Saving Money Does Not Save You Grief

Amanda Bar

Over a month ago I mentioned how I was attending a wedding in Georgia this month, and how I had been going back & forth over the best means of travel to reach my destination.  I had eventually settled on an Amtrak train ticket - $50 up, and $50 down - as being the most cost effective.

Having just returned from my trip, I am here to say that saving money is not necessarily the be-all, end-all.  For the price of an airplane ticket I would have saved myself the time (8 hours, both ways!) and the constant delays that I encountered on the train.  My return trip plagued with technical issues; the train engine had to be replaced half-way down the line (causing a half hour delay), and CSX inexplicably shut down part of the track just south of Ft Lauderdale, causing all of the passengers wishing to travel to the Hollywood and Miami stations to disembark before their actual destination.  I arrived over an hour past my scheduled arrival time and inconvenienced the people picking me up from the station who had to suddenly divert to Ft Lauderdale.

After the fact I learned that for $40 more I could have purchased a Southwest flight to my exact destination, but I would only have known of this deal if I had gone and searched on their website - both Expedia and Travelocity did not list this exclusive deal.  If I had to plan the entire trip over I would definitely sacrifice the extra cash for the convenience of traveling by air.

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (1)

Travel Plans, Travel Expenses

Amanda Bar

I just received an invite to one of my oldest friend’s wedding, and since the location is in Georgia I’ve already started on the when, how, and where’s of my travel plans.  My “plus one” to the event is going to be my best friend (and mutual friend of the bride) Chrissy, and it just so happens that she lives more or less in the direction that I’m heading.  This affords me several options:

1) I can drive up to Jacksonville, meet up with Chrissy, and we can drive the rest of the way to Georgia.
2) I can fly to Jacksonville and drive the rest of the way to GA.
3) I can fly directly to GA and Chrissy can meet up with me there.

Personally I’m leaning more towards option #2 because I’d rather spend the money on a roundtrip flight ($290 is the cheapest rate I can find, currently) than put the extra miles on my car.  I’ve also never driven across an entire state by myself before, and the drive I’m looking at between South Florida and Jacksonville is going to take five or six hours at least; not to mention gas money, and the inevitable repair fees I will face if I force my poor Chevy to make the 331.62 mile trip (thank you, MapQuest!).

Also, if I fly to Jacksonville instead of flying up to GA I don’t have to worry about how I’ll get from the airport to my hotel room, or other transportation worries in reference to the wedding & reception.  Chrissy might have a few things to say about making her my travel mule for this trip, but if she does I’d just as soon suggest that we both fly in to GA and meet up there, split the cost of a rental car, etc, etc.

Either way, money will be spent on my friend's wedded bliss.

[UPDATE] Not two minutes after posting this was it suggested that I look into getting an Amtrak train ticket. $100 for a roundtrip!  Done and done, I say!!

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (4)

Saving Your Dollars At Disney

Amanda Bar

This weekend I'm going on an ill-timed trip to Disney World with my family.  I say ill-timed because I just moved into my new house and I was hoping to get some unpacking & organizing done this weekend.  Regardless, this trip was planned for weeks in advance and I already paid the money for a seasonal ticket - I may as well get some use out of it!

The challenge, however, is that I am a well-documented Disney-phile and I have the bad habit of picking up useless (and often pricey) knick-knacks while there.  I don't have the money to splurge on such things this time around - which will hopefully be enough of a motivation to curb my spending - but I also no longer have the space readily available to either store or display tchotchkes.

This will be a weekend of self-restraint for me, but hopefully I can have just as much fun without all the spending.

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (0)

When Cash Cuts Into Your Social Life

Amanda Bar

My close friend Ashley recently contacted me in reference to getting her entire wedding party together for a Vegas vacation this upcoming May.  I was the Maid of Honor at her wedding, and I'm close friends with most everyone who is also invited.  However, this marks the first of what I imagine will be many events that I had to force myself to reject due to money concerns.

I'm not one for planning ahead, but the recent raise in my mortgage threw me for a loop - and even though I could probably afford the weekend trip the entire ordeal has made me paranoid about where I spend my meager savings.  Not to mention that my main priority is continuing with repair work at my new home, which is a process that I can imagine will take years, and plenty of cash, to fully complete (replacing the downstairs tile being next on my list).

Besides the money I have put aside for my kitchen renovation, I'm only working with a couple thousand dollars worth of cushion in my savings.  A trip to Vegas - and the subsequent gambling - would hardly be conducive to my long-term finance goals.  It's unfortunate, but something that I have to deal with as a (gulp) responsible adult.

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (0)

I Fought The Law, and...yea...

