Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Living Large in the Summer

Living Large in the Summer - Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged
Montrose Beach Volleyball Court
For someone like me, summer is the best time of the year.  Not only is the weather conducive to hanging outside 24/7 and the days are longer so you can fit more activities in, but it’s the easiest season to save money while still having fun.

Winter is tough, because if you’re watching your wallet by foregoing dining out, pricey movies, and paid events, inclimate weather may keep you stuck inside and potentially isolated.  Spring and fall fare better on the penny pinching scale, as you can at least more easily incorporate outdoor transportation such as walking, biking, or even waiting comfortably for the bus or train, when it comes to getting to and from fun events or activities.  Summer, on the other hand, offers a plethora of opportunity for fun in the sun on the cheap.  Check out these no-brainers for enjoying those things in life that are important to you while living comfortably within your means.
  • Put your gym membership on hold and get your fit on outdoors.  Exercise on your own or get a group together for community sweat.  You could save $20-$100 month on club dues alone.
  • Forego the cabs, UberX, cars, and public transportation and walk, run, skate, scoot, or bike to and from social outings.  Commute with your own legs for work also, and you could be saving $5-$50 per day.
  • Attend free organized events that interest you and keep a cool head when it comes to spending once you get there.  Many festivals and parties will suggest a donation of X dollars for entrance, but it’s just that, a suggestion.  There is not requirement to pay a dime.  Plan ahead by packing your own snacks/drinks if you want to go the extra mile and spend nothing at all, which is my preference.  
    Living Large in the Summer - Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged
    Andersonville Midsommarfest with own food and drink
  • Engage in your city’s free daily offerings.  In Chicago, I like to visit the free Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory with my kids, people watch by the hour at Navy Pier or Mag Mile, swim and play at the free park district beaches and pools, and attend free concerts and dance lessons at Millennium Park.  Investigate what your city’s offerings and get going!
  • When dining out, choose BYOB establishments.  Depending on your alcoholic intake preference, liquor can account for up to half of your tab.  A beer averages $6 at a restaurant, while you can usually buy the same quantity and take a few with you for less than $1.50 per beverage.
    Living Large in the Summer - Stacy Snyder - ParentUnplugged
    Lincoln Park Conservatory Garden Picnic
  • Lose the expensive organized sports, activities, and shows, and instead engage with your family one-on-one.  Take an extended family walk or bike ride to a new area or neighborhood, grill outdoors for meals, hit the outdoor courts for a game of tennis, basketball, or volleyball, work together in the garden or on an outdoor project, or build a campfire outdoors and tell ghost stories.
  • Get together with friends and plan events at free outdoor locations instead of restaurants, bars, or other venues.  Sit on the stoop with neighbors, meet friends at parks and public gathering places, and invite others over for dinner or drinks on the patio or yard.
There is no reason to overspend in the summer.  Use common sense when it comes to spending, plan ahead by researching free offerings in your area, and organize your outings.  How much can you set aside this summer while still having a ball?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Free Cone Day at Haagen-Dazs

I simply cannot pass up the 'FREE' in Free Cone Day at Haagen-Dazs without passing it on.  Today from 4-8pm, stop by any US Haagen-Dazs store for a free kiddie-sized cone per person, no purchase required.

Here in Chicago, looks like you're confined to the 'burbs today in either Naperville, Rosemont, or Lincolnwood.  If you're out that direction or live there, make sure to stop by for your cool sweet treat this afternoon.  Anywhere else in the US, click here for a list of store locations.

Here's the deal, go in, get your free ice cream, and hit it out the door.  Don't upgrade to a larger size or buy another treat or get a pint to take home.  Just grab and go for it to be truly FREE.  Spending money at a free offering defeats the entire purpose.  Living Large is engrained in my makeup.  Simply practice living well within your means while wholeheartedly enjoying those things in life that you love, and you too can be Living Large and enjoying Easy Street too!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Traveling on the Cheap

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Travel on the Cheap
Rental Bike in Paris, Courtesy of The Alternative Consumer
Love to travel but hate how much money you blow every time you go out of town?  You don’t have to spend tons of money to enjoy jet-setting.

When it comes to flights, buying your tickets 30 days early seems fair, but CheapAir has concluded that if you buy exactly 47 days in advance, you’ll likely be getting the best rate for your trip.  Scouring at the last minute for trips to anywhere can be cost-savings as well.  Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are usually the most cost-effective days to fly, so start there.  Subscribe to your favorite airline or travel site alerts so you can be advised when flights are on sale for specific destinations or last minute discounts are offered.  

Luggage fees can add up.  If you can choose an airline that allows free checked bags, do it.  If not, check the size requirements and bag fees before booking, as $20 versus $50 per checked or carry-on bag can make a huge difference in your transportation expense.  Become a master packer and work with just a carry-on to avoid fees altogether, as most airlines still allow 1 carry-on for free.

Save money on lodging by rate shopping and check out all the hidden fees.  $250/night vs. $150/night can seem like a savings unless you forgot to add in the hotel tax, entertainment fee or local sales tax, which is some locations can skyrocket upwards of 20% per day.  Use the regular sites like Orbitz, booking.com and hotels.com for comparison purposes, but don’t forget to call the hotel directly, not just the 800#, as in many cases the best rates come directly from the business.  If you’ve got time, or if the hunt is part of the fun, wait till you arrive and go door-to-door, where I’ve experienced savings as much as 35% less than published rates.  Don’t want to arrive without lodging, but can wait for the best rate, download the Hotel Tonight app which allows you to books last-minute rooms for same day and next day, with an average savings of $25/night.  Use promo code HT30 after registering, and receive $30 off of your first booking if spending over $100.

Avoid tourist traps by avoiding hotels altogether and rent a house, condo, or apartment on Vacation Rentals By Owner or Airbnb,  Most places have a partial or full kitchen, which lends to buying groceries and cooking or preparing at least some food ‘at home’ instead of dining out every meal.  Take it one step further and ask to stay with a friend, relative, or acquaintance in the area where you want to visit.  You could take that lodging money and either save it, or re-appropriate it to other vacation expenses such as entertainment, and still have plenty left to buy a nice thank you gift or meal for your host!

Once you arrive at your destination consider alternative options to mainstream traveling habits to save money.  Walk, take the bus or train, rent a by-the-hour bicycle, or use an Uber to get to and from locations, including the airport, in your destination city instead of taking expensive cabs or renting a car that requires additional overhead expenses like fuel and parking fees.  

While there’s hundreds of ‘tricks’ to saving money and stretching your dollars when on vacation, traveling on the cheap is best achieved by using good common sense.  Research, plan, and budget your trip in advance if possible, then stick to your guns!  Save the money in advance that you plan on spending during your trip.  Take cash or travelers checks to spend instead of a debit card, as you will naturally stay within your budget, as once the cash is gone, you’re done spending.  Make smart decisions on the fly regarding expenses.  And whatever you do, don’t  use evil credit cards to finance a vacation you can’t afford.