Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for the 'vacation' Category


Creative Commons License photo figure credit: billaday

While on vacation, ScrapperMom and I discovered a curious thing. We were watching a children’s TV show to keep daughter #1 busy and suddenly the show stopped and changed to voices and images that encouraged us to buy a bunch of stuff that we don’t need. Amazed by such a brazen attempt to sell me something, I asked our host about it who informed us that what we were watching were “commercials”.

Ah yes!  Commercials!  I had forgotten that such things still exist.  You see, ScrapperMom and I purchased a Tivo back in 2003, and for the last 5 and a half years have been commercial free.  And it has been wonderful.  After watching way too many of these while on vacation, I had forgotten how insidious and manipulative they could be, and am glad that our daughter is still too young to be enticed by a toy dog that can roll over by itself, or a princess on a horse that can walk by itself.

I am often asked by friends, coworkers, and family if I have seen a certain commercial that may be funny or entertaining in some way.  “No,” I usually say, “we don’t watch commercials.”  Originally our disdain for commercials was simply practical: commercials account for 27% of total network TV time.  We quickly found that with Tivo we could watch 30 minutes of TV in 22 minutes. We filled the saved 8 minutes with more interesting things, like reading, blogging, etc.

Having seen so many commercials during vacation, however, it has become abundantly clear to me that having Tivo saves us money.  Exposure to advertisement makes you aware of things that you didn’t know you needed.  It’s hard not to keep up with the Joneses when you are constantly bombarded with indications that you are too fat, too thin, too ugly, too short, too bald, don’t drive a good enough car, deserve a great vacation, etc.  But life is not that bad when you don’t have all these unreal standards against which to measure yourself.

Tivo is near the top of our top 10 list of must have gadgets, and it’s nice to see that after having it for so many years, we are still realizing new value in it.

Hotel Pool

photo figure credit: ScrapperMom

Michelle asks:

"How was the vacation?"

In a word: Fantastic!  We got to meet the newest member of our extended family (on that side, anyway…) who is already one and half!  We got to catch up with family that we haven’t seen in over 2 years.  We got to know new wives, girlfriends, and old friends a lot better.  Thanks to all of them for taking the time out of their busy schedules, providing places to stay, cooking dinner, etc.  This picture is the pool at the hotel in Orlando, which the kids loved.

As a follow up to my original post on this topic, I thought I would offer a post-trip analysis on how we did financially. It’s important to note that while we put nearly everything below on our rewards credit card, it will all be paid off by the end of the month because we had already set aside the funding for this trip.

I’ll start with the area in which I feel we did the worst from a frugal perspective: Dining out.  In total we purchased 9 meals out and they totaled $378.  This breaks down to $42 per family-meal, or $17 per person per meal if we count dear daughter #1 as a half person who shared what we ate most of the time.  Given that we ate a total of 22 meals, 9 represents only 40%.  We easily could have converted a couple of dinners out into dinners at home, but then again, we were on vacation…  We did manage to convert a couple of these meals into lunches the next day since the portions were often too big! I should also point out that this total included drinks with meals as well, which as you know can get pretty expensive.  During one meal we paid close to $9 for an 8 ounce rum and coke!

Relating to dining, our grocery bill came in at $141.  As described in the initial article, we had a lot of opportunity to prepare meals, especially breakfasts and lunches.  If you put all of our food spending together, the per person per meal average comes down to $9.50.  The grocery bill includes a 12 pack of beer that we brought to a party, as well as a lot of bottled water that we wouldn’t normally buy at home, but the local water was terrible!

In the category of transportation, we got a great deal on airline tickets: we purchased 3 seats for $597 on JetBlue.  The in-flight entertainment, especially Animal Planet and the XM station for Radio Disney went a long way to keeping our 21 month old busy on the flight each way.  In total, we spent $378 (Yes, exactly the same as on dining out!) on the rental of a mini-van and the fuel we needed for a week.  We drove the van over 500 miles since we went down to Disney, and much of the time the van was nearly at capacity with 4 adults and 2 toddlers in car seats.

Our short jaunt to Disney cost us both on the ticket side and on lodging.  We somehow thought that we still had tickets that we could use at Disney, which would have given us “free” entry to the park.  Unfortunately this was not the case, and we ended up having to buy 2 adult, single day passes for a total of $160.  Yes, that hurt.  The Magic Kingdom is a great place, but honestly I think it’s looking a bit dated, and I’ve been to a number of better parks in recent years that cost a lot less than this.  But it’s the American Way to take your kids to Disney, right?  The lodging for one night was not bad at $90.  This was our share of the split on the condo that we shared with my cousin and his family.

We spent a total of $23 on items that didn’t fit into any of these other categories.  This included a Christmas ornament from Disney, and a couple of magazines at the airport.  We successfully resisted the urge to spend $17 on a fan-assisted squirt bottle in Disney on a 93 degree, scorching hot day.  We also avoiding having to purchase every cute stuffed animal that DD#1 got her hands on.

Last, and far from least, we spent $720 at the Dog Kennel.  As outlined in this article, our dogs are expensive.  It definitely hurts to have to budget 30% of every trip we take to kenneling the dogs, and it’s the first thing that pops into my head whenever we consider a trip.  We spent a few years trying to find the right mix of costs for kenneling.  In this business, the saying is true: You get what you pay for.  We were horrified upon retrieving our dogs from a budget kennel on one trip, and they didn’t want to come home when we tried to get them from a super-expensive kennel.  Eventually we found a “just right” kennel that treats them well — but not too well.  This is certainly an area that will factor into any future pet decisions.  It’s a good argument against having two pets.

