Cupcakes are Nice

It's like a lifestyle blog except my lifestyle is anxiety

Tag: frugal

Las Vegas on a budget

This is a mental health lifestyle blog, but one of the things that I love to do the most is plan trips on a budget. Consider this my own personal form of therapy that you get to enjoy, too. This post does include referral links; however, I do not recommend anything to you that I do not use myself, and no companies have sponsored me to write this

I love Las Vegas so much, but I don’t love spending lots of money. That may seem like an oxymoron, because Vegas is a tourist town and the WHOLE POINT of Vegas is for you to spend all your money there. You don’t have to break the bank in Sin City to have a great time, though.  I’m passing on my personal tips for doing Vegas on a reasonable budget so you can enjoy a vacation there, too. This is meant to be a beginners’ guide to give you a starting point.

Starting out, there are a few sites I recommend you sign up for before you plan your Las Vegas trip

1. MyVegas – You can earn free, really awesome comps at MGM properties by playing games on the MyVegas free apps. I’ve earned free nights on the strip, free buffets, and free drinks. On Facebook, you can play MyVegas Slots and earn free chips by checking the MyVegas and MGM properties Facebook pages. On mobile, you can download MyVegas Slots, MyVegas Blackjack, POP! Slots and Konami Slots. I’ll pull up MyVegas Slots on Facebook and have it autoplay in the background to earn coins, which you use to “buy” comps.
2. Ebates – Before you buy anything on any website, go to Ebates first and click on their referral links to earn cash back on each purchase. I’ve earned cash back on show tickets and groupons by using Ebates. It’s usually not a *ton* of money you’ll get back, but if you can earn some money by just going to a website, why not? Click here for$25 when you sign up with Ebates and spend $25
3. Groupon – You have probably used Groupon before, but if you haven’t, sign up. I won’t say that *all* Vegas deals on here are worth it, but you can get some buffet passes and last-minute show tickets for cheaper than you’d regularly pay. ALWAYS be sure to read the fine print, though, and use Ebates to get to get a cash back bonus with your Groupon purchases. Click here for $10 in Groupon bucks for signing up and purchasing a deal

When should I go to Vegas?

Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to fly and stay in Vegas in the middle of the week. You’ll want to pay attention to when major events are happening – major sports events that people bet on, fight nights, large conventions – and try to avoid those, as well. Holidays tend to be busy, but the time immediately after the holidays tend to bring a big dropoff in prices.

The downside to going in the middle of the week or right after the holidays is some of the popular shows aren’t happening then, but those tend to be the pricier shows, anyway, and I’ve still found plenty of entertainment.

When should I schedule my flight?

CheapAir.com has done several studies on when flights should be booked, so you’ll definitely want to take a look at it. Practically speaking, I start tracking flight prices about 90 days before I want to travel to Vegas. I set flight tracking on Google Flights and Kayak, and I’ll check Hopper. If several airports are accessible to you, set your tracking for all of those airports to compare. That being said, take into account travel costs, parking costs, etc before deciding to book with an airport not as close to you.

Keep in mind that Southwest is not trackable on these websites, so you’ll have to check Southwest.com separately for their prices. I recommend checking Southwest because they’re one of the most affordable airlines and they are good quality. Southwest runs sales throughout the year, so keeping track of their sales can work in your favor.

Southwest does offer flight/hotel combo deals, but I prefer to have the flexibility of booking everything myself.

Where should I book?

Generally speaking, I recommend staying near where you want to hang out. Makes sense, right? If you’re wanting to hang out on The Strip, you should probably stay on or near The Strip. If there’s a big show you’re going to see, maybe stay at or near that resort. If you brought a car to Vegas, you have options to stay wherever you want, but keep in mind that free parking isn’t as easy to find as it used to be. That being said:

1. Check for MyVegas comps first – You signed up for MyVegas, right? Depending on how many chips you’ve earned, you may be able to get a comped room or a room at a discount. A “comped” room at an MGM property still includes resort fees and taxes, so keep that in mind when budgeting. A comped night on The Strip is going to run about $40 per night. I’ve cashed in nights at MGM Grand and Mirage using MyVegas rewards

2. Consider a night or two downtown – Downtown Las Vegas is generally cheaper than The Strip. Rooms are cheaper. Resort fees are cheaper. Meals are cheaper. Slots are looser. It’s old school Vegas, and I love it. Keep in mind that there isn’t as much to do Downtown, and there aren’t as many shows, but the Fremont Street experience is so much fun, and I don’t think anyone should miss it. I am very partial to staying at El Cortez, especially with their free steak and free bottle of wine offers, but there are several affordable options.

3. Check for rates on Vegas.com – But go to Vegas.com through Ebates because you’ll get cash back if you book through Vegas.com! You can check rooms based on price and location. You’ll want to compare these prices to prices on the hotels’ websites, because sometimes you can get special deals booking through a hotel website.

