Saturday, June 27, 2009

How to Live Cheaply in an Expensive City – Part 3

Saving Money Tip #157 - How to Live Cheaply in an Expensive City – Part 3. In Parts 1 and 2 in this series, we discussed how to live cheaply in an expensive city with regards to housing, food, and transportation. In this last part of the series, we will discuss entertaining yourself cheaply in a big city.

Along with the big costs of a city often comes expensive nightlife as well. Clubs that charge $5 cover in the suburbs are $10 or $15 in the city. Dinners out and drinks are also often two to three times the price as well. But entertainment isn’t all about eating out or going to bars. The advantages the city has over other places is that there is abundance of things going on at all hours of the day and night. For anyone who has grown up or raised children in the suburbs or in rural areas, the refrain, “there’s nothing to do” is not unfamiliar with you. I cannot imagine a child (or an adult) in the city saying the same thing. Theatre, shows, concerts, stores, eateries, parks, special events, and historical sites are just a sample of places one could go to when living in the city. The best part about these places is that they don’t have to cost a lot of money, if any at all.

People visiting a big city such as New York or Washington, DC pay big money to stay at hotels to see sites that are everyday scenery for people living there. In DC you can take advantage of free museums through the Smithsonian Institution at any time. There are free concerts at the Kennedy Center, cathedrals, a world-renowned zoo, and special events such as fireworks and parades, miles of park trails and acres of green space. The cost? Zero! People living outside of the city cannot take advantage of such culture or entertainment without a lot of planning, costs of transportation, and lodging to experience the same things.

In New York, while world-renowned restaurants are very pricey, there are so many local mom and pop pizzerias and ethnic joints that are reasonably priced. One can take advantage of cheap Broadway shows that tourists from outside the city would need careful planning and time to do. At any time of the year there are special events going on someplace in the city. For the cost of a subway ride or by walking for free, you can experience arts, music, and culture at practically the snap of your fingers. A person on a farm in the rural Midwest would likely never get to experience something similar where he lives. In New York, a walk to an ethnic neighborhood is an experience that is entertainment itself. Participating in fairs, parades, and other events in these neighborhoods are not only entertaining, but educational as well. Then of course there is the chance to play tourist in your own city. By knowing the lay of the land, you can take advantage of cheap and little-known secrets that few tourists know – the best place to see the city lights, cheap ferry rides, and hidden gems. And then of course, there is one of the best-known city parks in the world. The cost to enter? Free.

In cities all over the world, there are similar cultural, ethnic, theatrical, and natural events available similar to those found in New York and Washington, DC. Each, of course, has its own special attractions, but none are without cheap or free entertaining activities. While it is tempting to give in to the pricier events available in a city, why not seek out the free or cheaper ones that you will miss when you move away? Most cities have local newspapers or magazines highlighting events around the city. Take note of the low-cost ones and take advantage of them.

In Real Life (IRL) –
I don’t live in the city but about 10 miles outside of DC. However, I worked in the city for 9 years. And since I had to pay the Metro to get into the city anyway, I often took advantage of activities that were available to me while I was there. Each spring I took a walk along the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. Many afternoons after work, I would walk to the National Archives and do genealogical work on my family. At lunchtime I would visit exhibit after exhibit at every Smithsonian within walking distance from my office. I walked in Chinatown, took a tour of the White House, the Capitol, and the FBI – all for free! I’ve seen concerts on the mall, fireworks on Independence Day, and attended a Presidential Inauguration and I didn’t spend a dime other than the Metro fare to get there.

Now that I live outside the city I don’t go in as often, but I still can take advantage of much that it has to offer that people who live farther away cannot. I take my kids to the free zoo, we check out the National Cathedral, and admire the city decorated for the holidays. On any given day, we can find a list of event that are family friendly and cost very little money, if any at all. And while living outside a major metropolitan area certainly costs much more than living in rural Nebraska, the entertainment possibilities are endless. Does it cost a lot of money to live near or in a big city? Of course it does, but there’s no reason that you cannot keep your costs down by taking advantage of all the great free and cheap events that the city has to offer.

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