PARTY DOWN! New York City Weekend for Under $100

Hello! I’m Lauren, a young producer living in Los Angeles, and I’m thrilled to be a new contributor here! This column, PARTY DOWN, will feature ways to save while having fun. Having worked through my own debt, I know how easy it is to feel like you can’t do anything or go anywhere or buy anything special while saving. But with a little resourcefulness, I found that I could have a more creative life than ever. Part of why I love And Then We Saved is its emphasis on living well while saving. So PARTY DOWN will include roundups of parties, trips, and everyday adventures, all under the price tag of $100 (so it’s in line with Anna’s Spending Diet limit for “non-needs”). To begin, I was inspired by my recent trip to New York….

ny weekend under 100


TRAVEL:  Although this budget may not get you very far by air, bus trips are probably easier, safer, and cheaper than you think. Megabus and BoltBus both offer super low rates to a wide range of city destinations if you book several weeks ahead. (Prices start at mere dollars and go up as more people book). My sister made the trip out from Philadelphia via Megabus in just 2 hours. Even if you were able to drive yourself into the city, parking costs alone would be more than this.

If you absolutely have to fly:

  • Check out your spendable miles. Those of us with credit card debt (and even those without) might have accrued some free miles to use on certain flights. It’s well worth the effort to find out.
  • Watch airlines for crazy deals. If you’re flexible with travel times, you can find awesome promotions and last-minute low fares. On 12/12/12, JetBlue was offering $12 flights out of Long Beach! Join an email list or two if you have your heart set on going somewhere, and watch for offers like a hawk.
  • Pack light and pack a lunch.  Most airlines are charging for checked bags and in-flight food now, and we all know how upcharged airport food is.  I love this idea for a plane picnic, and this roundup of healthy travel food looks amazing. Also, take an empty water bottle you can fill up after passing through security.

TRANSPORT:  As New York an experience a cab ride is, your wallet will be better off foregoing taxis for the extremely convenient Metro system. There are a number of free smartphone apps to help you navigate it, but I found the easiest one to use was actually just Google Maps. You can take 5-6 subway/bus trips on about $15, and embrace the walk for anything else. Because there is so much insane architecture to see in the city, you get the most out of walking anyway.

ACCOMMODATION:  My travel philosophy is to go where friends are. Because: 1) They can usually offer you a free place to stay. 2) They can show you all the amazing stuff you’d never discover if you were a lone tourist. 3) When I’m on a tight budget, my priorities–to see those I love–always win out. So obviously, my first recommendation is to crash at a friend’s home. If you can’t make that happen, this hostel in Brooklyn looks pretty rad. You could stay one night for about $57 after taxes. (NOTE: While I was working on this post, there were off-season weekend nights available at $40. Now there are still $50/night dates, but you have to do some looking and be flexible!) There’s free wi-fi, free breakfast, and free fondue or BBQ (depending on season) on Fridays and Sundays. There’s even an amazing kitchen that would help you avoid the money trappings of eating out all the time on vacation. Of course if you could save this expense, you could allocate it to an off-broadway play, comedy show, or fancy dinner out. If you don’t have the cash or a place to stay, then consider popping into the city for just a day and jam-packing it with activities.

PARKS & MUSEUMS:  There are gorgeous free parks parks everywhere in New York, including the iconic Central Park, the The High Line city walk (pic), and the idyllic Prospect Park. On Sundays at 11am-1pm, the Frick Museum, home of stunning European masterpieces, admission is “pay what you like.” You might want to check out special times or student rates at other museums, too. (When I visited MoMA, I considered using my old student ID for $11 off, which reminded me of this post by Anna).

ny weekend under $100

FOOD & DRINK:  Obviously, this won’t cover the whole of your food for the trip–and hopefully you have some money allocated to your “needs” for weekend eating–but it does hit some important bases. Pizza (pic) is a must. You can find it much cheaper and quicker than at Di Fara, where you might wait an hour for a $5 slice made lovingly by the legendary owner Dom DeMarco, but sometimes when you’re traveling, the experience is part of what you’re paying for. Pizza still being relatively cheap, and pretty well done in New York, I had it for lunch from different spots every day of my trip. (My favorite was Rubirosa‘s vodka pie). Another quintessential New York meal that doesn’t cost a lot is the generous diner breakfast. I fell in love with Johny’s Luncheonette, where the owners cook in front of you and know the name and order of everyone who comes in. A breakfast platter including coffee is about $7. McSorely’s Old Ale House, a sawdust-on-the-ground bar where Abraham Lincoln is said to have once drunk, offers only 2 types of beer (“light” and “dark”), which come only in pairs, for $5.

