Monday, August 6, 2007

Cheap Sleeps in Vegas

Almost everyone has the same plan when staying in Vegas: stay on the Strip and save money by walking everywhere. Like most everything else in Vegas, this plan is a mirage. Room rates on the Strip reach stratospheric levels, and if you happen to get a "deal", it will be at a property that has a serious grungy factor (such as Circus Circus, The Flamingo and the former New Frontier)

A better bet is to stay off-strip and rent a car for cruising the Strip. Many of the Station casinos are clean and acceptable. And you're far likely to find wiggle room for negotiating room pricing. Off-Strip casinos and hotels are not as glitzy as their Strip counterparts, but you didn't come to Vegas to stare at the walls of your hotel room, did you?

One caveat about staying off the Strip. Be sure to read reviews of hotels at a site like or It's the only way to weed out the dives from your search.

If you have a few months planning time, you might want to check out the major casino websites and sign up for promotions. I've gotten discount codes and info on specials from casinos such as Harrah's, Luxor and LV Hilton.

For the best room rates, try to plan your trip during the week. During the weekend, hordes of Los Angelenos and Utahns invade Vegas, shooting any chance of getting of a cheap room.

If you have four or more in your party, you may want to consider a timeshare. This is the only way the Cheap A** clan will stay in Vegas anymore.

Now, you'd never catch me actually OWNING a timeshare. However, many timeshare owners rent out their weeks on eBay. There's always a few auctions going on for far less than regular Vegas hotel rates. When we rented out a week from a broker on eBay, we were treated to a luxurious three room suite that slept nine. This suite came with a full kitchen, so we could save money eating in for some meals, and washer and dryer. This timeshare was at the Wyndham property (formerly Fairfield Resort), about two blocks from the Strip. Cost? $100 a night. I can't get two Motel 6 rooms in Vegas for that price.

And if you can't find someone who has the time you want available, email one of the eBay sellers. Many of them are power brokers, with multiple weeks available. One may be able to work out a special package for you.

Next post: Getting around Vegas for Cheap

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cheap A** Special : Las Vegas, Baby!

Las Vegas used to be a cheap and gaudy town. Now there's nothing cheap about it now. (Still gaudy). But there's a way to have a blast in town without breaking the bank. Over the next week, I'll post ways to get around town cheap, sleep for cheap, eat for cheap, have fun for cheap, and gamble for cheap. So, let's put on those big Elvis rhinestone shades, and see Vegas, baby!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Breakdown: Broccoli and Beef

Anytime I talk about a specific meal, like the dinner in the leftovers post, I'll try to give you an actual cost breakdown of the meal. Most meals that I make employ several money saving strategies, but I think it's a good idea to see those strategies in practice. So, here's the breakdown on our recent meal, Broccoli and Beef:

3.50 - 1 lb petite sirloin (bought on sale 2 weeks prior and stored in freezer)
.20 - 1 cup rice bought at 8.00 for 20 lbs makes 3 cups cooked
.09 - 1 lb broccoli, homegrown*
.20 - 1 lb pea pods, homegrown*
.11 - 1 carrot (for color) @ .69/lb carrots
.25 - spices (soy sauce, garlic, ginger, oil to stir fry in)
free - chicken broth (saved from boiled chicken and frozen for future use

For a grand total of 4.55 for meal or 76 cents a person (six servings).

And remember, I splurged on the petite sirloin. If I were to use leftover beef roast or boneless skinless chicken breasts at 1.99 or less a lb, the cost would be 3.05 a meal or 51 cents a meal. And, if I used leftover cooked chicken that was bone-in or tofu, the cost would be even less! And this is a meal that would be approved by any nutritionist. Heavy on veggies and lighter on carbs (only 1/2 cup serving of rice).

*I know many of you are saying, "How is she getting that low of price on produce? To figure my veggie costs, I divide the total output of my plants by the cost of the seeds and plants. $2.00 of pea seeds produced 10 lbs of peas. $2.50 of broccoli plants will produce 30 lbs of broccoli (this is a conservative estimate - I'll be getting broccoli out of the garden from May til October). I don't factor in water and amendments, because if I didn't have a garden in that spot, I'd be mowing and watering lawn there. The garden takes the same amount of water and fertilizer as my lawn does.


