Budget Travel

December 16, 2009

Getting Home for the Holidays the Budget Travel Way

Every year I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

Every year, I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

By Meg Hoppe

When I was in college, my friends talked about this great bus that took them home for $1. Yes, one bonafied US dollar to take a bus from Chicago, IL to Clevland, OH. Completely floored and excited that I could traverse the open Midwest for $1, I did some of my own research on this mythical Megabus.

What I found out was that this awesome service not only could cost as low as a dollar, but they provided free Wi-Fi, it was an express bus, and it was clean. I kept envisioning this tattered old beater sputtering around the Midwest. Imagine my surprise when I got quite the opposite.

For budget travel over the holidays, there is really no other way to go. Now, you’re not gauranteed a ticket for $1 or a spot on the bus. The tickets are bought out quickly, and you only get the steeply discounted ticket if you buy a month or so in advance. However, if today I were to book a one-way ticket on the Megabus, leaving December 21st from Chicago Union Station to Kansas City I would pay between $51.00 and $58.00. Whereas that same ticket with Amtrak would cost between $68.00 and 116.00.

The MegaBus serves states in the Midwest, Notheast, and some of Canada.

The holidays are supposed to be relaxing and full of laughter. You have enough stress at home; everyone has those awkward uncles and socially strange cousins. I really see no point in making traveling to get to them all a hassle. Personally, when my mom guilts me about not coming home to celebrate the small holidays like Columbus Day, I know that ditching Christmas will nix me from the birthday call list for a year or so.

So look for alternate ways home. Flights can be expensive and sometimes you can find a great deal with a great story somewhere else. Car pool with friends, grab seats on the Megabus, or Amtrak your way back. Any way you can, get home for the holidays and enjoy the laughter and jokes that will be told every year after.

Happy Holidays everyone!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

September 18, 2009

Going Green to Save the Green

By Meg Hoppe

money-saving-green-tips-600x399

Save money the green way!

I know, I know, I just posted a list of money-saving tips. And I know, I know, I always complain that they’re not that helpful. But I found a great list that I wanted to re-post on principle alone; because it’s green! Anytime I can do something to help the environment I go out of my way. If I can help myself at the same time, then I am absolutely game. So here are “Eight Green Money Saving Tips” from EcoVillage Green [a great eco blog that I suggest everyone check out].

Buy Used Instead of New: Personally, I think that used items have more character. That said, there are some things that I won’t buy used, no matter how environmentally friendly they are. Use your imagination and get back to me. Truthfully though, buying used saves a ton of money. Especially if you have kids. I know, that when my brother was growing up my mom went through clothes and shoes weekly for him. The boy just wouldn’t stop growing. So why even bother buying new? There are lots of re-sale stores that have great clothing in fantastic condition. Look into them and save.

Look Online for Free Items: Listening to the news, you would think that Craigslist.org is nothing more than a prostitution hub. But I will tell you that it’s one of my favorite websites [no, not for the prostitution]. When I’m not perusing Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, or Anthropologie for things I cannot afford, I love looking at the free section on Craigslist. That and the apartment section for places I cannot afford. People give things away for so many reasons; they’re moving, divorcing, getting married etc. Often times the things that they have a really nice. For example, my mother [she seems to be a trend in this blog and the last], bought a really nice bunk bed set for my old room from Craigslist. It was in great condition and she got it for a steal. Check out other sites like Freecycle.org to see what else you can find.

Eat at Home Instead of Eating Out: A few friends and I have a weekly

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Night Dinner ritual. Every Sunday around 6p.m. we all congregate at a friend’s apartment and each of us brings something that we made or bought. There is normally a theme for the night [last week it was Cashews; there was Cashew Chicken & I made delicious Caramel Cashew Cookie Squares & brought Chianti]. Sunday Night Dinners are something that we all look forward to and it is a far cheaper option for us to eat in. Honestly, you can cook a meal for a family of 4 on $30.00. You can also buy for several meals instead of just one, it’s win win.

