Archive | Fun RSS feed for this section

Getting Ready for Our “Frugal” Vacation

12 Aug

My husband and I have been looking at co-ops for quite some time and have gone back and forth in terms of what we wanted and how much we were willing to spend. This meant that although we are dying to travel somewhere awesome, we aren’t ready to spend the money for a trip with that kind of price tag. This also means that we will be embarking on our budget-friendly vacation pretty soon—an incredible camping trip throughout an area of our state that we rarely venture to. I have already discussed a few things about making a trip affordable by:

  • Discussing a variety of ways to make your overall trip cheaper here
  • General campsite costs and how to make them cheaper here and here

Now with a few weeks left to go, we are going to start putting our general itinerary together and have a lot of different things to consider. Again, as I’ve discussed previously, you can definitely make camping trips even cheaper than we’re making ours, but these tips are still applicable to you.

Start off with a Budget

We love the outdoors. One might think the outdoors is frugal friendly but the cost of everything you may or may not need adds up really fast! If you’ve never spent any time outdoors before, you might not have any of the equipment that is necessary and that can cost a pretty penny. Budgets will vary quite a bit depending on a a number of factors such as:

  • Cost to travel (i.e. gas, tolls)
  • Cost of food (i.e. eating out and on the road vs. cooking)
  • Cost of campsite rentals (depends upon where you stay, when, for how long, with how many people, etc)
  • Activities you will participate in that cost money (i.e. rowing)
  • Purchases that may be required (i.e. tent(s), supplies)

Unfortunately, my cheaper vacation is adding up very quickly! This actually has to do with a major activity I want to participate in that is very costly but it is what it is. Remember, our trip is nine nights so it’s quite long and involves two people.

Budget: $1300.00

Take Care of Big Ticket Items First

Of course, my budget of $1300 might seem outrageous for a camping trip but remember:

  • There are only two of us splitting various campsite rentals over a period of nine nights. I discussed how to keep this cost down in my other posts. Cost: $209.00 ($23.22/night—extremely cheap if you look at it that way!)
  • Since we are driving quite a bit, we will be using quite a bit of money in terms of gas and tolls. Cost allotted: $300.00 (Though I sure hope it’s less than that!)
  • I have decided to do this because I really want to and I do not want my miserly ways to get in the way of an awesome thing—the hot air balloon ride for $235.00 a person or $470.00

As you can see, there isn’t much money leftover for anything else. This already totals $979.00, meaning I only have $321.00 left to spend!

What Else Do I Need to Consider?

There are still tons of things to think about when you’re camping such as:

Food: We eat a lot and I am a picky eater. Ideally, I would love to cook every day and night but I think there will be days when we want breaks from that. Budgeted: $150.00-$200.00

Additional Purchases and Activities: $121.00-$171.00.

We are extremely lucky that we either have or can borrow most of the things that we need for our trip. Remember: If you plan on going camping regularly, many of the items you may need or plan to use will probably end up being purchases that will last you for many years.  Keep in mind the following items that you may or may not take with you:

  • Tent(s) — make sure it has a rain shield and that you have a tarp for the ground
  • Sleeping bag(s) and pad(s) — you might want something softer to sleep on if you plan on staying long
  • Cooking supplies, food and something to store it in to prevent animals from getting to it
  • First aid and personal hygiene supplies

You can find a simple list here.

If you know you are going camping, it is easier to buy things over time than have to buy them all at once. If you do this, you can also look for sales, especially during the off seasons or holidays, that might allow you to pick-up some great deals. More importantly, if you don’t have the money for it, don’t be afraid to ask around! You may be able to borrow almost everything you need for your camping trip from friends and family.

It’ll Be Here Soon

Our camping trip will be here soon and I am so excited to go on vacation since I haven’t had off in nearly a year!

Have you undertaken a huge camping trip before? What are some ways you saved money on your trip?

It’s Time to Lighten Up

16 Jul

Toward the end of last year, I had this whole idea that I needed to make a budget because we didn’t really keep track of where our money was going. We had always saved money but I didn’t actually know how much we were spending on random things here or there. This resulted in the creation of a budget that could be flexible here or there. We have been pretty good at sticking to the budget with the occasional exception here or there.

