1. Take your trip during the off-season
In shopping around for hotels and flights, you’ll usually notice a difference in price between the peak and slow seasons. I usually plan to take a trip within the month immediately before or after peak season.
- It will be cheaper and much less crowded
- You’ll have an easier time booking arrangements
- Better opportunity to mingle with locals (while they’re not overwhelmed by your fellow countrymen)
- Your trip will be groovier. Ever read up on population density studies? Hordes of people do not make for the most relaxing vacation.
- It may be the slow season for a good reason (monsoons? descent of the mosquitos? impassable winter roads?)
- Businesses may take this as an opportunity to renovate.
- There may be fewer English speakers around.
2. Use Farecast Technology to know when to buy and travel
Say you and your special lady/gentleman friend want to go to Paris in May. Bing travel (formerly Farecast) has a flexible date search tool that will allow you to find the lowest prices. Being open with your departure date could be the difference between paying $900 vs $1700 per round trip ticket. A bit of planning ahead can save you and your sweetie a (rather shocking) $1600 on airfare.
Another neat Farecast feature is the ‘future ticket cost’ arrows. The color coded arrows let you know what historical trends and number crunching predict regarding future fare changes:
- Green: Buy right now. Prices will be jumping in the near future.
- Red: Wait! This price is coming back down.
3. Stay in Somebody’s Sweet Vacation Home.
Check out www.vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) for a list of houses, condos and studios to rent by the day or week. Since these properties are managed by a normal person instead of a company, you can often find really great deals. Listings are available worldwide, but are most concentrated in the States. I was shocked to see how many places were available within a few hours drive of Portland, making this a great resource for weekend getaways. Outside of camping, this is probably your cheapest option for accommodating a group of people.
- Many vacation rentals include a full kitchen — take advantage of this! Cook your meals at your homebase instead of dropping a small fortune eating at restaurants every day.
- I cannot stress enough how cool and affordable some of the listed houses are.
- Many of these properties will be a bit off the beaten path. If you like seclusion & a unique experience while on vacation, this should work out nicely for you. Make sure to get thorough directions from the home-owner and/or current maps before leaving. You may find yourself in a residential neighborhood without streetlights, or maybe in the middle of the woods off a dirt road. Also it’s somebody’s house, so there usually isn’t a sign.
- Be sure to read the rental contract. Know going in what sort of cleaning you’re expected to take care of before departing.
- VRBO rentals usually need to be planned in advance (shoot for at least two weeks.) Leave enough time to snail-mail payment/contracts/keys.
4. Concerning Cash
This may seem obvious, but plan ahead with a travel budget and three (yes, three) cash acquisition plans. Most places in the world have ATMs for cash, but sometimes things go awry. Maybe the ATM keypad is upside-down and you enter your pin number incorrectly, rendering your bank card useless. Perhaps you forget to call your bank and let them know that you’ll be making charges from outside the country and they freeze your account. Sometimes your hotel doesn’t take credit/debit cards and you have to come up with enough cash to cover your stay. Not that I’m talking from experience or anything. (cough cough.) In America, you can purchase most anything by debit card, not so elsewhere. Depending on your bank and destination, different fees (flat transaction fees, exchange fees, or both) will be attached to getting money. Choose three from the list before you leave the country:
- ATMs at your destination – consider both withdrawal and exchange fees.
- Get Visa or American Express travel cards pre-loaded with your destination’s currency.
- Travelers checks. Dated? Yes. Accepted worldwide? Yes.
- Get foreign currency at your bank before leaving. Make sure to get one of those geeky under-the-shirt-money-hiding-pouch-things.
- Airport exchange office – convenient, but often higher exchange rates.
- Line up a trusted friend or family member as your emergency cash backup. Don’t forget to let them know they’re your last hope in an emergency.
5. Have an Adventure
You’ve made it to your destination, now go have a real experience! Wander. Notice things. Live like a local. Avoid tourist traps – they’re designed specifically to part you from your money. Make a list of ways to have a new, inexpensive experience, such as:
- Talk to the locals. Go to their favorite cheap restaurants.
- Consider alternate transportation. Drive instead of fly. Take the bus instead of drive. Rent a moped (Ciao!) Avoid cabs unless it’s an emergency.
- Go to the grocery store & grab some local fare. Find a nice spot, eat, and enjoy the view.
- Check out blogs devoted to your destination. Somewhere on the internet, somebody is dying to tell you about all the great things to do there. Listen to them!
As we trudge through the murky, watery depths of winter here in the Pacific Northwest, we are made all too painfully aware of the increased living costs associated with the season. Here are a few ways to save a buck or two, some of which you may have heard but bear repeating:
- Wear sweaters and warm socks indoors so you can lower the thermostat temperature.
- Buy for next year – hit up the end of season sales to save upwards of 50% off winter clothes for next year.
- Did your child just have a growth spurt and grow out of their winter clothes? Take them into a consignment shop and get store credit for trading up. You get some money back on the old pair and obtain a new pair at already frugal prices.
Health- Eat healthy and be healthy!
- Getting sick costs you money in increased healthcare costs and possible lost wages. Load up on that vitamin C, and here in the Northwest where we get so little precious sunlight, Vitamin D. And don’t forget the greens!
- Use a humidifier – heated indoor air is constantly drying out leading to dried out sinuses, which can lead to illness.
- Keep your air filters cleaned or replace regularly.
