New York City on a Budget

5 Fun Things That Won't Break the Bank

May 12, 2015

By Buffy York

Buffy and I were both in New York for Spring Break in March with our families and I bet I spent way less than she did.

New York City is an expensive place no matter how you slice it.  It’s also one of my favorite places to visit, and I start feeling antsy if I don’t hit the streets at least every few years.

So in March my husband and I left our Southern nest with our 3 teenagers and headed to New York City for 5 days determined not to tap into their college fund to pay for it.

I planned each minute of our trip in my typical micromanagement style, and we did plenty that wasn’t on the cheap, but I did find 5 fun adventures in New York that were either FREE or almost free:

1) Eat at The Burger Joint at Le Meridien Hotel (more than once).  Tucked away behind a mammoth red velvet ceiling high curtain in the lobby of this fancy 6th avenue hotel, this place is literally a hidden gem.  Expect ONLY burgers, fries, shakes, beer (Sam Adams) and wine (one kind).  I laughed at the signs on the wall on cardboard announcing that they are vegan-friendly (hold the meat) and paleo friendly (hold the bun).  A full meal is $15 – hard to find in New York.  Our teens loved the yacht music with a rock twist playing in the background and all of us loved people-watching.  We were the only Americans in the place and the menu was offered in 10 languages.  In my book this was a truly cultural experience.

2) Book a Free Tours by Foot walking tour.  Our Pay-As-You-Wish tour was through SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown and lasted about 2 hours.  I was a little suspicious about this tour and was a little worried that we would be shot at our meeting point.  Much to the contrary, our tour guide, John, was a true New Yorker who knew his stuff, and couldn’t have been more professional.  He taught us all of the history behind the architecture and the people in the three areas.  The kids loved interesting tid bits like seeing the apartment where Heath Ledger lived and died.  I have always been intimidated about how to navigate Chinatown, but not anymore!  We stepped indoors twice – once for a pastry in Little Italy and at the end for $1 dumplings in Chinatown (to die for).

3) Join a free “Highlights” tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art offered most hours on the half hour.  This tour is a short and sweet way to sample this labyrinth museum.  A nice, poised woman guided us to about 7 pieces and gave an in depth explanation of its significance to the museum.  After the tour we enjoyed a quick sandwich at the cafeteria on the ground floor and then set off on our own to see more.

4) Go see the Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show Monologue Rehearsal (follow @fallontonight on Twitter to see when tickets are released).  Before every show Jimmy and the writers run through his monologue with a live studio audience!  Before you are seated, one of the Tonight Show writers gives your small group an hysterical pep talk and then suddenly Jimmy is about 20 feet in front of you (I could see his guy liner).  Jimmy was kind, funny and definitely cuter in person.  The rehearsal itself only lasted about 5 minutes, but it was 5 minutes of sheer bliss (can you tell I am obsessed with Jimmy Fallon?)  For a FREE viewing of my favorite star, I would do this every day if I could!

5) Shop Smart.   Stroll through the high end shops on 5th Avenue, meander through Saks Fifth Avenue, and memorize everything you see.  Then, head down to Zara and H&M and buy the same looks for less.  I know Buffy said she took her girls to the shoe salon in Barney’s for inspiration and then they headed to Forever 21.  She said the Times Square, Midtown and SOHO locations were all very different with with distinct personalites, and each worth seeing.

shop some of our New York finds by clicking the images below |



    Great tips! I am also obsessed with Jimmy Fallon…my husband and I went to his show taping a few months ago – so much fun! It’s not easy to get tickets – they are free and when they are released, they are gone in a matter of minutes!!! I got lucky and also scored tickets to the David Letterman show – both shows tape late afternoon and it is a LONG 4-5 hour process to be a part of their studio audiences…but totally worth it!

    LJ I also tried to get tickets to The Tonight Show – I had 3 computers in the “virtual queue” but didn’t get on the list. The monologue tickets were much easier to get. I will try again next time we go!

    Great tips!

    Thanks, Lela! Looking forward to your event at MD Wellness & Aesthetics next Tuesday!

    Buffy, when I saw the title, I was so confused at how YOU could do NYC on a budget… then I read the first line, and it all made sense! Confession, not sure I could do it on a budget either… especially now that my brother doesn’t live there anymore and I can’t sleep on the air mattress.

    One place I discovered last summer when I went was the Food Hall in the bottom of the Plaza Hotel. So cool and pretty affordable. Add that to your list for your next trip! xo

    Anita, I totally agree with you about the Plaza Hotel!!! We have been to the Food Hall in the past and I almost felt guilty paying $7 for a crepe in that beautiful setting! Thanks for the tip!

    This is so great! Family and friends headed there this summer! Xo

    Great post! I love Jimmy Fallon and have been trying to get tickets to his show for 2 years! (They go really fast)! After reading your post about the monologue rehearsal I think I will go check it out!! Thanks!

    […] Having fun in New York isn’t always expensive. […]

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