Frugal Friday and An Environmental Disaster
April 22, 2016, 10:55 PM
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Michael and I, along with my best friend, have just returned on from a 12-day trip to California. We don’t travel much, but this trip made me realize that travel is expensive, not only in terms of money but also in terms of energy use (both human and fossil fueled) and making concessions about my own values. I thought I’d share some extraordinary frugal things we did to make this ‘cross country trip more affordable, as well as some things that were incredibly expensive in terms of harm to the earth.

The friend that went with us has a close elderly friend that is no longer able to travel, after many years of doing so extensively. When she heard that we were wanting to make this trip she insisted we use her ‘frequent flyer miles’ to pay for the tickets. There were just enough miles to pay for our three round-trip tickets (by flying mid-week) so the most expensive part of the trip didn’t cost us a dime! We did however have to pay that very unfrugal $25 per checked bag (or $35 for each traveler’s second bag) but we worked it to our advantage by checking Michael’s best friend (his banjo) and packing around the instrument in the case with all his underwear and tee shirts! I also checked one suitcase, sharing it with him for the rest of his personal things. My friend and I then shared a second case, for a total cost of only $50 for all 3 of us. We were also allowed one free carry on bag as well as a laptop, purse or backpack  I layered my laptop amongst the safety of the clothing in the checked bag, which left plenty of room in my carry-on for all that I wanted to take. But here’s what we learned: if the flights are full (and they all were, both ways) the airlines ask you to voluntarily check your carry-on bags, compliments of the airlines.  We simply transferred meds, snacks and immediate needs items to our backpacks and never had to worry about hauling those carry on bags from gate to gate during layovers. Then, when we arrived at our final destination our luggage was among the first off and corralled together, both checked and unchecked. Sweet!

About those snacks: we stayed in a hotel the first night we arrived and the night before we left, saving a full $20 each night by booking ahead on line. I saw the online price of $99, but called to reserve the room and was told it was $119. So I politely declined and booked thru the website. The wonderful accommodations there included a full breakfast, with fresh fruits and bagels, along with waffles, etc. We ate our fill in the hotel breakfast room quite early both mornings, and then took the liberty of taking a piece of fruit and a bagel with us, which we enjoyed mid-flight much later in the morning. That held us over until an early dinner time both days. Upshot being we only had to purchase one meal on those travel days. Was that dishonest to take the fruit? I didn’t see any signage against it, and the breakfast room attendant didn’t say a word, so I think not. Michael and I also learned that to share a cup of airport coffee was much cheaper than buying two individual cups- only 50 cents more for the very large cup. Savings on airport coffee alone: $4.20.

It turns out those hotel stays were a bonus too: about 6 weeks ago we had paid a $600 medical bill that the hospital had insisted our insurance had refused to cover. Two weeks before the trip, we received a $600 limit debit card in the mail from them, saying a mistake had been made and they were reimbursing us because we had ‘overpaid’. What a travel bonus that was! We paid for the two nights in the hotel, many many of our meals and more with that card and came home with $150 still on it! To make this trip even more unbelievably affordable, we cashed in our accumulated credit card ‘points’ to completely cover the cost for 12 days rental on a brand new Toyota Corolla and we cashed in our the coins from our ‘savings pot’ and got $234.40 before we left (making sure to take the coins to our bank for free counting, rather than to a counting machine that is handier but charges 10% of the total, saving us $23.44 in the deal! 


