D and I are on a budget because we:
a) are both actors (that you’ve never heard of)
b) don’t have trust funds
c) sometimes don’t have jobs
Many of our friends and family members who live elsewhere often wonder how we can afford to eat here; a place where The Olive Garden is crazy expensive and a box of cereal goes for 6+ dollars. I tell them how I believe that NYC has to be one of the easiest places to eat on a budget. Whether you live here or you’re coming to visit and want to save some cash, I hope you find something helpful here. These are a few ways that we manage to do some good eatin’ on the cheap:
1. Knowing where to get a good meal at a great price.
Every neighborhood has its gems. In the future, I’ll share some of my personal favorites, and if you have recs to share, feel free to send them my way. I understand that everyone has his/her own definition of inexpensive. My idea of cheap is determined by the fact that I might not have a job tomorrow. So…when a person says, “lunch is only 15 dollars a person, ” I tend to think of that as a splurge. I’m all about a $6.95 three course thai special and an under-ten-bucks dinner. It’s totally possible.
This is a helpful site is that I use often:
Menupages.com: You can search for a restaurant by neighborhood, cuisine and price point, among other things. Menupages provides a link to each listed restaurant’s menu along with customer reviews.
I’m a huge fan of food trucks and street vendors (more about those later) and I try to avoid grossly overpriced, generic delis.
2. Eating In
I really started cooking when we were pinching pennies to save for our wedding. It saved us so much money, I love doing it, and I’ve devoted most of this blog to the subject. It really is (usually) the most economical way to go. That being said, I tend to cook more in the colder months and it would be a shame to live in this city and not explore all of its amazing eating-out options. No matter what, I always keep fresh fruit, breakfast and sandwich stuff on hand so that I’m never forced to hand over my hard earned cash for a mediocre bagel or some crappy emergency takeout meal. I also pack snacks because I get really cranky when I’m hungry. I get even more cranky when I have to spend a dollar on a single banana at some generic deli.
3. Deal Sites, Coupons and Promotions
I could write a whole blog on this subject alone. The other night, a friend had his birthday party at a nearby restaurant/bar. That establishment happened to offer a 50% off deal through a free app on my phone. D and I got a burger/fries, pulled pork sandwich/fries, and two hard ciders for 16 bucks total. Easy. The site/app is called Scoutmob and I’ve successfully used it several times. It’s available in several cities.
I also love Groupon and Living Social. Both of these sites have recently launched “instant” versions where you can redeem deals on the go. Awesome. The trick with these sites is to know what you’re getting. Before you buy a coupon in advance, read all of the terms and conditions, read up on the place/check out its menu/glance at some reviews and only purchase offers that you fully intend on using. I’ve had great success with these sites, but you do have to be judicious about how you use them. There are a ton of other companies out there as well and I’ve used a handful of them. There is a site called 8 Coupons that features deals from many different sites in one location. If there’s waiter service, be sure to tip on the full/pre-discounted amount. From my past waitress experiences, I learned that people don’t always know this.
As far as coupons go:
I love coupons. I always have. If I ever become a millionaire I will still use coupons. That being said…
I watched a few episodes of that Extreme Couponing show and was profoundly disturbed. I could not get over some of these people. I’m totally into saving money but a lot of the people I saw were straight up hoarders and seemed to have umm…issues. Anyhow, coupons are awesome when you use them for things that you actually use and need. The key is to remember that you have them and to use them before they expire. You can find a coupon for almost anything. Since it has become such an intense process, I’m not going to attempt to cover the art of couponing here. Google it. It’s become a thing.
4. Shopping Around
We don’t have a lot of one-stop-shopping options here so I end of doing a lot of shopping around. I don’t mind because I’m always out and about on foot and it saves us a ton of money. Here are my favorite grocery spots:
Stiles Farmers Market for good cheap produce!
I never buy pre-cut produce because it’s expensive and I can chop it up myself!
On 52nd street between 8th and 9th ave. there is a family owned farmers market that I adore. If you’re looking for organic strawberries that were hand picked Upstate, you’re not going to find them here, but you will find an excellent assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables at the most reasonable prices I’ve found anywhere. The place looks like a shack and I’d passed it many times before realizing how many treasures were inside. One week they had cherries for 99 cents a pound. I ate a lot of cherries that week. Sometimes they have amazing watermelon and sometimes they don’t; you can’t really go in on a mission because they aren’t going to have everything available on any given day. It can get ridiculously crowded so I try to go on weekday mornings. There’s a larger location near Port Authority as well (41st and 9th). In addition to fruits and veggies, they have affordable fresh breads, coffee, eggs, juices and a great selection of herbs.
People often complain about Whole Foods being so pricey, but if you shop smart, it’s one of the most reasonable places around here. Their store brand (365) is a great deal, and if you coordinate their coupons and sales and avoid the gourmet stuff that you can make yourself, you can totally score yourself some bargains. They have the best prices on canned beans, tomato sauces and dried pasta.
I heart Trader Joes. A lot. I wouldn’t eat as well without this chain in my life. Period.
I don’t buy too many big-brand/processed/prepackaged types of foods, but when I do, this is where I pick them up. I watch the circulars for great deals on cereal, candy, snacks, etc. I’ve never paid more than 3 dollars for a box of cereal even though the grocery store on the corner sells it for at least twice as much. It’s always on sale somewhere.
Natural Food Stores
The one closest to my house is closed for renovations right now and I miss it so much. These types of food stores tend to be pretty expensive, BUT they have great sales and deals sometimes and if the bulk section can come in handy when you only need…a half a cup of raisins, for example.
Speaking of bulk sections, Ninth Avenue International Foods rocks my world. I don’t know how I lived in NYC for 4 years before I knew about it.
Greenmarket Farmers Markets They’re all over the boroughs, but the biggest one I’ve been to is in Union Square.
New Amsterdam Market I just discovered this place and I love it!
They can be expensive but I do like to support local vendors, growers and artisans when I can.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. I look forward to sharing some of my favorites places as well as some new discoveries with you!