Penny Pinchers

Page 16 of 20

Not Your Name-Brand Hotels

By Julie Norman
Monday, February 10, 2014

One way that we often save money on weekend get-aways and longer trips is by staying at lesser-known "Mom and Pop" hotels.  These places often have rooms, especially in what might be considered their "off season," for much less than Comfort Inns, Hampton Inns or other chain hotels that we've all heard of.

In Moab, The Virginian motel is a constant for us.  In the wintertime many places there have cheap rooms, but in the fall, you can rent a room at the Virginian with a full-sized refrigerator, stove, coffee pot, etc for $89/night! 

This is a picture from the Frontier Lodge's home page.  The Frontier Lodge is a place on the far side of Glenwood Springs (towards Carbondale) where we stay when we're heading to Snowmass for the weekend (using our fairly inexpensive Classic Passes to ski).  Wes, the owner, remembers us and gives a little extra discount to repeat customers. It's cheaper if you call to make reservations than making them online too! While the outside may need a little work, the rooms are clean and they'll only cost you about $60 a night.  A plus: to the right of the motel (when looking at it in this pic) is a tiny shopping center with a great Mexican restaurant, Taqueria El Nopal.  It also is affordable!

Finally, on the second night of our Snowmass weekends we usually stay in Basalt at the Aspenalt Lodge.  In the summertime the rates here jump quite a bit due to its location near the Frying Pan river.  I'm sure that anglers from all over stay here because of the easy proximity to fishing.  In the winter, though, the rates drop dramatically.  We got a nice upstairs room away from traffic for $99.  Trust me, anything else around here this time of year is way more.  I looked on and the only thing closer to Snowmass that I found that was anywhere close to that low of a rate was the Snowmass Inn for $140.  The Aspenalt is nicer! Full disclosure: At one time the Aspenalt said they were part of Best Western Hotels, but I can't find anything on their website anymore that mentions anything like that.

Here's what the rooms look like (ours just had a King bed):

(photo from

All the rooms have a coffee pot, microwave and mini-fridge and there's a hot tub right by the river! It's great.  To be honest, though, the Aspenalt's "continental breakfast" sucks. BUT there is a small grocery store right next door.  For $5 I got us some great Pillsbury Sausage, Egg and Cheese biscuits (the frozen kind you microwave) and 2 bananas.  Of course, you could always pack your own stuff too and not even spend that $5!

Some things to keep in mind when choosing a Mom and Pop hotel:

-Always trust your instincts.  If it seems super sketchy or scary, it probably is.

-Ask to see a room before you make a reservation.  We've never had anyone tell us no.  By at least getting a chance to look around you can tell if the shower looks clean, if the carpet has been vaccuumed, etc. 

-Once you find a good place, the next time you plan to stay there make sure you mention that you've stayed there before.  You can often get an extra 10%-15% discount on room prices!


Frugal Friday: Living Below the Poverty Level and Shopping the Dollar Store

By Julie Norman
Friday, February 7, 2014

This week's Frugal Friday links sort of go hand-in-hand.  Brittany's link is to a blog called The Peaceful Mom and it focuses on her new blog series about living on $28,000 a year - with a family of SIX.

Click here or click the image to go directly to the start of the series.  The mom explains their reasons for living on such a small budget and then provides a link to many different posts on everything from grocery budgets to entertainment.

My link today is a great one from Money Talks News on the 15 things you should buy at The Dollar Store.   Often you wonder what's actually a value at The Dollar Store and what isn't.  This article points out quite a few things that are totally worth buying there.  I've purchased gardening tools, seed packets, holiday decor, gift wrap (absolutely!!!!), dishes, dish towels, etc., etc. from The Dollar Store. Sometimes it's just so much more affordable.  Once in a while you can even find neat food items like jars of roasted red peppers for $1!!!

There's a video too.  Click the image below to watch it.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By Brittany Dale
Thursday, February 6, 2014

Growing up in Colorado I remember recycling being important. We didn't necessarily do it religiously in my household but I knew it was... a thing. It wasn't until I moved closer to Denver and then to Boulder that a smaller footprint became a realistic idea in my head. Boulder being the tree hugging capital of the world gave me plenty of examples of how to live much like a plant; use my resources and give them back. Yikes, that sounded hippie. Let's be clear though, I'm pretty far from being Boulder-ite, but I appreciate living smaller and keeping my waste down. 