OK, now the negatives of our travel: Trash. Aluminum cans. Paper. Styrofoam. Plastic. Compostables. Times 100! I’ve recycled and composted and avoided these items for so long that it’s become second nature to do so; it was with great distress that I threw away more of this crap than I want to admit. Michael and I had also forgotten to bring our personal water bottles, but I finally broke down and bought a cheap one that at least stopped the constant flow of disposable water receptacles. But the trash we participated in generating was nothing compared to the environmental degradation that was caused by our flights! I’m going to have to give a great deal of thought now to ever flying again. I want very much to travel to Cuba in the future though and I’ve learned that now you can take a ferry from Miami to Havana, so if I go, I’ll likely rent a Prius and drive to Miami, then take the ferry. That sure won’t work for any other country so that’s why I’ll have to do some major soul searching about it. No matter where or how I travel in the future though,  I’ll always remember to take my own water bottle, as well as a personal tea/coffee mug too so I wouldn’t be forced to use disposable ones again. Add to this short list my own spork  and a cloth shopping bag. After a short while there, I did begin refusing all plastic bags, and just carried my items open handed to the car. We bought post cards each day, filled them out and mailed them on the spot to loved ones with stamps I’d purchased beforehand. This offered the impact of a little hand written souvenir, as we had no room in  our suitcases for much more than we came with anyway.  We did share towels and shampoo, soaps and everything else we could think of but I’m not kidding myself thinking that this trip wasn’t a personal environmental disaster.

So there you have it…our travel was lean on money but high on environmental costs. We had a fabulous time, took lots of pictures, and made life time memories. But I personally took note of our country full of trash, waste, homelessness, poverty and massive traffic jams as well. My hope is that this post will serve to remind you to plan ahead for the every day things we use at home that you can take along when you travel to make it less wasteful. Consider driving or a slow boat to China too, okay? From the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream Waters, Happy Earth Day.

big trees

Frugal Friday: Or, ”It Never Hurts to Ask” – March 20, 2015
March 20, 2015, 12:48 PM
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I think we all know that traveling can not only be a wonderful escape from our daily lives, it can also burn holes in your wallet and tends to make your normal diet and exercise routines go to hell in a hand basket. I told you before I left for my trip to Selma that I’d share with you some ways that I found to keep more money in my pocket while having a fabulous time. It can happen, but THIS trip was a bit ‘out of the ordinary’, even for me 😉

When I first heard about the Selma-to-Montgomery March anniversary, I knew tiny Selma wouldn’t be prepared for the onslaught of 80 thousand people so I didn’t delay searching online for a suitable hotel room. Along with the other 79,999 folks doing the same thing. What I found was a room at the Bates Selma Motel for $52 a night. They had 4 rooms left the day I made my online reservation a month ahead, and I wondered why THEY did when it seemed NO ONE else did. My brother worked there throughout high school, so I remembered the place and knew it was going to be very, shall we say, BASIC, but I was happy to find it. I only made the reservation for one night though, thinking that if it was awful, I wouldn’t be committed to two nights. I was flying by the seat of my pants in thinking I’d find a place for the second night so RJ and I took our sleeping bags and pillows in case we had to sleep under the stars.

10 days before I was scheduled to leave I got a call from the executive offices of Wyndham Resorts, the company that handles reservations for that motel, informing me that my reservation ‘had been canceled’. WHAT?!!!?? I knew immediately that they had figured out that the $52 I was paying could be at least tripled, so I let my anger and frustration be known to the poor ‘messenger’ from that company. I decided it wouldn’t benefit me at all to get nasty though, so I quickly ‘made a friend’ of the caller. She took pity on me and offered to help me find a room elsewhere, using her reservation software, promising to call me back the following day. She called, but could only find a SMOKING room with one bed, a 45 minutes drive from Selma. After discussing the issues I had with that for a few minutes, she offered to pay the difference between the two rooms, which was significant. I reluctantly agreed but in those few minutes of conversation that smoking room had been booked. She then found me a room over an hour away, and after she listened to my good-humored complaints about time, gas mileage, etc. she offered to reimburse me for the room and the mileage between Selma and the new hotel. On the day after I returned from my trip, she called back as promised and gave me a number to fax my receipts to, and then offered to pay for any parking fees I’d had to pay ($10) plus my gas for the trip! SU- WHEET! I sent receipts for about $150 which I’ll receive within the next week. So essentially, the trip only cost me the original $52. But this travel tale gets even better…

