Posted in Frugal Fun

Five Tips for (What Was SUPPOSED to be) a Frugal-Friendly Staycation

With summer winding down, I must say I am not so sorry to see it leave. Over the past three years, I’ve always begun the start of this season with tons of trepidation. No, I’m not worried about my third stomach flapping over my bikini bottom while I saunter across the sand, munching on over-priced pizza and watered down Sprite. My appearance in a bathing suit is the least of my concern. I mean, have you been to a New York City beach lately?! I don’t know if I would call it self-love or having no shame, but whatever it is, I ABSOLUTELY FRIGGIN’ LOVE IT! Every body type…from the extra curvy to the curve-less, have chosen to bare almost all. They have flipped the bird to societal standards of the perfect body and have determined that they will have a rockin’ summer, with or without the purchase of the “Hip Hop Abs” workout video, or staying true to their New Year’s Resolution of going to the gym three days a week (in a span of two years, I’ve only gone three times!).

So no. Bathing suits are not what make me apprehensive this time of year. Rather, my beef with summer is that it just costs me too darn much! It is the cost of Kamryn’s summer camp that has me tense! Since she began attending camp three years ago, paying her camp fees has wiggled its way to the front of the priority list, which means our summer fun has to take a back seat! Or does it? Or did it? Ha! Two weeks ago, we took a staycation and I was determined to make it the best staycation in the history of staycations in all of the universe!! I was also determined to spend…wait for it…not a single penny! Ha! Ha! I set out to give Kam the kind of summer she’d brag about on her first day back to school. It was to be the staycation that a vacation would have to work double over time to beat. We laughed, she cried, and I learned a lot along the way. Below, I’ve compiled a list of five tips to having a frugal-friendly staycation.

1. Plan! Plan! Plan!

Tired of mediocre summers, in early spring, I sat down with Kam to make a list of all the things we wanted to do this summer. As we brainstormed aloud, I had her write it out. She loves making all kinds of lists: grocery lists; what we have to do on our days full of errands; etc. Her current list obsession is who she will invite and what they will do at the sleepover for her 9th birthday party next May! She wants me to make each guest their very own custom-made breakfast. That’s six different options for six little critters! Yeah right! Little does she know it’ll be Toaster Strudels and whatever cereal is on sale! But I digress… Getting your kiddies involved in planning processes is a great idea. When appropriate (because we all know there are just some…okay a lot of things that are non-negotiable), I love getting her input on decisions. I want Kamryn to know from now that her voice matters and her thoughts and feelings are valid. If I don’t tell her that from now, she will look to someone else (the wrong someone else) to do that for her later.

(Here is where the actual pic of our list would have gone, but it got so torn and tattered from hanging on the fridge all of this time that it is highly illegible.) However, our list included: the New York Transit Museum; the beach (at least three times); music in the park; a Broadway play; the movies; and ice-skating (yeah…umm…we obviously didn’t think that one through).

I implore you to think long and hard about what it is you and your little ones want to do way before you set out to do it. It’ll make all the difference. I looked to MommyPoppins.com to tell me all about kid-centered things to do in and around NYC. On their site, they say they’re,

“More than just event listings: Written by local parents who love to seek out the coolest, off-the-beaten-track things to do with kids, Mommy Poppins shares activities that aren’t just pleasant time passers, but promise enriching experiences for your family.”

I’m all about enriching experiences so I checked it religiously (though I must admit, I relied on it heavily during the start of our staycation and honestly didn’t even bother to revisit the list we made together until mid-week). However, on the very first day we set out to have the most amazing staycation in all of the universe, MP did supply us with one of the things on our list: Broadway! Okay, well it was off-Broadway, but it was still superb…and best of all, it was FREE…which if you have been keeping track, was criteria numero uno on our list. We saw a performance of : The Lightning Thief at the Lucille Lortell Theatre in Greenwich Village. It was superb! At the end of each musical number, Kam kept asking me, “Is there more?Is there more?” When I told her yes and questioned why she asked, she said it was because she liked it and didn’t want it to end. It was also from MP that we learned of free fishing in Hudson River Park (which btw has got to be one of the best kept secrets in the city!). It’s a humongous park with lush lawns, great views of the Manhattan skyline, dog runs, beach volleyball, tennis, and the list goes on. We were allowed to fish at half-hour increments. The entire fishing time was for an hour-and-a-half. If I signed Kam up each time, she could have potentially fished uninterrupted for 9o minutes. Day one got off to a pretty good start. Making a list to keep us on track certainly helped!

