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#896 Stop Using Paper Towels

8 May

paper towel roll

Quit them cold turkey if you can. Photo via flickr by edkohler.

A friend joined a warehouse club and was excited about the savings, until she realized – where am I going to store my five billion rolls of paper towels? Instead of building a warehouse to store your warehouse purchases, try eliminating the need for many of the bulk buy purchases. First on the list to eliminate? Paper towels.

As a single-use product, paper towels are economically not a very good investment. Depending on the rate of use, paper towels can fly off the roll and into the trash faster than a weekly shop can keep up with. Instead of trashing your money and trees with paper towels, get rid of them altogether and replace paper towel use with things you already have around the house.

Here are some ways to stop using paper towels and save a little more from your grocery and supplies budget:

  • Go cold turkey. All smokers or other addicts know that one of the most effective ways to quit an addiction is to eliminate the  product and make it unavailable for consumption. If you eliminate paper towels from the house completely, you’ll be forced to adapt and find alternatives. Like any other cold turkey quitting program, the first two weeks will be hard and then it’ll get easier. Soon you’ll wonder why you spent money on paper towels to begin with.
  • Rediscover sponges.
    A better choice for cleaning up spills. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

    A better choice for cleaning up spills. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

    If you have a dishwasher, you may hardly ever touch a sponge, but you probably have one at the kitchen sink. Sponges are perfect for cleaning up spills – the number one excuse to use a paper towel. A sponge will do exactly what a paper towel will do – soak up a spill and allow you to clean it up. The big difference is that a sponge is reusable. You can rinse and wring for later use or if the spill requires more than one go with the sponge, it’s no problem to rinse and wring until the job is done. Instead of using half a roll of paper towels, try one reusable sponge. I have a “nasty” sponge pile of old kitchen sponges that I use for toilet cleaning or other particularly nasty uses so that I can throw them out after a long life as a “clean” sponge.

  • Explore rags. What to do with those old t-shirts and cloth diapers? Turn them into cleaning rags for dusting, wet cleaning and other jobs that paper towels are used for. Like sponges, rags are washable and reusable. If you are reusing old clothes or sheets for rags, then cut them up into varying size rags and store them along with cleaning products in an easy-to-access place for all your cleaning needs. An old rag, can go into the “nasty” rag pile and used for a nasty job and then tossed after a long life as a t-shirt reborn as a cleaning aid.
  • Dry your hands on a hand towel.
    hand towel hand drying

    The proper way to dry hands. Hint: not with a paper towel. Photo via flickr by AlishaV.

    One of my pet peeve uses of paper towels is using them to dry hands. That’s what hand towels are for. Or dish towels. I like to keep two hand towels or dish towels in rotation so that when one gets really soaked, I can use the other while the wet one dries out. Have a well ventilated place where the towels can live in a spot convenient to where you normally do a lot of your hand washing and drying. Throw the towels in the weekly wash to keep them fresh. If you have family members who are paper towel hand drying offenders, remove any paper towels from easy reach or altogether, leaving only the hand towel available.

  • Wash with a wash cloth. If you use paper towels for messy kid hands and face, then keep a wash cloth handy as well and use the wash cloth to wipe them down after meals or before running out the door and into public view.
  • Keep a limited supply of paper towels. Buy a roll and make sure it lasts for a certain amount of time – say a month or more. This will make you think every time you reach for a paper towel, “can I use something else for this job?” The answer is most undoubtedly “yes.” The only tricky paper towel replacement is draining bacon. Paper towels are excellent for draining bacon, but if that is your only paper towel use, I think one roll could last a year or more.
  • Use silicone mats and products for baking. Another tough to replace paper towel use is greasing cookie sheets. Replace a paper towel and butter or oil with silicone baking mats, cups and trays that can be reused thousands of times.
  • Don’t use paper napkins either.
    cloth napkin

    Photo via flickr by jenny downing.

    Get classy and use cloth napkins. Growing up in my large family, we each had our own napkin ring with our initials to store our cloth napkin so the napkins would not get confused during the week. Then they’d be washed at the end of the week. Holiday dinners and company meant my dad broke out the ironing board and used the nice cloth napkins instead of our every day ones.

  • If you really need a transition aid… you can try the reusable bamboo paper towels made from renewable bamboo sources called Bambooee that can ease the transition to not using paper towels. Make sure the spouse and kids know not to throw them out. And after they are torn from the roll, they’re really just another reusable rag. But hey, they can drain bacon!

The added bonus of being thrifty and saving lots of money usually means your also being green and saving resources, which is never a bad thing. Eliminating paper towels is no exception.

#899 Buy Your Fruits And Vegetables Seasonally

3 May

fiddleheads

I expect to see these in the store soon, or could forage my own. Photo via flickr by New Brunswick Tourism.

It’s nice that we can have tomatoes and strawberries year round, but they don’t taste the same for the majority of the year when the fruit is out of season, and they’re more expensive when they’re out of season. To get the most out of flavor and your dollar, buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season.

