Being an NYC millennial has many benefits and drawbacks. If you are one, you probably live in one of the outer boroughs, work grueling hours at a highly demanding job, and barely make enough to pay your exorbitant rent. But one of the biggest – and least talked-about – expenses is how quickly one can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a month on restaurants.

Speaking as someone who has lived here for less than a year, one thing I’ve noticed is that restaurant eating is the crux of just about everything – a bodega breakfast sandwich and coffee on the way to the train, a Sweetgreen bowl for lunch at my desk, and by the time I get home, delivery pizza or Chinese because I’m too exhausted to cook. Like it or not, this lifestyle will devour your budget. I was spending over $1k a month on just restaurants – and not always good ones. Sometimes, it was a random midnight McDonald’s run or a mediocre deli chosen out of convenience, not for how tasty or affordable it was.

If you’re like me, though, COVID-19 has thrown a giant wrench into the gears of your life. I’m on Week 6 of staying home from work, and with almost all grocery delivery services woefully unavailable, the question becomes, “What do we do?”

The social vs moral obligation to eat out

Before COVID-19, New York life included a serious collective social obligation to eat out – what restaurants you ate at were a sign of status. You may live in a crappy apartment with five roommates, but publicly, you’re eating at Momofuku like it’s no big deal. Now, with bans on socializing, there isn’t the same expectation to maintain a facade of status and success based on where you’re eating.

Instead, there is now a moral obligation to support the restaurants in need. Many restaurants across the country are being forced to shutter because of sizable payrolls (with many entry-level positions), steep delivery app fees (as much as 30%!), and expensive locations sitting empty. Restaurants are having to quickly think on their feet and adapt to this drastically changing climate, and frankly, many are not going to make it out alive. As a food blogger, I feel it’s important to recognize that eating out is critical to the livelihoods of many small businesses and their employees.

What I’m Noticing

Especially with job security being precarious for so many people, finding ways to save money is incredibly important, but keeping what money you do spend in the community is just as important. I’m grateful because I’m saving money by not eating out for convenience, so now I’m making the choice to eat out to help out small businesses. What works for me is setting Friday night as our delivery night, and we choose a local restaurant that could use our support.

How about you? Before coronavirus, did you feel a social obligation to dine out? How are you handling your food budget during this time? Are you supporting local restaurants? Comment your thoughts. I want to hear them!

The answer is yes, yes you can. With these budget tips, I managed to head to the happiest place on earth with Paolo and not break the bank. Here’s how I did it:

First off, I had an annual pass.
For the people who don’t go to Disneyland that often, this tip isn’t for you. But for people who are obsessed with the parks (like I am), I used the crap out of my annual pass and discounts. I have the signature pass, which gets me 15% off food as well as free parking. That’s already $25 off our budget every time we visit, which is a HUGE save. If you go to the parks more than 14 times a year, the signature pass is actually a better deal and cheaper than the Deluxe pass because you get free parking as well as a higher discount on merchandise and restaurants. That means my price for entering the parks is $0, and my price for parking is $0.

Double up on your Starbucks rewards if you have them.
If you have a Starbucks gift card, if you aren’t already, PUT IT IN THE APP. Your gift card goes further by earning you points that you can redeem towards free drinks. There are two Starbucks locations in Downtown Disney, one Starbucks in California Adventure, and one Starbucks in Disneyland Park. If you are an annual passholder like I am, skip the lines at the Downtown Disney locations and wait in line at the park. I get that you cannot mobile order within the parks which can be a bummer, but if you’re willing to wait in line, not only can you redeem Starbucks rewards and gift cards there, but you also are eligible for your annual passholder discount. I had a coupon for a free drip coffee, Paolo got a drip coffee for $3.50, and we both bought $5 breakfast sandwiches. Plus the 15% discount brings our total to $11.50 for breakfast.

One of my favorite pictures from a previous Disneyland visit.

Pack snacks/lunch to eat in the parks.
Food is EXPENSIVE in the parks. If you’re not careful, things can add up incredibly quickly. If you can, bring some snacks, a water bottle, and maybe even a full lunch with you if you can. Paolo and I brought water bottles, mixed nuts and seeds, turkey sandwiches, prepackaged cookies, chips, and some apples and bananas. Other ideas could be veggies and ranch, prepackaged snack olives, yogurt in a tube, string cheese, and dry cereal. We didn’t buy any drinks at the parks because we had water, and we had a light lunch in the parks. We ended up sitting on the benches outside Grizzly Peak in California Adventure, and it was a great (and shady) spot to sit and relax while we ate our lunches. That means we spent $0 for lunch and snacks in the parks.

Skip the pricey souvenirs if you plan on coming back.
While merchandise is changing constantly, I find that window shopping is the best way to get my fix of souvenirs without wasting money purchasing them. There are also other ways you can get free mementos, like asking PhotoPass people to use your phone to take pictures of you, getting a free button at City Hall, or even a limited edition map (Hello, Galaxy’s Edge!). The photos I’ve taken have been far more valuable to me than any T-Shirt ever could be. When we last went, we spent $0 on souvenirs, opting for buttons, maps, and, of course, photos.

Wait, there’s free food in California Adventure?
Yes, yes there is. If you, like me sometimes, forget to bring snacks into the park, California Adventure is host to a little-known secret: the Boudin Bakery Bread Tour. It’s a small attraction right by the Ghiradelli Fountain, and when you enter, you get a small slice of DELICIOUS sourdough bread to savor. If you are getting hangry in the midsummer heat, this is a great place to cool down, taste some amazing bread, and see how the addicting loaves of sourdough that Disneyland sells are made.