Outside of the theater with her bear Mia, after the show.
Outside of the theater with her bear Mia, after the show.
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Fishing at Hudson River Park.

2. Have A Plan B!

MP directed us to hear The Okee Dokee Brothers perform in Madison Square Park on Tuesday. Although their name brought back memories of us watching Nick Jr. in the middle of the day when she was still getting potty trained, I gave MP’s classification of this being for “all ages” the benefit of the doubt and we rushed on over on the R. Annnnddd my inclinations were right! Toddlers with sippy cups and nannies who feigned interest while gossiping on their cells, were gathered on grass surrounding the stage while The Brothers, banjos in hand, sang catchy ditties to their adoring fans who ranged from ages 5 months to five years. This definitely was not the place for us! But according to my list, free soccer in Battery Park, which didn’t start until 4:30 was up next. That left a whole six hours to kill! Scrambling for a plan B, I thought that now would be the best time to do what I’d been telling Kamryn I’d been wanting to do with her for months now: get lost in the city! In my mind, she would be our tour guide.When she said stop, we’d stop. When she wanted to turn right, we would turn right. We’d meet interesting characters, I’d point our historic landmarks, and we would eventually happen on an unassuming restaurant where we would have initially entered for a bathroom break, but where we would discover the best mac and cheese (besides mine of course) in the city. We would then have a funny story to tell for years about how we found this delicious dish.

Butttt, it didn’t quite go as I imagined. After about 20 minutes of Kam directing us in circles, we, well I, got hungry and we stopped for a bite to eat. I don’t know if it was the humidity or just not feeling up to it, but after we ate and walked around for another 15 minutes, I had had enough. Kam wasn’t so into it herself. I decided to go back to Brooklyn. I wasn’t in the mood to wander around aimlessly. I yearned for purpose; a destiny that wasn’t wrapped up in happenchances!

So I learned to always have multiple options on my agenda. Rain the weathermen couldn’t see may come while your painting in the park, you may just want a change of scenery, or like us, you just may not be digging what you set out to do. Whatever the dilemma, you should always have a few other things in mind, just in case.

Back view.
The Okee Dokee Brothers…from a distance.

3. Sometime You Gotta Toss The Script!

In my regular everyday life, I am not a planner of “the little things”. I rarely plan what I’ll wear the night before or what I’ll pack for lunch. Whatever needs the least amount of ironing and I can toss in my bag while passing the fridge on our way out will do just fine. However, in an attempt to get the most out of every second during this staycation, I wanted to ensure we filled up all of our time. On Friday morning, I nearly had a nervous breakdown when Kam said she didn’t want to go to the New York Transit Museum! Did she not know the history she was giving up?! The tokens she could have seen, the archaic seats she could have sat in?!

It was supposed to be the museum from about 10-12, Coney Island from about 1-3:30, then we’d take the train back one stop to the New York Aquarium (which is free on Fridays from 4-6!). It would all have fit perfectly…but things didn’t quite go as planned. As mentioned before, we completely bypassed the museum. As per Kam’s request, we stayed at Coney Island all day. I repressed the control freak in me as I sat on the bench and watched Kam play in the sand and sprinklers and marveled at the sight. She didn’t give a hoot about my plans. She could care less that the aquarium was free on Friday afternoons and if we were going to go, this should be the day. All she knew was that she was having a great time digging a pit and filling it with water and dashing in and out of the sprinklers with a pal she just met. I marveled at the sight. This is childhood. This is what summer is all about. I forgot about the list and allowed myself to be in the moment…something, that with deadlines, and to-do lists and all that comes along with adulthood, I do not do too often. Things brings me to my next tip…

