The average cost of living in New York City is stupid high – but since when did you want to be average (or stupid)?
For as many overpriced items as there are littering the storefronts of NYC – I’m looking at you $4 chocolate chip cookies- there are as many alternatives and resources for savings, some even rivaling those of small town USA.
Not always of course, and I’ll concede that some city savings are easier implemented than others- ugh, housing – but just because this city can be expensive doesn’t mean it has to be.
The multi-millionaire hedge fund managers and celebrities flooding the trendy neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn may driving up the mean and median prices dominating media headlines, but for the rest of us, there are still practical and affordable (albeit less celebrated) ways of living, and living well, in NYC.
Related Reading: How Much Does It Cost to Live In New York City?
So here they are, 66 ways to save money in New York City…
How to Save Money in New York City: Housing
- Get a Roommate. Whether you’re 18 or 58, sharing housing in New York City is customary. You can still enjoy your own private room (sharing your kitchen, bathroom and living area) for a reasonable price. Splitting your greatest living expense with one (or two or three) people is one of the simplest ways to save.
- Sublet Your Space. Heading out of town for a month or more? Consider subletting your space, saving yourself the cost of rent for the term of your sublease. As someone who has spent a great deal of time traveling for work, I’ve had at least ten subletters over the course of my years living in New York City. Check out my guide on how to sublet your apartment successfully.
- Choose a High Value (Not a High Price) Location. If budget friendly pricing is a priority in your housing search, think beyond the major neighborhood hot spots (midtown Manhattan, Wall Street, the village, etc.) I moved to Harlem in April, discovering the often elusive combination of great value and excellent quality of living in my new locale.
Many nearby neighborhoods offer more sustainable living costs with fabulous local atmosphere and a quick commute to midtown Manhattan. (We are literally ONE express stop away from Columbus Circle). Some frugal favorites include Washington Heights, Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan; Astoria and Forest Hills in Queens; and West New York and Weehawken in New Jersey.
- Avoid the Broker Fee. Broker fees make the New York City housing hunt far more expensive than anyone would like, but you can skirt that exceptional upfront living cost – sometimes. Check out New York Budget’s No-Fee Apartment Guide.
How to Save Money in New York City: Transit
- Skip the Car. The comprehensive public transit system in NYC is the great leveler in cost of living calculations. Sure, we may have ridiculously inflated housing prices (even with all the savvy saving strategies mentioned above), but we New Yorkers regain some of that ground by giving up our wheels, which come with an average annual price tag of $9,122 (based on 15,000 miles of yearly driving).
- Skip the Cabs. No car, no cabs, no problem. See how much you save by taking public transit.
- Use Budget Friendly Airport Transit. NYC’s public transit system services both major airports (LaGuardia and JFK). Shared shuttle services like the NYC Airporter and SuperShuttle also provide budget friendly alternatives to a cab or car service.
- Utilize Low Cost Travel Options. New York City’s proximity to major metropolitan areas – D.C., Philadelphia and Boston – as well as the beautiful upstate New York, Connecticut coastline and Jersey shore make getting away easy and affordable with mass transit options like Metro North and New Jersey Transit in addition to low-cost services like Bolt Bus and Megabus.
- Consider Your Public Transit Needs Before You Buy. Don’t buy an unlimited monthly MetroCard if you know you’re heading out of town for two weeks. Before purchasing a MetroCard, consider how many trips you’ll realistically take and whether it makes sense to pay for an unlimited pass or pay per ride. Check out this complete guide to hacking the New York City subway to score the best value.
- Try Citibike. If you live and work in a Citibike accessible area, New York City’s bike share program, the savings can be substantial.
How to Save Money in New York City: Health Care
- Get Your Dental Work Done At Schools. Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine and New York University’s Kriser Dental Center are both leading educational institutions that also offer dental care to the public at a significantly reduced cost. I’ve personally been to NYU dental for a cleaning, a few fillings, a crown and a dental implant.
- Make Use of Low Cost Clinics. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act I was uninsured and relied entirely on free and low cost clinics like Planned Parenthood for my basic health care needs. Here is a comprehensive list of low cost heath care resources around the city.
- Practice Safe Sex. The NYC condom program provides free condoms (male and female) to individuals and organizations upon request.
- Get Affordable Insurance Coverage For Your Children. Child Health Plus is an extremely affordable health insurance program for children under the age of 19 living in New York State. Learn more about Child Health Plus here.
How to Save Money in New York City: Food
- Cook. It can be tempting to grab a sandwich at the deli or a snack at the bodega every time you leave the house for work in the morning or return home for dinner, but saving the dining out for special occasions and cooking at home instead is a major money saver.
- Drink from the Tap. Save the bottles and your money by drinking from the tap. NYC water is brought in from upstate, through the water aqueduct – it is some of the cleanest urban water in the country.
