1. Sublet an apartment in Brooklyn or do an apartment swap.
I sublet an apartment in New York every summer for around two months. Brooklyn is much cheaper than Manhattan. Make sure the commute time into Manhattan is less than 20-25 minutes. The best place to find these is via Craigslist or asking any NYC based friends to ask for you on Facebook.
2. Get a weekly or monthly metro card.
Weekly is around $29 and Monthly is around $103. You can use these on any subway or bus. There are no zone restrictions.
3. Find cheap ways to see Broadway shows and other theater.
There are numerous ways see Broadway shows and other theater in NYC very cheaply including: student rush, general rush, ticket lotteries, ushering, volunteering at theater festivals like the Fringe, using discount codes (including using these at the box office), and signing up to “papering services” where you pay a nominal fee (e.g., $5) to see shows that want to fill more of their seats.
For example, this summer I saw Amy Adams doing a play in Central Park under thunder and lightening. It was an absolutely amazing experience. This was a free ticket I won via an online lottery.
4. Visit Museums on their free nights.
Many NYC museums are either suggested admission (you don’t have to pay the full amount), or have a free night, typically Friday nights. Just Google for whichever museums you are interested in.
5. Fill your days with free activities.
There are infinite free activities in NYC including: free gallery openings, free classes, free ferry rides to Governors Island, free author book talks, free TV show tapings, and free public swimming pools.
My favorite TV show taping that I’ve been to was The View (I’ve been twice).
6. Don’t eat in sit down restaurants.
You can buy extremely delicious food without ever eating at a restaurant where you’ll need to tip. Wholefoods is a great option. They have seating, a microwave, and wonderful prepared foods (just about anything you can imagine). This is a great way to eat if you don’t want to pack on the pounds by eating the portion sizes served at American restaurants.
7. Go in summer.
Summer is the easiest time to find sublets or apartment swaps and you’ll want to spend a lot of time outside in New York’s wonderful public parks. Which are of course free.
8. Take free tours.
There are lots of free tours. For example, there are a variety of free tours of Central Park (each tour focuses on a different area of the park).
9. Get a US SIM card with data.
You can use free wifi at any Starbucks, but life will be much easier if you get a US SIM card with data. I use Straight Talk. This is a way of getting 3G internet access on my New Zealand iphone. Some other options will only give you Edge. The only catch with Straight Talk is that you’ll need someone with a US credit card to buy you the SIM card. Straight Talk is owned by Walmart but Walmart stores only sell the top ups and not the SIMs. Also, there are no Wal Mart stores in NYC, so get your US friend to buy you an extra top up card online if you will be staying more than a month.
10. Skip things that cost money that aren’t that fun anyway.
You might think you want to do stuff like go up the Empire State Building, but getting up there involves going through a claustrophobically horrible waiting experience inside the building before you go up to the top. I prefer to do travel activities that are based on my own interests rather than doing the touristy stuff. Meet Up groups are very popular in NYC. For example, I sometimes go to the Apartment Therapy (design) Meet Up group. If tourist activities are what you like to do, I have no judgment. But, if they’re not what you actually like to do, don’t feel like you have to.