4. Allocate Time For Absolutely Nothing…and LIVE IN THE MOMENT!

This tip needs no explanation. The hours we put in day in and day out give us liberty to sleep until 1 and catch up on episodes of Revenge, while gorging on whatever the heck we want. We’ve earned these moments. This goes for the kids too. I once spent an entire day at Kam’s school observing various classes. By half way through the day, I couldn’t wait to leave. If I had a million bucks, I’d bet it all that none of us would want to go back to being in grade school… I don’t think many parents realize just how hard our kids work and just how much they go through during their own days.

On Thursday, although I wanted to take Kam to a kid’s cooking class in Queens, my body screamed for me not to move. For the entire week, we had been up at the crack of dawn, returned home in the late evenings with just enough time left to eat and shower, then off to bed we went, only to be followed by an early morning and a schedule that was reminiscent of a typical school day. I had to tell myself that it was okay to do nothing. I didn’t have to fill every second. I didn’t have to go to every free event (ouch…! It took me a while to come to grips with this one) or cross everything off our list. I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite romantic comedies, Hitch: “Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

One of these moments was while we were skating at Prospect Park. The last time I recall wearing skates was when I was about six, in Puerto Rico. I’m bawling my eyes out while the vicious neighborhood dog Pluto (who was only about 10 inches…but that’s not the point!) chased me around the block. I haven’t been on skates since. Fast forward some twenty-plus years later…and the same thing they say about bikes held true for skates…at least for me. It was like I never took a two decade hiatus. I felt so free while on those skates. At that moment, skating was all I cared about. Not what event on our list was to come or what will be happening tomorrow, what I would make for dinner, or the dozens of emails I had to return. At that moment, all I wanted to do was skate.

At first, Kam had mixed emotions about skating. She was excited at the newness of it all, yet terrified when she fell. After her first fall, she resolved it would be her last. She sobbed that she didn’t want to skate anymore, but after our pep talk on the bench of not letting fear cripple her, she got back on…and I know she was glad she did.

Starting out...!
Starting out…!
Good times!
Good times!

5. Are The Best Things In Life Really Free??

Soooo, although I set out budget-conscious and did not plan on spending any money at all, once again…it didn’t quite work out like I had planned. Some of you may raise an eyebrow and say it would have been impossible for us to have a penniless staycation, but I say you’re wrong (Rule # 87 of having a kick ass blog: NEVER say you’re readers are wrong. Guess you didn’t get the memo, I tend to break rules!)! I most certainly could have done this without spending any money, but when it all came down to it, I realized that it was less about the lists and the $20 I could have saved if we just had warm water and soggy PB & J sandwiches everyday and not over-priced fast-food. It was less about saving a dollar and more about doing things we really wanted to do. I am immediately reminded of a friend of mine who some time ago, got into couponing. She would rifle through the Sunday paper, and clip out coupons for things she had never had before but was willing to try, all because she could save a $1.75. She was willing to buy 14 cans of cat food, for a cat she didn’t own or try a shampoo for curly heads although hers was bone straight. In my assessment, it was the rush of getting things at a reduced rate that made her feel like a winner. But I wonder if “winning” would have been getting steak and not the spam she couldn’t stand? Would she have been better off, getting what she really wanted?

I can honestly say that Kam and I both won during this staycation. I shared stories about my very own summers as a kid (she cracked up when I told her about that horrible Pluto), I fell even more in love with the awesome kid I had gotten to know over the past eight years and discovered even more amazing things about her, and we without a doubt solidified our bond.

The grand total was far from zero…From skate rentals, to lunch, to ice cream truck stops, to buying over-priced iced cold water, to rides at Coney Island, to books at Barnes and Noble, to the cherry 7-Eleven slurpee she just had to have…the total came to…$182.54…and worth every penny!