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The BEST Way to Save Money in NYC

My Best Money-Saving Travel Tip for NYC

It is no secret that New York City is one of the most expensive places in the U.S. and the world to live and to visit. My most effective money-saving tip when visiting NYC is this: make your trip short. The shorter your trip, the less you will be spending on lodging, transportation, food, and drinks, all of which in NYC will add up very quickly.

Since NYC is a busy city, I find that an action-packed vacation there makes sense. I definitely would not be making my leisurely, relaxed beach vacations short like this, but it really works when visiting New York.

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Flying to NYC

I fly out of Detroit, MI, so I am lucky to have several flight options every day to and from NYC. Depending on where you are coming from, you may not have as many options. I always take the earliest flight out (6:00am flight means a 4:00am wake up!). The very early morning is tough, but totally worth it when I can be in Manhattan before 9:00am. To save even more money, follow Secret Tips and Tricks So YOU Can Buy Cheap Flights!

Book Centrally -Located Lodging

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I recommend deciding on at least a few places you want to visit while in NYC, then choose lodging that is centrally-located to those attractions. If you can walk for free, or cut down on cab fare by needing shorter rides, then this will be an area of potentially big savings.

Additionally, unless you want to spend a significant amount of money on a luxury hotel, be prepared to stay in a tiny space. I will splurge on luxury accommodations when I plan to spend time in the room, however you will likely be out and about when visiting NYC, so I personally do not think spending your money on lodging is the best use of your budget. Use hotwire to book NYC hotels at a discount.

Our Agenda

In October of this year, I had a photoshoot opportunity in NYC, so I booked my husband, Travis, and I a one night stay. After purchasing our flights, the photoshoot dates got changed on me last minute, so we ended up with a two day, one night trip to NYC with a wide open agenda.

Since I booked this trip in only a few weeks advance, there were not many budget friendly hotels left with availability. I definitely recommend booking your hotel for New York as soon as possible for this reason. We ended up booking a stay at Pod 39, in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan. I was not familiar with with neighborhood prior to this trip, but it looked like a nice area. The hotel is near hotspots like Grand Central Station and the Chrysler building, but a bit removed from the tourist-trap Times Square area. Even though this was one of the more budget-friendly hotel options available, we still ended up paying $230 for the night. See what I mean about making your trip as short as possible!?

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We arrived early to the hotel, but were able to check in to our room right away, which was wonderful. The Pod 39 hotel was so cool. The decor was very colorful, modern, funky, and tasteful all at once. The room itself was very small, unsurprisingly, but had everything we needed and was exceptionally clean. Everything looked and felt brand new. The Pod Hotel has several locations throughout NYC and one in Washington DC. I definitely recommend it, and would stay at a Pod Hotel again!

Breakfast Day One

I posted about my absolute favorite breakfast spot in NYC (or anywhere) in my earlier post, Travel Guide: 2 Days in NYC on a Budget. Once again, we stopped at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. Their breakfast sandwich is still the best breakfast item I have ever eaten, and they did not disappoint this time around. I vow never to visit NYC without also stopping here for a breakfast sandwich. Its that good.


After breakfast, we took a cab to Chinatown. Buying “fugazi” is one of Travis’ favorite activities, so we had to make a stop in Chinatown. It is really exciting to barter with people on the street and follow them from location to location until they introduce you to the person with the goods you are looking to buy. I bought sunglasses this time which was fun. One can never have too many pairs of sunglasses, right?

Instagrammable Spots Tour

I conducted a quick internet search of the most instagrammable cafes and restaurants in NYC. Luckily, there were several within very short walking distance from the center of Chinatown! We decided on Sweet Moment for latte art, then lunch and drinks at Nomo Kitchen, followed by dessert at Flour Shop.

Sweet Moment is a tiny little cafe in Chinatown with coffee drinks, milk teas, and sweets. Even though it is small, and a little dark, they do a great job with decor. I got one of the milk teas with red velvet whipped cream. Look how cute the little bear art is!

By then we were pretty hungry for lunch, so we headed to Nomo Kitchen. This restaurant is so beautiful! They have a walkway to enter the hotel that is covered in leafy arches, several impressive crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and floor to ceiling windows. Despite these high-end touches, the restaurant still felt like a cool, comfortable space because of rustic touches of unfinished woods and the bleeding heart graffiti on several walls. I had the cacio e pepe, which was incredible and the best I have had outside of Rome. We had quite a few drinks. I didn’t really care for them, but they got me pretty tipsy, so I guess they got the job done. I was a little shocked when I saw the bill, but at least that was the most expensive meal we had.

