As a single mother of two children, I can attest first hand that it isn’t easy to experience vacation-type fun when you’re on a tight budget and timeline. I’ve always wanted my children to have exposure to a variety of cultures, history, education, nature, and the arts. Living in New York State plays a huge role in what I have been able to offer my kids, but timing and money sealed the deals.
I will continually update this page as I keep finding ways to save you money!
New York can be an expensive place to live in or visit, but you can make the most of it with some help. There are many attractions, museums, galleries, performances, etc., that offer free entry or “pay what you wish” options. Below is a list of places that correlate with my posts (updated frequently) that have these options. I suggest you also visit: https://www.nyc-arts.org/collections/35/free-museum-days-or-pay-what-you-wish for a more complete list. Many of these adventures are also free to certain pass holders (ie; Empire Passport, America the Beautiful Pass [National Parks], US military and veterans ID, EBT cardholders, etc.), so check out the details before spending your money on tickets.
- American Museum of Natural History (pay what you wish, always)
- Rose Center for Earth & Space located here too, same admission
- The Big Duck, Free always
- Bronx Zoo (pay what you wish on Wednesdays)
- Camp Hero, no admission 11/15-4/30, no admission weekdays after Columbus Day weekend to 11/15 and 5/1 to right before Memorial Day Weekend
- The Cloisters (pay what you wish, always)
- Coindre Hall, No admission or parking fees for the grounds
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Free general admission kids under 4, Veterans & US Military. Free admission for EBT card holders & 3 guests with ID.
- Montauk Point Lighthouse Parking, Monday – Friday there is free parking for Senior Citizens (62 and older) holding a New York State Driver’s License. Free parking after 4pm for all
- Museum of Modern Art 4-8 pm Fridays, Free
- National Parks, Free entry on the following days:
- January 15: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- April 21: First day of National Park Week
- September 22: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
- New York Aquarium 3 pm-closing (pay what you wish on Fridays)
- New York Botanical Garden April-October, 3-6 pm Wednesdays, Free
- New York Botanical Garden 10 am-noon, Saturdays, Free
- New York Hall of Science 2-5 pm, Fridays, Free(September through June)
- New York Hall of Science 10-11 am, Sundays, Free (September through June)
- 9/11 Memorial Museum 5-8 pm Tuesdays, Free
- Sagamore Hill, free to enter the Sagamore Hill grounds or Old Orchard Museum. Admission fee for the Theodore Roosevelt Home is $10.00 for adults over the age of 15. Children 15 and under are free. (See also National Parks Free Days above.)
- Seal Walks, CRESCO, suggested donation, but is amenable
It’s a really big money saver to bring your own food, snacks, and drinks. If you plan your day, you can plan your meals in advance. Not only will you save money, but you will eat healthier. If you have picky eaters or health conscious members, this will also satisfy their needs. It’s extremely rare that we’ve come across an adventure that doesn’t allow food. However, you can usually leave it in the car and plan for a picnic during or after your visit if you come across one. A good insulated sack or container is important along with a comfortable backpack to carry your items. Don’t forget your water bottles. The majority of adventures will have access to water fountains, but it’s easier to have it on you and refill when needed. The average family of five that might spend $20 each (that’s $100!) on gift shop and restaurant food (most likely fried) can easily bring in healthier options for $30 for the entire group.
Our easy suggestions are nuts or trail mixes, fruit, fresh rolls with your choice of filler, (condiments on the side to avoid soggy bread), pretzels and/or chips, granola bars, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, cookies, and a small candy item (prevents buying expensive candy options at your gift shop).
Money Saving Tips:
- Pick up or save single size condiments when already out. These keep fresh in the fridge or air tight container. You can pack them in your food bag when you need them. We frequently use salt, pepper, mayonnaise, and mustard on our adventures. I see people throw these out all the time when they order take-out, fast food or deli items, but you can save them. It will cost you nothing.
- Invest in a good aluminum drink container that will keep your liquids cold. This is a good investment. It won’t break or leak and it motivates you to stay hydrated when you have cool water. One with an easy grip or loop for hanging is best. Having water with you at all times will save you loads of money. I’ve seen places charge up to $4 for a pint of bottled water! Don’t forget the health benefits!
- Many foods are available packaged as a single serving, but this isn’t always cost effective. You can use (and reuse) small plastic baggies or, better yet, small containers to portion out these items. This is also easier when doling out snacks to family member’s when they are in need. You can always get more for your money if you buy a bag of snacks and portion them out yourself.
- Plan well! We always travel with a small first aid kit, sunscreen, and any other item that might be needed based on the weather forecast. Vendors make a fortune marking up the prices of these items when tourists get caught without them! Some of the most common items bought unnecessarily are hats, sunglasses, headache medicine, and umbrellas. Those are easy to pack and bring.
- Always scout out your parking options, especially if you’re driving into New York City. If you reserve your spot in advance, you will usually pay less. You can also plan out where to start and end a trip in the city. Some areas of Manhattan are cheaper than others. We’ve paid $18 for the day and we’ve paid $54 for the day. Do your research.
You can plan your trip during times you will save the most money on travel. Both railways offer discounts, but the LIRR offers more (see below for LIRR or click links above).
- If you can travel Off-Peak, you can save up to 27% on your tickets. (Peak hours are 6-10am going towards NYC and 4-8pm heading away from NYC.)
- Family Fare are $1 apiece each way (on Off-Peak and PM Peak trains) for up to four children (age 5-11) per traveling adult (18 and over); Child Fare (for AM Peak trains), with a discount of 50% off full fare; and CityTicket, which allows for weekend travel within New York City for $4.25.
- Buying onboard is a cash-only transaction and incurs an additional charge of $5.75 to $6.50. Save money by purchasing tickets at Ticket Offices, Ticket Machines or via MTA eTix®.
Rail Tickets- Children (ages 5-11) save 50 percent and up to three children (ages 4 and under) ride free with a passenger paying any valid fare. On weekends and holidays, up to two kids (ages 5-11) can ride free with a passenger paying any valid fare. In effect from 7 p.m. Friday (or the day before a holiday) until 6 a.m. Monday (or the day after a holiday)
The Easy Pass tolls in NYS are discounted for tag holders (close to $3 and more for bridges), so don’t forget yours!