Arguably the biggest dilemma with having little to no money (depending on your priorities) is food. In the list of things that are fun to spend money on, groceries rarely beats that Topshop dress you’ve been dying for. Food here is ridiculously overpriced, and one can find that trying to stay on budget while working several days a week is pretty difficult, even painful, such as when your office staff orders from Olives and you have to decline and cry softly into your Cup-A-Soup. The key is knowing when to save, when to splurge, and where to shop (or scavenge).
First, do not buy lunch. That is the #1 mistake, and I can guarantee you will save tons of money by packing your own. This is annoying and may make you feel super lame, but the $6 a day you aren’t spending at the corner deli is money towards the clothes you want but think you can’t afford. I wish I could say I was kidding about the soup, but I have eaten that nearly twice a week for the past 6 months (see above photo: really, that's my laptop). Why? Because a box has 6 packets and costs $3. That’s about 50 cents a lunch. Seriously. Too hot for soup? Make a sandwich at home. Maybe you have to get up five minutes earlier, but chances are you can find whatever ingredients are in your boss’s gold-plated free-range-chicken wrap at your local store. Learn to use Tupperware. Take some leftover pasta, a Ziploc bag of pretzels. Science.
As for where to buy those groceries, I’ll keep it simple: not Whole Foods. Whole Foods smells like happy tummies, but rings up like empty pockets. Take advantage of the NYC green carts, the fruit stands located every few blocks all over the five boroughs. It’s only $1 for three or four pieces of cheaper fruit (apples, bananas, oranges), but the jackpot are the $2 bags of grapes. Do you know how much grapes cost at a grocery store? Too much for this intern. No wonder only the monarchy and the Pope could afford them in the past. An apple and your packed lunch of choice will cost you about one subway ride. Also, skip the Starbucks. Their coffee is terrible anyway. Get it from the street carts, where almost everything is under $2 and doesn’t taste like capitalism. And it is definitely better than the free "Columbian" coffee packets from a certain publishing company that tasted like burnt hair.
Now, I’m not saying I never buy lunch. There are those days when the night before was a bit rocky and the morning may not be productive. Two secrets: $1 pizza slices. And salad bars. The former is self-explanatory, and you can find that almost anywhere in Midtown, Chinatown, or the LES. As for the latter, most building cafeterias or delis will have per-pound salad bars. Do you realize what this means? Lettuce weighs less than the plastic it’s in. You spend zilch.
If you’re really desperate crafty, it is also totally possible to get some snacks via the free samples at the city's various farmer’s markets (or Whole Foods--the free sample tables set up at 4!). I may or may not have eaten breakfast by snacking on bread and slices of peaches at the Union Square Greenmarket. They give you dirty looks every once in awhile, but sometimes they take pity and give you free blocks of cheese (True story. Last winter, shivering, about $12 worth of aged cheddar pity from the Amish guy who maybe thought I was an orphan.)
This should also not indicate that I do not care about food. That is so false. However, when you’re complaining about never having money to look stylish but are spending all your money at Chipotle, well….this is why I can afford to buy things here and there. Plus, you want to be able to enjoy your weekends. I know I would much rather eat soup for four years and be able to hit up the occasional happy hour (for the best, check out the “Best of NY Happy Hour” Lists by TimeOut NY or The Village Voice, all available online) than have a nice lunch. Accept the fact that you are broke and will eat terribly during your pre-real-job years. Nice food is for the rich. Or when your parents visit and take you out to dinner.