My grandmother was a very frugal woman who often told me “if you will mind your pennies your dollars will mind themselves.” I hope to share here some of her wisdom and the wisdom of others I have learned over the years

Monday, May 27, 2013


When Connie Francis made this tune popular vacations in my family were load up and head for the lake where we swam, fished, played cards and got royally sunburned for two weeks every summer.  Occasionally a long weekend as well.

I was so envious of my friend Sandee, her dad worked for an airlines in Tulsa, OK and her aunt lived at Anaheim, CA.  So every summer their vacations were free air fare to Anaheim and two weeks of Disney Land. 

I swore when I was an adult my kids would vacation more than going to the lake to bake until they were a Crispy Critters(remember that cereal?) in the summer sun.

By the time our oldest was three and the youngest six months we were taking big traveling vacations.  At first it was small places like Silver Dollar City (which had nothing to speak of for children in the mid 1970’s) and DogpatchUSA (now out of business).  Then as the kids got older we widened our horizons to Six Flags Over Texas.

Then in October of 1981 we took advantage of the kids being out of school for various reasons for nearly two weeks and headed toward Florida. At age 31 I had finally made it to the Magic Kingdom, I stood there with tears running down my face so excited to see the castle and upset that my kids didn’t want to let me enjoy the moment.   We were finally on the BIG vacation and it wasn’t going exactly as I had planned.  I made a fool of myself being upset, something the family has never let me live down now 32 years later. Such feelings and upset are one of the downsidesof big planned out vacations as we all know.  Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan.

We so fell in love with the magic of Disney we’ve been back over 30 times and are anxious to go again sometime in the future.  Anyone who knows me in the least knows this.  The last time we were there it was December 2006, over six long years ago.

Life and unemployment has kept us either at home or west of Oklahoma traveling for work.

I’ll admit it, we have been secretly planning a getaway for December this year for several months, but reality set in recently and that trip will not be happening unless several things change. 

It started small.  Traditionally we drive down most trips.  We love to travel with our camper, and see historical sites along the way to and from.  Stopping at beaches is also a treat. The first reality check was the escalating cost of fuel.  We could fly, stay in a resort hotel for a longer visit eating all our meals out cheaper than we could drive and boondock three days there and three days back!  Okie Dokie.  I like flying and six extra days in the “Happiest Place on Earth” works for me, even if it would cut down our tourism to other venues in the Orlando area.  I know we could have rented a car, but that part of planning hadn't happened yet.

Then my son had to use most of his vacation time for the year due to an illness he couldn’t seem to kick earlier this year.  Thankfully it’s now gone.

Follow that with my husband’s job telling him he would probably be going to some schooling in Las Vegas at the time we were planning on taking the trip.

Then there was the budget, a HUGE consideration.  You see we, as most who read this know, are on the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover Plan to become totally debt free.  We are finally to the point where our snowball is really rolling.  Look out this is where the adult part comes in…

I’m a math nerd and I started playing with numbers, trying to figure out how to both keep the snowball rolling swiftly and how to pay for a totally blow out vacation with all the frills that included annual passes so we could go back 2-3  more times in the year that followed.  We are talking some serious cash. A number that made me rethink the whole idea.  I wanted to be debt free MORE than I wanted to go to Florida—who is this woman and where did she come from?

I calculated up that if we put the vacation off until spring/summer 2014 and used that money for the snowball we could not only pay off one full debt, but most of another and save over $500 in interest.  All by waiting ONLY an extra 4-6 months.  At the end of that 4-6 months all our consumer debt would be paid off and only our mortgages would remain.  Definitely a reason to celebrate, BIG.

When I mentioned this to the guys they both thought, as I did, that delaying the big trip was an excellent idea.  Sean could use the extra money he would have been spending for the trip this winter on his house he is building and still have money for the trip next spring/summer. He would also have more vacation time. Gary and I would have a lot more ready cash that we wouldn’t feel like we were shorting a bill to pay for the trip and we’d enjoy it all the more!

However, we all love to travel, we love vacation and a full year doing NOTHING might drive all three of us nuts.  Enter the book “The Great American Staycation”.

I found this book by accident while at the library and I am so glad I did.  Staycation is not a new idea, in fact it is a banned word in some areas I’m certain, because in the last few years it’s been so heavily over used.  I know I have not been fond of it as a word.  Remember I grew up staying close to home for every vacation.  A staycation to me basically was the same as deprivation. No big vacation?  Then we must be truly poor!

