Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Secret to Frugal Living: How to Vacation Without Breaking the Bank!

I previously posted about our annual trip to Minnesota and how we plan to pay very little out of pocket. Now summer is nearing and more of you will be planning your own vacations, I thought I'd share with you some of the secrets to vacationing without breaking the bank!

There are several ways we save money throughout the year: We never use change-we always save the change made from breaking larger bills; we cash in on rebates from products we would have purchased anyway; we cash in ALL cans and bottles we accumulate throughout the year; I use applications on my iPhone to make money; we sell items on Ebay; and we save money and gift cards earned online through survey and reward sites all year around!

So far we have:

Change: $124.54 in our change jar
Cash saved from change, cans and bottle and rebates: $251
Ebay sales: $81.06
WeReward (app on iPhone): I make approximately $10/month and have saved about $50 so far!
Checkpoints (app on iPhone): $2 CVS gift card and $25 Shell Gift Card! Use the code Shanzy05 on sign up for bonus points!
Field Agent (app on iPhone): $64.40
Pinecone Research (Survey site..not currently taking members): $9/month! I have currently saved $108 so far!
My Points: $25 Pizza Hut Gift Card, $10 Chili's Gift Card, $10 CVS Gift Card and $10 BK Gift Card
Huggies Enjoy the Ride: $50 (2 $25) Gap Gift Cards
Recyclebank: $10 Wal-Mart Gift Card
My Coke Rewards: $5 Chili's Gift Card and $15 Disney Store Gift Card
Expired Online Promotion through AOL: $15 Starbucks Gift Card

Total= $806!!!

You can also use Swagbucks to earn gift cards for Vacation!

Ways to save on pricey hotels:
*Rent a home instead of a hotel room

Consider renting a home instead of booking a hotel when spending a week or longer at a popular destination. Choosing a house right outside the tourist area will save you even more!When you have a kitchen, you can make breakfast and sometimes lunch and dinner on your own, which easily adds up to over $40 a day.

*Shop Around

When looking to book a hotel room, probably the most important tip for getting a good deal is to shop around and compare prices.

A price for a hotel room can vary quite a bit from online travel agency (e.g., Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, etc.) to online travel agency, and booking directly through the hotel does not always ensure the lowest price either. Online travel agencies might have negotiated rates with individual hotels or with entire hotel chains, so you need to check all of the major websites to make sure you're not missing out on a special rate.

Searching 3 or 4 of these websites should give you a pretty good sense of rates for your selected time period and location.

Note that no one site searches every site and finds every single rate that's out there, so you have to shop around. At least searching multiple websites does not take a lot of physical effort!
Read Hotel Reviews

*Read Hotel Reviews
There's nothing worse than getting to your destination after hours (or days) of traveling and then finding your hotel or the building across from your hotel under construction, or finding your room to be worse than the pictures showed. So we suggest trying to learn more about the hotel by reading reviews from real people who have actually stayed in the hotel recently. has pretty much cornered the market when it comes to hotel reviews. TripAdvisor doesn't review hotels/hotel rooms. Instead, they provide a platform for people to write their own reviews. Just go to and search for a hotel (enter your location, then click 'Find Hotels'; you'll then be able to sort using the tools on the left side of the page; to find reviews, look to the individual hotel listing, then click on the link that says 'reviews').

With all hotel reviews, you need to take them with a grain of salt, as you can get some extreme opinions. Some people might be used to staying in 5-star hotels, so they find fault with a 3-star or 4-star hotel when it's perfectly fine.

TripAdvisor does a very good job of monitoring the reviews to make sure there aren't glowing reviews written by the hotel's general manager, or negative reviews written by the general manager of a competitor down the street. But they're not perfect, so some will slip through the cracks and get posted.

A general rule of thumb that we like to follow is to scan through several reviews, particularly the most recent, and look for facts. Opinions are tough to filter, but facts (particularly recent facts) can be of help. For example, knowing that the construction site across the street begins work at 7 a.m. is nice to know -- and may mean avoiding that hotel for awhile.

Other good websites for hotel reviews include,,, and

*Buy your own beer

If you like a daily beer or cocktail on vacation, finding a local liquor store and mixing your own drinks can save up to $10 a person each day.

*Bring your own snacks

By keeping a few granola bars and a refillable water bottle in my backpack, I avoid shelling out money on pricey food at the airport or at kiosks surrounding tourist destinations. (Added benefit: keeping blood sugar high enough to enjoy the sites.)

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