Day to day, we pinch pennies. We eat most meals at home, my husband drives an 18-year-old car, we shop at thrift stores more than we shop the malls, and I make our own laundry soap.
Every now and then, we splurge. And it’s those splurges that make the frugal life worthwhile.
Our most recent big-ticket splurge was a weeklong trip to England to celebrate 30 years of marriage.
We budgeted $5,000 for my husband and me to explore London and take day trips to Canterbury, Stonehenge and Bath.
In the year leading up to our trip, we looked for ways – big and small – to save money without skimping on the experience.
Here are a few of the ways we economized without cheating ourselves out of a good time:
A year in advance
An added bonus to off-season travel: Though temperatures were in the 30s and 40s and we watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace as snow fell, the crowds were much smaller, the queues much shorter. We stepped right on the London Eye, jostled no one for a look at the crown jewels and were first in line for a verger-led tour of Westminster Abbey.
Several months in advance
I called nearly a dozen post offices before I found one willing to schedule an appointment less than a week out. Then I ran into a snag on my birth certificate, which didn’t meet updated U.S. State Department requirements.
While I was eventually able to skip the expediting fee, I had to fork out $52 to order my birth certificate online. If I had acted sooner, a birth certificate request sent via U.S. mail would have only cost me $10.
One final passport tip: If you have a AAA membership, the passport photos are free, saving you about $12 per person over the drugstore price.
Total potential savings on passports: up to $126 per person.http://www.kayak.com www.limetreehotel.co.uk
A couple weeks in advance
When we arrived in London, I turned the phone’s roaming feature off and used our hotel’s free Wi-Fi to check email and surf the Web in the evenings. When we returned home, we canceled both plans. In the end, we paid just $4 for peace of mind, a bargain. Savings for canceling early: $56.
Looking up at the iconic Big Ben, watching the House of Lords debate, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, browsing at Harrods department store, walking through Hyde Park and witnessing the spectacle at Speaker’s Corner were all free.
But the best deal in London, by far, is free entry into the abbeys and cathedrals. You will pay handsomely for an official tour. At Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, for example, a tour will set you back by as much as $30 apiece. But come 5 p.m., the doors open to all for free for the daily Even Song service of music. We attended the Even Song at St. Paul’s, hearing the men’s and boys’ choir sing, and it was an extraordinary experience. Savings: about $60 – minus what we dropped in the collection plate.
This was a great way to travel cheap, mingle with Londoners and eavesdrop on their conversations. Savings: Hundreds in taxi fares. About $50 in half-price tube fares.
To give you an idea of the savings: We paid about $3.81 for a can of diet Coke in a pub our first night in London. The next morning, we paid less than half that amount for two bottles of Diet Pepsi at the grocery store around the corner from our hotel.
Savings on snacks, sodas and sandwiches: a rough estimate of $100.
In the end, what we discovered was that spending more money doesn’t necessarily buy you a richer experience, particularly in another country where part of the fun is learning its culture.
The final tally for our trip: about $1,000 under our original $5,000 budget.
Seed money for our next big splurge.