I became focused. The goal? Purchase a home. We need to put down twenty percent. We have had the twenty percent for months. But I hadn’t been able to let go. Keep saving, I thought. So we have been saving. And saving. All of my paychecks go directly into the savings account, untouched. I kept telling myself I would start an IRA only to find myself putting it off so I could get to the next big number in my savings account.

But what have we been doing?

Basically, nothing.

I realized I started to detest spending money, even on things we needed or that we would enjoy. We needed a new couch for quite some time but I was very reluctant to actually purchase one. I didn’t want to use the state pass I purchased in order to visit the parks because I didn’t want to spend the money on gas to get there. Essentially, we would put off having fun or doing something that might be fun for us because I didn’t want to spend the money.

I decided that I need to stop being so tightfisted because it was having an impact on my life. I don’t really spend much on activities—so why can’t I let go once in awhile? What’s the point in having a little extra money in the bank if I’m a lot less happy for it. We aren’t anywhere near struggling financially so why am I keeping myself from taking a day trip to the lake? It seems so ridiculous.

I think every once in awhile you need to take a step back and reevaluate your goals in life. Once your needs have been covered, it’s time to establish your wants. What do you want?

I want to enjoy my time doing things with the people I love.

And that is what I plan to do this day forward.

The “Nicer” Vacation

22 May

I have been posting about my big camping adventure that is set for September. However, I am also in the midst of planning our October vacation.

In 2010, we embarked on a seven-night cruise. I really enjoyed it but felt as though I was done with cruising for another five or ten years. This year, however, the thought crossed my mind—cruises can be ridiculously cheap if you allow them to be, especially if you’re lucky enough to live on the coastal United States where you can leave directly from a port without having to travel to it first. Then I found myself considering an all-inclusive vacation but found the cost of flights to be prohibitively expensive. Ultimately, I decided that in October I would like to stay somewhere warm and perhaps even obtain some type of color, preferably something tan not red. Let the planning for Florida begin!

I have only flown a few times in my life and three of the four times I have flown have been to Florida. While it’s unfortunate that I won’t be going anywhere new this year, I am just happy to be able to go somewhere.

How to Try to “Cheapen” the Trip – The Beginning

The first thing I did, once I decided upon Florida, was to consider the locations I planned to visit. I knew that I did not want to be on the Gulf since that is where we traveled last time and as beautiful as it is, a beach without waves makes this girl sad. I also decided that I wasn’t interested in Northern Florida, the Orlando area or the Southern most areas of Florida. From this, I compiled a list of beaches that seemed reasonable and began my research.

After looking around online, I noticed some beaches were definitely more expensive than others. I started my search by just going through general travel sites, such as Expedia, to get a general idea of what the rates might be. This alone allowed me to narrow down my search. Other things helped me narrow down my search and that you should also consider:

  • Is there anyone nearby I want to visit?
  • Are there other activities besides keeping my body on the beach all day?
  • Is there an airport nearby?
  • Is it easy to get around?
  • Do I have to rent a car? If so, how much will it cost?

I’ve Decided on a Location – Now What?

I decided to narrow my focus to a few different areas that I was looking into — Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and anything else nearby. I looked through Expedia some more to get a general sense of the costs of different hotels. I also decided to pay attention to the following because these things can be huge additional costs that people do not take into account:

  • Do I have to pay for parking? When I do, I find this to usually be somewhere between $12-$20/day.
  • Do I have to pay for daily resort fees? These can vary greatly and depend on how many people are going on your trip. In addition to resort fees, do I have to pay additionally for beach rentals?
  • What is the difference in price between an oceanfront, a room with an ocean view and a city view?
  • Does the place include any extras — free breakfast? Discounts on activities? Credits to the room?
  • Does the place charge automatic gratuities and service fees for everything?

Don’t Forget to Look on Other Sites

Sites like Expedia, Travelocity and their various incarnations are great and all but they can be quite limiting. One of the best places I have ever stayed in was no where on any of those sites—it was a gorgeous B&B that I found on TripAdvisor. I find using a website like TripAdvisor to find places to stay is generally my best bet. Not only will you find very in-depth reviews about lodging but you will also find reviews for everything else in the vicinity. You will always find complainers but I have found that most people review things quite honestly.