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Next stop on our instagrammable places tour was Flour Shop. A little bakery with rainbow themed decor, and two walls clearly dedicated for photo-ops. We got these layers, rainbow cake push-pops that were sugary sweet goodness.

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Then, we planned to take a cab back to the hotel. We ordered an Uber instead of taking a cab for some reason. It took forever for the Uber to find us, then we started on our journey back. The traffic at that time was horrendous, and we needed to use the bathroom. We tried to stick it out, but when I looked on my phone and saw our eta was still 40 more minutes away, we just had the Uber driver pull over right there so we could run in somewhere and use the bathroom!

I have no idea at that point where we were, but after using a bathroom, we went for a walk and stumbled upon a barcade (bar/arcade). It was a dimly lit dive bar with old-school arcade games lining the walls. We walked in and had a blast playing these games. We played a Simpsons arcade game where our characters were Marge and Lisa and our job was to kill all the male characters as they tried to attack us. I may have done a lot of yelling about “smashing the patriarchy” and “I am woman, hear me roar”. This is what I love about New York. Just go for a walk in any direction, and you are guaranteed to find some unexpected gem.

Salvation Taco and Rooftop

Once we had our fill of arcade games and well drinks, we made our way back to the hotel. Attached to Pod 39 is Salvation Taco, a Mexican restaurant with the coolest decor. It was similar to the colorful, modern decor of the hotel, but with the funk turned way up. I had fish tacos and they were yummy.

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Later in the evening, we headed to our hotel’s rooftop. There was a very cool vibe up there with a tented bar, string lights, high top tables, and bench seats along the edges over looking the night city views. I had a glass of sauvignon blanc that cost $12 and tasted terrible. I rarely spend that much on a bottle of wine, so that was annoying. We intended to see more NYC nightlife, but we were so tired from our early morning and day drinking, that we just went to bed.

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Breakfast Day Two

The next morning, we made reservations at the restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. This restaurant is very pricey, but I wanted to dine next to windows framing some of the best views in the city. The restaurant overlooks Central Park and Columbus Circle. As soon as we walked into the hotel lobby, we felt like we didn’t belong. It was eerily quiet like a museum. We made our way to the restaurant, and despite having made reservations for the time the restaurant opens to breakfast, we were told we had to wait. We took a look at the menu, and identified items we could afford. Water to drink and $22 avocado toast (!). A we continued to wait, and felt more and more underdressed and out of place, I made a gametime decision. I said “want to head into the meeting area, snap a few pics, then find a diner for breakfast?” Travis was game, so we did just that. My take-out french toast may not have been 5 Star, but it was delicious.

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Central Park

The weather was really dreary, with cold wind and drizzling rain. It rains every time I visit NYC. I am definitely cursed. I wanted a leisurely morning through Central Park taking photos of the leaves beginning to turn color, but the weather made this pretty unpleasant. So, we did a quick in and out.

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Grand Central Station

It had been a few years since I had seen Grand Central Station, so I wanted to go through again. It was still early enough that it was not too crowded. We snapped a few pics, but since we had to wait in lines to take shots at all the good places (damn you instagram!), we didn’t stay long.

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Final Meal

We had a couple hours to kill before we needed to head to the airport to return home. It was football Saturday (the Sabbath, for University of Michigan alumni), so we found a sports bar and had lunch while watching some football.

Less than 48 hours and done

We were in NYC less than 48 hours, yet we were able to see and do so much! I hope that I have convinced you that it is worth it to make a short trip to New York. You can still experience all the city has to offer, while saving money.


Leah Little has a full time job as a social worker, and has managed to travel the world while wearing beautiful clothes by knowing how to score deals in travel and fashion. Learn more about her journey here.  Join the Leah Little Travel and Fashion tribe by entering your email to subscribe to be the first to learn new ways to enjoy the best in travel and fashion for less. Say hi and send her a message! Contact

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  1. Thijs Holtmaat says:

    Love the places you visit🙌🏻

    1. wanderlustleah13 says:

      Thanks! NYC is one of the best

  2. Thank you for sharing this

    1. wanderlustleah13 says:

      You are very welcome

  3. I love spending time in the city. These are great suggestions which I’ll definitely use next time I go. I love discovering new restaurants and places I haven’t visited in the past.

    1. wanderlustleah13 says:

      Id be honored! Let me know next time you go!

  4. Very informative article. Thanks for sharing.

    1. wanderlustleah13 says:

      You are very welcome! I’m glad it was informative

  5. […] you’re planning on visiting New York in winter or spending your holidays in NYC but are not sure of what to do than this guide is […]

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