Following the seasons is not just for top chefs but for the thrifty as well:

  • In season is always on sale. When the market is flooded with a crop of fruits or vegetables that are ripe and ready to sell, the grocery store needs to move the inventory. The in season fruits and vegetables are always on sale because the produce needs to move off the shelves. This meaning savings for you and better quality and taste because the produce is naturally in season, which always taste better than year-round hot house varieties or produce that has been shipped halfway across the world to get to you.
  • It builds anticipation.
    rhubarb plant

    Rhubarb produces spring cooking joy after a root vegetable winter. Photo via flickr by MiikaS.

    At the end of winter when you can’t stand another root vegetable, strawberry season is like Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one. Throw in rhubarb for a fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie to celebrate May Day, and you may just swoon with joy. Fruits don’t get that kind of reaction if you have them all the time. Following the seasons has you looking forward to the next crop to play with in the kitchen.

  • You can buy local. It’s nice that you can get fresh produce that came from the area, which means your dollars are staying close to home. You can also take advantage of farm stands and deals on organic produce. Just because the produce is local doesn’t mean it’s more expensive, often you can get great deals on local produce.
  • Buy in bulk. If you’re ready to try some canning and freezing to combat those dull winter days, you can buy produce in bulk and save a lot of money. You can even split a bulk buy with a friend to benefit the both of you. It’s expensive to buy the quantities of fruits and vegetables you need for preserving if you don’t grow it yourself or buy in bulk when the crop is in season locally.
  • You can pick your own. I love going to pick your own farms. I’ve already discussed how it saves money and how much fun it is here.
  • A glimpse of the fleeting. Some crops have such a short in season window that if you blink, you’ll miss it. Local delicacies shine in this respect. Don’t be afraid to try a local forage or crop that is not seen elsewhere.

#900 Make A Pit Stop For The Roadside Farm Stand

2 May

fresh produce farm stand truck

Because buying produce from the back of a pick up truck is awesome.

 

The easiest way to score a deal on organic produce? Stop by a roadside farm stand to check out the seasonal fruits and vegetables. The key secret is that farm stands are often “organic” without the official label. Getting certified organic is a lengthy process, so a lot of casual farmers, neighborhood gardeners or even regular, small-scale farmers don’t go through the process to get certified. Lots of times there is no way to know that they are not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers unless you stop in. Some advertise “chem free” or “no spray” on their signs, but many will only tell you once you stop in that they don’t use chemicals or sprays.

As spring starts to yield the first crops of spinach, lettuce and rhubarb, roadside farm stands will start to pop up at the end of driveways and or in seasonal vegetable stands. If you live in a rural location, the farm stand is a common site, if you live in an urban environment, you don’t have to go too far into the country to start seeing them.

Here are some reasons why I love roadside farm stands and why they are a bargain.

  • Freshness!
    roadside farm stand

    Many farm stands offer unofficially organic produce at low prices.

    Most of the time you’ll hear things like “I dug them this morning” or “I’ll get you some more from the garden.” The quality of vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are the best the fresher they are, and the vegetables are crunchier, tastier, firmer or whatever ideal quality you are looking for. Don’t waste the huge bonus of super fresh fruits or vegetables by waiting to prepare the produce. Prepare and eat it the same day or the next day if possible.

  • Cheap! Like I said, a lot of these stands are unofficially organic. That’s good enough for me. Most of the time the produce is 50 cents or more less than the conventional produce price at the grocery store. Plus you’re getting that freshness factor, which is priceless. If you regularly grocery shop with a budget, you should be able to identify whether the price of produce is cheaper than in the store. Even if it’s the same price and you’re not getting any savings, you’ll win with taste. In all likelihood, it is cheaper than the store. Especially organic produce.
  • Variety! The variety of produce that you can find in roadside stands is much greater than at the grocery store. You can discover new kinds of squash, potatoes, herbs and tomatoes that will make you wonder why anyone decided that mass producing only one kind of tomato was a good idea. People like to put labels like “heirloom” or “heritage” on fruits and vegetables that fell out of favor with the advent of agribusiness, but these small stands keep up the variety of produce with little pretension and lots of flavor.
  • It’s not the farmer’s market. I love farmer’s markets too, but usually only to look. Prices at farmer’s markets tend to be high, and it’s much harder to score a deal on organic or even conventional produce. At a farmer’s market, the vendors will be much more likely throw around words like “heirloom” and discuss the broodiness of a rare Chilean hen, which just makes me feel out of place if I’m not wearing vegan sandals and don’t know what my exact carbon footprint is. I like what they’re doing, but I prefer the more regular Joe feel of farm stands.
  • Trust. If you wonder about where the world has gone to today, stop by a farm stand that has a glass jar or wooden box as a cash drop and a thank you sign. I really hope these people don’t get their money stolen too often. I like to think everyone is honest and sees how awesome it is that you can leave money in a glass jar. On that note, most stands are cash only, so be prepared with exact change or bring a lot of dollar bills.