- Pack Your Lunch. Whether it’s your own lunch or for the kids, packing lunch each day can add up to some serious savings.
- Get Your Groceries Delivered. If the time it takes to stand in line at Trader Joes is what keeps you from buying groceries and cooking at home, consider a grocery delivery service. Many of these services offer first time order promo codes. You can work your way through those, trying each one out while enjoying new customer savings. Check out Our Freaking Budget’s guide to NYC grocery delivery services.
- Opt for Happy Hour. No need to pay $12 for a cocktail when it’s half price every day at happy hour. Make note of the best happy hour deals in areas around your home and office so you can suggest budget friendly options when social outings are being planned.
- Save with Lunch Specials. If you do opt for a restaurant splurge, consider lunch over dinner. New York has some of the best lunch deals I’ve ever seen – particularly if you’re a fan of Thai food. You can be in and out for a full meal plus tip for $12-15.
- Find Your Favorite Cheap Eats. New York City has a plethora of uber low cost, grab and go eating options- perhaps, most famously, 99 cent pizza, though I favor falafel. The New York Budget has a fabulous guide to all his favorite city eats under $5.
- Coupon Your Meals. Restaurant.com offers awesome savings at eateries all over the city. Groupon and LivingSocial also run a ton of restaurant promos. If that weren’t enough, new apps are popping up all the time with more ways to save. Scoutmob is one of my favorites for dining on a budget.
- Host a Potluck. Get social without the headache of splitting the bill seven ways by hosting a potluck.
How to Save Money in New York City: Attractions and Activities
- Take Free Fitness Classes. There is no shortage of free fitness options in New York City. The city’s Shape Up program offers complimentary classes every week at locations across the five boroughs. The New York Public Library has a variety of exercise classes open to the public. Yoga to the People offers donation-based yoga. Companies like Lululemon and Nike also sponsor free classes fairly regularly at some of their city locations.
- Run. The Central Park Loop and Hudson River Greenway are two of my favorite NYC running routes, though there are many free jogging routes to choose from.
- Go Ice Skating- For Free. You don’t have to pay big bucks to go ice skating in NYC, opt for the free rink in Bryant Park over the pricey Central Park or Rockefeller Center rink.
- Go Roller Skating- For Free. Try free roller skating in the summer months.
- Go to Free Museums. Many of New York City’s famed museums are entirely free; others are suggested donation, i.e. pay what you wish – including the world-renowned Met and the Museum of Natural History
- Go to Free Museum Days/Hours. Most of the city museums offer free admission on certain days or during certain hours. See the full list here.
- Visit Free Attractions. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge, take a stroll through Grand Central, visit the World Trade Center Memorial, walk the High Line or take a ride on the State Island Ferry for prime views of the Statue of Liberty – all free.
- Go See the Parks and Gardens. Whether it’s Central Park or Washington Square, New York City has no shortage of beautiful public spaces to enjoy. If you wind your way through some of the quieter side streets, you may even stumble upon some quiet community garden gems.
- Go Kayaking– For Free. You can kayak all summer long right on the Hudson River – free.
- Take a Free Tour By Foot. Dig deeper into the past of your favorite city neighborhood with a Free Tour By Foot.
- Take Advantage of Low Cost Children’s Activities. Whether it’s a free day at the zoo or the children’s museum, there’s no shortage of free fun for kids to enjoy in NYC.
- Join a MeetUp. Connect with like-minded folks nearby using sites like MeetUp and Nearify. Events range in price, but many are free- ranging from movie screenings to scavenger hunts to good old-fashioned conversation.
- Catch an Event or Exhibition at The New York Public Library. The library has a packed calendar of classes, programs and events that are free and open to the public.
- Sharpen Your Skill Set with a Free Workshop at the Apple Store. The NYC Apple store offers free hour-long workshops that range from how to get the most out of your device (assuming you want to splurge on an apple product to begin with), to enhancing your movie editing skills with iMovie (I took this workshop and loved it).
- Volunteer. Giving back is not only a wonderful thing to do, it also connects you with new people, keeps you active and is proven to boost your happiness in lasting ways that a long night racking up a tab at the local watering hole might find tough to rival. Start giving back at nycservice.org.
- Cut Your Cable. Get an antenna or stick to Netflix or Hulu – there’s no need to stick yourself with an obscene cable bill each month.
- Split Your Subscriptions. Whether it’s your Wi-Fi, your HBOGo account or your must have magazine subscription, see if you can split costs with a nearby neighbor or roomie who wants to enjoy those things as much as you do.
- Borrow From the Library. The New York Public Library lends out books, CDs, periodicals, DVDs and various other borrowing materials for free.
- Go to a Free Taping. There’s no shortage of major television shows that tape in New York City. Be a part of the studio audience– no spending required.
- See a Broadway Show – For Cheap. See the best in live theatrical entertainment for $50 or less by making the most of these money saving strategies – lotteries, standing room, rush, etc. Get the full guide here.
