NYC on a Budget, Part III: Having Fun While Being Poor

New York is notoriously expensive, and getting a job fresh out of college isn’t always easy. Having been through all this, and with more and more friends wanting to move here and/or work in publishing, I thought I’d do a little series to help them out. It can be a challenge living here, there’s no doubt about that. But as Tim Gunn always says, “Make it work!”

I did, and you can too.

And I promise you, it’s worth it.

I’m not the best when it comes to handling money, and have been on a steep learning curve since moving to NYC. Maxing out my credit card (and not even on frivolous things!) was definitely an eye-opener, so ever since I’ve been on the lookout for inexpensive things to keep me busy. You’d be surprised what you can find if you just do a little digging! And lucky for you guy, I already did all the work!


American Folk Art Museum – Always free

American Museum of Natural History – Pay what you wish

Brooklyn Museum – Free first Saturday of every month 5-11PM

Children’s Museum of Manhattan – Free first Friday of every month 5-8PM

El Museo del Barrio – Free third Saturday of every month

Frick Collection – Pay what you wish every Sunday 11AM-1PM

Guggenheim Museum – Pay what you wish every Saturday 5:45-7:45PM

Hispanic Society of America – Always free

Jewish Museum – Free every Saturday

David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center – Free every Thursday 7:30pm

Metropolitan Museum of Art – Pay what you wish

Morgan Library and Museum – Free every Friday 7-9PM

Museum at Eldridge Street – Free every Monday

Museum of Arts and Design – Pay what you wish every Thursday & Friday 6-9PM

Museum of Chinese in America – Free every Thursday

Museum of Modern Art – Free every Friday 4-8PM

Museum of the City of New York – Pay what you wish

National Museum of the American Indian – Always free

New Museum of Contemporary Art – Free every Thursday 7-9PM

Noguchi Museum – Pay what you wish first Friday of every month

Queens Museum of Art – Pay what you wish

Rose Center for Earth and Space – Pay what you wish

Rubin Museum of Art – Free every Friday 6-10PM

Studio Museum in Harlem – Free every Sunday

Whitney Museum of American Art – Pay what you wish every Friday 6-9PM

When they say ‘pay what you wish,’ you really can just pull out whatever change you happen to have in your pockets, which is great! Ignore the nasty looks some of the museum people will give you –you don’t have to spend $20 on a ticket if you don’t want to. (Because let’s be real, $20 is kind of ridiculous. That’s a third of my grocery bill.) I usually hand over a five, but one time I forgot my wallet and got into the Met without paying a dime.


I couldn’t not include this. If you’re visiting, and certainly if you’re going to be living here, you should take advantage of the cheap theater tickets that are available. Don’t bother with the TKTS booth in Times Square — it’s still a rip-off. Check out Broadway for Broke People and see what shows are playing. Then go directly to the box office of the theater you’d like to visit. Some shows only offer student rush, so it helps if you have your student ID on you. Mine doesn’t have an expiration date on it, so I plan on milking that sucker for all it’s worth. And honestly, half the time the people at the box office won’t even ask to see your ID if you just ask for rush tickets. If they do, lie and tell them you forgot it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Worth a shot, right?

If you no longer have a passable student ID, don’t fret! There are still plenty of shows that are general rush. Anyone, from age 1 to 100, can buy a ticket. Same as before, just go to the box office and ask for a rush ticket.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Rush seats are limited and go fast, especially during the busy months. The box office opens at 10AM, so make sure you’re there on time if you’ve really got your heart set on something.
  • Most people will get there before 10AM. And by that, I mean they’ll get there at 7AM and camp out for three hours for some of the more popular shows (8 or 9 for the others). I was in line before 6AM once. It’s fun to chat with the other people who are waiting, but if you don’t feel like talking, bring a book.
  • Rush seats are hit or miss. Sometimes they’ll put you in the front row, and you’ll miss some of what happens further back on stage. Sometimes they’ll put you on the very far left or right, and you’ll miss some things here and there. Other times you’ll get something in the balcony and can see everything perfectly — you’re just further away. Avoid box seats if at all possible. Those generally suck.
  • Make sure you check the rush policy regarding how many tickets you can purchase. Most shows will allow you to buy two tickets per ID, but some only allow one.
  • Also, it’s always better to have cash on you. Some theaters will take cash or card, but a lot will only take cash for rush tickets.

