Cheap, Cheap, Cheap, Expensive

by Katy on July 11, 2015 · 19 comments

Brooklyn Museum

When traveling, it’s important to keep a close eye on expenses. Admission prices, meals and transportation can add up faster than an uptown subway train.

Luckily, I am above average when it comes to keeping an eye on my money. But even I, The Non-Consumer Advocate can slip up now and then. Take today as an example.

Our plan had been to take the kids to the Brooklyn Art Museum for the Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibit. Traveling all the way from City Island is a bit of a schlep, so we made sure to feed everyone before leaving home.

Or so we thought.

My son started asking at 2 P.M. if we were going to grab food before the museum, and then casually mentioned that all he’d eaten were two peaches. I opened my trusty Yelp app to locate some cheap pizza and marched my group over a block-and-a-half to a restaurant that appeared long shuttered. I was up for hunting down another cheap slice, but crankiness was rising so we walked over to a Caribbean takeout window and ordered jerk chicken, rice and beans and a curried chicken patty. Not too expensive at $8, but I thought we’d already eaten.

The museum itself was a “suggested donation” admission, so that helped to keep things under control.

My nephew really, really wanted for everyone to see the Pixar movie Inside Out together, so we met up at a theater on The Upper East Side. I rarely splurge on a first run movie, and I certainly never see them in Manhattan, so the $14 price tag hit me hard. The movie was pretty good, although I could have taken it or left it. (I would have been happy to wait to rent it from my local Redbox.)

We did end up with a few minutes before the movie to grab slices of pizza, which was budget-worthy at $5 for the two of us.

Tomorrow my son and I will go to a New York City Football Club soccer game at Yankee Stadium, which will set us back $30 per ticket, although this was a very deliberate and thought out expense. My son, as you know, is soccer obsessed. So this match will be a highlight of his trip.

Of course we’re spending zero dollars on souvenirs or inflated touristy spending opportunities. So no Broadway plays, no horse drawn carriage rides and certainly no foam Statue of Liberty crowns.

The key to frugal travel, just like the key to regular frugal living is to keep big expenses in check, and to save splurges for the things that really matter. Something memorable with bang for the buck. Soccer game, yes. Movie, no.

Be cheap with what doesn’t matter so your money is available for the things that do.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather near Atlanta July 12, 2015 at 1:52 am

I, too, have a sneaker-obsessed son, so I randomly looked up the Brooklyn museum & exhibit online, only to discover it is (eventually) coming to the High Museum in Atlanta! No rolling my change for a Gulfstream today!


Gina July 12, 2015 at 3:38 am

Sounds like it really mattered to your nephew that everyone go to see the movie with him. I’m sure it will be memorable to him that you all made a point to go see the movie with him during your visit. So I think you succeeded at your motto at the end of your post. At $28 admission for you and your son, even if you paid for your nephew’s admission too, I would say that was a pretty frugal gesture. You are staying with his family for free. Parents always prefer you do something kind for their children over them. Anytime I stay with friends or family I work it into my vacation budget to bring them a nice gift, take them to a nice dinner or lunch and take their kids for an outing without them so they have alone time – I pay all expenses for wherever I take the children and I expect to. But I don’t take them anywhere crazy expensive like Disney World. It’s still less than a hotel stay and I’ve made lasting memories with my friends/family…it doesn’t have to be extravagantly expensive. $14/ticket may be out of your norm of spending and you didn’t particularly like the movie – but the kind gesture to do something your family wanted to do during VACATION – priceless! Vacation is hopefully always out of the norm of your daily routine, right?!


Anne July 12, 2015 at 9:28 am

Very well said, Gina.


rosarugosa July 12, 2015 at 4:15 am

We all have our individual budgets and perspectives, but even your splurges sound pretty frugal to me. Food indulgences, and just the idea of being a bit indulgent in general, are intrinsic components of the vacation experience for us.