Form a Hand Me Down System w/Friends & Family: Sharing is caring, that’s what I’ve always said. Granted, I normally don’t always care to share, but that is irrelevant. For people with children, you know how quickly the grow out of things. So instead of just throwing clothes and other things away, share them with friends and family who also have children. It saves a lot of hassle and money if you know that you have a network of people to go for something.

Look for Opportunities to Barter: Again, I will point out the amazingness of Craigslist. They have a barter section already on the page. Come on, you can’t hate the site now. If you tactfully barter, chances are you will be able to knock quite a bit off the price. Just make sure you know when to quit.

Be a Frequent Yard Sale Shopper: I love yard sales. Hands down, I love them. Flea Markets are in that vein as well. You can find the coolest one-of-a-kind things at yard sales and flea markets. These are really good places to haggle and get a good deal. But you just need to be prepared to find something that you might have to store for awhile. What you find will be unpredictable, but completely worth it.

Go Green

Go Green

Have a Yard Sale: My mom had a yard sale once when we were little. It’s a great way to make sure that items you loved will pass into the hands of someone else who will enjoy them as much as you did. Even if you just get a couple bucks, it’s a couple bucks that you didn’t have before.

These are some great tips that I enjoy because they stress being green. Take all of the money that you save with ALL of the money-saving tips I find and deliver to you to do something fun and green with your family or friends!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

The Mecca of Money-Saving Lists

By Meg Hoppe

money saving

While taking in my daily 5th cup of coffee and reading the new tweets from my Twitter crowd, I stumbled across this great post from TIME magazine. Someone at the lovely TIME magazine spent a few hours [or minutes, whatever] compiling a list of my favorite things: Money Saving Tips. The writer then went the extra mile and put them all on one easy to read page entitled, A List of Money-Saving Lists: 422 Ways to Save in Total for me to peruse at my leisure.

Now, if you read my previous post on this, you’ll remember that when it comes to money saving tips, I’ve heard just about all of them. There are those few that actually make a difference, but for the most part they are meant to placate us. Whatever, sometimes I need placating so I read the article and clicked the links and here’s what I found:

There is little to nothing new to say about saving money. Sorry Forbes, Oprah, and whoever else. Ideas like shopping around for prices, haggling [a tactic my mother takes very seriously which quickly escalates to mortifying], and coupon cutting [come on, it’s been around since the dawn of time]. Personally, I think that wasting space for those ideas in an article about saving money should be put into an article about wasting time. Common sense, I know it’s a dime a dozen, but these things are second nature now.

There were of course some interesting ones. There is a pretty good piece about saving green at Starbucks; and for a Banana Strawberry Vivanno lover, this is important. However, The Huffington Post’s article entitled, The 7 Most Inappropriate Products for Children made me belt out in a mortified laughter that topped all else. As I perused the Pole Dance Doll, Shave the Baby [the caption makes it], and one of my favorites the breast feeding doll I thought, clearly, this holiday season we’re all saving money not buying the kids on our lists a darned thing. Their toys are getting out of control.

Brad Tuttle of TIME did a really good job getting together a great list of lists. Maybe my cynicsm just stems from the fact that I’m a budget writer and I’ve read about 200 of these lists.  The article is definitely worth a solid read through, if not just for that Huffington Post piece. Maybe you will find something helpful that I overlooked. Make sure to leave a comment if you do!

And share with me, either here or on my twitter,@CallMeHoppe your best budget tips!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

July 30, 2009

Money Saving Tips We Haven’t Heard Before

By Meg Hoppe

I find that placing my piggy bank in an open field and inserting only quarters, I spend less.

Money Saving Tip #1: I find that placing my piggy bank in an open field and inserting only quarters, I spend less.