Websites like 30 Under 30, linctix, and hiptix also offer discounted tickets, usually under $30, and the seats are usually good.


  • Gyms are notorious money-sucks, which is a bummer considering they can be a necessity. Groupon often offers great deals on memberships, ranging from a few classes to a month or year subscription. Also, NY Parks and Rec offers a great deal which I highly recommend — $150 for an entire year’s membership. This allows you access to a large number of gyms across the five boroughs (although I’ve found the nicest location to be the Chelsea Recreation Center on 25th Street). Though I have yet to check it out, I also hear that Planet Fitness is incredibly reasonable.
  • Don’t feel like paying for a gym membership? Parks are completely free! Check out the paths in Central Park (When the weather’s nice, I love to come down on Sunday morning and run laps around the reservoir), Riverside Park, and Fort Tryon Park (If you want, you can run through the park, then stop by the Cloisters to check out their incredible collection of Medieval art). If you live close to any of the city’s bridges, running across them always provides a stellar view. Also, run around your neighborhood! When I moved, morning jogs allowed me to get to know my area really well, really fast. For the cold months, where you can’t bear to set foot outside the house, go on youtube. There are some fantastic workout videos on there you can do in your living room, including Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred and some excellent yoga videos.


  • Haircuts aren’t cheap. If you don’t want to pay a lot of money (or any) for that trim you’ve been needing, or that dye job you need retouched, check out Stylists put out the call for hair models, including cuts, color, treatments, and perms. Just scroll through the list to see if any of the offered services match your needs.
  • I’ll be the first to admit I’m a Sephora junkie, but these days I just don’t have the money to pop in on my lunch break and buy a billion dollars worth of nailpolish. So I started googling/youtubing makeup dupes, and have found a lot of great, inexpensive products at the drug store. If you’re living on a budget, sometimes it means giving up the namebrand stuff, and you never know — sometimes the stuff at the pharmacy works just as well, if not better. And for a fraction of the cost. Also, check out Cosmetic Market on East 37th Street. It can be a zoo, and sometimes the products are old, but you can find some great deals if you look hard enough.
  • Lifebooker! (Which I’ll explain below.)


When I decided I needed to cut back on my spending, eating out was the first thing to go. By bringing my lunch every day, and eating out only once or twice a week, I’ve saved myself SO much money. And if you do some yelping (arguably a New Yorker’s greatest asset), you can find plenty of cheap places with good food. Some personal favorites:

  • If you like Chinese, head down to Chinatown and go to Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles. I actually saw it on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and the damage for an entire dinner was under $10. It’s a complete hole-in-the-wall, but the food is good, the noodles are great, and it won’t break the bank.
  • Pommes Frites is a long-standing favorite. They only do french fries, but they’re really good, they give you a lot, and they have about 30 sauces to pick from. The line can get pretty long, but it’s worth it. Personally, I love the Irish curry, sundried tomato mayo, and sweet chili.
  • If you want a good burger and cheap margaritas, check out Motherburger.
  • Halal carts are great for picking up a cheap meal. For $5 you get a giant helping of rice, a salad, and chicken. They’re on practically every street corner, so you never have to look very far. Just remember that the original, and arguably the best, is at 53rd and 6th.
  • Tom’s Diner in Brooklyn is one of the few things that will get me off the island of Manhattan. The place is totally kitschy, the food is good, and the price is even better. I’m obsessed with trying all of their pancakes.


NEVER overlook a deal in this city. Groupon and Lifebooker can be lifesavers for people living on a tight budget. It allows you to still go out and try new things, but spend exorbitantly less. Lifebooker is strictly for beauty-related deals, but Groupon covers travel, fitness, dining, and all sorts of things.

There are also a bunch of great websites for ordering food, including Seamless, GrubHub, and Every once and a while they’ll send you a coupon, and the deal’s usually pretty good.


Staten Island Ferry

Central Park

New York Public Library

Brooklyn Bridge

High Line

Fort Tryon Park

George Washington Bridge

Abandoned Subway Station

Open House New York

Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

That’s it for now, but know that I tend to add to this list as I discover new things. If you have any suggestions, let me know!


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