4. If you want to gamble on a room, go to Hotwire or Hotels.com – You can book rooms at “secret” rates, BUT, you do not  usually get to choose your hotel. The key to Hotwire and Hotels.com is to only check for rooms ONCE. They jack up the prices each time someone searches the same location and same date (supply and demand, y’all). And always go to Hotwire and Hotels.com through Ebates!

5. Before you book directly with a hotel, join their rewards program if possible – The hotels and casinos in Vegas all have rewards programs because they want you to keep coming back and spending money. Several of these rewards programs offer room discounts. Sign up before you book, because you might get a discounted room or a meal comp.

6. Airbnb is a good option in LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES – The Airbnbs I’ve stayed at in Vegas have all been clean and cozy, but there is only one circumstance which I recommend Vegas Airbnbs – if the hotel prices are expensive when you’re going AND you can get an Airbnb that’s a really short Uber drive away from where you’re wanting to hang out. Otherwise, you’re going to be spending so much money in transportation fare that it’s not going to make a difference, plus, the travel time will eat up into your entertainment time. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time on The Strip, I recommend searching for rooms near UNLV – it’s convenient and about a $10 Uber away. Click here for $40 credit when you sign up and book with Airbnb

What should I do for transportation?

Unless you are traveling to the outskirts or are planning on doing a lot of traveling back and forth, you probably don’t need to rent a car. If you choose not to rent a car:

Transportation from and to the airport:

The Las Vegas airport has a very convenient cab system, so if ease is what you’re going for, you can hop on a cab. However, you can pick from several shuttle services at the Las Vegas Airport.  My preference these days if I’m leaving the airport is to use SuperShuttle. There is a flat fee for every ride – I think I paid $12 the last time I went. It takes a little longer to get from point A to point B since the shuttle is dropping off people at multiple locations, but it’s super convenient. I sign up online ahead of time, and all I have to do is check in at the SuperShuttle station.

As far as trips back, check with your hotel to see if they offer free shuttles. I usually stay at the El Cortez my last night in Vegas and take advantage of their airport shuttle, which runs every half hour.

Other travel:

If you are traveling from one place on The Strip to another, you can usually walk so long as you’re in decent physical shape. I only recommend the monorail if you’re in a hurry or you’re just hot and tired (and that’s a real possibility!).  Unless you’re going from one end of The Strip to the other, you probably won’t want to use a cab or rideshare.

If you’re wanting to travel back and forth between Downtown and The Strip, there is a shuttle that runs between the two for $8 a day. Keep in mind that it doesn’t run 24 hours a day, so if you’ve had a wild night and need a ride at 3AM, you’re gonna need an alternative.

For other traveling around town, Uber is the way to go. Cabs cost quite a bit of money, and many hotels have designated rideshare stops that are sponsored by Uber. Uber prices can vary wildly throughout the day, and to save money, try to avoid taking rides immediately before and after major events (fight nights, special concerts, sporting events). Lyft also has a presence in Vegas.

Dining:

Oh my goodness, the food in Vegas. It’s so delicious… and SO EXPENSIVE. Even cheap chains jack up their prices in the touristy areas. And the buffets… oh, goodness the buffets. They’re really good, but they’re gonna cost you some dough. That being said… you can have an awesome dining experience in Vegas without paying top dollar

Guide to buffets:

I feel like everyone should have at least one buffet experience while they are in Las Vegas. You may be doing Vegas on a budget, but if possible, you should budget in a trip to a buffet!

Breakfast and lunch buffets are generally cheaper than dinner buffets, and midweek buffets are generally cheaper than weekend buffets. I like to go late morning because there are usually both breakfast and lunch options, and I’m usually full enough that I can eat dinner late and get away with only two meals a day why I’m there.

Most (but not all) buffets Downtown are cheaper than the buffets on The Strip. The Fremont Casino has a $9.99 breakfast buffet that I have not tried but intend to next time I’m in Vegas.

Never, ever pay full price for a buffet on The Strip. There are too many ways to get discounted meals.

One way to get discounted meals is by using the MyVegas rewards app (do you keep seeing a theme here)? They usually have 2-for-1 buffet or one free buffet deals available. BE SURE to read the fine print because there are usually blackout dates where you cannot use your comp.

Another place to look for discounted buffets is on Groupon. BE SURE to check Groupon’s prices compared to the “regular” prices, because sometimes I find that there isn’t actually a discount.

Guide for other meals:

If I’m eating at a sit-down restaurant in Vegas, my general approach has been to split an entree and a salad with someone. I’ve never left hungry, especially if I’ve taken advantage of a mid-morning buffet earlier in the day. Two of my favorite Vegas meals are entree/salad splits – splitting small Trash Can Nachos and a salad at Guy Fieri’s in Rio and splitting a Margherita pizza and salad at Wolfgang Puck’s at MGM Grand.