Because this sweet representative of a company that does bad business WAS so sweet, and because I let her know I didn’t hold her personally responsible, we were able to really ‘connect’ during our phone conversations. It turns out she has a brother that lives in Alabama, and after I told her all about my trip and the history behind it all, she and her husband are now planning their own trip from their South Dakota home to visit her brother and Selma! (I advised her against making reservations with Wyndham Resorts). At the end of our conversation, she offered to enroll me in the ‘Wyndham Rewards Program’. I’m sure you’re familiar with similar programs where you earn ‘points’ that you can use for future room discounts or other perks. I declined, telling her I rarely travel so I knew I wouldn’t be able to collect points. Instead, she offered to set up my account with 10,000 points automatically! I agreed, the process was seamless and I then used 6,500 of those points to order a $25 Amazon gift card for Michael’s birthday! The card arrived yesterday, right on time. He was quite pleased because now he can order music or books of his choice, and I’m tickled purple about how all of this turned out. So, the trip and the birthday gift didn’t cost me anything, and I gained a new friend in South Dakota.  priceless.


What about that second night of no place to stay? Karma was with me on this trip… a friend from my UU church here in NE TN, traveled to Selma with her daughter and was staying at a very nice Hyatt RESORT hotel 90 miles away, in Birmingham. HER hotel stay was being paid for using credit card ‘rewards points’ and since it wasn’t costing her anything, she insisted that we stay with her, at no cost, in their suite. Yeah, it was sweet too. (Thanks Cindi!)  A free breakfast came with BOTH hotels, so we loaded up on calories in the mornings, and only had to buy our dinners on Saturday night because of yet another kindness shown to us…on Sunday night after the march, the UU Church in Montgomery invited any and all marchers to their church for dinner and music. The congregants were warm and inviting, the meal was fabulous, the folky/ social justice singing was led by a talented singer/guitarist and all I had to do was follow my friend there from Selma, which was on the way to Birmingham anyway! 

I realize these money savers I’m telling you about were probably a once in a lifetime occurrence, but there were other little things we did that added up to some nice savings but didn’t cut into our fun at all. On Friday before we left town, I had filled up my car for 30 cents off per gallon, using my daughter’s “gas rewards card” (who knew about all these rewards offers??) saving $4.50 on 15 gallons. I packed ‘snack bags’ of hard boiled eggs, almonds and fruit, along with juice and water in refillable bottles so we didn’t have to pay for overpriced, unhealthy food along the way. OK, full disclosure here: we DID compromise our own principles and bought McDonald’s sweet tea for 99 cents along the way, but I even got a free refill a few towns down the road by simply asking if I could. Ironically, the man that gave me permission to do that was standing directly in front of the sign that stated “No refills from previous visits”, proving that it never hurts to ask. Bringing our own snacks and food gave us the opportunity to pull off wherever we found pleasant spots to eat and stretch our legs. Not having to listen to FOX news in fast food restaurants was priceless too. Just sayin...

I resisted the temptation to buy souvenirs, but took many many pictures that will serve as remembrances of this special time and place. Here’s my favorite, taken of a gentleman that had marched behind Martin Luther King fifty years before. Edward Kidd is my new hero:


Have a great, frugal weekend!

Frugal Friday- March 6, 2015

As my girlfriend and I prepare to leave for the 50 year anniversary celebration of the Civil Rights Selma-to-Montgomery March being held in my hometown of Selma this weekend, I’m doing so with an eye towards making the trip comfortable and memorable, without blowing my budget. I’ve carefully printed out maps, directions, reservations and itineraries on the backs of ‘recycled’ paper, I made a trip to the discount grocery to stock up on made-to-travel food and snacks, I’ve prefrozen a bag of ice cubes to fill my cooler (rather than purchasing a bag of ice), and I’ve gotten my pretrip oil change using a coupon for $10 off. I’ll tell  you all about the trip when I return, along with the unusual way I saved money on my deluxe hotel room.

