Category Archives: travel

Frugal Substitutes: The Master Chart

The idea of finding frugal substitutes for expensive wants turned from a comment, courtesy of reader and commenter Debbie M, to a full-fledged post at grumpy rumblings.

Here’s the excerpt from that comment, and I’m called out to name my list of frugal substitutes, an idea inspired by the book “Your Money or Your Life.”

Debbie M says:

“And then there’s also strategizing about what makes you happy. If you want to feel pampered, do you need to visit a tropical island? Or would you be just as happy with an in-town spa or fancy hotel, a massage, a facial, or, in my case, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a good book?”

…And maybe oilandgarlic can share a list of Frugal Substitutes! We can always use more of those!”

And I said:

“I’ve been meaning to respond with my frugal substitutes but I could probably do a whole post. The gist of it is that I try to figure out WHY I want the big indulgence. Am I stressed? Do I want to try something new? In the past, I would assume that the best way to satisfy my want is a spa day or travel. Now I realize that I can satisfy that need for pampering in multiple and often cheaper ways. I could do a at-home facial. I could buy flowers and put a slice of lemon in my water. I can put on relaxing music. I could convince my husband to give me a massage.”

So without further ado, here’s my handy dandy chart (sort of tongue-in-cheek), and please feel free to share your own frugal substitutes:


Has A Comment Ever Changed Your Final Decision?

When you blog regularly, it’s common to ask readers for advice for everything from financial to purchases to travel decisions.  Is crowdsourcing the term? I’m too lazy to look it up.

The reason I’m asking is that I am tempted to ask for advice  from time to time.  I hesitate only because I wonder if I or anyone ever follows advice from their readers.  Oftentimes it seems like the person receives a lot of good advice but makes the opposite decision, or actually has their mind made up anyway.  I believe there’s science behind this, too, called “confirmation bias” (scholars, correct me if I’m wrong!). From my understanding, this means in general people simply pay more attention to views that confirm their own beliefs.  Example: If you think all Asians are good at math, you will notice if an Asian person wins a Nobel prize for mathematics.  If you have an Asian friend who is bad at math, you’ll assume that’s an exception to the rule.  I’m sure there are many more and better examples of this in the political arena, of which I stay far away from!

I still remember a debt-blogger who asked readers if she and her husband should join her family on a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to Europe.  They did not have ailing relatives. Everyone else in her family was financially stable but did not have enough to subsidize her tickets/travel expenses.  They would probably have to spend on higher-end hotels than if they had gone on their own. I would say that the answers were sort of split.  Many people said “go for it” which in my mind is very easy to do when it’s not your money! A lot of people also advised her not to do it until you’re out of debt.  I felt that those who were against it made better arguments.  After all she had racked up debt due to lifestyle choices, not education loans or medical debt.  To me, they had spent to enjoy their early 20s and should pay for it before going into debt for another fun adventure.   This is tough for me to say because I love traveling and I also believe travel is worth the money; however, paying off a trip for years didn’t make sense even to me.  Of course you could say that she followed the advice since most people said to “go”; however it was pretty clear that she had made up her mind before even asking the question.

As for me, my question would have been about whether moving to another rental house that is out of our real budget range but closer to my work is worth the trade-off (the classic time vs. money).  I haven’t written about the move yet because I’m tired and a bit embarrassed by my/our bad financial decision-making skills.    If I had asked, I’m sure I would have gotten good advice and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have listened either.   Maybe someone would have suggested a compromise that would save time and also reduce the hit on our budget.   However,  we made the decision based on “wants”.  We wanted to save time, but also wanted a larger house with a yard.  We didn’t want to share walls.   In other words, I didn’t think that the best arguments in the world probably would have swayed me.  Of course two years down the line I might regret this move!  Once I’m recovered from moving, I may write more about it.

Have you ever asked readers for advice and actually read a comment or comments that truly affected your final decision? I’m especially interested if you changed your mind on BIG decisions, like a job choice, moving, finance etc…

Vacation “Rules”

My Summer Vacation Rules:

1) Limit Technology: Check Emails once or twice a day and not first thing in the morning.  Make it a low priority to always be “connected”.

…BUT make time for TV and movies. I rarely get time to watch TV so it’s nice to just relax and watch old favorite shows or movies.  I associate internet, emails and smartphones with work/adulthood while TV is a thing from childhood and thus, more relaxing.

3) Don’t keep up on blog reading: I’m sure I’ll miss some interesting conversations but I associate blog reading with my usual routine and need a break.

…And Read Lots of Books Instead! One of the joys of summer. I remember many days spent at the local library.  I may even revisit books from young adulthood.  Since my vacation is just one week,  I actually don’t think I’ll go through that many books but I’ll be happy to just get through one or two.

I started reading “A Separate Peace” a classic coming-of-age story that takes place one summer but decided to put this reading on hold til my actual vacation.  It’s so beautifully written that I feel like I was once a teenage boy at a New England boarding school during a long, lazy summer.  If anyone has recommendations for books that place in the summertime, let me know!

