New York, New York, the city that has captured so many people’s hearts, whether they’ve seen it in real life or not. It is one-of-a-kind, crazy, calming, challenging, eccentric, welcoming, harsh, and overall just wonderful. When I had the opportunity to go there for an internship, of course I had to take it. The twist: this was an unpaid internship. In New York City. This may seem like an impossible combination if you are low on money like I was, but I made it work. This is how:
Save whatever you can
Obviously, I still had to pay for things. During my studies, I had a campus job and got a monthly stipend from the German government. Instead of spending that money on other things like I usually would, I saved it all up. It’s also a good idea to take a look around your room/apartment and put all the things you haven’t been using for a while up on eBay, host a garage sale, or get a stand at your local flea market. There’s so much more you can do if you set your mind to it!
Start looking for accommodation immediately
I had a lot of luck with this one. My dad’s good friend gave me the keys to her apartment in Murray Hill, Manhattan. Imagine waking up and the first thing you see when you look out the window is 3rd Avenue. Like I said, I was really lucky and I know most people don’t just have a downtown apartment key fall into their lap. But you don’t have to live in a fancy neighborhood to make your NYC dream a reality. My friends got a shared room (and bed) in Harlem. Not in a district anyone would recommend when you first move to the city, but it’s still New York. Going with a friend (and sharing the cost) makes it extra fun.
Check AirBnB for deals regularly and not just two weeks before you’re going to make sure you find the best apartment and room deals.
Make yourself a budget…
When you write down what you can spend per day/week and keep it in the back of your mind, you’ll be much more likely to actually stick to your budget. I’m not saying you should be super strict with yourself. Just think about the fact that if you splurge all the time, you won’t have anything left towards the end of your trip. You could even go as far as allocating certain amounts of money to spending categories, such as food, entertainment, transport, etc.
…and try to stick to it!
Check out the local supermarkets to find the best prices for groceries. Cook at home as often as possible and eat out as little as possible. But still eat out, because, you know, you’re in New York and you also want to have some fun. I worked at an office in China Town, where I got the best deals for lunch and could often take leftovers home for dinner. 12 delicious dumplings for $2? Yes, please!
For one One weekend, my credit card was blocked and I had $15 in cash to buy food. Hot dogs for lunch and dinner it was! Not the healthiest option for sure, but I did manage to survive on just that money for two and a half days.
Get a MetroCard
At $121 a month, it can seem expensive, but it’s so worth it. Let’s be realistic here, you’re not going to walk everywhere. I covered a lot of mileage by foot to escape the hot subway stations, but there was no way I was going to get to work and back without taking the train. If you add up all the money you would spend on fares, you’ll quickly see that a MetroCard is basically going to save your life (and get you almost everywhere).
There are a lot of things to see without spending a dime.
It’s true for pretty much any city, and especially New York. When I arrived, I promised myself that I would go out and do some sort of activity every day after work. I knew I probably wouldn’t get the chance to live in New York again very soon (thanks, visa regulations). Apart from the usual sightseeing without paying entrance fees (like Times Square), here are some things I did for free that made my time in NYC unforgettable:
See the sunset in Brooklyn. About 45 minutes before sunset, I started walking down Brooklyn Bridge to arrive in Brooklyn Bridge park right by the Hudson River, just in time to see the sun set behind the impressive skyline. An unforgettable view! I probably did that up to ten times, and still couldn’t get enough of it.
Sometimes I’d also just watch the sunset from the bridge, which is just as breathtaking.
I followed the mosaic trail. The mosaic trail was created by Jim Power and will lead you through East Village – definitely one of my favorite parts of Manhattan. Check out all the poles he designed near Union Square, Astor Place, and everywhere in between. It’s like going on a treasure hunt, and I’m sure I didn’t find all of his artwork!
Chase more sunsets. Another favorite activity of mine was to watch the sunset from the Turtle Pond in Central Park, which I was introduced to by my friend. Take some dinner, sit on those rocks, listen to a singer-songwriter that’s likely to appear somewhere in the area, sing along and enjoy the view! It’s impressive how quiet Central Park is despite being surrounded by this busy concrete jungle. Another plus: Central Park has free WiFi, so if you have some work to get done you can meet up with your friend during the day and be productive outside!
People-watching at Union Square. It just never gets boring! Somehow, all kinds of people end up crossing it or hanging out at Union Square. There are chess players, religious groups, street performers, skateboarders, fashionistas, photographers…anything you could imagine. Take a good book, sit in the sun and enjoy. I could (and did) spend hours there.
Visiting Pier 17 and sitting in the sun while drinking some fresh coconut milk makes for a perfect after-work getaway! It’s such a lovely spot and the mall features an interesting art store.
Go to Rockaway Beach! For free, because you have the MetroCard. That’s right, the Subway goes all the way to the ocean. Why not spend a sunny Saturday in the sand and enjoy the waves a little. Speaking of waves: on a good day, you can even surf there.
Go see the Statue of Liberty building for free. You just have to take the Staten Island Ferry near Battery Park and you’ll get an excellent view of Lady Liberty, twice (because you’ll have to go back). It doesn’t get better than that!
Go see a Yankees (or Mets) game! I still have no idea how baseball works, but my friend and I got tickets for $12 each to see the Yankees play against the Red Sox. Since you already have your metro card, getting there is easy. If that isn’t a cheap and fun evening, I don’t know what is!
Go see the Friends house in Greenwich Village! If you like Friends, you can go see the outside of Monica’s apartment (and Rachel’s, and Chandler’s…basically everyone’s but Ross). Of course this is not actually where they filmed the show, but this is the house they zoom in on all the time. You can find it at corner of Bedford and Grove.
Explore all parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Well, not exactly all of them, because as a tourist it’s not advisable to get lost in, say, Spanish Harlem or some areas of Brooklyn. Check where you should or shouldn’t be going before, and then start taking epic long walks and discover your next favourite spot in the city!
As you can see, the possibilities are pretty much endless. You just have to get into the right mindset! Note that this is my personal account of how I made it work. Your experience and your priorities might be completely different and you should really make your NYC adventure your own. Now it’s your turn! What are your tips to being in New York on a (extremely tight) budget?
Now it’s your turn! What are your tips to being in New York on a (tight) budget?