A Dreamy, 3-Day Staycation In NYC On A $150 Budget

If 2017 is the year you've vowed to whip your bank account into shape, rapper, comedienne, and bargaining badass Awkwafina is here to help with her series, "Ballin' On A Budget." Catch all of her hilarious hacks for stretching your NYC paycheck as far as possible on Comcast Watchable, and always remember: just because you’re broke doesn’t mean you can’t still be a baller. Watch the episode above for her tips on how to plan the perfect NYC staycation, and read on for R29 staffer Rachel Selvin's diary of her own experience of trying to pull off a winter weekend in the city on a seriously low budget.
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As I was getting ready to move to Manhattan four years ago, a favorite mentor joked that it's hard to conquer the city "before making your first million." Though I've been living here comfortably on salaries well below seven figures ever since, I certainly look at my checking account balance every once in a while and feel that his offhand comment contained a nugget of bloodcurdling truth. But just because you're broke doesn't mean that the gilded glories of NYC are inaccessible; in fact, this impossibly extravagant land of the $24 cocktail (really) is actually the budgeting badass' ideal challenge. So I decided to treat myself to a three-day staycation to prove it — on an allowance of just $150. Here's how it went.
Staycation Stats
Number of Days: 3
Budget: $150
Location: NYC
Day 1
11:00 a.m. — It's Saturday, and it's snowing. This can only mean one thing: brunch time. I grab a friend and head to the East Village's Prune for the platonic ideal of eggs and bacon, swapping in orange juice for the decadent Bloody Marys everyone else seems to be slurping. Potato rösti, you know you're my one great love. $25.23
12:30 p.m. — Full to my bursting point with hollandaise sauce, we walk (slowly) through Soho's maze of glitzy window displays and pass T2's luxe-looking tasting station. Free tea? Don't mind if we do. We take our time sipping a couple of the delicious brews while eyeing the shop's display of tiny $70 teapots.
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2:00 p.m. — Tired from battling the snow, we hop on the train back to my apartment and collapse on the couch for a few episodes of the current season of Sherlock. What's a staycation without a TV marathon?
4:00 p.m. — Scratch that — what's a staycation without a TV marathon and New York City's favorite dessert? Like all spoiled Upper West Siders, we stroll over to Levain Bakery and get in the universe's longest line to wait for their renowned chocolate chip walnut cookie. Yes, it's still snowing, and yes, it's definitely still worth it. $4
7:00 p.m. — How would Rory and Lorelai improve upon this lazy day? Add Chinese food, of course. Back on the train and heading to Chinatown's Shanghai Café, where we meet another friend for a truly Gilmore-approved feast of hot and sour soup, scallion pancakes, pork dumplings, beef and broccoli, chicken lo mein, and veggie fried rice. The best part? There are leftovers for days, and it's a stupendous bargain. $10
8:00 p.m. —The night is young (if extremely cold). We're up for a bit of a walk back to the East Village for drinks at the majestically named Burp Castle pub, where there's strawberry beer on tap, and the bartender leads the room in a soothing "sssshhhhh" session every 15 minutes or so. Apparently you're meant to whisper because of the murals of Medieval monks that adorn the walls — monks on boats, monks fermenting booze, monks smiling beneficently at cherubs, etc. We each buy a round and head out on the earlier side, since the meditative "sssshhhhh"-ing makes us sleepy. $28
Daily Total: $67.23
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Day 2
12:00 p.m. — Thank you, Leftover Gods. I pile some beef and broccoli, rice, and noodles together in the microwave and am so, so happy.
2:00 p.m. — Since a day at Queen's sumptuous Spa Castle would break the humble staycationer's bank, I head to the Russian and Turkish Baths of the Lower East Side — Manhattan's go-to spot for affordable Dead Sea Salt Scrubs since 1892. This place is a beauty-buff's dream; a labyrinthine basement of saunas and aromatherapy steam rooms, perfect for sweating out the winter blues. I skip the eccentric "platza oak leaf" treatment, which involves paying someone to (gently?) hit you with a broom of eucalyptus fronds, and opt for a basic ticket instead. I stay as long as I can take the heat. $45
4:30 p.m. — I stop off at home after the spa for a quick shower and then walk across the park with a friend to the Carlyle Hotel for drinks. Why pay for an Uber when you can watch the sun set from Central Park?
5:30 p.m. — If Wes Anderson and Marie Antoinette had a secret, quirky lovechild, he would go on to achieve worldwide renown by designing the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar. A true Upper East Side institution, it is so elegantly whimsical (and so manically expensive) that it gives me vertigo. We duck in between framed black-and-white pictures of Jackie O. and crowds of fellow fur-clad patrons to wait for a table. Looking at the menu immediately turns all my hair white: a single cocktail is about $24. To soothe the burn, however, beverages are always accompanied by a truly never-ending stream of free chips, cheesy crackers, and nuts. We each order one Passion Royale — a rose-colored confection of passion fruit-infused vodka, lime juice, and champagne (what else?) — and happily gorge on a mini-meal of gratis snacks. With tip, it comes to $28.26 each.
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Daily Total: $73.26
Day 3
10:00 a.m. — I munch on the last of my Chinese leftovers while cobbling together a bag full of clothes to sell at Buffalo Exchange. After yesterday's unprecedented cocktail splurge, I'm ready to make some $$ back the easiest way I know how: by selling a few of last year's "cold shoulder" tops for cold, hard cash.
12:00 p.m. — I pocket $20 at Chelsea's Buffalo Exchange and meet up with a friend for a celebratory lunch at the Flatiron Schnippers, where a massive chicken sandwich and diet coke set me back $13.05.
3:00 p.m. — We head back uptown on this unexpectedly beautiful day, hopping off the train at 125th, and stroll all the way down through Riverside Park.
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6:00 p.m. — If all good things must end, I've decided my staycation should finish with spaghetti carbonara. My friend has the basic ingredients on-hand at his apartment and valiantly captains the bacon-frying, while I help by grating cheese and drinking wine. We finish off the last Sherlock episode and can't help indulging in a few rounds of House Hunters: International as well. The perfect antidote to the long weekend blues.
Daily Total: $13.05
Grand Total: $153.54
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