Farm stands get started in the spring and will run through the fall to around the end of October. Here’s a visual illustration of a roadside vegetable stand:

farm stand truck illustration

#902 Thrifty Baby: Other Moms and Grandparents Are Great Sources Of Stuff

22 Apr

baby in snowsuit

In a borrowed snowsuit offered by a helpful dad.

There are two categories of “other moms” and grandparents. Ones you know and ones you don’t know. Both can be incredible sources of used items, clothing, hand-me-downs and all other barely used baby items. Not only that but they also are sources of advice, what works, what you really need and what worked for them, which can be invaluable in sorting through choices and what you want and need for yourself.

First, let’s look at moms and grandparents you do know.

  • Hand-me-downs.
    baby in pajamas

    In the cousins’ hand-me-down PJs.

    Moms love to share their stuff. Moms (and dads) you know are happy to lend or give you outgrown clothes, baby swings, toys and accessories. Some ask for them back once you’re done, some give it away because they are done. Either way, it’s a great source of free baby items. If you don’t know any moms, get to know some before you have a kid. They’ll be offering you things in no time (this is not the sole reason to make friends with moms), and you’ll be happy for their friendship when you have a child. They know what it’s like to be pooped on in the middle of the night. If you have siblings with kids, you have a built-in hand-me-down system. Grandparents will have their own hand-me-downs tucked away that have been meticulously saved for 25 to 30 years or so. It’s fun to dress the baby up in dad’s onesie and use great-grandma’s hand-knit sweaters.

  • Gifts. Grandparents love to spoil the grandkids. It’s nice to have someone buying toys or clothes for the baby. Being practical grandparents, items may be second-hand from a yard sale or thrift shop. Both sets of grandparents in my family know the value of being thrifty, so I don’t care, I love the fact that the clothes or toys are second-hand. I like that they spoil my kid, I don’t want them to spend a ton doing it.
  • Advice. While you might have your own plan or thoughts, grandparents and other moms have tons of things to say about what works. You can use what they say and see how it fits into your life and philosophy. Practical advice on what was a godsend, what was the cheapest (and best) route to go, what to spend money on or not bother with is super helpful and can save you a lot of money and headaches.

Now, let’s look at moms and grandparents you don’t know.

  • Barely-used items.
    baby in Gymboree outfit

    Other moms love to sell whole outfits of name brand clothing cheaply.

    So many moms are eager to sell their barely-used baby items. Baby items, like most retail, have very low resale value, so you’ll get incredible bargains on high quality items. Utilize the mom market to get your baby items. Grandparents also are a great source of baby items. They have things like cribs that were slept in once or clothes that were never worn. They might have bought a ton of items for their home for a short visit from baby that were barely touched.

  • Hand-me-downs. Even moms and grandparents you don’t know will offer you hand-me-downs to get rid of baby stuff. Tons of people buy way too much stuff for new arrivals and just want to get rid of it

Both other moms and grandparents you know and don’t know have a lot of things to share to prepare for baby… even items that are on the traditional no-no list for baby second-hand or resale items. Let’s take a look at things that the media and therefore, people, usually freak out about getting second hand. In my book, any second hand item is worth a close look with the proper precautions and thorough research.

  • Car seats.
    baby in car seat

    The second hand car seat that met all the requirements of safety.

    Yes, you absolutely want a car seat and your kid to be safe. You can safely buy or accept a second hand car seat by answering these questions. Is it less than six years old? Car seats older than six years old are considered retired. The plastic gets brittle and the parts wear out. The manufacture date should be stamped on it. Has it been involved in a crash? Any car seat involved in a crash should not be used even with no visible damage. Does it have the manual and all its parts? The manual will tell you how to correctly install the seat and all the parts you should have. Has it been recalled? You can check here. If you are 100% sure on these then you’re good to go. There are plenty of secondhand car seats out there that can meet this criteria. What’s more important is that the car seat is installed correctly. It’s estimated that of 3 out of 4 car seats are used incorrectly. So it’s better to know that the seat is correctly used than brand new.

  • Cribs/Mattresses. By now everyone knows that drop-side cribs are a bad idea. I knew this and didn’t have a kid. Cribs are mega-expensive so buying used is the best way to go. Still check for a recall even though it is not a drop side crib and follow all safety standards for bedding, ect. Some people freak out about mattresses. Some mattresses may have been barely used. You can make your own call about dust mites, bed bugs phobias and possibilities. If you have a steam cleaner, that could take care of your mattress issues. I’m fine with an almost-new mattress.

#910 Pick Your Luxury And Enjoy It

26 Mar

yoplait container

Yogurt as a luxury – it made my life easier. Photo via flickr by suzyq212.