If you’re anything like me, you’re tired of seeing the same money saving tips. You click on the article anyway, hoping for something new and innovative to pop up. I know that if I packed a lunch instead of buying one, made my coffee instead of going to Starkbucks, and stopped spending so much on video rentals I would save a small fortune. That’s why I’ve started doing all of that. And yes, I have seen a slight decrease in the amount of money that I spend. However, it’s like the moment I save money in one area of my life, another area calls for my attention and subsequently my credit card. I realize that I’m no master budgeter, my bank account, credit card debt, and credit history can tell you that. So this is the sole reason that I want, no need, money saving tips that will actually save me money.

So, during my habitual checking of my social networking sites, follow me on Twitter @CallMeHoppe, and e-mail I stumbled across yet another “X Amount of Ways you’re Being Ripped Off” article. I think that at this point, I click on them with a zest of wishful thinking. I just hope that maybe this one will have some gold nugget or at least a slightly humorous/interesting variety.

You can rest easy America, because I have found a spectacular money saving article that I would like to share with you. Aside from the normal, yeah we get it Comcast is financially molesting us; there were some rather interesting tips. Here, let me share a few.

From Forbes [yes THE Forbes magazine] “14 Ways you’re Getting Ripped Off” article. If I had to pay for it, the article would have been 15 ways…

High End Guacamole: Is this really a growing problem in America? Are

Yes that is my piggy bank sitting atop of that pile of money. No more guacamole for me, thanks Forbes!

Yes that is my piggy bank sitting atop of that pile of money. No more guacamole for me, thanks Forbes!

we undergoing some sort of guacamole epidemic that I haven’t heard about? The fact that Forbes found it pertinent to include making your own guacamole in this article only proves my point that people are running out of money saving tips. Next you’re going to see Business Week telling me that I need to start making my own ketchup and mustard.

Auto Dealer Repair: I used to work at a car dealership and let me tell you that this one is completely fact. I cannot tell how many times the guys in the body shop and I would laugh at people coming in with their cars. Not only do customers pay exorbitant amounts for maintenance, but they are paying for high end parts that could easily be substituted. I don’t think I met one person at the dealership who actually took their cars to a dealership for repair. But if you like stale donuts and lukewarm coffee then go for it.

Emergency Room Visits: I happen to agree 100% with this one. In my opinion, Forbes should include riding in ambulances. If I am in need of immediate medical attention, I would rather wait and pay for a taxi. It would be cheaper than taking an ambulance and truthfully, it would probably get to my house sooner. While Forbes puts this one on the list, they acknowledge that there is nothing that we can do about it. Unless you want to start playing doctor, and I mean that in the literal sense, you’re stuck going to the hospital. I suppose the only things you can really do are take care of yourself, vote for someone who will push through a health care bill that won’t force you into bankruptcy, and learn to wield a scalpel.

Caskets: Okay, my main beef with this “money saving tip” is that it saves me nothing. I’m not getting ripped off because I am dead. Sorry kids and bereaved husband but I don’t have to deal with this. However, when I do die, seeing as how Forbes says that caskets can cost upwards of $20,000 bury me in a sheet in the backyard.

Movie Theater Snacks: Agreed. Stop buying them people! Why do we do this to ourselves? It costs $4.00 for a box of little Snickers balls. I can buy 4 Snickers for that price. If I really want them in ball form, I can take the time to rip off small pieces, mold them with my fingers…just eat the Snickers bar from 7-11.

Ab-Slimming Gadgets: One of my best girlfriends is a notorious impulse shopper. I think that she has more of these ab-slimming gadgets than anyone I’ve ever met. The best part about this situation is that she rarely uses any of them. It has always reminded me of the song by Steve Goodman [amazing folk musician from Chicago who originally penned “Go Cubs Go” and “City of New Orleans“] entitled “Vegematic.” It’s about a guy who falls asleep with the TV on and buys everything on the infomercials in his sleep. Imagine waking up to all that useless “Seen on TV” crap. So instead of watching infomercials about losing weight, take a walk and burn a few calories. Put down the phone, you will never use that Ab Cruncher and you know it.

