Frugal Tendencies on Vacation, Day One

I'm in San Francisco. This is the first vacation I've taken since developing a frugal mindset. It's tough for me to let loose. My pennypinching ways are causing me pain.

For example, we drove to San Francisco because (a) I love to drive, and have never had a chance to do a long trip like this; (b) having our own car would allow us greater flexibility; and (c) I believed it would save us money. (We'll tally expenses at the end to see if it really did so.)

However, as soon as we arrived at the hotel I was greeted by a rude slap in the face: we must pay $32/night in parking! This had never even crossed my mind. I'm a hick at heart, and hicks never pay for parking. This setback is going to cost us 6.4% of our vacation budget. That's basically the equivalent of a hotel stay on the drive home. (We're driving back up the California and Oregon coasts.) This made me sulky until Kris pointed out how ridiculous I was being. There's nothing we can do about the cost, and we can afford it, so we should just roll with it. It's a bummer, yes, but what can we do?

We've exercised our frugality muscles in other areas.

We packed some fruit and water and snacks from home so that we didn't have to stop along the way. These snacks will also stand us in good stead so that we can avoid paying for breakfast. To save a little money, we fueled up and ate lunch in Ashland. (There's no sales tax in Oregon.)

Aside from the Parking Debacle, I had one other minor case of non-frugality. I was drowsy while driving, so we pulled into a rest stop to get some caffeine. I could have had a Coke for a buck, but I decided to try a Red Bull energy drink. There was no price listed on the vending machine, so I assumed they were also a buck. Bad assumption. The machine took my dollar and asked for $1.50 more. Holy cats! I pressed the coin return, but no luck. It wouldn't refund my money. I threw good money after bad and ended up with a $2.50 beverage. (Which, fortunately, did its job: it woke me up.)

Today we join Kris' family for a touristy exploration of San Francisco. I'm surprised at how overwhelming it is. I don't have much experience outside Portland and, especially, its rural towns. San Francisco is big. And cosmopolitan. And a little intimidating. (Yet very, very exciting.) It feels sort of European, actually. My goal is to forget about the $32 parking and just have fun. And stay frugal.

Addendum: Kris notes that I've also been flustered by tipping. When we travel, we normally stay in motels. Because we're traveling with her parents — and because this hotel is being subsidized by inheritance money — we're staying someplace a little nicer. People keep doing things for us. Some guy parked our car. Do I tip him? I don't know. I asked the woman at the front desk, and she seemed offended that I had asked. Faux pas piled upon faux pas. Fortunately, I did know how to tip the bellhop — one-dollar a bag, right?

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The Tim
The Tim
14 years ago

Ashland is good, (it’s about the halfway point for us from Seattle to LA, so we stay there for free with friends who have a guest house) but gas is slightly cheaper up the road a ways in Grants Pass. Specifically, take exit 55 (the southmost of the two exits to GP), drive west on the main road, and there’s an Arco on the left. It tends to be at least $0.05/gal cheaper there than in Ashland, in my experience. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck needing to fill up in Weed, CA. Until the recent run-up in prices, the… Read more »

William Mize
William Mize
14 years ago

I went to school and lived in SF for 8 years, and let me say, that once you get over the shock, you are gonna LOVE IT.
There’s no other city like it.
Drink it in, go see everything you can, check the Bay Guardian (if it still exists) and look for groovy things, maybe even free things, off the beaten path.
Have a great time and I will try not to be jealous.

Marc Hedlund
Marc Hedlund
14 years ago

Enjoy the stay! The Bay Area has been my home for many years (after moving down from Portland), and while some things (like parking) are ridiculously expensive, there’s also a ton of great, cheap, enjoyable things to do in the area. One tip: the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market is beautiful and very much a tourist destination, but it’s also probably the most expensive farmer’s market in the area, if not the country. The Alemany Farmer’s Market (100 Alemany Blvd, in the southern part of the city) has many of the *same* vendors selling the *same* stuff at dramatically cheaper prices.… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
14 years ago

I had a similar experience myself. I was trying to reduce our hotel expenditures, and therefore did quite a bit of research about the going rates people were getting on priceline for “name your price” reservation. I decided on my price, won the hotel and we were off. Driving from Phoenix to San Diego. We get to the Hilton there where we were only paying $50/night for a nice, clean, newly renovated room. Much to my chagrin when we check in the clerk tells me that parking is $12 per day. I nearly crapped myself. The only reason I was… Read more »

Alex
Alex
14 years ago

If you really want to save money on wakeing up, forgo the coke and look into no-doz or other knockoff’s. I’m a college student and used to spend absurd amounts of money on coffee. However, I looked into alertness aids and have been saveing ever since. The standard alertness aid comes in 100 mg pills. I payed 11 cents a pill. This is compared to your red bull which cost $2.50 for 80mg of caffeine. The advantage is obvious.