For years I bought individual yogurts to take to work. My husband was always trying to convince me to buy the huge container of yogurt that was less money. When I told him, “it’s my luxury, let me enjoy it,” he understood and never mentioned it again.

Yeah, yogurt might not seem like a luxury, but it made me happy. I liked the little, individual yogurts because I could get a bunch of different flavors, they were easy to grab for breakfast or part of lunch and I didn’t have to scoop out yogurt from a big container into a smaller Tupperware container to take with me. Yes, they were more expensive, but I felt like they made my life easier. And it was worth it. Now that I work for myself, I get the big containers, but for a long time those individual Yoplaits were my little luxury.

chocolate cake

One piece at a time for satisfaction or the whole thing at once for illness? Photo via flickr by kimberlykv.

Sometimes it’s O.K. to make  a choice that doesn’t make sense financially, but it’s worth it because it brings a happy pleasure. The key is to pick the one thing that is a YOUR comfortable indulgence as a little luxury you afford. If you truly enjoy it, then it will pay for itself by warding off the feeling of being constantly denied and unable to fulfill yourself with some self-indulgence for your life comfort. Dieters know best that a life of constant denial can turn ugly. Like when a dieter is so deprived that he or she eats a whole chocolate cake and then is ill. Instead of eating a small piece of chocolate cake at the end of the day, the dieter made himself or herself crazy and ended up overindulging instead of indulging correctly. It’s the same thing with your budget and life’s pleasures.

Life’s pleasures don’t have to cost anything, but if a life pleasure does cost something, then make it your luxury you afford yourself to make sure you don’t overindulge in bad spending habits. Depending on the cost of the luxury, it can be a daily, weekly or monthly pleasure. Too long between intervals might lead to flagging resolve, however it is possible. If it’s a daily pleasure, than it’s something small, like a 60 or 70 cent yogurt. If it’s a weekly pleasure, it might be something like eating out for lunch with a friend. If it’s a monthly pleasure, it might be a massage or dinner at the newest restaurant in town.

The easiest thing to do is to decide on the luxury beforehand. If you don’t decide what your little pleasure will be, than you’ll be saying “yes” to everything that comes along, which doesn’t make financial sense. But if you know you have your reservations booked for the end of the month, than it’s easy to say “no, I’m looking forward to my self-indulgence instead.” The little bit of denial makes the later pleasure than much better and more satisfying.

#911 Know Your Triggers (And The Consequences)

25 Mar

brain

Photo via flickr by Life Mental Health.

Do you buy stuff when you’re feeling down? Do you get a bonus and spend it all? Do you shop to spite your spouse?

Behaviors have patterns. Behaviors start with something that triggers an action that then continues in a predictable arc of one thing that leads to another as habits, rewards and brain chemistry spur on the behaviors to create a unique pattern.

Say Susie had a bad day at work, so to cheer herself up, she goes downtown to pick up something fun for her closet. Her brain likes the comforting, familiar action and making a purchase temporarily spikes her chemistry to lift her spirits. She goes home and adds the item to her closet full of “feel better” stuff. It makes her feel better only for a short time. She doesn’t feel better when she gets her credit card bill or bank statement. She doesn’t feel better when she goes to work and the same issues arise that made her feel bad in the first place. She doesn’t feel better even though her home is brimming with items that made her “feel better.”

cell phone

You always need more and then it’s outdated. Photo via flickr by David Chartier.

Or Joe gets a new gadget because he earned an extra paycheck. It’s a celebration gift to himself. But then he has to have the accessories that make it that much better. And the technology upgrades in a few months, and he has to upgrade too. It’s all a reward because he’s doing well and deserves to have what he wants. But he doesn’t have the money to repair his car when it breaks down. He’s not saving for retirement. And he’s too busy to take the vacation he can’t afford anyway. His gadget that brought him initial joy and awe, now has been upgraded two more times, has glitches and even though, he lived without it before, he can’t imagine living without it now.

Or Betty has a fight with her husband, so she shops online when he’s not around. She hides the purchases, but has smug satisfaction that he doesn’t know and that she can do whatever she wants. She’s adding to her marital problems instead of solving them. And it’s a task to intercept the credit card bill.

What ever it is, most of us have a trigger that sets off buying things as a justification to feel better, celebrate, feel like we’re in control or any number of any other emotions. If you can take an objective look at when and why you buy things, then you can analyze whether you’re doing it for the right reasons, whether it fits into your budget and whether it’s masking other problems or issues in your life that are not only not being resolved, but worsened by burying it in “retail therapy.”