The first thing I learned from the book was to adjust my attitude.  In the book it talked about how you plan for a vacation.  Boy do we, I do cost comparison charts, menus, travel routes, time schedules,  budget I plan for a year or more for our big trips.  Even the second to fourth trip in a year to WDW because each trip is a little different.  I thoroughly believe that half the fun of a vacation is the planning.  Yet in the last several years where we’ve been doing “Trips on a tank full” because our budget wouldn’t allow anything else I’ve never really planned them out.  After all they were “just something to do near home.”

As I read it became clear to me the solution for our year to wait for our big trip(s) in 2014 was to do PLANNED Staycations of under 100 miles for as near to free as possible.  That way we could have fun, relax and not feel financially guilty about melting part of our debt snowball.

I put the idea to my family this way:

My suggestion was every other pay day we take one to three days of “vacation”, but instead of using vacation time that would take away from our 2014 trip(s) we’d do it on weekends/holidays.  Oklahoma City was as far as we would possibly travel, roughly 100 miles from our home.  The closer to home the better, because diesel is EXPENSIVE.

On our “vacation” days we would eat just like we would on vacation.  Many days on vacation we eat donuts or other cold foods for breakfast, but at least once each trip to WDW we eat at Trail’s End all you can eat breakfast buffet.  So occasionally we will “treat” ourselves to Golden Corral’s breakfast buffet.  The guys really liked this, it is a good buffet and if we are on vacation, why not?

While I do fix some meals when traveling in the camper we eat out a lot too, at places that are new to us.  There are hundreds of restaurants in our area we’ve never tried. So some of our staycation meals would be at new to us restaurants, including fast foods we’ve never tried.  Yes, there are fast food places we’ve never been to—like Panda Express, why I don’t know, we just haven’t.

The list went on, listing how we normally vacation and how when we will do it on the staycation.

The guys said it sounded great, but WHERE would we would go.  Again I quoted the book.  It suggested things such as looking at your local city/town’s tourist information website.  Okay, I’ve done that in the past for Tulsa, but I had never checked the calendar of events of smaller venues in the local small towns as the book suggested. 

Imagine my surprise to find that in the next few months the little town that is less than 20 miles from us has SEVERAL different events going on that we had no clue about.  Things we’d be interested in.  Including a blue grass festival, and here we’ve been driving to Branson, MO, Claremore, OK, Davis, OK for bluegrass and there is a festival practically at our back door?  Who knew?

With such success with that little town I started googling “calendar of events” and the name of every small town I could think of in our 100 mile radius.  Holy Moly!  We could do something EVERY weekend if we wanted!

Moving on to the suggestion of checking our local museums calendar of events I found more possibilities.

Factory tours, Brahms Ice Cream has a factory between Broken Arrow and Coweta and they give tours!  We love the tv show “How it’s made” so this sounds fun to us.

Library calendar events, more things to see and learn.

Theater, I love live theater and concerts.  Colleges, little theater groups, all located by googling (or bing if you prefer). 

Zoo’s and aquariums have special events as well.  Did you know for a small fee many zoo’s have overnight sleepovers at their locations? What a cool kids birthday party that would be.

The book had more ideas than I could type here without really stealing Mr. Matt Wixon’s thunder.  He’s the author of the book by the way.
Their next question was "How would we pay for it?"  In the book Mr. Wixon suggests doing just as you would when planning an out of state big vacation.  Contact the department of tourism for discount tickets to events.  Also keep an eye on your local newspaper, soda pop cans, Entertainment books and much more for coupons.  Listen to the local radio for "special events." 
I'll add here that I will be consulting our Oklahoma AAA guidebook for ideas of local free or near free things to see and do as well.
Don't forget to ask for discounts, just like you do on vacation AAA, senior citizen, straight a student rewards, discounts offered by your auto insurance.
He also suggested volunteering as a way to possibly get into some venues for free--after you actually do the work.
Check online for gift cards for restaurants that offer a perk for getting the gift card through them.  An example is mypoints, buy a Chili's gift card get x amount of extra mypoints points.  Points you can later trade in for a free gift card.
Other things he suggested doing was taking a LOT of pictures, you do on vacation so why not on vacation.
How about souveniers?  Who says every t-shirt in your wardrobe has to say Walt Disney World on it.  What's wrong with one that says Philbrook Museum?

So our boring, stay at home summer, has now morphed into a every four week vacation here at home! 

Yours can too, just start googling and you might be surprised what you might find to do for free or near free for adults and/or kids in your area.

Jan who is so glad she found the book, which you can read my review of that includes much more about all the websites he includes and such by clicking on the review hyperlink in OK


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