Coming to Visit New York? Don’t Get Rooked!: Some commonsense spending practices in visiting the Big Apple

From outrageous transportation costs to ridiculous taxes to Three Card Monte, many people in the Big City want to separate you from your money.

I’ve lived in New York City most of my life and, while there are a lot of great things to see, there are also countless legal and ill-legal ways in which people can be soaked.

Here are a series of cost saving tips, tips that will free up money for the enjoyable things that you’ll rave about when you get back home.

*Don’t Take Cabs

Cab drivers certainly have a difficult life, given that the city has terrible traffic jams. The cabby has outrageous costs that he or she has to pass on to you, including getting stuck in traffic, which raises fuel costs and fares. Do you really need to take a cab? You will often be paying a lot of your fare because you’re sitting in traffic.

New York is a walker’s city. Take advantage of it as much as you can. It has been my experience—in recent trips to Paris and Madrid—that the best way to learn and experience a city is on foot. More importantly, if you stay in the city—say in the center part in Manhattan—-and take a series of short trips by cab, then you will spend a small fortune. Say two cabs a day at twenty dollars a cab over a week. That’s $280 for the week. And I’m including taking cabs from the airport, which can drain you of $50 or $60 or more a trip, depending on traffic.

By the way, if you’re coming into the city by plane, try to use Kennedy or Newark and avoid LaGuardia, the Typhoid Mary of area airports. LaGuardia is a dive and the legendary mayor of the city, who helped build the airport in the 1940s, is probably turning in his grave. Vice President Biden, who came though LaGuardia about a year ago, said he felt as though he was coming through a Third World airport. Our pols didn’t appreciate his comments. That’s because most people in New York know they’re true.

*Use Mass Transit, Avoid Cars

The airports all have various subway/bus/monorail connections to the city. LaGuardia is so bad that you have to take a dirty bus to the subway. It’s disgusting. Still, although the mass transit services generally are not good, they’re a hell of a lot cheaper than taking a cab or—God forbid—renting a car and taking it into Manhattan. Mass transit here is primarily run by a hopeless, unaccountable state agency (New York politicians stopped taking responsibility for mass transit in the 1950s and handed it over to an authority. That’s because angry riders might vote them out of office).

Still, you will save hundreds, or perhaps a thousand dollars or more, in taking public trains or buses in preference to taking a cab or renting a car. By the way, car rental rates are generally quite high here because lots of cars are stolen or vandalized.

Again, not renting a car saves you hundreds or perhaps a thousand or more dollars. Then it will be easier to pay for the Broadway shows or the other things that you’d love.

*Consider Getting a Hotel Room Away from the Center of Town

This is a strategy that has been employed by my wife, the ever comely Suzanne Hall, and I when we have gone to various places. When we visited Mystic, Connecticut, we weren’t downtown, we were about a mile and a half away from downtown and actually not far from the Mystic Seaport, which was the main reason for our visit. By doing that, we saved about $100 a night. And we didn’t take any cabs because we were capable of walking.

We adopted the same strategy when in Chicago. We actually stayed in a distant suburb and took the train into town each day for about an hour. The saving? About $150 to $175 a night.

The same strategy can be used in New York City. Think about staying in Queens or Westchester or Long Island or Northern New Jersey near a commuter line. You’ll save a small fortune and be a real New Yorker for a week or so.

*What to Do with Your Savings

How about a Broadway show?

It is one of the biggest reasons why people come here. The Great White Way is a special place but it can also be especially pricey. Before going to the box office of a theater, see if discounted tickets can be found at the TDF booth in Times Square. The office is near the statute of “Mr. Broadway,” George M. Cohan. It’s possible to get tickets at a considerable discount, possibly as much as 50 percent.

*A Reasonable Place to Eat

I’m not a restaurant reviewer and am not going to give you reviews of four star restaurants, since they are usually just too pricey for yours truly, a pot-bellied Babbitt living in Queens about two neighborhoods away from Archie Bunker. However, for breakfasts and lunches, I’ve found the Pret a Manger chain to be one of the better places around. It is not cheap (This morning I had a breakfast wrap, yogurt and fresh juice and it came to $15). However, it was very good.

But there are so many places you can eat in Manhattan, pay through the nose and get junk food. Pret, which has outlets throughout Manhattan, has excellent food. I love their salads.

Finally, let me add, as I did previously when I had some good things to say about a restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that my recommendations are not based on payment or any favors. I have simply concluded that Pret’s food is superb. However, Pret, as I have previously written, also has the music playing at the max. I assume most of their customers think that is great. I don’t.

Have a nice time in New York City. Its political ruling class, a fair number of whom have itchy palms, want as much of your money as they can get. You will see this if you scan your bills carefully for the taxes or if you park a car in the wrong place. Its aggressive traffic enforcement agents will tow you halfway to Westchester.

There are also scammers waiting to make your trip miserable. Once, when I was on West 14th, I saw a card game going on in which a player was beating the dealer time and again. After each round, the dealer kept handing him more and more winnings. In effect, he was saying to bystanders: “See, it’s so easy to win. Why Don’t You Play?”

I noticed a couple of people looking at me, trying to get me to play (It’s a little bit like these absurd Fantasy Sports commercials on the tube in which only winners testify to the game’s greatness. “I won,” person after person yells. Aren’t there any losers?). I watched the card game on 14th street and reminded myself of Warren Buffett’s advice: “If you’re playing cards and you don’t know who the dummy is, then you’re the dummy.”

I smiled and moved on from the Three Card Monte game. I also laugh whenever I see lottery commercials or commercials for FanDuel.com

Take care of your money. Otherwise someone will take large chunks of it from you.

About The Author

Gregory Bresiger

Gregory Bresiger is an independent business journalist from Queens, New York. His Personal Finance articles have appeared in publications such as The New York Post & Financial Advisor Magazine. He is the author of the eBooks “Personal Finance For People Who Hate Personal Finance” and “MoneySense”.