Saving money is hard when you’re a young singleton in New York City – just ask RACHAEL SHEARER, who nevertheless has found ways to have reasonably priced fun.

The greatest thing I have learned from living in New York is how to be thrifty. I reckon I have announced how uncomfortably broke I am upwards of 700 times since I’ve been here, but still manage to attend the occasional $50 brunch or splash out on a $30 cinema trip. Granted, this generally comes at a cost elsewhere in the budget – primarily food.

My boyfriend is now in town for 12 days. I am currently drowning in legal fees for my visa application. How to make this trip romantic and exciting when I have absolutely no money and he has just forked out the guts of $700 to get here?

Oh, and to top it all off, he’s here for his birthday. Brilliant.

For the four weeks before his arrival, I only left my apartment to go to work where I liberally availed of the free hot drinks and willingly accepted lunch leftovers (almost always a guarantee).

My weekly groceries have been capped at $10 and include roughly four kilos of Goya products ranging from beans to rice (thrilling stuff). I have denied every party invitation (there weren’t many), refused to drink, smoke or indulge in anything that cost a cent.

It has been a lonely existence, but I lost about eight pounds – silver lining or permanent starvation damage?

So, I managed to save a buck or two for what had to be the most romantic 12 days of my life – no pressure – but there is still an ongoing need for the aforementioned thriftiness. This is his fourth visit to New York since I moved (exactly one year ago) and I have only returned to Ireland once, because I’m incredibly inconvenient and expensive. So, I feel a slight obligation to splash out.

For all the other long-distance folk out there, and for any couple living in this mind-bendingly expensive city, I have gathered up a few tips on how to be romantic, cute, adorable, impressive, fancy, classy and downright loveable without breaking the bank.

General Thriftiness

1. Grocery Shopping: Do this on the day of arrival. I’m lucky in that my boyfriend loves to cook, and is pretty decent at it too (far better than I am anyway), so arranging a little Trader Joe’s excursion is key for stocking up the pantry. Also, cooking together is fun and far less stuffy and awkward than an uppity restaurant where they seat you at tables facing each other like an interview.

2. Fall Weather: People always say that New York is at its most beautiful in the fall, so cash in on this. Prime time to see Central Park in all its glory, walk the High Line a hundred times and picnic in Prospect Park. Wrap up warm, bring sandwiches from home and flasks of tea – that’ll save on those $50 brunches.

3. Free NYC: The History Museum is a “suggested” donation – suggest 25 cents if you must. You’ll get a frown but that place is huge and you can kill a whole day there. Also, MoMa has free Friday evenings if you can handle the mob. The Staten Island Ferry is free, as is the New York Public Library, AND Brooklyn Brewery Tours are free on Saturdays – a personal favorite.

Spend A Little

1. Netflix: $7 / month for infinite movie and series watching? Bargain. Pick up a $3 set of fairy lights at your local 99 cent store (assuming you also live in Bushwick / anywhere that has 99 cent stores) and you’ve got yourself a pretty romantic and cheap night in. A little cooking session beforehand and you’ve got the dinner-and-a-movie thing down to a T.

2. Rent bikes: We got really good ones at Zukkies in East Williamsburg for $25 / 24 hours. Spin up the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, swoop over the Brooklyn Bridge and cruise around Central Park. It’s just the right weather for it at the moment – maximum sunshine with minimum sweat – crucial.

3. Cinema: In for a penny, in for a pound. Don’t pinch on the venue, but do on the treats and bring your own from that good ole 99 cent store – boxes of Swedish Fish for $1, yes please. Go for the bigger, more impressive cinemas like Lowe’s at Lincoln Center and choose a really long film so you’re getting your money’s worth. Gone Girl is about 3 hours long and is showing in the fancy cinema with a balcony at the moment so I highly recommend that. Very impressive.

Avoiding Disastrous Birthdays

1. Groupon – this is your best friend, especially when it comes to gifts. Cookery classes, restaurant deals, touristy tours – all there. However, I will recommend calling the companies offering these deals directly because some fail to mention that all availability is booked out for the next three months. Helpful. Also, check Coursehorse – they offer some more whimsical deals like BYOB art classes, if you feel so inclined.

2. Cheap seats: I had been dying to see the New York City Ballet forever, and cheekily perused the tickets one day “just in case” and actually found tickets for $29. They’re high up in the gods, but those big opera houses rarely have “bad” seats, per se. Get dressed up, swan around with the tuxedos and pretend to be fancy for an evening. Similarly, check Craigslist for sold-out concert tickets on the day of – makes for a great last minute “surprise!”

3. Bear Mountain: There is a $60 per person cruise option which takes you up the Hudson and brings you to the National Park for five hours of delicious hiking, sight-seeing, picnicking and romantic gazing across scenery. The boat takes 90 minutes, so this is not advisable if you are prone to sea-sickness. In New York, there are not many options for nearby countryside escapes, but this one is ideal for a big day out and sets a beautiful scene for exchanging gifts, taking photos and being generally adorable.

One last thing – Friday is the “big day” and due to my last-minute nature, I have a concert for Tuesday, ballet for Wednesday, coffee brewing class for Saturday and boat trip to Bear Mountain on Sunday – nothing for Friday. So book things in advance. Seriously.