Amanda Bar

This weekend myself and a bunch of friends traveled up to Disney World for the Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween parade (think Halloween Horror Nights, but not scary in the least).  Unfortunately my foot was a little over-excited to get us up to Orlando, and I was pulled over by the Florida Highway Patrol doing 79 in a 70 MPH zone!

Some of you might know that I work for the Pembroke Pines Police Department, but this particular lieutenant was having none of it.  Despite my smiles and the batting of my eyelashes I received my first ever speeding ticket!  Perhaps it was because of the festive mood but the aftermath of this event didn't quite reach my brain until we were settled in our hotel room at Disney.  The cost of the ticket alone is $131, not to mention whatever additional fees I'd have to pay for a drivers school to remove points from my otherwise impeccable record.

Luckily I know a little something about the procedures needed to clear up a ticket, and as soon as I came home on Monday I looked up a recommended online drivers school & took my exam.  The course cost $9.99, with an additional $5 shipping charge for my certificate.  In total my lead foot is costing me $146, on top of the money I already planned on spending during my Disney vacation (my ticket, hotel room, food, etc.).  However, because of this citation, I made an effort to curtail my souvenir spending sprees.  I ended up only getting two or three items during the entire trip - a huge difference when compared to my previous Disney excursions!  It's just unfortunate that this prudence had to come on the heels of a traffic ticket...

Side-note: Happy Halloween, everybody!

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (4)

In Debt to Disney

Amanda Bar
My big, yearly Disney trip is coming up this weekend, and I've already spent massive amounts of money in preparation for this trip.  I'm the designated driver for this adventure, and I spent $898 having various things replaced and repaired in my car.  (Little known fact: apparently vehicle water pumps are made out of solid gold.  I mean, why else would it cost me over $600 for the replacement part & installation?)

I also handed over a small fortune to Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michael's during my quest to construct the perfect Ursula (as in The Little Mermaid) outfit for this year's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween event.  The final cost to create my outfit is a figure lost in obscurity at this point, but know that the fabric alone was $70 and the dress I'm using was purchased for $60; this is not including the additional clothing items, jewelry, sewing necessities, etc...but feel free to assume that whatever budget I had going into this project has well since been blown.

And as if that wasn't enough, my father is throwing an added monkey wrench into the mix by telling me to purchase a seasonal pass for Disney ($249) instead of a 3-Day Park Hopper ($160).  I guess that he'd like me to accompany the family on future Disney trips, but my budget wasn't really anticipating any additional expenditures (not to mention my work schedule might not allow for such trips).  However, taking into account that I plan on going to Disney World next October (2010) for the Halloween may be worth it in the long run, but my wallet sure doesn't seem to think it's a good idea.

So what should I do?  Plan (and spend) for possible future savings, or hold-out for what's monetarily efficient for me now?

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (0)

The Reality of a $20 Vacation

Amanda Bar
Tents This past weekend, as my partner-in-crime Bridget mentioned, we went up to Crystal River, Florida for some snorkeling, manatee hugging, and camping.  We considered this an "alternative vacation" from our original plans of going to Universal Studios.  There were six of us altogether (Chrissy, Julian, Jenny, Brandon, Bridget & me) and only two of us had any real camping experience.  The camp site (Encore Crystal Isles) turned out to be more of an RV park than what I was expecting, but we had our own little plot of land at the edge of some wilderness reserved for about $25 a night, and with amenities such as an on-site bathroom & shower and a convenience store I wasn't going to complain too much (after all, I wanted my camping experience to be authentic, but not that authentic...).  Despite the sudden late-chill that brought the temperature down to around 50degrees - a contingency I did not plan for with my wardrobe - it was a relatively comfortable night.  Though just as a future reminder to myself: next time go for a slightly more expensive sleeping bag than the Wal-Mart $9.99 may be cheap, but it certainly wasn't insulated.

Pontoon The location for the snorkeling and manatee-viewing was a mere five to ten minutes from our campgrounds, at the Crystal Lodge Dive Center.  Due to the cool weather we all decided to rent wetsuits for $10, and we all chipped in to get a pontoon boat ($25 per hour, with a 2-hr minimum).  We spent about 2 1/2 hours making our rounds through the various sites along the waterways, such as a couple of beautiful springs that pumped out these pockets of crystal clear water amid the river's normal green hue.  Unfortunately it seems as if the manatee herd had moved on from the area by the time we arrived, but I can't say my enjoyment of the experience was diminished very much from the lack of some manatee bonding-time.  In fact, we all had so much fun from the trip that we're already making plans to do a similar adventure in the Florida Keys!  For myself I paid only $20 for the entire experience - $15 at the dive shop for my wetsuit as well as my portion of the pontoon boat rental, and $5 for my portion of the campgrounds rental.  Sure, I had to buy a sleeping bag and a snorkel/mask set ($9.49 at Wal-Mart) in preparation, but as far as pricing goes for just the actual mind boggles at the price differences between camping and going to a theme park.  For tickets & a hotel stay we had been going up to and beyond the $200-mark for a weekend trip to Universal, so (while I don't claim to be a math major) we could go camping ten times over before we reached the cost of one vacation at a theme park.

