your shots!

And there are plenty of cheap eats in NYC (see tip #11), but there are also some of the best restaurants in the world here as well. Plan on one meal that you’ll splurge on instead of 10. Or get the biggest bang for your buck and try a little of everything on a NYC Food Tour.

Just be sure to research it ahead of time and plan it out so you don’t accidentally splurge on something unworthy.

For example, we split a $24 lobster roll at the Frying Pan, which was amazing. But we couldn’t justify ordering two, so we filled up on pizza as well.

16. Find Free Events

There is always something going on in New York City. Find out what free events and festivals are taking place during your visit on Time Out NYC.

Examples of free events in NYC:

No matter the time of year, there are always events going on in this city, so there’s a good chance your visit will overlap with at least one free event that interests you!

17. Set a budget and track your spending

All these tips are great, but they’re going to do you no good if you don’t track your expenses. New York City is a place where it is easy to overspend. A bagel here and an entry ticket there will add up fast. And if you aren’t writing them down, you’ll have no clue how over-budget you’ve gone.

Here’s what I want you to do: Figure out what your total budget for your trip to NYC is, and hold yourself accountable.

There are plenty of apps out there (we like Trail Wallet) that let you set daily budget goals and show you how much you have left to spend.

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We want to hear from you! 

What tip is most useful to you? Have you traveled to New York City on a budget? How did you save money? Share with us in the comments below!