Using TripAdvisor is a good place to find smaller motels and inns that might be in the area but don’t charge exorbitant rates. They are usually smaller, family-owned joints that might be right off the beach, just a block or so away, that offer the basics. Remember: You can always choose to stay at multiple places, although sometimes you will find certain places at certain times require you to stay a minimum amount of days. When we went up North for a vacation, we spent one night in a very, very nice hotel and spent the other night at a much cheaper motel.

Are You Getting Ready to Book Your Trip?

If you have decided on where you are going to go, keep these other money saving tips in mind:

  • Always check for discounts that may apply to you, such as a AAA membership. You never know—you might end up with a better deal.
  • Look around at different sites—some may offer extras, deals or even slight price variations.
  • Check to see if bundling will save you money—what would be the price difference if you booked a hotel with the flight?
  • See what the difference would be for weekday versus weekend reservations. The prices can vary a lot especially in the summer. Avoid taking trips around holidays or when big events will be taking place, such as conventions, in the area you’re interested in visiting.

Any other tips you have in mind? Feel free to share. Happy planning!

Frugal Adventures in Camping – Making the Reservations

17 May

I am bubbling over with excitement because I have officially booked all of the days for our camping trip. Our trip will be rather long; in fact, it spans over the course of nine nights. Yes, I will be sleeping on the ground for nine nights straight and I seem to be okay with that—you know, until I reach that point where I cannot move my neck. We are actually heading to the opposite side of the state and then creeping back two hours closer but this trip will still entail a lot of driving. We will be staying at state parks for the entirety of our trip.

This is how things are looking right now:

  • Park One: 2 Nights @ $43.00
  • Park Two: 3 Nights @ $72.00
  • Park Three: 2 Nights @ $51.00
  • Park Four: 2 Nights @ $43.00

Thus, nine nights for two people will cost $209.00 or $23.22 per night. I think that’s pretty cost-effective in terms of sleeping arrangements.

Making Things Even Cheaper

If you are thinking about taking your family camping or if you plan on taking a trip with friends, you can have an even cheaper camping trip in terms of making reservations by doing the following:

1. Plan for weekdays and non-holidays: Generally, most campsites will have cheaper rates during the week and they bump up their prices for holidays and the rest of the holiday weekend. If you’re looking to save a few more dollars, this might be a good thing for you to look into.

2. The more the merrier: In my experience, campsites will allow up to six people per site. Just imagine for a second you took a trip with five of your friends—each of you would only be paying $34.83 for nine nights of rest or each person would be paying $3.87 a night to sleep. Now compare that to the cost of staying in a hotel and just be amazed at the price difference. If you’re a family staying at a hotel, you usually have to pay an extra amount for either an additional room, a bigger room, a bed with a roll-away or merely for having extra bodies. This might be a great way to save money.

3. Less park hopping means more savings: I have mentioned previously that we are making our way to four different parks. Even when making reservations at the same time, I was required to pay a transaction fee of $9.00 for every park. If I had just chosen to stay at one park I would have saved $27 dollars.

4. Location matters—sometimes: In my state, out-of-state residents are charged more than in-state residents. Thus, staying within your home state might be a cheaper option for you if it’s available. Also, do some research—is a state campsite more or less than a private campsite nearby? Evaluate the cost-benefit of the amenities that are available for your friends and/or family.

Do you have any additional tips in terms of making reservations even cheaper for your camping trip? I’d love to hear them!

My Love-Hate Relationship: Online Deals

6 Apr

I started using Groupon & LivingSocial around the time they pretty much launched themselves.

Now, I love a good deal. Since I live in a large city, there are multiple deals every single day. Tempting? Yes. But I have found that with a little self-control, making use of these sites can be quite advantageous.

The Good

(1) Since there are multiple deals throughout the city, and there are a lot, I have pretty much decided to have these deals e-mailed to one of my junk e-mail accounts. Do I end up with a lot of e-mails? Yes. But I would rather do that than be annoyed that I missed something I actually wanted, as opposed to one of the five hundred spa treatments offered through the website.