3) Enjoy Unscheduled Moments: I like to plan some fun things or else we’ll end up in our PJs at home all vacation.  At the same time, it’s nice to have unscheduled free time… The key word is to enjoy it and not stress about “not doing anything”

…But Plan At Least 2 Fun Activities: If we don’t plan anything, we’ll end up doing nothing. I may end up settling for some playdates and library storytimes but I am determined to do some fun and new things with the kids!

Do you have any “rules” or must-dos for your vacation?

A Cheap Summer Vacation?

One of the biggest take-aways I got from the classic finance book, “Your Money or Your Life”, was the idea that you can meet your needs differently.  In our consumer-driven culture, we instinctively reach for our credit cards to meet our needs and wants.  If we want to relax, we book a massage or trip.  If we are sad, we buy a gadget or purse.  We often forget that those same needs/wants can be met by frugal options.

As I said, the idea of frugal options was eye-opening for me.  However, after my intial enthusiasm wore off, I fell back to my usual habits of swiping my credit cards.   As soon as we decided on our summer vacation, I booked a hotel and started looking for deals to amusement parks and zoos.

Of course a slew of bills, including dreaded DMV fees and medical bills, made me re-think our vacation plans.  I cancelled the beach hotel reservation ($140 per night + $20 daily parking fee).  Our planned excursions will be scaled down, too.  Instead of the Long Beach Aquarium  ($18.95 per adult after a discount), I found a smaller aquarium with a $5 admission fee for the entire family.  Plus, the beach is free!

If this change of plans was only about saving money, it would be kind of depressing.  What makes a difference is that I know that these cheaper options will meet the same needs.  A hotel stay would have meant a change of scenery but the kids get cranky in foreign settings and the sleep battle would probably not be worth it.   If I hire the cleaning lady for an extra visit, buy some fresh flowers and change the bed sheets, I’ll be pretty happy.  As for the fancy aquarium, all I really wanted was to expose my kids to more things. They probably don’t have the stamina or interest to appreciate a large aquarium.  A smaller aquarium combined with a visit to a beach (free) will do the same thing.  

I’ve also found a lot of free or lower-cost family-friendly activities to fill out the rest of our summer vacation calendar.  Summer can be fun and cheap.

What are your exciting vacation plans, if any?

No Fear

Another Every Wednesday Post…

Since I’m addressing fears in 2012, I thought I would also note that I don’t fear some things that are fearful for many others.

For example, so far, I haven’t been fearful about aging.  While I use sunblock and try to take care of my skin and hair, I am not fighting the aging process tooth and nail, as so many women seem to do beginning in their 30s and 40s.  I may not embrace gray hairs though. 

I’m not fearful of being alone. I’ve done many things solo from watching movies to eating dinner alone to traveling.  While I think those experiences are usually better with good company, there are times that I really want to do or see something and not having a good companion didn’t stop me from enjoying things. 

I’m not afraid of traveling abroad.  I know many people who hate the idea of being in a foreign country where they don’t know the language.  I always find ways to communicate and enjoy that newness and excitement.

I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of pain and illness but I have a morbid streak that thinks that when your time is up, it’s okay as long as you had lived a full, long life.  Not sure how I will feel about this as I really approach the end of life though!

I’m not afraid of trying strange foods. I’m Chinese. I’ll eat almost anything. It strikes me as odd and a bit sad when I meet people who can’t even try things like chicken feet or smelly REAL cheese!

Do you not fear things that many others are afraid of — like bungee jumping or public speaking?

Dreaming Of Paris And Moving Abroad…

From Oh Happy Day blog

I don’t know why but I have a big fantasy about raising kids abroad and this photo of Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day on a picnic with her son makes me want to buy a one-way ticket to Paris.  A picnic is just more special somehow when the Eiffel Tower is looming in the background.

And of course right now I seem to stumble upon tons of “Expat” blogs and everyone seems to be moving to Europe or abroad, even this very sensible,  finance blogger.

October 26: Take Your Vacation

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

I’m always amazed when I hear that many Americans don’t take all their vacation time each year, considering the average person gets 2 weeks and even if you get more days off, it’s unlikely to match the average European’s vacation time.  

If you want to enjoy a simpler life even though you’re still working full-time, you have to take your vacation days.  That time off is your golden chance to experience the slower pace of life enjoyed by those who have left the rat race.

I’ve been guilty of not taking my vacation time, too, so I get it.  You’re too busy, you have no money, you can’t coordinate your schedules, your boss doesn’t take vacations, you’re indispensible (BTW, no one is indispensible..), you hate planning, you hate flying, etc…But vacations don’t have to be complicated or even that planned out now that you can find last minute travel deals everywhere.  You can stay local or go hiking or pamper yourself at a day spa.  Or stay home and pretend you’re a pioneer and can your own vegetables.  Whatever.. just take your much deserved vacation time.

Do you take all your vacation days? If not, why?