A Cheapskate’s Guide to Surviving South Beach: Housing and Recreation

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South Beach is expensive. Sure, it may resemble an off-brand Maryland water park at times these days, but it still offers some of the world’s most overpriced everything, and almost obnoxiously so. The expensive tropical cocktails, 24/7 Uber surges, and restaurants with $22 Cuban sandwiches are somewhat palpable when you consider it’s a pure tourist market. The $9 Bud Light with an attitude, and an automatic 18% gratuity and a “resort fee” stings a bit.   The $400 per night 3-star hotel room, $250 beach chair and umbrella rental, and $50 novelty t-shirt, however, are a bridge too far.

The inevitable shoulder shrugging, bank app checking, and libido-driven quick budgeting we all find ourselves doing is not fun when trying to have fun in South Beach. It sucks when you’re a tourist, and it’s even less fun when you live here. Thankfully, you have options. Without diving deep into the exhausting ideological abyss about why South Beach is what it is, let’s just accept it, and take a look at the hidden gems right in plain sight here. South Beach is, was, and will always be a haven for cheapskates, whether you like it or not. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. People here want the fun and the sun, but either don’t have the bread to pay the piper for the $40 margarita fishbowl, or wouldn’t be caught dead doing that even if you paid for it.

Who lives in South Beach, and who can afford it?

At its core, South Beach residents are largely service industry workers making just under the national income average. There are dozens of empty, rentable apartments here for under $1,500 per month at any given time. For every room at the Fontainebleau, there are hundreds of A/C-dripping, deteriorating Deco hotels or AirBnBs that cost the same per night as a video game. The beach itself is free, as are the parks, and unless you have mobility issues, you can pretty much walk anywhere, anytime. What this means is that despite the many tourist traps, resort town rip-offs, and celebrity-driven overpriced restaurants, South Beach is actually a really affordable town. Yes, I mean that, and I’m saying it with no sarcasm or irony.

You can live comfortably in South Beach on $40,000 per year. You can just get by on $25,000. If you make $60,000+ as a single income, you’re living well. The catch is (and there’s always a catch) that you need to live a life of careful planning. That’s right, you actually have to put some effort into living in paradise on a budget. That being said, it’s not only doable, it’s half the fun of living here. To help temp you into getting a crack at it yourself, here’s a quick guide on how to live frugal in South Beach.

Get some beach time and sunshine, they’re Florida’s most valuable assets

South Beach has one amazing park (South Pointe), and two good parks (Flamingo and MSD Ocean Beach Park). All three of them have shade, benches, places to walk, places to sit on the grass, and places to bike/skate. People who live in South Beach spend a lot of time in these parks, and with good reason. There is always something fun going on in the parks, and for 8 months a year they’re great places to sit out in the sun and open air and just chill. The parks cost nothing to visit, provide amply interesting people-watching opportunities, and are a really healthy way to spend a few hours a day.

The beach is also cool. It seems fairly obvious to point out that the main draw of South Beach is, or at least should be, the um…beach. It has white sand, crystal blue waters, it’s safe, and it runs the entire east side of the city. Even if you’re staying on the bay side of South Beach, you can walk to to ocean in 20-minutes, max. Sure, it can get crowded up between 5th and 21st street, but South of Fifth usually has a calmer, smaller crowd, and north of 21st is even calmer and quieter. Go to a bodega (or Publix), grab some cheap snacks, maybe some cold beers, and even a cheap beach umbrella, and you now have fun for the fam for like $20 per person. You can legit spend a fabulous afternoon on the beach, in the sand, or at a park with all the beautiful rich people (and weekend party tourists) for less than the cost of one drink on Ocean Drive, and you should.

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Andy Jackson

Andy Jackson is a writer and freelance journalist based in Miami Beach, Florida. He's spent 12 of the past 15 years living and working in Italy, Argentina, and Panama, with a background in travel writing, digital marketing, and consulting. He is a graduate of the School of Journalism and Media Innovation at Northeastern University.