SOUVENIR:  Westsider Books, a tiny rare and used bookstore is a really cool place to duck into when city streets get overwhelming. Peruse the shelves and pick out a paperback to remember your trip by for $1. (pic)


  • Consider what you value most in a vacation, and let that guide your purchases. Is it getting pictures with famous spots?  Learning new trivia? Just relaxing? For me it’s seeing and eating things I couldn’t find at home, like historic neighborhoods and East Coast rye and waiting forever just to watch a guy make my perfect pizza. Some will get a lot out of buying the audio tour, and others might just prefer to spend the afternoon at a cool happy hour with friends.
  • Come prepared. Particularly, check out things like weather and locations to avoid having to buy things like umbrellas or shoe inserts on the trip. If you’ll need a winter coat, make sure you have or can borrow it before you leave. And if you’re staying with friends, you can probably borrow a lot when you get there.
  • When in Rome. Chances are the people who live in expensive cities have found a way to afford living in that expensive city, so pay attention to the locals. They’ll have great recommendations that avoid the cheesy tourist traps and won’t blow your savings.
  • Pack snacks. A few Larabars or a handful of almonds will get you through those crazy-exhausted hungers that might otherwise have you impulse-buying anything near.
  • Read 8 Ways to Save Money While Traveling and 6 More Ways from a previous ATWS guester.
  • Parks, you guys! If you’re from a big city and visiting another big city, like me, parks provide the loveliest escapes. Parks are plentiful, diverse, and usually free.


How else would you save while traveling? I’d love to hear other tips, tricks, and recommendations!


Lauren Johnson is a filmmaker/producer living in West Hollywood who enjoys a great foreign thriller, leisure beers, and non-primary colors. Lauren is also the creator of LOCONCEPTS.

P.S. I LOVE Airbnb because it lets me feel like a local while also helping me save money on food costs (since I can use the kitchen!) CLICK HERE to get $55 for you to use on your 1st trip!


23 thoughts on “PARTY DOWN! New York City Weekend for Under $100

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    1. Lauren Johnson Post author

      Thanks! This is my big dirty blogging secret, but I actually use Word a lot for simple image + text layouts. If there’re a lot of effects or photo editing needed, I’ll make the jump to Photoshop, but this one was all in Word.

        1. Amy

          You can totally use Word on a Mac. If you really wanted to I bet you could borrow some install discs from someone. :)

          1. Marie Vlasic

            You’re probably right about that ;-) Think I’ll try Pages first, since I’ve already got it on my Mac, then I’ll seek out Word. Looking forward to making some fun infographics for my new blog, Thanks again!

  1. Amy

    Also free is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Saturdays if you arrive from 10am-noon. If you happen to be there in the spring, the Cherry Esplanade is to die for. GORgeous!

    And if if you’re traveling with friends, you can rent an apartment in Brooklyn that sleeps anywhere from 2-8 for less than 150$ per night and split the cost.

  2. bmn

    A great FREE museum is at the Fashion Institute of Technology; it’s not a big museum (I usually take 1-2 hours), but if you like fashion, it’s a must

  3. bmn

    Also, a 7-day unlimited Metro card is only $30. When I arrive at LGA, I buy the card at the terminal and use it on the M60 bus to get into the city. Unless you KNOW that you’ll only use public transportation say 4 times or less, it really gives you a lot of freedom to have the ‘limitless’ option!

    1. Lauren Johnson Post author

      I actually spent more than a couple days in the city, and did the $30 unlimited pass–definitely got my money’s worth. It takes about 11-12 rides to break even, but it allowed us to really open our options about going to a bunch of different areas.

  4. Heather

    If you’re staying at a place that breakfast is not included, then the first day find a grocery store and get some fruit and granola to keep in your room. Then each night on your way back to the hotel, pick up a yogurt and store it overnight in the ice bucket (provided by the hotel). Your breakfast costs just went from $20 to about $1.50. My mom and I do this all the time when we travel together. Since she’s trying to eat healthier now, sometimes she does the same for lunch or dinner (in this case, buying fresh veggies she can eat raw and some cheese).

  5. Lauren Marie

    I really wanted to travel to the city this year and it looks like I will be able to! I’m so excited! I will be bookmarking this and sharing the post! Thanks Lauren! Have you thought about doing other cities?

  6. Ali

    I have a plane ticket purchased for cheap last winter to San Francisco next month. Thing is, I have very little disposable income for the trip. I’ve been thinking about canceling it, but I’m wondering if I can’t do it for super cheap and have a great time? Usually my idea of satisfying travel means lots of eating out/wine, shopping, concerts, etc. Maybe I need to rethink this and try to do a weekend in SF on the cheap!

  7. debtblag

    This is so great. As someone who lives in New York, I’m always telling out-of-town folks that visiting or even living here is not nearly as expensive as they would guess… after all, millions of us are doing it :)

    I’m sad to see that you missed what Mayor Bloomberg himself referred to as the best spot for a first date — the free ferry to Staten Island. The often forgotten borough has its own charms, but the free trip gives you some great views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

    That hostel isn’t bad and it’s in an OK location. Obviously staying with friends is optimal (and everyone knows someone in New York), but I think it’s also worth checking out airbnb. If you travel with a friend, you could easily beat $57 per person per night and you get a little more privacy than you would in a hostel.

  8. anne davis

    Don’t eat at those awful chain restaurants!!! Go to 9th Ave. and you will find every ethnicity of cuisine and usually much less than “Crappelebees”. I’ve lived in Manhattan for 38 yrs. and I’m still amazed at how tourists go to what they know from home. If you like it so much eat there when you get home. You’re on vacation and small, wonderful privately owned restaurants are everywhere here. Enjoy and explore.

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