Meal Saving Tip #1 - Rethink Leftovers

Leftovers have gotten a bad rap over the years. And I understand. There have been many times where I've poked around in the back of the fridge and screwed up the courage to peek under the lids of the Tupperware containers. Often the contents inspire horror movie titles.

But, what if you could use leftovers. . .really use leftovers, without the mold growing experiments or groans from your family, "Not tuna casserole AGAIN."

The trick is to recycle the food item into a completely new food dish. Take this last Father's day. I splurged and bought petite sirloin steak for a big family gathering (on sale $3.50 a lb for ten pounds. Still WAY cheaper than your overpriced crowded restaurant) My brother grilled up all the steak, and we had about 4 pounds left over.

Took the steak leftovers home, sliced them up, and bagged them for a few separate meals. Later that week, had broccoli and beef stir fry with pea pods. Delicious. And sooo easy, because the meat was already precooked. Got dinner on the table in 20 minutes.

Now if this idea of reusing food in other dishes grosses you out, I strongly suggest that you NEVER eat out again. Because this is a very common restaurant practice. (Restaurants should only recycle the food leftover after cooking each evening. . not leftovers from patrons' dishes, because that would be gross)

Wendy's chili is a prime example of leftover usage. Every day, the grill person overcooks hamburger patties or cooks too many patties for the demand. These unused cooked patties go into the chili for the next day.

There are a few steps to managing your food leftovers, so you can recycle them for a later date.

1.Freeze anything that can be frozen. Don't stick a leftover into the fridge. This almost guarantees a one way trip to the garbage can. I freeze heels of bread, meats, meat bones, broth, sauces. . almost anything except eggs, potatoes, mayo based products. If al dente, rice and pasta can also be frozen.

2. Store leftovers with a plan. Notice when I froze the steak, I sliced it up with meals in mind. I know that with leftover steak, I can make beef and broccoli, steak sandwiches, fajitas, and stroganoff. If I put anything in the freezer, I think ahead to what to what I can make with it. Bread heels either get ground for bread crumbs or cubed for stuffing/croutons.

If I have enough of an item to make a meal, I freeze in containers and mark with a sharpie what it is. Only have enough for one or two servings? I put it together TV dinner style in those plastic containers with compartments. These are great for : lunches at work, when kids are running to activities and won't be home for dinner, or when someone REALLY can't handle what we are having for dinner.

For leftover makeover for lunches the next day, I strongly suggest going to (see link at side). She makes leftover packing lunches a visual feast.

Hope that you'll start putting your leftovers to good use!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Cheap A** Chick's Bible

Many years ago, I was going to soon be a stay-at-home mom, and I worried about how I was going to make ends meet without my salary. Then I read the Tightwad Gazette.

The Tightwad Gazette is written by Amy Dacyczyn and is the most comprehensive book on saving money. She covers many topics including car maintenance, clothing, decorating, and shopping.

This book changed my whole outlook on spending money. Her philosophy is do more with less, and if needed, just do less. I have worn out two copies, and will probably wear out many more.

I strongly suggest you run to the library, and get a copy. Look up her articles on food shopping. They explain concepts such as buying at the lowest price, sales cycles, and keeping track of prices. I will talk about these concepts in my next blog entries, but Amy explains it so well.

You might find some of her ideas weird. That's okay. You don't have to do everything she suggests. I don't.

But her writing is engaging, and she has very useful ideas. You might even want to buy a copy, like I did. But, of course, I want you to try it out before you buy (that's the library trip). You can find it at Amazon and other bookstores

Why I'm Here

Lately, there have been challenges issued to lawmakers to grocery shop with the same amount of money issued in food stamps to needy familes. The idea is to make lawmakers aware of what food budgets the poor have to work with. Many news stories bemoan the fact that food stamps pay for so little.

Yet I keep thinking, "I'd LOVE to have that sort of food budget."

You see, according to family size, I could qualify for $610 a month in my area. But I spend $300 a month to feed six.

This is not an attack on the food stamps program. There are many families that would not be able to eat if it weren't for the program. However, anyone, and I mean ANYONE can cut their grocery bill. And clothing bill. And entertainment bill. And. . you get the idea.

It takes work. And a learning curve.

But if you're willing to read on, I'm willing to share all my hints and tips that I've learned over the years.