Amberlynn
Amberlynn
14 years ago

You’d better stay out of City Lights, the awesome bookstore. I know how much you love books, and this is thier version of Powell’s (though it’s not really anything like Powell’s). If you have budgeted book buying into your trip, DO go to City Lights. “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem.” Personally, I have to be careful what snacks I pack for road trips (I’ve done MANY). Buying something when you stop to use a bathroom is like a tip – and after I visited Italy where you DO tip to use a toilet, I though ‘Nobody deserves a tip… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
14 years ago

Argh! I posted and ran this morning, so didn’t see the huge glaring typo in the title. I’m so embarrassed. So far I love San Francisco. It’s a great place. I could see myself living here. I love how cosmopolitan it feels. Portland’s a great city, and I’m glad to have grown up there, but it’s a small city, and somewhat provincial despite its laid-back character. San Francisco feels like a city of the world. “It feels European,” I told my sister-in-law, though I confided I’d never actually been to Europe. There are all sorts of people, all sorts of… Read more »

Waldo Jaquith
Waldo Jaquith
14 years ago

$32/night for parking? Jesus Christ. That’s horrifying. If a clerk told me that, I’d have to laugh like hell. It’d take some real talking to convince me that wasn’t just the clerk pulling my leg.

I’ve never heard of charging for hotel parking period. I’ve paid substantially less than $32 for a night in a hotel. Though the room, admittedly, wasn’t much larger than a parking space.

Charles
Charles
14 years ago

A car in SF is about the biggest waste of money you could make. I remember back in ’92, it cost me an extra $90 per month for a parking space in my apartment building. I stayed there 2 years, and my used car was only worth $1000. It would have been cheaper to give away the car and buy a new one when I moved out. It cost $175/mo to rent parking near my workplace, it was cheaper to take the Muni than commute to work. That was 15 years ago, I hate to think of what it would… Read more »

BJ Clark
BJ Clark
14 years ago

I used to go to school in SF also. Fun things to do: Take a cruise in the bay. But don’t use the big touristy ferrys. They are a rip (unless you just HAVE to go to the rock). Just down the warf there are some private boats that will take you out and around the bay for $10. I’m not sure how much the “Legion of Honor” art museum costs to get in, but it’s worth it. It’s a pretty underrated museum, it has a great collection, so if you are into art, I’d check that out. The beach… Read more »

lane
lane
14 years ago

Magnolia BrewPub two blocks down from Haight/Ashbury.. most excellent beers.

I love SF, this is my first summer in 5 years without a trip down there, I may have to fix that

cribcage
cribcage
14 years ago

The first time I bought my car to Manhattan, I think $32 per day was exactly what Hotel Pennsylvania charged. In my case, it wasn’t a surprise – half because I live in Boston and I’m used to pricey parking; and half because, well, I had called ahead and asked. But I hadn’t given a thought to tipping the valet until I took the key from him as we were leaving (whereupon I got a nasty look as he realized my other hand was empty). In Providence, I tip the valets $5 when they deliver my car – but that’s… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny
14 years ago

http://www.couchsurfing.com/

A quick search for people willing to let you stay with them (for free) in the SF-area turned up over 100 results.

🙂

Tyler
Tyler
14 years ago

Me gf and I are doing a trip from Portland to San Diego at the end of the month for two weeks along the coast on 101/1. Any advice, tips would be helpful from anyone, we are looking to save some money as always! thanks guys

Yale Bloor
Yale Bloor
14 years ago

Deep breaths…RELAX….remember “GET RICH SLOWLY”! take your vacations even slower….ease into it…tipping=karma….(6.4% of vacation money? WOW sounds extremely regimented)if a cable car hits you you’ll never miss it….

Russell Heimlich
Russell Heimlich
14 years ago
Rhea
Rhea
14 years ago

Now, I get it! You are able to ‘get rich slowly’ because you never leave Oregon. So, if I left Boston I would be able to save like you do!

Biff Smith
Biff Smith
14 years ago

What’s the use of money if you can’t spend it when you want to? I agree, 32 bucks a night for parking would get me right out of the hotel with a few ****** words at the hotel manager. On the flip side, it sounds like you are so worried about how you spend your money that it could ruin your vacation! We save up till we have the money we plan to spend on vacation, add a little for cushion and off we go, no worries. Try to relax and lay off the percentages and enjoy! Yale Bloor said… Read more »

dokaben
dokaben
14 years ago

On our first trip to Northern CA I think we paid $25/night for parking at a SF Holiday Inn. Just DIY lot parking, and the price was listed on the website, so no surprises or tipping issues. We found a lot of good hotel deals at Hiltons and Sheratons in the suburbs. We paid $60-$75 a night and took the train in. Of course our whole trip wasn’t focused on the city, so dealing with the commute may not be worth the savings. If elected president my first act will be to ban all tipping! I know, many professions rely… Read more »

Laura
Laura
14 years ago

Just because you’re staying there doesn’t mean you have to park there! You might have been better off driving around looking for pay lots then taking public transportation from the lot to hotel. However I don’t know if you’re even going to find much cheaper than that for overnight at a pay lot in SF if the prices are anything like chicago.

Mark McGreevy
Mark McGreevy
13 years ago

Great to find your frugal fracas online! I live in SF all my life, right on the BART line,and I still like to drive downtown and risk parking tickets anyway. Yep, even we SF natives are real Americans, addicted to driving. I also drive a tourbus for a living, and you can read all about it at the website above, TOURBUS DRIVER’S BLUES. But in regard to secondhand shopping, you would love the shops of SF and the surrounding areas. We are absolutely swimming in high-quality, very cheap secondhand goods, with all the wealthy folks around us tossing stuff out.… Read more »

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