I once heard someone say “people seem to forget about the two words in front of Recycle. Reduce and reuse are in front of recycle because they are more important.” I never considered recycling wasn't really what I should focus on. Using less is the best way to save money and lessen my pollution. There a couple of things we do to reduce and reuse before we recycle, which we also do.

I have room for improvement in this area. Paying attention to the amount of packaging on an item, making food at home so I am not buying package waste, refurbishing items that I no longer use so I don't need to buy new ones – clothing or furniture specifically – are all ways I could be minimizing my waste. But it's a journey people; one step at a time.
Here's a couple of things we do to reduce:

We don't use those plastic produce bags at the grocery store. We simply throw everything in the cart and then throw it in the fridge. When I switched to this method it was amazing how much quicker it became to shop for produce.

My produce pile is a bit tiny at the moment.

We bring our own shopping bags. We have turned around in order to go get the bags when we forget them. The small punishment only had to happen a few times before we quit forgetting. 


The scary part is that even though we use our own bags, somehow our under-the-counter plastic bag collection is HUGE! Where do they come from??

I wash our plastic baggies. Yes, I am nuts. I scrub them and hang them to dry. Those suckers are expensive and if I threw them away every time I used one for a snack, we would use 4x as many as we use.

I save plastic containers for Tupperware. Somehow we manage to misplace lids to our “real” containers so I started saving things like butter and lunch meat tubs. If we lose one it's not the end of the world and I'm not buying new ones every year.

While recycling is the last step, it is also a way to save some money.
In some cities you can turn in aluminum and other products for money, which is better than a kick in the knee! In fact, there is a coupon in The Daily Sentinel's bi-monthly coupon book that gives you extra money for the aluminum that you turn in!

Here in Grand Junction you can pay to get recycling canisters and have it picked up a couple times per month, just like trash. We chose to save the extra money and take it to the recycling place ourselves. The facility is close to our house and we only need to go once a month or so. For us, it makes sense.

There are hundreds of ways to lessen our negative impact on the environment and a lovely reward for doing so is often the fact that reducing our impact also saves money. Brilliant!

What do you do to reduce, reuse or recycle?  


Free Superbowl Snacks! (and why I don’t have a grocery budget)

By Julie Norman
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Last Friday as I was planning my Superbowl snack menu, I got an email from Safeway telling me to claim my FREE offer.  Well I love a free offer, so I signed in to my Safeway Just For U account and, lo and behold, I had THREE FREE offers!

Those Red Hot Blues chips are a favorite of ours and we usually only have them on vacations.  They're $5 a bag! Immediately I formed a plan for the Superbowl. We'd have nachos using cheese I already had, and the Red Hot Blues tortilla chips. I could make guacamole with avocados that were already in the fridge too!  The Almond Dream ice cream bites would be a great dessert (especially for consoling ourselves after that horrendous loss). The milk...well, who can't use milk? In fact I had to open that carton this morning because I ran out of regular milk for my coffee.  THREE FREE items.  Not all weeks are like that, but even one free offer is still pretty sweet!

This is one of the great things about a grocery store's loyalty card.  They don't cost you anything and sometimes they hand out pretty great rewards.  Last week we had .50/cents off per gallon of gas at Safeway!

Which brings me to my next point...the grocery budget.  Lots of people have grocery budgets and I think that makes a lot of sense.  It's very easy to overspend or to buy unnecessary things when you're at the grocery store.  Having a budget can help you avoid the pitfalls of endcaps, "buy 2 get 1 free" offers and more.   I've tried the budget thing...I really have!  But it just doesn't work for me.  I get stressed about it and if I go over by $20 one week I'm just filled with ridiculous guilt. So instead of having a budget I try to just make good choices.  I don't buy much processed food and I check the clearance sections every week.