In total, we spent $2487.  This is a lot less than ScrapperMom and I spent on a lavish Quebec trip a number of years ago, but more than we have spent on a vacation in some time.  Was it worth it?  It’s hard to put a price-tag on the experiences that we had.  If pressed, however, I would have to say that the cost was worth it since it meshes with our values: notice that we have only a couple of magazines and a Christmas ornament to show for this expenditure.  We don’t place a high value on “stuff”, but rather experiences and time spent with family and friends.  You can’t put a price on that.  This trip would have been a lot less fun if we just went to Florida by ourselves…

We’re already looking forward to a mini-vacation in November as we travel to New Jersey to celebrate a wedding!


Creative Commons License photo figure credit: JL2003

ScrapperMom and I are back from vacation and have been trying to get back into the swing of our routine.  Our almost 21 month old is nearly back on her sleep schedule, which is always a good thing.

Obviously this has been a crazy couple of weeks for anyone who has money, which is mostly everyone — near as I can tell.  I remember where I was for some monumental events in American History over the last 25 years or so (since about the time I understood what news was…), and I have to wonder whether I’ll look back and remember driving out of Disney World the day that I found out the Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch and set off a 500 point market drop.  Will this ultimately end up being the straw that broke the camel’s back?  I wondered at that moment whether we should not have put the money we spent on the vacation into an emergency fund instead, and whether or when we would next be able to take such a vacation…

On that upbeat note, here’s a few articles that caught my eye over the last couple of weeks:

Five Cent Nickel gives us a bit of investing perspective here, with my additions in italics:

  • The Dow finished the week down just 34 points after dropping nearly 1000 points over the course of the week
  • In the past month, the Dow is up 40 points
  • Over the past 5 years, the Dow is up 18%
  • Over the past 10 years, the Dow is up 44%

Sure, the Dow isn’t gaining 7%-10% per year as it has historically, but it’s still rising steadily.

J.D. at Get Rich Slowly has some great advice for the vast majority of investors here:

  • Don’t panic.
  • Tune out the media.
  • Remember your goals.
  • Focus on the fundamentals.
  • Know your risk tolerance.
  • Educate yourself.

David at My Two Dollars has a great article on why we need healthcare reform ASAP.  I agree with David, as is evident in the spirited discussion that follows.  I believe that the single best way to increase freedom in the United States is to take away the fear of having the money to pay for medical care.  Not everybody “deserves” a flat screen TV, SUV, dinners out, etc., but as humans, we all deserve health care.  (And since the government can afford a $1 Trillion bailout of the financial industry, surely it can also afford healthcare for the people of the wealthiest country on the planet.)

J.D. has another interesting article about saving money by avoiding advertising.  Look for a similar article on this at this site soon…

Lastly, David has a nice quote from Paul Mccartney.  You can click here to read it.

Jacksonville Skyline at Night

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: minds-eye

We’re currently on vacation in Jacksonville, Florida. Since I’m writing this before we leave, I’m hoping that we’re having a good time and that it’s nice and sunny there. We were worried last week that Hurricane Ike would ruin our plans, but instead it looks to be ruining someone else’s.

This is our first, and probably only, vacation for the year.  We have taken a couple of long weekend road trips, but this is the first “real” vacation as a family.  We’re doing a number of things to keep costs to a minimum, and I thought I’d share some of these tips:

  • We used to figure out when the best time to buy tickets is to get the lowest fare.  Once we decided that we were going to go, we watched the “farecast”, which told us to wait, wait, wait, buy.  By waiting for fares to dip, we were able to save several hundred dollars, and ended up getting 3 tickets for just under $200 each.
  • We are staying with friends.  While this can be a recipe for disaster, we are not going to be freeloading guests.  We’ll buy food and cook, keep the place clean, do the laundy, etc. (Want us to come stay at your house?) This will save us at least $500.
  • We booked a rental car through Hotwire. Compared to any other online car rental service, this was the cheapest by over $100. We had a number of coupons and deals for rental cars, but these discounts all paled in comparison. Hotwire’s trick, apparently, is that it gets to choose which car company you end up with. While I’m sure there’s a difference between rental agencies, I don’t have much of an opinion about them (except I won’t rent from Payless in Toronto again). We ended up with a car from Alamo.
  • We’re bringing our own child seat and GPS unit for the car. This way we won’t have to rent these items from Alamo. This saves us $20+ per day.
  • We’re going to shop for food and cook and eat “at home” as much as possible.  This will save a couple of hundred dollars on dining, though we still expect to eat some meals out.
  • We are traveling simply to visit friends and family.  If we end up doing nothing else, we’ll have had a good time.
  • We are going to Disney World for one day.  We used Trip Advisor to find a condo in Orlando that has a pool that looks like it will be lot’s of fun for our toddler and her cousin.  (Thanks to fivecentnickel for that tip!).  We’re sharing a two room suite with my cousin and his family.  The per couple cost savings is at least $50.
  • At Disney, we’re using passes that we bought two and a half years ago, when we saved money by buying multi-day passes that are good forever.  This probably saved us each $10.

I do hope to have a chance to get in an update while we’re away, but if I can’t you’ll know why!

Have you cut back on your vacationing this year because of the economy and high gas prices?  What have you done to cut costs on the trip(s) you did take?  Let us know in the Comments section below, or click here if you’re reading via an RSS reader or by email.

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