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Experiencing Philly on a Grad Student's Budget

Updated on December 5, 2012

I moved to the Philly area to attend a graduate program in physician assistant studies last summer and was ecstatic to explore the city, until I realized that the government only gives you enough money to go to school with and not money to go galavanting around the city! Never the defeatist, I was determined to find a way to experience the city and still have enough money at the end of the semester to not have a diet consisting strictly of Ramen noodles and pot pie. Here are my top 5 finds:

Washington Square
Washington Square

This website is perfect for people who love to try new restaurants, or maybe indulge at a pricier restaurant, but have a fixed budget. It is free to set up an account, and then users can purchase gift certificates worth anywhere from 10 to 100 dollars at a reduced price. Now there is a bit of a catch, but in the end the gift cards make eating out far more affordable. Let’s say, for example a user purchases a $25 gift card to a restaurant in Center City. The restaurant sets a price minimum that must be met in order to use the gift certificate (for $25 gift certificates it is usually $35). Typically this price minimum must be met by purchasing food and non-alcoholic beverages (sorry fellow grad students you’ll still have to pay for drinks!). Now $25 gift cards through the website typically cost $10, but in signing up for an account they send coupon codes form 60-80% off to your email weekly (so that brings the cost down to about $2-4). The only other catch is that you have to tip on the pre-discounted bill (come on guys – be nice to the wait staff). So, let’s do the math, $2 for the gift card, plus $10 on dinner, plus a generous $7 dollar tip equals $18 for a $43 dinner. I find that searching for restaurants using the website is very user friendly and you can sort the search results by city, price, type of cuisine, alphabetically, or numerous other criteria. You can also search within a certain mile radius of your zip code or within certain counties or areas using the map.

Living Social, Groupon, and Eversave

Living social is another user friendly website which provides members with daily emails containing deals in their area. These emails include deals on food, outdoor activities, gym memberships, bowling, wine tastings, cooking classes, and I’ve even seen skydiving among many other things. In order to receive these daily emails one must simply go to the website and provide an email address and location. Then upon purchasing a deal, the buyer must set up a free account. The deal is then sent to you via email, and also stored within your personal account, so when you are ready to use the deal all you have to do is print the voucher and bring it with you.

In addition to providing deals on activities and food, Living Social also provides escapes. On the escapes portion of their page members can purchase vacation packages at discounted prices. The escapes range from 2 day bed and breakfast stays all the way through Carribean vacations, and provide a wide range of locations across the country from week to week. Many times escapes come with meal cards, spa packages, breakfast, and other things included within the price to make your stay more complete.

Groupon and Eversave provide many of the same types of deals as Living Social, with discounts on food, activities, gym memberships, clothes, and magazine subscriptions. Like Living Social, users must provide an email address and set a location and then create an account if they wish to purchase one of the featured Groupons or saves. You then just print and go!

Center City in the Summer
Center City in the Summer

How Much Will You Save?

I find that on average Living Social, Groupon, and Eversave provide discounts of approximately 50%. For example, admission to the aquarium was listed on Groupon as $8 for admission for 2, instead of the usual $16. Often times for deals on food you pay $20 for $40 worth of food. Overall, the 3 websites provide a wide range of discounts that vary from day to day, providing lots of fun activities within the city and surrounding area at about half the price. And the perks? For fellow grad students, these food deals can typically be used toward alcohol.

Philadelphia Phlash

The Philadelphia Phlash is a trolley service in Center City that allows visitors to hop on and off as many times as they would like at various sites around the city. The Downtown Loop runs from May 1st through October 31st daily, from 9:30 am to 6pm and has 27 stops from the Art Museum all the way to Penn’s Landing. Each individual ride is $2 or visitors can buy a day pass and hop on and off all day for $5. It’s a cost effective way to get to see all of the sights without getting lost!

Classic Philly Grub!

Which Cheesesteak Do You Prefer?

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    • PA Grad Gal profile image

      PA Grad Gal 6 years ago

      Thanks for the positive comment :o) I'm glad you found the information helpful!

    • easylearningweb profile image

      Amelia Griggs 6 years ago

      Good tips, thanks, PA Grad Gal. I read reviews on which were mixed, but your review clarifies some things. Thanks for the info, and welcome to Hubpages!