Cheap Guide To New York: Accommodation, Food, Transport
February 9, 2019
by Mariana Pastryhan
New York is considered to be one of the most expensive cities in the world. Yet there are many ways to save on apartments to rent, food, shopping, and even transportation. Here’s the story of how I spent about 3 months in New York City on a budget with basically no budget.
Do not believe the first website you reach. Most of them are designed for tourists and the prices would be touristic too.
Finding accommodation in New York is the hardest and most important task before you go there.
Try to find a room on Airbnb rather than book a hostel. The minimal price for one bed in dormitory room is $65-70 while on Airbnb you can get a room for as low as $35 (for two guests!). In general, for a month you will pay $500-800 for two people. I lived with my friend and we rented a room for $600 ($300 per person) so we were quite satisfied. Sounds not so scary compared to $70 per night, huh?
Also, take into consideration that Airbnb will give you some privacy as you will not need to share the room with 11 strangers.
Choose the place far from the center if you want to pay less. Yes, it will take you 40 minutes to get to Manhattan instead of 20 but you’d pay twice or even three times less. I was living in Brooklyn and quickly got used to long metro rides. I was always taking a book and sometimes could even miss my stop while reading. And no, Brooklyn is not as dangerous as they say. It depends on your neighborhood. Mine was quiet and I was feeling totally safe.
Live with a family
If you really want to feel like a local, you may choose the option of living with a family. So did we. We shared the apartment with amazing people who helped us a lot. We always knew about the main city sales and events, where to buy cheaper food or where to spend a weekend. And we are still keeping in touch with our hosts!
It is a sensitive issue. I can’t imagine NY without traffic problems. The best option to get from JFK airport to the city is AirTrain ($7). The most popular means of transport are taxi and metro. There are also services like Uber and Lyft but I haven’t tried them.
+ will take you directly to the place you need (please be sure that you know the exact address! “Greyhound bus station” is not an address so you may make a taxi driver confused);
– very expensive (starts at $30 plus tips 15%);
– traffic jams (everywhere, every time).
Metro and buses
+ faster than a car;
+ much cheaper;
– disruptions in the schedule due to trains breakdowns, repair works, underground traffic (yes, with 26 lines, NYC has got the biggest underground system in the world and traffic is crazy).
Still, 98% of the time I was using a metro (you may take a bus with the metro card for the same price). A single ticket costs $2,75 (now it’s $3). Although it is much more convenient to take the unlimited metro card for a week ($32) or for a month ($116 in 2016, now $121). Believe me, you will save a lot if pay once. Sometimes I was using my card up to 6 times a day so it is not hard to count how much I could overpay.
One more good point, not so convenient though, is to share a metro card with a friend. The only rule is that you need to wait 18 minutes before swiping the card for the second time so one of us was waiting inside the station and another was walking around for 18 min outside. At some point, it was worth as you are saving $60 a month.
Who said American food sucks!? It’s a big mistake to associate it only with McDonald’s. In the United States, you may find food for any taste and budget. Especially it refers to New York, where you can meet a representative of any worlds country and obviously try any cuisine.
Remember, spend the minimum amount of money on food doesn’t mean eating bad food.
Cook at home
As I am trying to eat healthily, I used to cook by myself most of the time. This is also the cheapest option. For me, the best place to buy groceries is Trader Joe’s. This is a store with amazing food and drinks from around the globe and around the corner. There are lots of stores all over the city and most of them are located in Manhattan. And don’t think they sell only vegan, gluten free, soy free, raw, fat-free, low-carb tasteless products. The point is that you can get organic, non-GMO, hard to find yummy groceries at a reasonable price. They always offer free samples of a certain food as well as “fearless flyer” food for sale. By the way, New York has no sales tax on food items purchased at grocery stores.
Chinese stores could be one more good option for a budget tourist. You don’t have to go to China Town because they are everywhere. The food is way cheaper here than elsewhere. So if you can get used to a strong smell of fish, go for it.
I’m not a lover of stopping by a food booth but there is a special place in NY worth mentioning. On the corner of West 53 Street and 6 Avenue, you will find “The Halal Guys” which is considered to be the world’s most popular food cart. For $7 they offer a hot, steaming platter of chicken or gyro over rice, covered in the Halal Guys White Sauce. I am not afraid to say that they have the best food I have tried in the USA or even in my life! Yes, it is spicy and you may even cry (from happiness and hot sauce) but this is a must try once you are in New York. By the way, serving size is impressive so the best way would be to share it with a friend.
I couldn’t forget the famous New York street pizza. You will find pizza spots on every street and the prices vary from $2,75 to $4 per slice (one slice is usually enough to satisfy your hunger). However, many NY citizens prefer “99 Cents Fresh Pizza”, which is: 1) only $1; 2) very tasty; 3) really fresh, considering the long lines outside.
My favorite one was Chipotle. This is a restaurant chain with delicious Mexican food. The average price is $10 for a serving of the impressive size. Really, why all the portions in the US are so big!?
Honestly, everyone chooses the restaurants depending on his preferences. I liked the restaurants in China Town where you pay at the entrance around $16 and eat as much as you want and Italian restaurants near Colombus Circle. The best coffee I tried in Dunkin Donuts, which is also cheaper than in Starbucks.
Once you are in New York, you will never be disappointed with the food, believe me.