- See a Show – For Free. The Public Theater puts on two star-studded shows every summer in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater- for free. Check out Shakespeare in The Park for yourself.
- Go to a Free Concert or Movie. Summer in the city is jam packed with free entertainment- outdoor movies and concerts in the park being two fan favorites.
- Catch the Opera in HD. If opera is your thing, you can do that for free too during Lincoln Center’s Summer HD Festival.
- Catch a Parade. The famed Thanksgiving Day, St. Patrick’s Day and various other parades, celebrations, festivals and fireworks, are free for all to enjoy.
- Catch a Minor League Game. If you opt for the Staten Island Yankees over their pro counterparts in The Bronx you can save a ton on tickets. Stick to the minor leagues for budget friendly sports outings.
How to Save Money In New York City: Appearances
- Become a Hair Model. The city’s top training salons need hair models for students to practice on and for master stylists to demonstrate on. If you’re the more nervous type, opt for the latter. I ALWAYS get my hair cut this way and I’ve never regretted it – you can get blowouts and color too. Cuts are often free. If you opt for color, be prepared to cover the cost of the product- generally around $30-50. Check out model listings on SalonApprentice and GlamSquad for more info.
- Check Deal Sites. Groupon and LivingSocial offer lots of local spa and salon deals. Lifebooker is another deal site specific to beauty with a ton of variety – facials, lashes, waxing – whatever floats your boat.
- DIY Beauty. If you want to keep things ultra budget friendly, go simple with DIY. Paint your own nails, tweeze your own eyebrows, shave your own legs – this is super straightforward stuff that can add up to a ton in savings over time.
- Keep It Natural. The more natural you keep your look, the easier and cheaper it is to maintain. No hair color means no paying for more every 6-8 weeks. No major make up routine means your special occasion staples last longer. Keep it simple. Keep it cheap.
- Go Thrifting. Use these top thrifting tips to snag some seriously awesome thrift store finds – designer clothing, shoes, coats, furniture, gifts, etc. You can get a ton of quality with the second hand stuff that finds its way into these high-end neighborhood thrift and consignment shops.
- Clothing Swap. Don’t know what to do with the excess of clothing you finally purged from your closet? Organize a clothing swap with friends – finding new treasures in someone else’s’ “trash” and vice versa. Donate whatever’s left over.
More Ways to Save Money in New York City
- Use a Student. New York City is home to many top schools with students looking to build experience and portfolios. Take advantage of the young talent pool to get things done affordably – like professional portraits.
- Go Minimalist. It doesn’t matter how “huge” your NYC apartment is, it’s still an NYC apartment. Save space and money by adopting a minimalist mindset -buying and keeping only the things you need and the things that add ongoing value to your life.
- Coupon. You don’t have to maintain a full-blown coupon binder to enjoy savings, nor do you have to miss out discounts just because COSTCO is too much of a pain in the butt to get to. Check out our guide to Couponing Like a New Yorker to get started, or keep things super simple by downloading a few top shopping apps for savings.
- Shop Online with Ebates. Not only can shopping online save you the potential costs and hassles of transit, you can also rack up rewards by using cash back portals like Ebates.
- Take Advantage of Sign Up Offers. New York City is service central and almost every one – from housecleaning companies to liquor delivery services – offers an attractive sign up offer or bonus. You can save a ton on basics by taking advantage of these first time customer coupons. (Speaking of which, here are some sign up savings for Lyft, Uber and AirBnB first timers).
- Stop Paying Bank Fees. I know there’s a bank on nearly every corner of Manhattan, but that’s no reason to pay $3 in ATM fees every time you can’t find one in your network. Seriously, the fees that come with most traditional bank accounts are a deterrent to any money saving effort. Use MagnifyMoney.com to find better, cheaper alternatives.
- Take Advantage of Applicable Discounts. Whether you’re a student, a senior, a service member, a union member or any other “discount demographic”- milk your status for all its’ worth by asking for applicable discounts and specials.
- Negotiate. It doesn’t matter where you live, you can start enjoying ongoing savings by renegotiating your recurring bills. Think Internet, insurance, cell phone provider, etc. Get the complete how-to guide to negotiating with your providers from The Budgetnista.
- Stay Eco-Friendly. Turn the lights off. Keep the A/C low. Unplug. Going green is good for saving green – pardon the pun.
- Follow Your Favorites On Social Media. Follow your favorite local restaurants and retailers on social media to stay up to date on all their latest promos and events. Local freebie sites like Brokelyn and The Skint are also awesome ways to stay connected to the budget friendly happenings around town.
- Live the Beautiful Life! Remember, a beautiful life isn’t something that’s bought, it’s something that’s savored. Saving isn’t sacrifice when it’s done in service of your greater goals – like living in New York City!