You’re determining…why do I buy things? When do I buy things impulsively? Is it justified? Affordable? Does it solve problems or create them (however hidden)? Can I make better financial decisions on how to spend my money (the answer to this one is undoubtedly yes in 99% of cases)? Once you’ve honestly assessed yourself, which shouldn’t take a therapist, you can then start to tackle the behaviors that are triggered by an event.

poshmark logoSusie buys things to make herself feel better. Instead she realizes she has way too much stuff, and she’s still unhappy. So she sells everything in her closet (most with tags still on) on eBay or Poshmark, and feels really good about cashing in. She then resolves that the next time she feels bad she’ll figure out why she feels bad and what she can do differently to make herself feel better. She has a bad day at work. The next day, instead of dreading going to work, she figures out who she has to talk to and what she must do to make her work and work issues better. She does it and work is lovely. Yay! Or work still sucks but she makes so much money on Poshmark she can say sayonara to her job and reinvents herself as an online consignment shop.

Photo via flickr by Derek Keats.

Photo via flickr by Derek Keats.

Joe realizes he’s been sucked into the black hole of technology upgrades and headaches. His bonuses have yielded a worthless drawer full of old tech for which he paid top dollar. He’s tired of being surprised by bills and never feeling relaxed. He set a goal of a $1,000 emergency fund and to take a vacation for the first time in five years. He’s always wanted to go on an African safari. The next time he makes an extra paycheck, he puts it into a low interest savings account at a credit union and is surprised by how quickly he meets his goals. Now he know what the savannah smells like and how hot the African sun is at midday.

Betty’s forced to tell her husband about the hidden credit card bills when he loses his job. Her job isn’t enough to cover all their expenses. She’s so ashamed of her furtive behavior and knows that honesty would have solved a lot of problems. Her husband takes on the household budget while looking for a new job, and they take a class on martial communication. In the end, Betty discovers how share her feelings including anger with her husband, and her husband learns how to forgive. Plus he realizes he loves accounting, gets his CPA and finds a job easily. With money no longer tight, Betty can buy things again, this time openly through her monthly budget allotment for “fun” and without dreading the credit card bills.

happy girl

Photo via flickr by Public Domain Photos.

While all these situations are purely fictional and all characters are imagined (any similarities to real persons is purely coincidental), I’m sure you can see yourself in one of them or think of your own behavior that triggers buying to fill a need, want or desire. You can also see that buying something does not fix life issues, compounds problems and ultimately leaves you unfulfilled.

If you know your trigger and aren’t doing anything about it. Stop, and make a plan. If you don’t know your trigger, think about your life. Keep a journal about what you’re buying and how you’re feeling to see a pattern. If you know your trigger and are working on changing it, recruit help from a spouse, partner or friend to keep you on track and avoid moments of weakness. You’ll soon find your life more fulfilling, happy and less cluttered.

#912 Travel Savings: Rely On Public Transportation, Bikes, Your Thumb Or Feet

22 Mar

While you might not be able to live without a car in your daily life, try to live without one when you travel. Just like in daily life, it saves money not to have a car on vacation. Public transportation is cheap and well networked in many parts of the world, which means you should take advantage of public transport to save the expense of a car rental.

Pretty much any city has a great bus, tram or subway network. It might be confusing and you might take a few wrong turns, but asking for help usually sets things straight.

Don’t be freaked out by something that looks like this:

Paris metro map

A general rule (whether you’re in the Paris metro or not) is that subways, buses, trains and any other form of public transportation operate with the END destination advertised.

If you have to take the #4 purple Paris metro line to get somewhere, there are two endpoints – Porte d’Orleans to the south and Porte de Clignancourt to the north. Depending on what stop you are at on the purple line in relation which stop you want to get off at, you either go north, Direction Clignancourt, or south, Direction D’Orleans. You simply hop off at your stop on the way to the end destination. Just because your train or bus doesn’t say your destination, doesn’t mean it’s not stopping there. You just have to figure out what line your stop is on, and which direction train, bus or tram will take you there. Just count stops along the way.

london underground

Photo via flickr by az1172.

Public transportation tickets are also cheaper based on your destination or zones of travel, so make sure you buy a ticket for the correct zone or stop off point that you want to avoid paying more for the ticket than you actually use.

In any new city I try to familiarize myself with the public transport system and have a map on hand. Once you get the hang of public transport, most systems are similar. If you are planning ahead, bus, train and metro stops are marked on Google maps, so you can figure out a way to get from one place to another on a street map, or you can look up a map of the local public transportation online.

I can say from experience, using public transportation is not always well advertised or initially evident when making travel plans. But if you have it in your mind that you want to use public transportation, then you’ll be able to do it with little hassle once you’re on the ground. I’ve hardly ever been able to look at a travel destination, whether for business or pleasure, without being able to scrounge up the means of figuring out public transportation not only to get around the city, but also to get out of the city and visit smaller towns.

You don’t want a rental car in the city anyways.

There are some rural areas where public transportation is limited. In the end, you can decide that a rental car will give you more freedom to truly discover the countryside and hidden locations. If you rent a car, try AutoSlash or dohop. I’ve had trips where most of the time public transportation works great, and then for a few days a car rental is better. But that means I’m not renting a car for the whole time.

hitchhiker

Don’t be afraid to hitchhike if you feel like it’s safe to do so, which it usually is. Photo via flickr by jakesmome.

