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NOLA on a Budget: A $30 Day

A full day of eating, drinking, and fun for just $30? Yep. NOLA can definitely be done on a budget.

Earlier this summer, I quit my full-time job to start grad school. I’m excited for the future, but this decision has left me more budget-conscious than ever. I’m lucky to live in New Orleans, where opportunities for free fun and cheap food abound, and I decided to try a full day of meals and activities on $30. So, how’d it turn out?

What I did

My day started in the French Quarter around 9 a.m. with an order of beignets from Cafe du Monde. Orders include three beignets, so it’s possible to split an order with a friend if you’re not too hungry. I should note that Cafe du Monde only accepts cash. Each order is $2.65, but I left $3 on the table. Running total: $3 ($27 remaining)

cafe du monde
An order of beignets and water is $3 with tip at Cafe Du Monde. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

I was pretty full, so I took an easygoing stroll along the Mississippi. The area was still quiet mid-morning, and I sat on a bench and watched some of the riverboats go by for a few minutes before making my way to Canal Street to hop on the streetcar toward City Park.

Well, normally I would have hopped on the streetcar.

But because of construction on Canal Street at the moment, I ended up taking a shuttle bus. Each ride on a bus or streetcar costs $1.25, or you can purchase a Jazzy Pass for $3 for the day. Since I was only planning to take two rides, I opted to pay the $1.25 to get to City Park. Running total: $4.25 ($25.75 remaining)

canal streetcar
Take the streetcar (or a shuttle bus if applicable) to City Park for $1.25 one way. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

It took about 30 minutes to get to the park, but a ride down Canal Street is a great way to see the city. I hopped off at the New Orleans City Park stop, the final stop on this line. City Park is one of New Orleans’ very best free attractions, with access to hiking and biking trails, shady picnic spots, and various small bodies of water.

I walked past the New Orleans Museum of Art. NOMA is one of my favorite museums in the city – the permanent collection includes some great Louisiana artists – but with $10 admission, I knew a stop in the museum would break my budget. (Pro tip: NOMA is free visitors with a Louisiana ID on Wednesdays.)

I walked just past NOMA to explore the free Besthoff Sculpture Garden, checking out the sculptures, taking goofy photos (as evidenced below), and sitting in the shade to relax.

Sculpture Garden
Me, posing with George Segal’s “Three Figures and Four Benches.” (Photo: Scott Tilton)

It started raining before I finished looking around, so I took shelter at Morning Call coffee stand. I ordered a small cafe au lait for $2.20, and sat on the covered patio to enjoy some live music. Running total: $6.45 ($23.55 remaining)

At MoPho, I was able to keep my bill down to $9, including tax and tip.

I was starting to get a little hungry again, so I wandered over to MoPho, a popular nearby Vietnamese fusion restaurant. The walk was quick: it only took me about 10 minutes.

Pho from MoPho
Pho from MoPho (Photo: Ann Marshall Thomas)

Most people don’t think of MoPho as a budget lunch option per se, but the menu includes a filling and delicious pho option for only $7. You can choose between vegetable, chicken, or beef broth and pick three ingredients for your pho. I chose veggie broth (the others are a bit pricier) and filled my bowl with tofu, meatballs, and greens. Since all I drank was a big glass of ice water, I kept my bill down to $9, including tax and tip. Running total: $15.45 ($14.55 remaining)

From there, I walked back to the streetcar, and paid another $1.25 to get back to the French Quarter. Running total: $16.70 ($13.30 remaining)

I arrived at the French Quarter in mid-afternoon and headed over to the French Market. Though my budget didn’t allow for me to buy anything, I still enjoyed checking out the crafts and chatting with some of the local artists. One of my favorite craftsmen is Stefano Velaska, who sells beautiful jewelry made from salvaged Hurricane Katrina debris.

I kept up my window shopping with a walk over to Royal Street. I was astounded by some of the trinkets available at M.S. Rau Antiques – from an Enigma machine to a self-playing piano. I also wandered over to the quieter areas of Dauphine and Burgundy Streets to take in some of the colorful, old Creole cottages and shotgun homes.

French Quarter
(Photo: Ann Marshall Thomas)

Finally, I headed to Jackson Square, where I listened to some live music and left a $1 tip for the band. Running total: $17.70 ($12.30 remaining)

Hunger strikes again. I walked down Chartres Street to Frenchmen Street and ordered at the counter at Dat Dog. Each dog is $7.75 no matter what toppings you get, so I chose a duck sausage dog with crawfish etouffee, tomatoes, and jalapeno peppers. This set me back $9 when I included a tip. Running total: $26.70 ($3.30 remaining)

Going over my budget a teensy bit was worth it to support a great local artist.

The exterior of the Spotted Cat. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

After dinner, I wandered down the street to The Spotted Cat for some live music and dancing. On Fridays and Saturdays, there is a $5 cover charge here, but it was Thursday so I got in the door for free, one of the many perks of midweek exploration in New Orleans. Once inside, I followed the one-drink-minimum rule and ordered a Coors Light, which set me back $4. Spotted Cat only accepts cash at the bar, so come prepared if you want to avoid the ATM fee.

I was now at $30.70, but I was really enjoying Miss Sophie Lee’s music, so I left her a $1 tip. Going over my budget a teensy bit was worth it to support a great local artist. Running total: $31.70 (-$1.70 remaining)

Total for the day: $31.70

What I learned

NOLA can definitely be done on a budget! There are tons of free attractions and I ate very well for $30. I could have saved a few dollars here and there by skipping the coffee and beer, but those little indulgences are what a day in New Orleans is all about.

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