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (6)

Spring Break on the cheap: Sea cow adventure vs. Islands of Adventure

Bridget_Bar2 I don't do the outdoors. I don't camp. I don't hike. I don't even like jogging outside. But to save money on vacation this year, it seems my friends and I are doing a little camping trip next week.

Myself, along with roommate Amanda and another friend who lives in Jacksonville were planning on going to Universal Studios next weekend. But when you add up the price of a two-day, two-park ticket, plus wanting to stay at an on-site hotel for the free express pass that lets you skip lines (after all, it'll be a crowded spring break weekend), everyone was getting discouraged.

So our friend came up with the idea to do something totally different to save money. What if we took a road trip to see the parts of Florida that we never see? We are real theme-park junkies, so the suggestion of doing a road trip that doesn't include Orlando is a pretty big deal for us.

Mantees The plan is to go to Crystal River on the west coast and check out the large population of manatees they have there. Maybe rent a boat or kayak. Maybe even drive 30 minutes to Weeki Wachee Springs to see the mermaids. Then we'll camp and have a mini adventure cooking our own food. We're now bringing along more friends, and the costs are very minimal. I already have a sleeping bag and friends already have tents and gear.  

We're dividing up the lists of supplies so no one over spends or buys something someone already has. Most of the snacks I'm bringing is stuff I already had in my pantry.

I'm a little worried that I'll be miserable in the outdoors compared to being in a nice hotel room. But it's only for one night, and this campsite has showers and bathrooms and a convenience store. Maybe this cheap never-been-done-before sea cow adventure will end up being more memorable than the expensive been-there-done-that Islands of Adventure.

Posted by Bridget Carey on | | Comments (1)

All it takes is faith, trust, and your credit card!


CastleI had a brief break in posting because this weekend myself and four friends went to Disney World (including fellow-poster and roommate, Bridget).  I suppose it could be considered weird to be going on vacation at this particular point in our economical crisis, but we certainly weren't the only ones who had fun & self-indulgence in mind...I mean seriously, a 90 minute wait for Splash Mountain?!  And actually looking at the base cost of my Disney "necessities" (i.e. a ticket & hotel room) I actually didn't end up spending that much money.  That's NOT INCLUDING SOUVENIRS, of course...let's be realistic, people.  I only have so much self-control.

Our party stayed at the cheapest Disney resort on campus - the Pop Century.  Dividing the cost between us, three days and two nights surmounted to about $75 per person.  A 3-Day Park Hopper ticket runs for about $155; however, last year I received a seasonal Disney pass from my father, so my ticket price is already covered (score!).  We also decided to hit up Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween event (an additional $52) , wherein they allow a limited number of guests into the park from 7pm until midnight for Halloween & villain-themed parades, meet & greets, and similar events.  Oh, and did I mention you're allowed to wear full costumes?  OH YEEEEA.  As if we even needed an excuse to dress up.

Pan_gang_4 About three months prior to the actual event, Bridget & I settled on a Peter Pan theme (last year having been an Alice In Wonderland theme).  I was to be Peter, Bridget was Tinkerbell, and we also had a Captain Hook, "Tick Tock" the crocodile, and Tiger Lily.  This is where the real money was spent - my costume (hat & dagger included) cost about $55.  Both the purse and the shoes were around $20 each, and the green tights were a steal at about $8 off eBay.  So we have about $127 that I spent on my room & ticket, and $103 spent on my costume.  Oh, if only the spending ended there...

The Epcot Food & Wine festival was also going on during our visit, and being the responsible (and legal) adults that we are, we decided to get trashed in the happiest place on Earth!  And let me tell you, $6 a plate and $8 for wine and/or beer adds up real quick when you're hopping from booth to booth.  I was drinking French sparkling kir while eating Greek spanakopita and Austrian tafelspitz.  Sounds yum-yum-yummy, even if I don't know how to pronounce it!  I can only vagulely estimate that I spent anywhere from $50 to $70 while eating around the world, but I really couldn't help it - my stomach said "Yes!" while my budget said "No!".  Though, really...what budget??

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (0)

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