My New York Obsession

How to Live It Up in New York City on $7 a Day

One of the best days I’ve ever had in the city cost me seven wrinkled bills and a subway ride. Yes, there was pizza.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Sure, you can be broke anywhere, but have you ever been broke in New York City? It’s kind of a big deal. The thing about being strapped for cash here is that you can forget just how strapped for cash you truly are. I’ll paint you a picture of a recent Wednesday for me.

After aimlessly stretching, wandering around my apartment, and sipping whatever coffee I found in the depths of my cabinets, I headed out the door with no real plans for the day. Let’s also pretend it was sunny outside. Maybe there was a little birdie trailing me, whistling show tunes.

Every single block of the city tells a new story, and they’re almost always free.

Money spent: $0

My day started in Brooklyn, and considering the whole I’m broke concept, that probably doesn’t come as a surprise. I walked over toward Prospect Park in hopes of finding something to entertain me. Every single block of the city tells a new story, and they’re almost always free. An elderly couple sharing a coffee on a bench; a young boy attempting to balance a soda can on his head while crossing the street; an unassuming man belting Sam Cooke covers in the park; tourists furrowing their brows at the lack of street signs. Imagining the stories of passersby is one of my favorite forms of amusement, and New Yorkers are by far the most amusing people anywhere.

Prospect Park Brooklyn Do
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Money spent: Still $0

Soon, I passed the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and was elated to learn that admission is free during weekdays in the colder months. If the thought of winter at a garden makes you shiver, remember that there are vast enclosed pavilions washed in sunlight and full to the ceiling with gorgeous plants you’ve never even heard of. Each room is set to a different temperature: tropical, warm, desert, and aquatic. You may even need to shed your coat. After getting lost among unfamiliar greenery, I made my way around the corner to the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch.

new york on a budget
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Money spent: Still $0, and it’s almost noon!

This may not be as exciting for some, but I love nothing more than an old library. I could sit in the stacks for hours, sifting through rough pages that smell like my grandfather’s attic and taking in prose to inspire my afternoon. Plus, there’s no judgment for hunkering down, relaxing, and perusing novels, unlike the stigma around stretching out your cup of coffee for more than two hours at a café.

new york on a budget
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Money spent: Still $0, which has to be some kind of record.

With a pretty thin wallet, it’s tough to find a good place to mellow out and have a snack. Bodegas are an A-plus option, but sometimes I don’t feel like eating my BLT leaning against a trash can. I’m not sure if throwing down a couple hot dogs is any better, but I decided to hop on the train over to Rudy’s in Hell’s Kitchen to do just that. With a $3 beer in hand, they keep the franks comin’ free of charge. It’s probably their way of making sure their customers don’t get too sloshed, but I’m totally open to taking full advantage of that. If hot dogs aren’t your thing, first of all, you’re wrong, but second, you can head toward the East Village and get a free pizza at Crocodile Lounge when you sip a drink. Time gets away from you there, so be careful. (It’s amazing how quickly the clock strikes 2 a.m.)

new york on a budget
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Money spent: $2.75 (on MetroCard) for the subway; $3 for beer; $1 for tip (I’m cheap, but I’m not a monster).

The night ended home in bed, bingeing something on Netflix using my friend’s aunt’s ex-boyfriend’s account, obviously. For the nights when I have some more pep in my step, a cheap plan can be easily hatched. I might catch a movie at SyndicatedBK for $5 or $7, listen to a few bands play at Trans-Pecos for under 15 bucks, or turn a bar into a dance party with some friends.

When you mention New York to those who don’t live here, after the bright-lights-melting-pot-creatively-driven-dazzle of it all, money (specifically, needing lots of it) comes to mind. New York is full of expensive, flashy activities, but if you load up your MetroCard on payday, exploring borough by borough feels like an all-inclusive getaway. Put your phone away and indulge in getting lost. Whether you’re making new friends around a bowl of free cheesy puffs at a bar, admiring a variety of spices at an open market, taking advantage of a museum’s free day, or camping out at a free outdoor movie screening, you can keep your wallet securely in your pocket and still enjoy the city.

The challenge of New York lies in figuring out how to enjoy this city your own way. That’s how to actually live here, not just pass through.

The challenge of New York lies in figuring out how to enjoy this city your own way. That’s how to actually live here, not just pass through. The real amusement isn’t an expensive show followed by an overpriced dinner, it’s coming up with how to have a one-of-a-kind day or night filled with friends, sights, laughs, and adventures and then make it home without feeling guilty about being in debt until next week’s paycheck.

new york on a budget
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

When you stop making so many elaborate plans and tossing your money around like it’s a used tissue, you can find yourself enjoying the simplest plans, and, most important, just reveling in your own damn company. Slow down. Have you ever sat in the park? It’s so relaxing. And so, so free. There are many hidden gems in this world, and New York holds most of them.

Neala Broderick is a writer from a tiny island off of Portland, Maine, and is currently based in Brooklyn. When she’s not rambling about food or movies, she’s probably lost somewhere or sleeping. Find more of her writing by stealing one of her 50 notebooks, or at Food Baby Journal or on Instagram: @test-email-nealarae and @test-email-foodbabyjournal.