Just last week here's what I found: 

That was 3 lbs of chicken wings (each package 50% off), spaghetti noodles, a huge bag of flour, and a box of chicken broth...all 50% off! If I had set a budget for myself and already reached it I wouldn't have been able to purchase any of this! We had the wings for the Superbowl, the flour has already been opened and used when I was making pizza dough, and that carton of chicken broth is long gone. You just never know what you might find in the clearance bin! 

If you have to set a budget, I think maybe it's a good idea to include a separate, small amount per month for clearance items (if you can).  That way if you're like me and that budget is source of stress, you can still find a way to include clearance and unexpected grocery items.

So I guess my "budget" consists of sticking to the outside aisles of the store as much as possible (with an exception for grains, pasta, broth and tomatoes or tomato sauce) and checking the clearance bins. This way when I leave the store I can feel like I did a great job of purchasing good foods at good prices.  Side note:  I do have an actual budget of around $100 a week...sometimes I only spend like $60 and other times it's closer to $120.  We rarely eat out though, so all that food gets eaten...but I still don't like to focus too much on the budget.

Speaking of which, asparagus is on sale at Safeway this week for $1.99/lb!  I know what we're having this week!


Sweat is Free - Mt. Garfield

By Brittany Dale
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Happy Tuesday, readers! It's Free Adventure Tuesday!
No, you didn't miss something, I just made that up and don't expect it every Tuesday, I'm just spontaneous like that.

Last weekend we decided to take on a challenge that people have been talking about since the first day we moved here.

We climbed Mt. Garfield. Dun Dun Dun!

Photo: Panoramio (Google Maps)

I decided our little adventure was a great subject for Penny Pinchers because a great way to save money is to find free or nearly free activities, which can be more challenging than expected. We had an entire day of activity without spending a penny (not counting the 1/6 gallon of gas it took us to drive there).

If you are from the valley you know which one is Mt. Garfield. Based on the chatter we have heard about this mountain, most of you have probably attempted the trek. If you aren't from around here, it's the gigantic mound of sandy looking spines sloping straight to the sky on your right hand side as you pass by Palisade on your left. Okay, maybe that's a little exaggerated, but looking up at the summit from the parking lot, the trail may as well be ascending straight into a cloud.

The entire hike is a challenge. The first portion is a steep climb that makes you suck air like it's going out of style. The section that tight-ropes the sides of the huge castle-like structure on top is super calming. The rest of the climb is exactly that, a climb. Over rocks, around rocks, digging in your toes and grabbing whatever you can to keep yourself as close to the ground as possible. Despite the agony in some moments, it was incredibly rewarding, as most activities like this are.

See those? Those are HORSES. Horses are more agile than me! 

There are people who leap and bound up and down this mountain, I saw them, and my jaw dropped. I also read about a race that happens each year that goes up and over the summit. Loony bins, gazelle-like loony bins. I, on the other hand, used very technical skills such the skid on my butt until my pole catches something sturdy and repeat reassuring mantras while sideways-baby-stepping down the spines. They do it their way, I do it mine.

I wasn't convinced I was going to make it to the top. We decided that we were in no hurry, we would stop when we needed to and whenever we were finished would be fine. We made it up and back down in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Once we got up the spine part of the mountain, it was still challenging but less so-much-cardio-I'm-gonna-die! I was amazed when we finally reached the top. This valley that we live in is so beautiful. Even more beautiful is the feeling I had when I let it sink in on the car ride home that my legs took me there. My body is powerful and I underestimate myself too often. The fact that we came home with two exhausted dogs, sore bodies and spent no money was also a great feeling. Using the nature and opportunities we have here really makes me grateful for the area we live in.

My awesome little family. 

Leisurely hiking is an activity you, generally, don't need to buy anything for. Mt. Garfield is a step up from that. I wore my regular workout clothes and tennis shoes which I later realized was a mistake. To climb Mt. Garfield in January I would recommend hiking boots. One week later I still have a some nice shiners to prove tennis shoes don't quite cut it. The only other thing I would recommend is hiking poles. Given the incline and decline, the poles were very helpful. Outside of those two items, this was a completely free adventure. Tired dogs, good workout, no money spent; win, win, win.

Proof. Don't wear tennis shoes.

What's your favorite little or no-cost adventure in the valley? 

Page 16 of 20

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