THE BLOG
07/01/2010 11:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Frugal Intern: Eat on the Cheap in New York

Welcome to the first official post on my Frugal Intern blog! I'm a college student trying to get by on $100 a week and will be charting my successes (and failures) here, along with tips for spending wisely. Read more about what I'm doing in this post. Here we go!

Monday, June 21

Woke up today at 7:30 for my usual run around the Jackie O. Reservoir in Central Park. This is definitely one of the many perks of living on the New York City's Upper West Side -- I'm never more than two blocks from either Riverside or Central Park, and as a gal who can't survive the day without her crack-of-dawn jogs, living up here offers me the perfect locale for a (free) morning workout. I powered through my usual 45-minute routine with iPod in hand and a handy playlist of Glee tunes (for the record, I am NOT a Glee addict).

On the way back, I cooled off with an iced Poland Spring bottle from a breakfast stand. New York seems to spring hundreds of these every morning -- carts with silver sides and a glass front displaying muffins and bagels galore that set up shop before the sun comes up and are gone by the time lunch rolls around. Visitors who come to the city for the first time might never think of ordering food from these impromptu street vendors. But New York veterans (hopefully) know better. These stands -- whether they sell coffee or gyros or kebabs or hot dogs for a dollar -- are some of the cheapest places to grab a snack on the go or even a meal when you're low on cash. A full gyro can cost as little as $4.00 and the dollar hot dog is more than just an urban myth. And for the hypochondriacs out there, each vendor must obtain a license to sell from the city's Department of Health (and yes, officials are required to conduct annual inspections of each vendor).

Point being, they're a lifesaver after a five-mile jog and a budget-saver at all other times.

Had lunch at my desk (Nutella sandwich with some coffee and a cupcake from the office pantry). I am nuts for Nutella and if I could, I would probably keep a jar at my desk at all times and take scoop after scoop throughout the day. As you can probably tell, too, I do have a sweet tooth that has led me to purchase far too many frozen yogurts and cupcakes during my time here in the city. But, as my budget thinned, so did my appetite for sweets. I do still indulge in a few token favorites -- chocolate almond butter being one of them.

Since the fridge was relatively empty when I checked before making breakfast this morning, I headed straight to the Union Square Farmers' Market at around three o'clock. I'm a fan of locally-grown produce both for its quality and for the fact that you can find food here you'll never be able to get fresh from the likes of Whole Foods or Gristedes. And if you take the time to browse around or visit a few of the 39 Greenmarket locations in New York, you'll also find that much of what's being sold is surprisingly affordable. You'll of course want to stay away from the stalls selling things like organic goat cheese from Vermont or homemade jam packaged in a gift box, but those options are the outliers in any farmers' market in this city -- not the norm.

I passed by a stall selling Roma apples for two bucks a bag, and immediately snagged a sack. On the walk back, I stopped by a Duane Reade for some gum. Wished there were more CVS outlets in this city.

After work, I headed to the Food Emporium a few blocks down from my apartment. Groceries in this city are incredibly expensive to someone like me who's subsisted on the Costco membership card since I can remember. But while places like Whole Foods, Gristedes and Food Emporium may rack up a bad rep for pricey purchases, there are also easy ways to save.

Two words to the wise -- discounts and perimeter shopping. In any given food section, there's bound to be at least one or two items marked down (usually quite steeply) from the original price. Be sure to scan carefully, and look around for food besides those perched on shelves that are eye level (usually the unhealthy picks of the bunch). As for perimeter shopping, I've always been able to get almost all of my weekly groceries just by taking a turn about the outermost perimeter of any shopping mart. All of the essentials are there -- fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat and eggs, bread and coffee (all right, the last one might be an accessory). This is not to say that the aisle foods shouldn't be perused but just know that you really can get all of the essentials by taking one big turn around a supermarket and then heading to grab your cereal and laundry detergent in the inner folds after.

I did an entire week's groceries -- dozen eggs, Tropicana No-Pulp O.J., Wonder Bread Whole Wheat, ground turkey, chopped broccoli, baby carrots, Bon Maman jam,and Silk soymilk -- for under $30. This doesn't mean that I won't do takeout or buy a meal on the fly, but it does mean that I'll be able to save on food for the week as well as have the luxury of digging into the fridge when I'd rather not venture out the door.

Round-Up of purchases:

$28.78 - Food Emporium Purchases
$4.34 - Trident Gum "Layers" Gum from Duane Reade
$2.00 - Bag of 7 apples from the Union Square Farmers' Market
$1.00 - Poland Spring bottle from a snack stand on Central Park West