Honestly, Forbes didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know. Their ideas weren’t at all useful to my daily life as I don’t subscribe to most of that nonsense. However, if you want to read the rest, there are some other pretty funny ones, check out this link. Kiplinger also has a similar article that has some actually useful tips pending you don’t already realize all of them. They also have 20 Ways You Waste Your Money as opposed to Forbes’ meager 14. You can check out that article here.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

June 2, 2009

Summer Fun on a Budget

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 7:55 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

By Meg Hoppe

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

From vacations to concerts and festivals, summer is the time to travel.  Kids are off of school and meandering around and the weather is perfect for weekend trips downtown or out of town.  If you’re at all like me, you find that come Labor Day, you bank account has gone through the ringer. A few days at the Taste of Chicago, some baseball games or concerts, and a summer vacation with the girls can put a dent in my credit card bill that even I have trouble looking at. So, this year as my social calendar fills up I’ve decided to try something a little different.

Being a rather young writer, my bank account doesn’t have the bang for its buck that I would like.  Knowing that most of my friends have the same problem, I have resided myself to the notion of stretching what I can for as long as I can without compromising. You might find yourself wondering how I plan on stretching a rather slim regular income while not compromising my plans for the summer. To be honest, I found myself wondering the same thing when I made the suggestion. The answer to that lies in the little nuances of event planning.

Living in Chicago affords me the luxury of having a decent amount of free events to attend all year long. Aside from hitting up local museums on their free days, which they all have, I can check out the Botanic Gardens any time I want, picnic in the parks, check out local festivals and neighborhood parties.

For those of you who love sports and concerts, but don’t really want to dish out $40.00-$100.00 for tickets; utilize your local Craigslist. I have found that for most events just looking a few days prior, even the day of given enough time, can prove to be both frugal and fruitful. The closer you get to the actual event, the more willing people are to bend a little on the ticket price. I’ve paid next to nothing for sold out shows and games because people just needed to get rid of their tickets. Just note that if you’re going to use Craigslist, you need to have a back-up plan in place in case you can’t score great tickets.

Now we come to the vacationing section of the cheap summer fun plan. I have found that vacationing can be a pleasure for your bank account when done correctly. First off, think about where you want to stay. Do you really need to book a room at the Four Seasons in New York when you have those second cousins who have a pretty decent size brownstone? Bring home some wine and flowers during your stay, offer to help clean, do some chores, and you have free digs to call your own while on vacation.

When it comes to travel to and from, choose the cheapest route available. If you have a group of friends, do your research on car rentals, vans, cheap airlines, etc. When my friends and I travel, we do lots of research. We buy any plane tickets well ahead of time and plan our trips on non-peak days to avoid higher costs. When we are on vacation, we have a researched cheap mid sized vehicle that when split between us is reasonably priced. If you’re in a big city, utilize public transportation. City transit normally offers weekend passes that are a bargain if you do the math and see you’re using it enough.

Vacations can sometimes seem like the check-out aisle in a grocery store. They’re littered with “impulse buys” or “impulse trips.” In order to avoid spending more money than you had originally set out to I’ve found that it is important to have a plan laid out before you go. If you make a note of the main attractions or events you want to attend, you are eliminating lots of “impulse trips.” Now, that’s not to say that every moment of every day has to be planned. Remember those cousins you’re staying with? They live there and have a wealth of information for things to see and do. Ask them for ideas on cheap things to do and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised. Offer to take them out with you and you can end up having the best vacation of the summer.

In the end, summer vacations and trips are all about the people you’re with. So don’t forget to just spend some nights at home. Break out some citronella candles, margaritas, and call your best friends for a night of good food, good drinks, and good company. Good friends are the best and cheapest summer event you could possibly plan.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

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