Jeanine July 12, 2015 at 4:32 am

Broadway Plays are “…inflated touristy spending opportunities”?


Linda in Mass July 12, 2015 at 4:57 am

My daughter would opt for the Broadway show. When she and my neice have gone to NYC. They buy last minute tickets. The last time they ended up in one of the box seats for cheap. It was worth it for them.

When we go on vacation, we tend to go to beaches and walk around cities. Not much money is spent. We just came back from Disneyland and San Diego. Disneyland was free from my company, the San Diego part of the trip was inexpensive. Cheap, clean hotel. And our meals were from local places and food we cannot get at home. We had an amazing time and did not spend much money.


Katy July 12, 2015 at 7:07 am

Yeah . . . I was waiting for someone to call me on this. I would love to go see a Broadway play, but it simply can’t be a priority right now.

And for those who are thinking I’m a super-duper freeloader, I am chipping in for groceries and treating for stuff.


Megg July 13, 2015 at 11:20 am

I agree…a Broadway play would be something I’d enjoy and definitely save for and splurge on. Just because you wouldn’t doesn’t make it wrong for someone else. I’d yawn through a soccer game, even at Yankee stadium.


K D July 12, 2015 at 6:45 am

Vacation is a time when the wallet needs to be more open, especially when it includes extended family. We just returned from a family get-together. My husband ended up springing for the birthday cake for my MIL (that my SIL ordered). Something we would never order ourselves and none of us ate any, but it was the right thing to do, as others picked up other expenses. We luckily were able to fly using airline points, but still had to rent a car and pay for airport parking among other things.

I’m glad you’re able to spend quality time with your extended family.


Marilyn July 12, 2015 at 6:59 am

My employer sent me to DC last week so meals and hotel were paid for. But even when traveling on business, there are so many temptations to spend money that I would not even think of spending at home. I believe the thinking goes something like this: “I may never have a chance to come back here again, so I really should buy this $50 Washington, DC sweatshirt while I have the chance.” However, I did resist and bought no souvenirs whatsoever. I even got a nice freebie on the plane. when a woman asked me to trade seats with her so she could sit next to her little granddaughter, I agreed. The stewardess thought that was a nice gesture and offered me a tablet loaded with movies and games to use on the flight. Normally, the tablets rent for $10. I did enjoy the games and I was happy to get a rare airplane freebie.


Ashley July 12, 2015 at 8:29 am

A horse drawn carriage ride is on my bucket list. Luckily, Pittsburgh offers free ones downtown during Christmas. So I will politely remind (ie nag) my husband its what I want for Christmas.

When my husband and I went to Massanutten on our couples only vacation after 6.5 years, we were very frugal. We took the motorcycle to save on gas. My souvenirs were a keychain, a magnet and bumper stickers for my van and motorcycle helmet. We spent $12 on mini golf and bumper cars. We bought our food at Walmart and cooked except our last night when we went out to eat and our first night in when we ordered pizza (12 hours on a bike is exhausting). My husband bought a Groupon deal to tour the caverns. Aside from that all our sight seeing was free.


Anne July 12, 2015 at 9:39 am

This post reminds me of one of the biggest trip ups in frugal vacationing, and that is feeding young children. Obviously Katy’s group were in their older teens but it seems that it can still apply. 😀

No matter how carefully I budgeted, 1. the food usually cost much more than the great deals around home and 2. children simply can not seem to plan out their appetites, they live for the moment. So when they say they aren’t hungry “now” that does not mean they won’t be starving in 20 minutes. It makes a budget minded mom (grandmother, in my case) tear her hair.

Since I ended up with a decent retirement after a lifetime of frugality, travel food is the one area I am pretty forgiving with. As Katy said, the kids get real grumpy, real quick when hungry and that can ruin everyone’s day.

The good news is they all adore fast food so the price gouge is much lower than restaurant eating.


auntiali July 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

I’m surprised that the movie tickets were only $14/ea. Here in the burbs of the city they are $11. I get my movie tickets from Costco – $16.99 for two.