I’m still focusing on the here and now though, and finding ways to ‘save’ each and every day. Saving money doesn’t always mean a coupon or a sale. It often involves not spending money to begin with. For example:

Monday: I love Bacon Bits on my salads, and we eat a lot of salads. But I don’t love the fat and cholesterol they contain, nor the cost. I tried a new ‘recipe’ for Vegan Baco’s this week and estimate the whole jar cost about 50 cents ( mostly for the TVP crumbles) and is lots healthier than store-bought. I kid you not….they taste just as good too!


Better’n Baco’s

1 Cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
4 Tbls. maple syrup
1 Tbls. tamari or soy sauce
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/4 cup TVP crumbles

Combine everything except the TVP and bring mixture to a boil.  Add TVP and let soak for 5-10 minutes.  If not all the liquid has been absorbed you can strain it. (Note: I had to strain mine through a fine sieve)   Spread TVP on baking sheet.  Bake at 350, stir every 5 minutes or so, just to be on the safe side.  They will darken and start to get crunchy.  The official recipe says it’ll take 20 minutes, stir it once after 10 minutes. I use probably half that much oil, and sometimes BBQ sauce or whatever sauce you are using is sweet enough, no maple syrup needed.  Maple syrup is a precious thing, so I added a bit of maple extract though, only because I had it on hand. I’ll try maple flavored syrup next time too, just to see if there’s any difference.

Tuesday: I wrote a few weeks ago that we’d started seeds indoors, under lights, for our cool season veggies. They’d gotten large enough to transplant into larger pots, so I LOVED working in the greenhouse this week doing that work. Now  I’ve begun the hassle of carrying the trays in and out of the house for a little bit longer each day so they’ll be properly hardened off before they’re planted into the garden beds. When I look at these trays and trays of green seedlings, I can visualize the fully grown vegetables and all the fabulous meals they’ll be a part of: bok choy, red and green cabbages, onions, parsley, cauliflower, broccoli and more. I also planted some lettuce and cilantro seeds under the Sugar Snap teepee that’ll eventually form over them, giving them some cooler shade to grow in. Later in the day I read an article that said new research shows that a bacterium found in soil may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. Studies were conducted on cancer patients and they reported a better quality of life and less stress. Savings on food costs, psychotherapy and health? Priceless!


Wednesday: I finally received the refund I’d requested from the HVAC company I’d had come out to do a checkup on my heat pump. I felt I was overcharged, so I made 3 phone calls and wrote a few emails, and got the overage charges back that I deserved! Be persistent if you know you’re right. It pays…$49.50 to be exact!


Thursday: This cold day found me with the whole day free of obligations. We had friends over for supper and music, but because I’d premade a large pot of Turkey Tortilla Soup from the last dregs of the Christmas turkey and then frozen it, all I had to do was thaw the soup and make ginger slaw and cornbread to go with it, using ingredients I had on hand. I splurged and purchased a frozen Boston Creme Pie at the discount grocery to have for dessert. It was originally $9.97 and I got it for $2.49. It was fabulous! After supper we went to the coffee house and enjoyed almost 3 hours of fabulous live music for the price of two cups of chai tea and a tip for the band. How do  you put a price on good friends, good food and good music?


Friday: I took my daughter to  an early doctor’s appointment at the clinic, and from there we had to run several errands. I’ve learned to pack snacks and drinks for us, to avoid eating the vending machine food crap in the lobby, or buying fast food. Last summer I canned many jars of homemade V-8 juice and I always take some for us to sip on while we wait, along with peanut butter and graham cracker ‘sammiches’, and clementines or bananas to snack on. The V-8 in the machines are $1.50 for a little tiny can of the stuff and I like mine better. We dropped off shoes at the local ‘cobbler’ shop to have them repaired, Michael and I took advantage of the warmer weather to wash the salt off the car at the quarter car wash, and we made a pot of Louisiana Lima Bean Soup, made from my homegrown dried Hopi lima beans, for supper tonight. Oh my, it is sooo good!


Folks, I hope that  you can find space in your life to make time to grow a little food, play a little music, visit with friends and family or make some good soup. Transitioning to a lower energy, lower economic and simpler way of life has allowed me better health, more money and a peace of mind that a consumer-based lifestyle could never match. Have a great weekend!

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