You might think about hitchhiking instead of renting a car where public transportation is scarce. If you’re American, you’re probably seriously worried about this option and would never consider it. I probably wouldn’t hitchhike in the U.S. on my own, but almost anywhere else in the world is statistically safer than the U.S. In other parts of the world, outside the U.S., hitchhiking is common and is not reserved for down-on-their-luck individuals.

I have a rule never to pick up a hitchhiker by myself, unless it’s a woman, but the majority of hitchhikers I’ve given rides to are old ladies…and German tourists. I’ve had old ladies load themselves up in my car practically without permission and directed to where they wanted to go. Usually it’s a few paces down the road. I’ve given rides to old ladies, older couples, single women, couples, teenagers, preteen boys with stinky shoes and more old ladies. They’re all friendly and grateful. They’re just trying to get to where they want to go without a car or after the last bus has passed. Usually the older women don’t want to wait around (or pay for) the bus that’s coming in half an hour.

Velib rental bikes paris

Rental bikes are loved by locals and tourists alike. Photo via flickr by LWY.

Another option I like for cheap transportation is walking. Probably because being a “good walker” is in my Swiss blood.

More and more cities are also adopting the Paris Velib bike system, which allows you to rent a bike for a short period of time to get around. In the past few years, I’ve seen installations of this bike system in many more cities and even larger towns, so check to see if the city you are visiting has a public bike system, or you might spot it when you’re out and about once you get there.

Next time you plan travel, don’t jump straight to renting a car, think public transportation, walking or hitchhiking to get yourself around on the cheap.

 

#913 Travel Savings: Vacation Close To Home – But Not At Home!

21 Mar

Maine coast

Budget vacations included camping in our home state. Beautiful!

I like to think I don’t have many pet peeves. But one of my pet peeves are mash-up words like staycation. Another pet peeve is people who think a staycation is a good idea. I’m all about saving money, but your sanity is more important.

Vacations are meant for relaxation and getting out of your familiar surroundings in order to stimulate your brain and refresh and revive it. You can’t relax when you’re surrounded by the house you have to clean, the bills you have to pay, the laundry you have to do, the ceiling you have to paint, the front steps you have to fix, the dog you have to walk…..I could go on. These are all daily and weekend activities that fill your life on a regular basis. A vacation is stepping outside of all that and letting go. It’s really hard to let go when you’re surrounded by everything that you have to do, want to do or think you should do. So cross the word staycation from your mind and don’t give the idea any credit as a substitute for vacation.

Myth number one about a staycation is that it will save you money. I might be wrong, but unless you have the willpower of steel, with lots of time on your hands and projects and activities to fill your time, you’ll probably end up spending more money than you should. So here are some ways to go on vacation, i.e. go to a relaxing and different environment to let go of your everyday life, without breaking the bank. And plus, you’re already a budget whiz who’s planned and saved for vacation anyways, right?

  • brittany spaniel

    Bringing the dog is easy and saves money if you stay close to home.

    Visit a friend or sibling: We all know someone who lives in a fun place or someone we’d like to see and catch up with. If he or she is within driving, bus or bargain airfare distance, pay them a visit and enjoy yourself. The nice thing about staying with someone is not just the free accommodation, but you’re likely to stay in catching up over dinner and beers or barbecuing the backyard. Which you could have done at home, but it’s much more fun somewhere else. Pitch in with groceries, making meals or bringing booze. Of course, he or she also has a standing invitation to visit you.

  • Bring the dog. Paying for a kennel or someone to watch your dog can really add to vacation costs. Staying close to home usually means it’s pretty easy to bring the dog along. Dogs are just like people, they go nuts and get really stimulated in a new place and in different surroundings.
  • Get to know your state or country. You don’t have to leave your state or country. I can’t think of any country or state that does not have at least one of the following: Natural beauty, interesting attractions, cool towns or hidden treasures. Tourist boards would agree. To save on accommodation if you don’t know anyone, camp, couch surf or get a vacation rental. If you want to remove the temptation of filling your days by buying things or paying for attractions, being in the middle of the woods will fix that problem for you by default. There’s a reason they have nature sounds on relaxing, white noise machines.
  • Go for a long weekend. O.k. so you really can’t afford a full 5 or 10-day trip. Get in a long weekend as your vacation, and you can spend the rest of the time at home. I’m fine with the compromise. I like to vacation at the beginning so I return home more relaxed and can take anything waiting for me at home more in stride. But you could take a long weekend at the end of your time off to get the feeling of “getting away from it all” before returning to work.
  • Pick up a new skill or hobby. You can really get your brain excited and have something to talk about when you return from vacation if you pick up a new skill or hobby. You can learn to cook a certain cuisine (or learn to cook at all), find out everything you wanted to know about fishing or work on photography or writing skills. Some of these you can simply do yourself by picking up your camera or pen and paper. Others you can find free workshops or a knowledgeable aficionado willing to show you. If you do pay for a class, good research can lead  you to a great find for the money.