(2) Once I actually find a deal I want, I make sure that I go through it in my mind a bit. Do I really want this? Can I afford this right now? Will I actually use it? If the answers are yes, I will generally buy it. For example, I rarely ever go to the movies—usually I only go once a year. At ten or more dollars per ticket, it’s just not worth it to me. But if I know there is a movie coming out I want to see and one of these sites comes out with a deal, I will probably purchase it. For $12, I just purchased a Groupon for a movie theater near me that includes two tickets and bottomless popcorn. I also keep an eye out for places I enjoy eating at or want to try since I really do love eating out—it’s like a hobby to me. For $15, I purchased a deal for $35 of food from a healthy food place that we really enjoy. These will be used for a “date night.”

(3) Of course I realized thisafter my last purchase, but my credit card, which offers pretty decent cash back rewards, has 15% cash back on purchases for Groupon if you go through their website. All you need to do is log into your credit card website, for example, and click through the links on their site. Once you do that, you’ll get the cash back—you won’t get the 15% just buying it without going through the credit card’s site.

(4) Sometimes you will end up with free stuff—I got a credit of $10 once because someone apparently used a referral link to LivingSocial that I had put out there. If all of your friends want to go in on a deal, many times they have it set-up so that if you refer three friends you get your deal for free. If it’s something big, you might be able to all go in on a deal, such as a vacation, and then split it up so that four people are paying the price for three people—making the savings even greater.

(5) I find that the sites have pretty good return policies. My sister bought something she could not use once and they refunded her money relatively quickly.

The Bad

(1) Having your credit card linked to your account makes it all too easy to make a fast purchase. If I am waffling on a deal, within a few seconds and a couple of clicks, I might have purchased it. Whoops.

(2) Constantly being bombarded with deals makes me want more things in the moment. For example, I had been talking about going zip lining and literally the next day I had an offer for zip lining in my mail box. I was so excited I wanted to purchase it right away. I gave myself a little time and instead I decided that it wasn’t the time to do it. Also, I stated that I am always on the lookout for restaurant deals. I find that often times it is the case that there will be nothing I want for months and then all of a sudden there are a bunch of restaurants I want to purchase deals for in a row. Sometimes I really, really have to resist the temptation.

What I Try to Do

I decided, after purchasing two deals within the same day after not purchasing any deals for awhile, that I will just make it part of my budget. One of the descriptors in my budget is a “miscellaneous” category. If I don’t have the money for it, then I am not going to buy it. Of course, if it’s for some big purchase that I have decided I am going to make, such as a purchase for a trip, I will have a little more leeway.

How do you feel about these sites? Are they forces of good or evil?

Cheap Vacation Mode – Camping Style

2 Apr

I have two weeks for vacation at my current place of employment. My husband has three because he has been at his job for a little longer than I have been at mine. I decided that one of the two weeks we spend together must be on the cheaper-side, so we have elected to go camping. This especially holds true because we are unfortunately buying a new couch and we will probably spend a bit of money on it. And by a bit of money, I mean way too much for my frugal tastes. (Let’s just say I have learned my lesson in terms of buying cheap furniture.)

Ah yes, the great outdoors. This can actually be quite expensive but we plan on making it a bit cheaper for us. I think the most expensive thing for us will be the gas. How will I make it cheaper? Good question.

(1) I already bought the state pass that will allow me to access nearly every state park. I was already planning on purchasing this for our hiking excursions but now that we have it we won’t need to pay the entrance fee to any of the parks we visit. Since I have a list of parks that we want to go to, this will probably pay for itself. Since I plan on visiting the state parks more than eight times over the course of a year, I will end up saving money.

(2) I will use Gas Buddy, a phone app, to find the cheapest gas around. Since we will be driving quite a bit to get to our destinations, this will hopefully be quite helpful.