She's smiling because she got her lift ticket for a 40% discount.
- Are you a frequent skier/snowboarder? Save dough by taking advantage of reduced prices on season passes, frequent skier programs, locals-only pricing, late season ticket deals, student pricing, active military discounts, or join a ski/snowboard club
- Check online: liftopia.com, skicoupons.com, and thesnowjunkies.com specialize in deals on lift tickets. Also, check out craigslist.com for people reselling tickets they can’t use. You can always just search for: [your ski resort] + “coupon”.
- Look local: check out coupon books like the Entertainment Book. There are usually promos going on through local businesses. For example, a local car dealership was giving away a free lift ticket if you test drove this year’s model. A local Shell gas station was also offering a free lift ticket when purchasing 10+ gallons of gasoline. Local ski shops often have some sort of deals to offer as well. Keep your eyeballs peeled for other local businesses with lift ticket offers. There are deals to be had!
- Want winter sporting goods but not that serious? The used gear at second-hand sporting goods stores will do the job. Craigslist is also a great resource.
- Tip: go during non-peak times, you’ll get better deals.
Home Energy Bill- Pretend that your indoor air is a hazmat zone and you can’t let the air escape.
There are entire websites (and businesses) dedicated to making your home more energy efficient and thus way more information than can be repeated in a single blog post. Don’t be afraid to investigate more.
- Close up those heating vents and doors to any infrequently used rooms in your home. Likely candidates are studies, dens, basements, laundry rooms, and guest bedrooms.
- Make sure your home is energy-proofed. Here’s a good place to start: http://www.energysavers.gov/tips/
- Turn down your water heater by 10-20 degrees, you probably won’t notice the difference, but you will notice your bill drop.
- Keep lots of warm throws handy for when you’re lounging about the house.
- Take it to the next level. Hang sheer curtains over an open doorway to the hall keeps heat in the living room where you want it in the evening. Pressure rods are inexpensive and easy to remove and store until next winter.
- Put plastic film over your windows and use curtains to trap in the heat. Windows are huge heat sinks. Keep the curtains open during the day to allow solar heating of your house.
- Turn off vent fans – over your stove or in the bathroom – these just spew your heat outdoors.
- Have a fireplace or woodstove? Close the vent! But take advantage of it as a heating source during the winter. It may be more cost effective depending on the cost of wood, pellets, etc. in your area.
- Want a DIY project? Make your own solar heater!
- Patch the holes – make sure your attic and/or basement/crawl space is properly insulated, cracks are sealed, and holes are patched.
- Make sure your heating units are operating at peak efficiency – get them checked, maintained, and cleaned. You can replace the air filter yourself (every 2-3 months).
- Keep the thermostat as low as you can possibly stand. Gradually lower it over the course of a few weeks as your body gradually adjusts to the colder weather.
- Leave the thermostat alone! Changing it up and down could cost you as much as 4% of your bill for every degree change. Try not to vary more than 5 degrees. Or better yet get a programmable thermostat to reduce your fiddling and maximize efficiency.
- Bake …a lot – it serves as a psychological trick to make you feel warmer from the inside out and it also actually heats up your house (a little.)
- Check and make sure all the heating ductwork and pipes in the basement are properly insulated to prevent heat loss. Leaky ductwork often accounts for 10-30% of your total heating and cooling costs.
- Always fill up your oil and gas tanks before the cold weather hits as the costs of oil and gas are typically higher during winter due to a surge in demand.
- Check the caulk and weather stripping around your doors, door sweeps, and windows. Install new caulk if they are not caulked or the caulk is old. Examine the door weather stripping and replace it if it is old or light can be seen seeping in-between the door and door jambs.
Ah, summer. There is no better time to get out of the house and get to know nature a little better. The best way to do this is to go camping! I know what you are thinking: “I want to experience nature from my air conditioned hotel room in Waikiki!” Well this is frugal blog, darnit, so let’s compare the two trips.
- Travel Expense
- Flight from Portland, OR to Honolulu round trip for a family of four:
- $1680 (double that for you East Coasters)
- 200 mile round trip drive to favorite campground:
- <$60 (assuming you aren’t an H2 driver…)
- Hotel Expense
- 3 star hotel in Waikiki:
- Campsite fee:
- Fun Expense
- Snorkeling with the fishes
- Taking a helicoptor tour of a mountain
- Touring a pineapple plantation
- $12 each plus pineapple-y souvineers
- Going fishing
- $14 each (and in many states, kids under 14 can fish for free)
- Taking a hike up a mountain
- Free! (Just make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks)
- Touring a pinecone “plantation”
- Food Expense
- Breakfast – Banana crêpe with coconut syrup and fresh ground Kona coffee
- Lunch – Glass of POG juice, deep fried mahi-mahi, and a mango shave ice
- Dinner – Succulent pork roasted on a spit, by a master chef, over a bed of fire heated lava rocks
- Breakfast – Burned pancake with a slightly squished banana and a glass of watery coffee crystals
- Lunch – cup of Kool-Aid, pan fried lake trout, and a couple of ice cubes found at the bottom of your cooler
- Dinner – Succulent hotdog roasted on a stick, by your 10 year old son, over a bed of random things you decided to burn (YUM!)
As you can see, a camping trip is clearly a great option for those who want an adventure on a budget. I recommend looking at these great resources to help plan a camping trip:
Do you have any great camping stories? Tell us about them in the comment box below.