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Tips for Spending Time and Cash in New York: How to Keep Style Without Breaking the Bank

Among the millions of people that visit New York, many spend too much money. I've seen it. In most of these cases, the over-spending is driven by a set of preconceptions about what one is supposed to do in New York - stay at a well-known midtown hotel, eat dinner in a famous restaurant, secure good seats at a Broadway show, shop in designer stores on Fifth Avenue, and buy things in the museum stores. I just added up these items in my head, and the bill came to over four figures.

Before I continue with this discussion, I would like to first offer a word of thanks to these visitors for spending their hard-earned money in the city. The lifeblood of the city, after the financial industry, depends upon tourism.* Most of us enjoy sharing the city with others and helping people find their way when lost.

As a resident, I'm not under pressure to see everything in New York in 72 hours, so I don't try to consume the city in one fell swoop. My best days in the city involve just walking around and looking at stuff. What stuff? Well, look at these pages and you'll find that I'm mostly staring at buildings, sitting in parks, or looking at art. Sure, I'll stop for coffee or grab something to eat or sit down for a glass of wine, but I don't go to many expensive places or try to take in too much.

I'm of two minds about the gloomy economic news. On one hand, I am more cautious in spending. I'm not enthusiastic about buying new clothes, computer software, or updating household items. I can do without those things. On the other hand, I'm not so willing to give up on quality-of-life issues. For me, this translates into enjoying a good cup of coffee in a cafe and a lunch or dinner in a favorite restaurant. I can't cook as well as the chefs in my favorite places, and I'm convinced that even if I tried to buy the ingredients to make a signature dish, I would end up spending nearly as much as I pay them to cook it for me and with unfortunate results. I'd rather buy great bread down the street than spend all day making it myself.

My advice to cautious visitors is to come to New York in spite of the gloomy financial forecasts. Spend some money on nice quality things. Slow down. Walk around and see the city and enjoy the streets, the public art, and architecture. Talk to people at a leisurely pace. Stop in a local bakery and buy some bread. Hang out all afternoon in a museum or in Central Park. Grab some coffee and the paper and read it in Washington Square Park. For affordable entertainments, check out an Off-Broadway show, a jazz performance or a small concert at Carnegie Hall. Find a good bar and meet New Yorkers. We're not in that big of a hurry. You'll never see everything anyway in three or four days.

For an affordable and stylish vacation, my advice is to visit New York like you live here.

Relevant related posts:
Affordable Accommodations in New York City
Two-mile Walks, Mainly in Manhattan

Image: Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, 14 Bedford Street. Where I buy bread when I have houseguests.

* To understand how the economic downturn is affecting the New York hotel business, please see "Trouble for New York Hotels," by Charles V. Bagli, The New York Times, October 17, 2008.


  1. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Oh you summed it up so well... this is exactly what my days are like while in NYC... My best time was spent pretending I was living here, "just walking around and looking at stuff", just as you said. Millions miles away from Times Squares, Broadway and huge Apple Stores...
    Maybe that's why I love the place so much and can't help coming back...


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