Tag 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:

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…

Random Bits Of Good Advice

By the time you’re 40ish, or been around long enough, you’ve been on the receiving end of tons of advice — some good, some not so good or at least not applicable to your life.  I thought that I would compile some of the best advice I’ve ever heard.  Maybe you’ll gain something from these “words of wisdom” too.

  • Never get into credit card debt” – My Mom, delivered in such a severe and foreboding tone that I didn’t even ask her why and I never racked up any debt)
  • “If your kids fall or bump into something and you know they’re not hurt, just distract them.  ” – Male co-worker.  This tactic also works if they’re fighting over toys or cry for no reason.  You can distract them with funny faces, loud noises or other shiny toys.
  • “You can only change your reaction to people.”  – A friend, after hearing me complain one too many times about the same people.
  • Money buys freedom.” – I can’t remember who said this but I think it was a rock musician.
  • Don’t lean back ahead of time – Wandering Scientist, who has written a million good posts about balancing work and motherhood.  Lots of practical tips as well as thoughful posts.  I’ve written about this too and the most important thing is to not feel guilty.
  • “Forget balance. Choose Flexibility” – The Happiest Mom blog. This is good advice for anyone with interests outside of work.
  • “If someone tries to abduct you, fight back and don’t let them take you away to an isolated place.” – High school teacher, to the whole class.  This stuck with me because it had no context in terms of the school subject.  This teacher was also male and he was so sincere and heartfelt that it made me take more notice for some reason.  I now wonder if he experienced any personal tragedy.
  • If you only have a few minutes to clean before guests arrive, clean the bathroom (clean toilet, wipe sink, quick sweep of the floors).  Drop an Alka Seltzer in the toilet bowl.” – Probably a Martha Stewart or Real Simple magazine tip, i.e. clean what people will notice most.
  • “To find a good, affordable restaurant in a foreign country, take a peek inside and see if most of the customers are local.  If yes, it’s a good bet the food is authentic and reasonably priced.”Rick Steves, of the PBS travel series.  That’s not an exact quote but I followed this advice in Europe and it really made a difference in my travel experiences.
  • “Focus on your strengths.” I forget where I read this but as someone who tend to focus on improving my weaknesses, this was a bit of a revelation.  While I do continually try to improve myself, I do my best work when I take on projects that play to my strengths.
  • “Rock your baby up and down with energy, like this.” – A Nurse, who showed us that many babies prefer a vigorous up-and-down rocking motion rather than the gentle back-and-forth motion.  It sounds strange and sometimes it felt like our babies were hanging on for dear life, but it worked!

Advice is a funny thing. After I wrote down the above list, I realized that most of the advice I take to heart come from strangers or acquaintances (blogs, books, famous people), not people I’m close to in real life.  I don’t know if that’s common or if I’m more dismissive of advice I hear from family and friends, or if most advice given are nothing more than well-meaning clichés.

Another thing about advice is that timing comes into play.  Sometimes two people can give you the exact same advice, phrased differently, and you just don’t pay attention until you’re ready to hear it.

What are some unforgettable, and good, advice you’ve received or read somewhere?

A Vacation, Downsized

In my pre-kid days, a vacation meant exotic locales with a good mix of relaxation and exploration.  I would look forward to this weeks ahead of time, think through my packing list, and put the image of the destination on my computer screen as I count the days til departure.  My husband and I love traveling and we always had a memorable experience.

Traveling with one kid is very do-able but becomes a different experience with two, one that we’re not so eager to take on.   Plus, with stretched finances and limited time, it’s not feasible to take a long vacation anymore.

That’s where I got the idea of taking off a day or two every month.  I need to spend more time with my kids, period.  Even an extra day per month makes a difference mentally.  At first, I thought we could go to the park, library or do some other unique kid-friendly activity.  Maybe I would join stay-at-home moms on play dates.  I got tons of ideas from parenting websites and local parenting groups.   At the very least, I would also use part of the day to exercise and then just enjoy having more time with the kids.

Reality check.  Most vacation days turned into a “catch-up” errand day.  The laundry load multiplied to make up for my extra time.  I’m serious!  We were lucky to head out to a nearby park for half an hour at 5:30 p.m.

Naturally I got very down about my new vacation experience, to the point that I almost did not take a day off this month.  Then I re-sized my expectations to:  Getting to sleep in, not commuting and time with kids.  That’s it.  No planned excursions.  Nothing exciting.  More time to do the laundry.  This was okay.   This is probably very depressing to non-parents but I was actually more content after this realization.

On a recent day “off”, I cooked a lot of baby food, folded laundry, did laundry, and got the kids to both nap at the same time.  My husband ran a few errands that are just easier to do without the kids.  We didn’t even attempt to go out as a family.  Both kids were extra clingy and sweet and I “solved” a diaper rash crisis (yes, crisis…), making me mom of the year at our household.  Those things made my vacation all worthwhile.