What was your favorite “I didn’t even leave the state (or country)” vacation?

#914 Travel Savings: Vacation In Off Season or Shoulder Season

20 Mar

Greek beach

Beaches are still empty in May.

May is the perfect time to vacation. The weather is great almost anywhere you go. Airfares and accommodations can be had at lower rates. Everything is up and running. And best of all, in many vacation destinations, the locals have yet to tire of tourists and welcome you with open arms. Those are my reasons I pick May to vacation. I also love June, but it’s starting to get into tourist madness and higher prices. September and October are gorgeous, but have a risk of rainy days. The winter months in many vacation spots, outside of tropical destinations, are a bargain.

I don’t understand everyone taking vacation in August. Fares are through the roof. It’s hot. It’s crowded. And the locals now hate tourists… or are on vacation themselves. So next time you want to take vacation. Don’t go to the Caribbean in February or Europe in August. Go to Barbados in April or May and Rome in November. You’ll save a lot of cash and won’t have to fight for a spot on the beach or a reservation.

The Netherlands in November is cold but lively with locals.

The Netherlands in November is cold but lively with locals.

Here are some vacation suggestions and considerations for traveling in the off season or shoulder season, which is the time period in between off-season and high season:

  • A lot of attractions are closed or have limited hours. When planning a vacation, make sure a major attraction you want to see isn’t closed for the season or renovations. Although most museums, tourist spots and attractions are still open, they have limited hours, so if you really want to see something, you’ll have to be sure to make it on time.
  • Transportation may not be running. If you’re counting on public transportation like buses, ferries and trains, just like attractions, transportation has off-season hours that may be limited or unavailable. Plan accordingly.
  • Some destinations have no off season. Ever try booking something in New York or Paris? Iconic cities never have off seasons, although bargain airfare can be had during winter months as long as it’s not around the holidays.
  • The holidays or school vacation is not off season.
    rooster

    No tourists here.

    Hotels, airlines and the rest of the travel industry know when demand for vacation destinations are high, which include holidays and school vacation, even though they might fall during traditional “off season.”

  • Be happy being cold or hot. To take full advantage of off season vacation destinations, be O.K. with freezing your butt off in Germany or sweating in high humidity in Costa Rica. Off seasons are off for a reason – the weather is not ideal. But if you’re flexible and don’t let the weather get you down, you’ll be fine.
  • Plan climate appropriate activities. If you’re going to be cold on vacation, maybe plan to spend the time indoors and enjoy the warmth of hot toddies and restaurant fires. If you’re going to be hot on vacation, plan to spend time on the water where you can cool off easily.
  • Get excited about seeing the “real” side of life. Off season may just give you a glimpse of local life without the hustle of the tourist trade. Relax your pace and enjoy being the only foreigner about.
  • Shoulder season will get you vacation deals, but not as good as off season. All that being said, I ideally pick a shoulder season time to vacation for more agreeable weather and better services. Shoulder season does offer vacation bargains and lower rates compared to full-on high season, but don’t expect to save as much as in off-season. You’ll still have to manage your budget tightly in order to keep within your finances.

 

 

#915 Travel Savings: Eat Biblically, Eat In The Streets And Be Your Own Chef

14 Mar

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

I have proof that bakeries are from heaven.

My husband and I were driving down tiny back roads through central Crete, completely lost and passing one abandoned town after another. Breakfast was long gone. Our frustration with the signage and gnawing in our stomachs were increasing tension levels by the second. I get seriously cranky when I’m hungry.

Just when we thought we were lost in the empty hills, and our lovely Grecian vacation was looking darker than the sky above… the clouds parted. A light shone down. As we came to the top of the next hill, we saw that the light was shining on a bakery in a tiny town center. In a single burst of joy, we could only feel pure happiness. Not only did the bakery exist, but they were pulling spinach and feta rolls from the oven. And the baklava was oozing warm honey. We bought everything.

Then the miracle continued…There was an adjacent grocery store where we celebrated finding food and the right direction with purchases of large bottles of beer.

All I can say is that the baklava lives in our memories as the single most incredible delight we’ve ever tasted. Manna from heaven. We were drunk for the rest of the day, not on the beer, but from the honey-fueled ecstasy of warm baklava from a heaven-sent bakery in the Cretan wilderness. And it hardly cost anything.

Luckily we didn't have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily we didn’t have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

One of the great pleasures of travel is discovering new food and enjoying local cuisines. But this doesn’t have to mean eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants. It means finding local grocers, farmer’s markets, bakeries and food stalls. If you eat out for every meal when you travel, not only will you be spending far too much money on food, but you’ll also not have a balanced diet. One of the best ways to save money and eat well is to cook for yourself, and this is no different when traveling.

