Monthly Archives: July 2008

A low tech trip back to HomeTown

Every few months we travel back to HomeTown. It’s at least a 5 hour drive. Without knowing my kids are prone to get carsick, people are often surprised to find out that we do not have a portable DVD player. And, even though that would be a recipe for disaster a stinky mess, I don’t think we would have one anyway. HomeTown is the furthest of the grandparents. My family lives about 4 hours away, and we make that trip three or four times a year too. That makes at least six or seven trips a year of many hours at a time. We have it down pretty well now. Our trips cost close to nothing, other than gas.

Growing up in the 70s, my husband and I were of the “entertain yourselves” school. So our poor children are getting this education as well. That doesn’t mean that once they are buckled in it’s all up to them. We provide some props. Tip #1: Have a fun bag! At 11 and 8, that bag contains different things than it did a few years ago. It has string for a progressive story, deck of old cards, spoons (for hanging on one’s nose, of course), finger puppets and scratch paper with pencils or crayons. They come up with interesting uses for some of this. But they do stay busy…the whole point.

Tip #2: Pack food! We pack many different options. Often cleaning out the refrigerator in the process. Cheese and crackers, turkey pepperoni, yogurt, fruit, veggies, cold pizza, pb&j sandwiches, chex mix, cookies…all have been packed. I pack cloth napkins and utensils in case we need them. I also pack a paring knife for cutting fruit. Don’t worry, I usually will do that when we’re stopped for gas. And each of us has a water bottle. There may be a couple of cans of pop in the cooler too. The adults sometimes need that caffeine to get through the trip.

Although my kids can’t read books or watch DVDs while we travel, they enjoy listening to interesting things. Tip #3: Check out the library for books on tape. We still find books for them there, perfect for the 7-13 age group. The nice thing is that the books on tape we check out now are longer chapter books that last for hours…and my husband and I don’t mind them either.

While we can pack our food for the trip there, I don’t usually pack food for the way home. We always stay with family so sometimes there are a few pieces of fruit or a muffin or two to bring on the trip back, but generally we leave with only full water bottles. We rarely eat out so we often plan a quick stop for fast food on the way home. If this isn’t in the budget, I use Tip #4:Plan your travels to accommodate tummies! If we aren’t going to stop to eat, we wait to leave until right after a meal. And I have a quick meal plan in mind for right when we get home. A container of chex mix or even just some dry cereal makes a good snack when needed to tide them over until we are home.

An area where spending isn’t optional is filling the gas tank. And I have a tip for that too. Tip #5: Do a quick online search of the gas prices on your route. Here in MN it is http://www.minnesotagasprices.com and it has saved us on fill ups along the way. On the day we leave, I check the main towns we go through and jot down prices. Now we don’t fill up and then find gas for less 15 miles down the road.

There you have it. A few of my tips to frugal travel. Now I’m off to HomeTown for a long weekend with family and old friends.

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Saving in the SmallTown

In this small town there are no Walgreen’s or CVS or Aldis. In fact the nearest Walmarts are a couple of towns over in either direction. A half hour drive or more. That’s it within an hours drive. I have two small grocery stores, a small outdated overpriced discount store, and many gift shops. We live in a tourist area, complete with numerous resorts. So, during tourist season, the prices go up here in town. They are a little better in the winter when it is just us locals.

At first I didn’t know how I would cut my grocery bill without spending the savings in gas money to get someplace bigger with more low price options. Surprisingly I’ve found many ways to save and am now spending less than ever. First I was shocked by the price of bread. Easily triple what I had paid in my Hometown. I could never spend so much on a loaf of bread, even if it was whole grain. So, I dusted off the bread machine and started making my own at significant savings. It’s not hard and I’m never out of bread. I learned how to spend cash, create a working pantry and freezer, and space out some purchases to fit the budget better.

Now three years later, I’ve fallen into a fairly frugal pattern. I still get off course occasionally. And there have been bumps in the road. But all in all it has become pretty simple. Now instead of feeling sorry for myself for not having the opportunities for the free or super cheap deals that I read about, I am almost glad that I’m not spending time trying to match sales with rebates with coupons. I am proud of myself for finding ways that work for me, where I am, and striving to be the best steward of my family’s resources.

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Where?

I was born and raised in a decent sized town.  It had most of what I wanted…discount stores, fast food, plenty of pizza places, a small shopping mall.  In school I always thought I’d never live there when I grew up and was on my own.  I was going to go somewhere more exciting.  Don’t we all have dreams of bigger and better places when we’re teenagers? Other than my college years I continued to live there.  Married my high school sweetheart there and started a family.

So how did I end up in a small town over 200 miles away from all family and friends?

While I am a caretaker by nature, I have a bit of an adventurous side too.  I urged my husband to look around at other job opportunities in his field.  Be careful what you ask for…

Before long we were packing up and moving out.  We arrived in this small town with a pile of debt, two houses, two children, two pets, a semi full of stuff and high hopes.  And love.  While the road has been rocky at times, we are finally feeling settled three years later.  We have learned so much, and are better for it.

Life is simpler now.  And I am frugal now.

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