Did you have a new definition of vacation after parenthood?

The High-Low Cost Of Travel

A while ago, I wrote a post that that mentioned the travel habits of Europeans versus Americans.  With our lack of vacation time and isolationist tendencies, it’s no wonder many Americans have never left the country. One commenter added that another major reason for this disparity is costs.  There’s a huge difference between a trans-Atlantic flight and inter-European flights. 

The comment inspired me to go back and tally up my travel costs.  Since I didn’t really keep tabs in my 20s or early 30s, it’s impossible to know how much I spent back then but I’ll try:

1 ) First Trip to Europe –  the poor college student with a giant backpack days (when the Euro didn’t exist and the dollar was strong!)

I think the plane ticket costed at least $1,000+.  I didn’t shop around at all. I just went to the Student Travel center and purchased my ticket.  Since I was backpacking for 3 months, I think it was worth it.  I believe I had at least $2,000 saved up for the entire trip.  I stayed at youth hostels most of the time, ate a lot of picnic-like lunches, and never went inside a discoteque.  I was more of the museum-going, cafe-people watching type of traveler.  I had a credit card but only planned to use it for emergencies.  Estimate: 3 months for approximately $3,500 including airfare — I really had no idea though and a favorable exchange rate made it possible.

2 ) 2nd trip to Europe

I’m sure I spent a lot more. I can’t remember how much more.  I was just happy that I could now afford a nice, budget hotel.   Although I didn’t really pay attention to finances at that point, the best thing I ever did was NOT charging vacations on my credit card.  Yes, I worked hard and deserved fun.  No, I did not want to pay for it months or years after the tan has faded.  Estimated cost:  3 weeks for $2,000 (?)

3 ) Subsequent Trips to Italy  – the “having an Italian husband has lots of perks” days

Other than plane tickets, we don’t have to spend much to visit Italy.  Some people spend more on domestic trips than we do on international travel.  I do use kayak.com, farecompare.com and a host of other sites to find the lowest possible airfare. One year, I got two r/t tickets for $650 each, including taxes and fees, during high season.   I have no idea why this particular flight was selling for $200-300 less than other flights that pulled up on the same search. It was on a major airline, not unusually long nor with extra connecting flights.  Needless to say, I jumped on it. 

Of course, traveling still adds up.  We often want to do side trips.  We have to pay dogsitting costs.  We always want to eat well.  However, in Italy, it’s very possible to eat well at small affordable trattorias rather than five-star restaurants.  You just have to know where to go!  And of course, we eat many delicious meals at home.  Total: 2 weeks at $2,000 for 2 people (including airfare)

During my late 20s and 30s, I also travelled to China, Argentina, and Mexico.  We have relatives in China so we don’t have to pay for much other than airfare. It’s not cheap but I think you can find deals also.   Argentina flights are not cheap.  Right now, airfare to Buenos Aires is hovering around the $900 mark (not including taxes and fees).  Last time, I paid closer to $700 per ticket total.  I’m hoping that wasn’t a fluke.  We had a great time there and would love to go back.   You can eat very well for little and you can stretch your budget by staying at bed & breakfasts or apartment rentals.  As for Mexico, it’s just a hop and skip away from Los Angeles, so almost every Angeleno can visit for very little money.   To keep it budget-friendly and more authentic, we avoid mega-luxury resorts in favor of smaller towns and hotels.

Among Americans, I do consider myself well-traveled.  (I’m not counting Europeans and others with many more vacation days than I’ll ever get!)  I know people who have traveled more but many more that have traveled much less.  However, now that I’ve looked back, I realize that luck and sacrifice have played a big part in my ability to travel.  Most people don’t have relatives with guest bedrooms in far-flung places.  While my friends complain about visting in-laws in [insert domestic suburb here], I complain about visiting Italy yet again.  

We have also made sacrifices that allow us to travel.  We don’t own fancy cars or a flat screen TV.  We try not buy into the consumerist culture.  We also don’t own a home.  Of course we’re not renting  just so that we can travel!   However, a house in Los Angeles is very out of reach at this point and we don’t want to be house-rich and cash-poor.  I do understand that for most people, owning a home takes priority over everything else.

I still think that the poor student backpacking through Europe is an important rite of passage. I’m just not sure how feasible it really is in this day and age.  If you can only go to Europe once, that is the time to go. You get a long summer break.  It’s fun to meet other young travelers at youth hostels. No matter how materialistic you are, you can probably live on less at that age than any other time.

Among your peers, do you consider yourself well-traveled?  Do you wish you could travel more?  How much have you spent on traveling?