While the carriage ride in Central Park once thrilled me when I was in my 20’s now they make me cringe. The carriages are icky and not clean, the silk flowers are filthy and…just ew.

Katy, have you had a dirty water – or street dog yet? Hot dog from a street vendor. A couple of months ago the local news station did a story on one vendor at ground zero who was charging $30 for a dog or pretzel. He lost his job quickly.


Nathalie July 12, 2015 at 12:30 pm

I just came back from a month in France with 2 of my teens. We stayed with family but bought groceries for them or paid for their meals when we went out. I also helped with the dishes, etc. I spent a lot of money but I don’t regret it.

I’m pretty frugal during the whole year (collect water in the shower to flush the toilet kind of frugal) and have fun trying to spend little and save a lot. But when I go on vacation, especially abroad, I don’t want to think about how much I’m spending. This trip, I paid about $200 for 6-day Paris Museum passes even though the teens would have gotten into the museums for free. Why? Because the lines were very long and we had a minute amount of time for our visits. Having the pass allowed us to bypass the lines in a few places, including Le Louvre. To me, that was priceless, even though we didn’t maximize the passes as much as we should have. I paid for overpriced bottled water when we were walking around in Paris because we were hit by a record heat wave while there and the bottled water (refilled from the tap at my brother’s apartment before we left) that we had brought with us just wasn’t enough… and there are NO water fountains over there, and I didn’t want to have to carry a gallon of water on my back in the subway all day long… water that would have gotten hot pretty fast anyway. I happily bought a fan for about $40 so we could get somewhat cooled off at my mom’s when the temp hit over 104 and we didn’t have AC… then took it to my brother’s in Paris (no AC either) and left it there. I would have happily paid over $200 for a portable AC unit had that been available at that time 🙂 We took the highways and paid a lot of money in tolls because this saved us a lot of time that we could spend with our family members instead of in traffic on smaller roads.

I paid close to $200 for my teens, myself and the friends who served us as guides to climb to the very top of the Alps via cable car. This was an excursion that my dad insisted that we take. I didn’t want him to pay for it so I did, but I winced at the price. Still, it was an incredible experience that I’m glad we shared. We stayed in a hotel in Paris for one night when my brother got married. I didn’t look for the cheapest hotel, I looked for a hotel with the amenities that I wanted in the center of Paris. We had a wonderful night there and the kids loved it. Again, not regretting the expense.

We brought back very little in terms of souvenirs (food, a few items for my older kids) but we did make memories that will last us a lifetime. Looking back, it was a priceless experience and I’m glad that I didn’t cheapen out too much.

I hope you have fun on your trip and enjoy your sister and her family and pets!


Isabelle July 12, 2015 at 1:41 pm

I am being generally frugal so that I don’t have to check every penny on special occasions like vacations. To me, being frugal needs to stay kind of fun, not become a “coffin”. Then again, I am luckily in a position at the moment where I can choose when I want to be frugal and when I can afford to spend more, which I understand is not the case for everyone (not bragging, just saying I get this). It’s all about choices.


anexactinglife July 12, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Have been to the sneaker exhibit in Toronto and loved it. Even though it is about consumerism and collecting, er, I mean DESIGN and UTILITY!


Amanda July 14, 2015 at 5:45 am

We try to maintain our frugal lifestyle on the road as well, but we do loosen the the belt and indulge some. We’ll go out to eat a few times, buy convenience foods at the grocery store. We sneak off to a full price movie if we can get away from the kids. My mom talked us into taking a day long rafting trip down the San Juan River when we were in southeast Utah. It was the highlight of an otherwise already awesome trip! We ate out more in Italy because I just couldn’t get enough pasta!


Randi July 17, 2015 at 7:05 am

Are you going to the 9/11 museum?


Katy July 17, 2015 at 8:13 am



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