How to Stretch Your Food Budget in New York City

Two friends eat in New York City.
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There are lots of reasons you may go to New York City, but affordability probably isn’t one of them. Whether you’re living in the city or visiting to catch sight of the Statue of Liberty and 30 Rock, you quickly learn that everything is expensive – including food. So we sat down with a local to learn how to eat in New York on a budget.

Start With Comparison Shopping to Eat in New York on a Budget 

One great thing about the Big Apple is when it comes to food, you’ve got options. This includes if you want to cook at home or have someone else do the labor. You could pick from any of these establishments as you hunt for the best prices:

  • Traditional grocery store
  • Street produce stands
  • Bodegas or delis
  • Food carts
  • Food trucks

Evan Sachs has worked as a journalist and editor in the city for the past nine years. Comparison shopping is integral to his food savings strategies.

“New York has so many street stands, bodegas, regular grocery stores, etc. that you’re likely to have multiple options within walking distance, depending on which neighborhood you live in,” he said. “Just today, I discovered that a grocery store a few blocks away from my usual place actually sells my favorite brand of butter for a few dollars cheaper.”

Buy Your Produce at Street Stands

One of the most consistent avenues to savings for those who want to eat in New York on a budget, Sachs said, is purchasing produce at street stands. Not every item is cheaper there, but the ones that are can add up to some serious savings.

“The spot I’ve really noticed this difference is with the price of garlic,” he said. “While stuff like apples are still pretty cheap to get in-store, grocery stores in my neighborhood tend to sell your typical small mesh package of garlic for four to five dollars. Meanwhile, I can get the same size package from my corner produce stand for two dollars.”

Other items Sachs almost always chooses to buy at street produce stands are ginger and persimmon. If the grocery store is having a sale, sometimes apples end up being cheaper there, but when there’s not a sale, the street stand has a better price.

Include Meal Kits in Your Comparison Shopping

Meal kits can sometimes get you a meal for less than you could buy at the grocery store – especially if you catch a promo offer. For example, Dinnerly is running a sale for new signups. It gives you a set of three meals for two people for $28.14. That comes out to $4.69 per serving, which is probably less than you’d spend if you bought the ingredients yourself.

However, once that promo period is over, the savings starts to dissipate. Dinnerly’s normal pricing for the same meal plan would be $56.93, which comes out to $9.48 per serving. With those prices, you’ll probably save money by doing the shopping yourself.

For post-promo meal kits, Sachs has found the best pricing in New York through Everyplate. Even after the initial offer expires, he still finds himself paying around $4.99 per serving, which is competitive with the DIY shopping method. Sachs also likes the selection Everyplate provides, especially as he is on a version of a Kosher diet. He also reports a wide variety of options for both vegetarians and meat eaters.

Check Food Trucks and Food Stands

Sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy to cook food yourself – even if it’s going to be cheaper. Sachs reports that the days of $1 – $1.50 pizza slices are gone thanks to inflation. However, you can still find good deals at the various food stands and food trucks around the city. Of course, you’ll want to do comparison shopping, as not all stands/trucks are priced equally. But generally speaking, these options will save you a good deal of money over a sit-down restaurant.

Download the Too Good to Go app

Available in any number of city metros – including NYC – the Too Good to Go app helps rescue otherwise delectable eats from food waste. When a bakery, restaurant or other food business closes for the day, they may list leftover meals on the Too Good to Go app at a reduced price.

If you see the deal and like it, you can claim it and head to the restaurant to pick it up and pay. Because you’re the one picking it up, a place like New York City is perfect for this setup. You’ll likely be able to walk and won’t have to factor in any gas costs as you’re trying to decide whether the “deal” is worth it.

Best Places to Find Good Deals on the Too Good to Go App

You’ll see a lot of bakery deals on the app, and they’re usually a great value. This category is so abundant that you may find yourself overwhelmed by delicious baked goods if you can make your way in to pick up the food around closing – which does tend to be in the middle of the day with bakeries.

Pizza joints are another good option that frequently make an appearance on the app. The deals they offer tend to offer a high rate of savings. You may even find yourself walking out with a few extra goodies, depending on the night. They’re not quite as frequent as bakery offers, but they are better for those who work in an office during the day.

While traditional restaurants do also post deals, they tend to be hit or miss in terms of value and availability. While the food may otherwise be thrown out, some business owners still try to maximize their own profit. Others will slash prices because they understand that savings is often the entire point for app users. You can get a gauge on the restaurant’s reputation by checking its star rating in the app.

Pittsburgh-based writer Brynne Conroy is the founder of Femme Frugality and the author of “The Feminist Financial Handbook.” She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.