(3) I will buy food that is on sale. Since most of the time we will be cooking for ourselves in the park, we will bring staples that will easily last such as canned goods that will serve as part of the meal or as a side to the meal. There are a number of large supermarkets throughout the area that we could stop at and try to purchase whatever we can that’s on sale. We will also be saving money by not making constant trips to the general store, which would end up being more expensive, or going out to eat wherever is closest.

(4) We will be exclusively staying at campsites. We will not be renting cabins or anything else. Campsites are only $15/night at most of the places I have looked at; however, since part of the time we are going is around a holiday, it is $4 more/night. That’s fine with me. For two people, we have a place to sleep for under $20/night.

(5) We will be using rentals where we can. I looked at possibly purchasing an inflatable kayak for adventures but then I received a sharp slap in the face when I saw how expensive they were. Given how infrequently we partake in water activities, there is no reason to purchase anything—rentals are usually pretty cheap anyway. There is no reason to make a big purchase if you are going to infrequently use it.

(6) It might not seem like it saves you  money but I recommend buying things in baby steps. Instead of rushing out to buy everything at once, take your time, read reviews and find the best deals. If I know, for example, that I need a new sleeping bag and I have quite a bit of time to find one, I will wait until there is a good sale before I purchase one. Last minute or impulse purchases often result in one spending much more money than they actually need to spend. You may be able to find things at outlet malls as well.

(7) I plan on researching the surrounding area for information on other cheap activities. If you wade your way through websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, you can find recommendations for various activities as well as food options. You will also find out if people found things to be overpriced and if you’re lucky, you can find out what the good deals are in the area. Additionally, you can follow a company’s Facebook page if you’re interested in something they offer, like guided tours, and see if they have any type of deals for you. You can even go as far as to sign-up for Groupon or LivingSocial deals for that area—that way, when the time comes, you might be able to do something awesome on the cheap.

(8) And this is the most important part of my cheap vacation—ask around! We do not currently own a tent but my parents have one so we will be borrowing their tent. We also do not own a cooler so we will be borrowing that too. Try to borrow things whenever you can if you’re not in a place to buy your own.

Of course, when September rolls around, I will let you know how much we spent in its totality. We do plan on doing a couple of things that are ridiculously expensive but that is why the rest of the trip needs to be cheap.

Outdoor Excursions – Forcing Myself Outside on the Cheap

17 Mar

My husband and I really enjoy hiking. I love torturing myself and whining about it most of the time. I enjoy the challenge and feel accomplished when we complete a trail that is at least moderately difficult. The only problem we have is that since we are city-dwellers, we have to drive at least two hours to hike anywhere with any kind of elevation. I really would like to hike more and make it a regular thing so I have tried to put some things into place that will push me into hiking more often.

(1) I purchased a parking pass that allows for entry into any of the parks listed on their site, which includes most of the state parks. Given that the pass cost $65 and that entry into any of these parks costs $8/day, I will have to go at least eight times to almost break even.  I can start using this pass April 1st so hopefully I can make it somewhere within that first week.

(2) I let friends know that we plan on going hiking. Sometimes it’s easier to get yourself to go somewhere if you have other people involved. Now the frugal part of me would love if they gave us some gas money or offered to pick up some snacks but the logical part of my brain reminds me that I am inviting them as guests.

(3) We are planning to make one of our weeks of vacation an outdoors trip around the state. During this week, we plan on hitting up as many state parks as we possibly can within reason. I’ll actually be writing about this later when I talk about planning a cheap vacation.

For me, this is a type of cheap fun. At $4/person, my husband and I can enjoy one of the beautiful state parks for the entire day. The only downfalls and added expenses, which can be quite large, are gas and tolls. Since we are quite a distance from any real hiking areas, it really drives the cost of an outdoor excursion up quite a bit. We actually try to take routes that involve less tolls and they are usually only a difference of about five or ten minutes in driving time. We have some pretty expensive tolls in our area so the additional five or ten minutes usually makes sense. In terms of gas, there’s not really much we can do about that. The only thing we try to do is make our way into the adjacent state, since that is part of our route, and purchase gas there; it’s always cheaper by $0.20-0.30/gallon.

Does anyone else go hiking? What do you guys do for fun to enjoy great outdoors? You know, unless you’re a shut-in.