Where do you eat at Disneyland on a budget?
Now THAT is a great question. There are a ton of places to choose from, but there are some places that are more expensive than others. In Disneyland park, Bengal Barbecue has a bunch of skewers that you can choose from that are reasonably-priced if you don’t go overboard. However, the best meal deal in Disneyland in my opinion is the Margherita pizza that you can get at the Red Rose Taverne in Fantasyland. Pictured above, it is a very large pizza that would definitely be filling for two people to share, and it’s priced at just $10. Combined with my 15% off discount, that turns out to be $8.50 for a meal for two. Flo’s V8 Cafe is also great in California Adventure for simple diner fare, with most meals being about $12.

What about a sit-down restaurant?
In general, quick service restaurants are your best bet if you don’t want to break the bank. However, our favorite sit-down restaurants are the Carnation Cafe as well as Cafe Orleans. Carnation Cafe has typical Americana fare, but what I love about it is if you time your reservation right and get outdoor seating, you get a front row seat to parades. Cafe Orleans is my second choice for a cheap sit down restaurant in the parks because it offers practically the same menu as Blue Bayou, but for half the cost. Granted, you don’t get the ambiance, but they serve a very similar salad, very similar entrees, and of course, you can get a mint julep and a monte cristo sandwich for much cheaper.

So there you have it. Disney doesn’t have to break the bank if you budget carefully and plan. I hope these tips are helpful for the next time you visit the parks! Let me know if you used any of these tips in the comments below!

Money Anxiety.

It’s real, y’all. Up until very recently, my money spending style was either feast or famine – either I was eating out every night, not paying attention to my bank account, or I was monitoring it every day and squirreling away every penny. There was no in-between. So when I found out that my partner got into a PhD program at NYU and we’d be relocating from Los Angeles to NYC, I freaked out a little bit.

For context, the greater New York City area’s cost of living is the 5th most expensive area to live in in the country. Between weekly requisite brunches, happy hours every night, and $150 gym memberships, the expenses in New York are quick to add up. That’s not to mention the dreaded broker fee, which doesn’t really exist in Los Angeles. So I realized pretty quickly that my way of living had to change, but I had no idea where to start.

At first, I was nervous. Really poring through my finances and expenses was in some ways eye-opening and disappointing. But after the initial shock, I realized that saving was incredibly doable with some discipline and dedication. Here are some of the things I did:

Paolo reluctantly posting in front of the skyline.

Stop going out to eat every day.
If food was a love language, it would be mine. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes or technology, but I DO love to indulge in food. I know many people in my life who’d much rather order Uber Eats than try to cook something up themselves. But luckily, for Christmas, Paolo got cookbooks – Lidia Bastianich’s being one of them. Soon, I was enjoying homemade pasta, some of the best meatballs I’ve ever had, and roasted pears and ice cream at the fraction of a cost of what it would’ve been at a restaurant. I found myself calling up my parents and grandparents, asking them for the recipes of my childhood favorites so I could introduce them to Paolo. I’ll also admit that we took advantage of Paolo’s parents being close by and spending time with them grilling outside or his mom making Guatemalan favorites.

Limit my “variable spending” budget to $800 a month.
Now THIS was a tough one. We were challenged to adhere to that budget between the two of us for everything including groceries, shopping, dining out, stuff for my cat, everything went into that budget except for non-negotiable given monthly expenses. That basically evens out to $25 a day for the two of us. We challenged ourselves to “No Spend Days”, where we cannot spend any money in the budget. Paolo and I became ruthless about what was essential and what could go. Instead of going out for drinks with friends, we opted for budget-friendly dinner parties at home. As an idea for a date, we would go out for a walk in one of our local parks and admire the scenery and spend some quality time talking to one another. There are days where it’s not easy and we end up spending more than we intend to, but it’s allowed us to save as much extra income as we can.

The amazing view from Governor’s Island (free to go to on the weekends!)

Open a high-yield savings account.
One thing people don’t tell you about savings accounts is that the ones at most major banks are pretty crappy. After some recommendations, I opened up a high-yield savings account with Marcus which doesn’t have any withdrawal fees, no minimum balance, and an interest rate of 2.25%. I opened both an emergency fund which I deposit money into monthly, as well as a moving expenses fund, which I also have auto-deposit set up on. I love that instead of being charged for saving my money, my money is working for me. Any side income I made from Instagram, astrology consultations, and babysitting, I put into the moving fund. Soon, between my accounts, I had $6k saved up.

The view from the Brooklyn Bridge is incredible!

Be realistic about living in expensive neighborhoods.
Paolo and I really wanted to live without roommates, which is almost impossible to do in New York City proper. Instead, we opted to live in *gasp* Jersey City near the PATH train, which gets us into Manhattan in 15 minutes. There’s such a stigma against living in Jersey that the cost of living prices are significantly lower. For only $50 more than what we’re paying for a 1 bedroom in LA, we managed to snag a 2 bedroom 0.4 miles away from the PATH station. Jersey City has a culture of its own, and it’s slowly becoming a more trendy place to move because of the affordability. Plus, you avoid the exorbitant taxes on just about everything, which means the groceries are significantly cheaper.

Find moving services for cheaper.

Obviously, this isn’t the end-all-be-all endless list of tips that are required to move, but they certainly were helpful for me. Have you ever had to move cross-country? What were your experiences? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you!