If you get a vacation rental, then make sure you book one that includes a kitchen, which is not difficult. Unlike hotel bookings, it’s easy to find a vacation rental that comes with a fridge, cook top and some pots and pans. That’s all you need to get started. In fact, you don’t need a kitchen, and could swing it in a hotel room, but something like refrigeration is a great help. And it’s much nicer to be able to spread out in a kitchen and have a table.

You also don’t have to spend all your time preparing food. You’re on vacation, you want to get out and see the city or country you’re in! That’s why it’s nice to mix up making your own food with finding great street food for a quick and delicious meal on the go that’s not going to eat up your sightseeing time. Street food is the cheapest and most fun way to eat out when traveling.

Here are some easy ways to cook for yourself and enjoy street food when traveling, which will be easy on your budget:

  • Find the local supermarket. A lot of times the supermarket is right around the corner. Just because you’re buying your own food doesn’t mean you have to miss out on local food. Try new things you’ve never seen or local brands. If you can’t read the labels, be adventurous and see what comes up. I’ve ended up with wasabi peanuts that I thought were some sort of chocolate product in the Netherlands. I’ve stumbled across the most amazing sour cherry juice at a corner grocer in Macedonia. I’ve discovered pillowy soft potato flat bread in Sardinia. I’ve enjoyed Cheerwine in North Carolina, and Moxie in Maine. All of these products were locally produced, and probably never appear on restaurant menus. Another bonus to stopping by the supermarket is that you can stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the biggest drawbacks when traveling is that fresh produce is hard to come by when eating out. A salad at dinner doesn’t nearly cover my fresh produce needs. I used to fall upon an apple after 10 days of travel like it was the purest form of goodness. Really, I was just craving fresh fruit after serious deprivation. If you shop for yourself, stocking up on in-season fruits and vegetables is no problem, and a healthier solution to snacking and eating on the go.
  • Ask for the local street or farmer’s market. While a grocery store is usually very easy to find, you’ll probably have to ask a local about street and farmer’s markets. The location and date and times might vary, so it’s best to get the info from someone who knows. You can stock up on cheeses, breads, fruit and local specialties at these markets. They’re the best for picnic lunch shopping and turn into an adventure of discovery themselves.
  • Brake for roadside stands. If you see an old lady sitting on the side of the road selling fruit, STOP! You’ll get local produce and a fun story. You’ve never imagined cherries so sweet and juicy. I’ve also seen people selling local honey, fish and wine. It’s all part of the travel adventure and seeing what people around the world eat and drink.
  • Eat Biblically. When my husband and I find ourselves eating bread, honey and almonds on the road. Possibly for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We laugh. It seems so biblical. Where are the locusts? Sometimes we mix in a few dates and olives. But it’s cheap and good. The bread is fresh made, the honey is local as are the dates and olives. Who needs anything more?
  • That tiny stall sells the best crepes, sandwiches, kebabs…Street food is the cheapest way to eat out when traveling. As you are not sitting down, you can stroll with your food down new and exciting streets or sit in the park enjoying the sunshine. The key is not to be scared off by the look or size of the place. If the line of locals is long, then you’ve come to the right place.
  • Find that heavenly bakery. The local bakery will provide delights unending for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t be afraid to try everything.
  • Get the right portions. If you know how long you’ll be staying in one place, you can tailor how much you buy to your time. It’s easy to throw leftover cheese and containers that close well into a day pack to consume on the journey to the next destination, home or for when you arrive at your next location.

Here are some ideas for each meal when traveling as well:

  • Breakfast: The bakery is your friend. Or the baked goods section of the grocery store. That paired with some fruit and tea, and I’m ready to go. Tea is a lot easier when traveling. Hot water and a bag that you could bring yourself, as I do to make things easier. Making the switch from coffee is pretty easy, healthier and you still get some caffeine.
  • Lunch: Picnic time. Picnic in the park. Picnic on a hike. Picnic on a city bench. Picnic on the castle walls. The most fun is shopping the street markets or farmer’s market for lunch. Our standby is bread, cheese, dried meat and some fruit. And olives. I never liked olives until I met my husband. Those black olives in a can that taste like cardboard, those aren’t olives. The black, oily, squizzled kind are olives. The fat, briny, smooth black kind are olives. The giant green ones with pit are olives. The hot peppered, oiled ones are olives. They don’t come in a can. You can buy as many or a little as you want.
  • Dinner: Dinner can be a repeat of lunch. Or you can cook up something hot and easy in the kitchen. I love local sausages, another thing I didn’t grow up with. In fact, I lived in an anti-sausage, anti-pork household. But then I discovered fresh made sausages around the world. They’re so much better than any processed, mystery meat that only tastes overly salty from the grocery store. Finding a local butcher or the meat counter of the supermarket will yield tasty locally flavored sausages or other local specialties that are easy to prepare.
  • Dietary restrictions or food allergies: If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s so much easier and more diverse to shop and cook for yourself while on vacation. If you have food allergies, it’s also easy to manage without fear.