Ellis Island, which is just off The Strip behind Bally’s, has some great meal deals. On Tuesdays, you can get two street tacos and a shot of tequila for $5. On Wednesdays, you can get five wings and a shot of whiskey for $5.

Per one of my buddies on twitter – “If you’re in the mood for sushi and don’t want to pay for the ambiance of a Nobu or Sake Rok, take a $10 Uber to Flamingo and Maryland (4 minutes by car east of Bally’s) and enjoy quality, $25, AYCE sushi at Sakana.”

Yelp is really big in Vegas, and if you check in at certain locations, you can get discounts on meals and drinks.

Restaurants downtown are generally cheaper than on The Strip, and if you’re willing to wander toward the Arts District, which is within walking distance, there are some great finds.

El Cortez downtown has a $12.95 prime rib special available 24 hours a day, and I think it’s the best deal in Vegas. The bars at El Cortez also have $5 Patron margaritas!

If you’re okay with not eating at a restaurant, there are Walgreens and CVS pharmacies all over Las Vegas. You can grab some provisions there and dine in your room.

Entertainment:

Unless there is a show that you MUST SEE, you should never pay full price to see a show in Las Vegas.

So, I hear that show tickets are given away for free or very heavily discounted to shows that haven’t filled their seats. I can’t give you advice on how to snag those tickets, because I have to plan ahead (after all, this is a blog about anxiety, and the thought of having to wait until the last minute to figure out tickets stresses me the eff out), so if anyone has guidance on how to snag these, I’d appreciate the input.

I usually search for show tickets on BestOfVegas.com (after going to the site through Ebates, of course) to find deals. Most recently, I found tickets for Lionel Richie for $40(!!!) apiece. Be sure to check BestOfVegas’s prices against the prices the venue offers, though, to make sure you’re actually getting a good deal.

Groupon has tickets to lots of attractions, and check Groupon’s prices against the prices the venue offers.

If you want to go to any of the museums (like Madame Tussaud’s  or The Mob Museum), go online first. You can likely pre-purchase tickets at a discount or get a coupon.

There are so many free things to do in Vegas, too! Two of my favorites are the fountains at the Bellagio and the light show at the Fremont Street Experience, and you can find a great list of free attractions here.

And if you’re wanting to know about night clubs, I am not your gal.

Gambling:

Look, if you’re going to Vegas on a budget, gambling probably isn’t your best bet (I didn’t realize I typed a pun until after I typed the sentence, but I will not say “pun not intended” because everyone who uses that phrase is a big fat liar).  I know people talk about all the free drinks you get while you play, the comps you can earn… but you’re paying for those drinks and comps through the money you’re losing.

THAT BEING SAID… you can gamble with cheaper buy ins Downtown than on The Strip, and the slots tend to be looser Downtown than on The Strip. Furthermore, casinos seem to be more generous with the free drinks downtown. Doesn’t matter if I’m playing the penny slots, someone offers me a drink (BUT BE SURE TO TIP YOUR WAITRESSES!). Rio just off The Strip also has been generous with free drinks at the penny slots.

Every casino has penny slots. I’m not talking about those “1 cent per play but you have to play 75 lines” machines. I’m talking about the machines where you can play 5 lines or less for a penny for each line. At the casinos on The Strip, they’re usually in a lesser-traveled part of the casino, but you can find them.

Finally – sign up for the rewards programs at the casinos! You’ll usually get something free out of the deal.

Final thoughts:

Vegas on a budget can be summed up as follows: Don’t spend money you don’t need to spend, and prioritize what you spend money on. Good advice in general, right?


My dog Birdie has a broken heart. Click here to learn more about her story or make a donation.

Keto for beginners on a budget

I’ve been following a keto diet for about a year, and I have managed to do it with minimal effort and low grocery bills. When I lived alone, my grocery budget was about $30/week. Now that I’m married, our budget is $50-$60/week. We’ve been able to have a variety of meals on this budget, and we don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen to make it work.

I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, so I cannot tell you if the keto diet is right for you or give you nutritional advice.  If your doctor is on board with a keto diet, though, you’re not sure where to start, and you’re limited on time and money, I can tell you what worked for me.

First steps:

  • Do your research to find the version of the diet that is right for you – The FAQ section of the r/keto subreddit is an excellent resource for getting started. However, I do not do the precise macro recommendations they call for. I just count net carbs and make sure to get plenty of good fat. Some people prefer the strict macro calculations.
  • Keep it simple to start out – When I started keto, I would have a meat, a fat, a low carb vegetable, and seasonings/sauce for my meals, and it’s still how I dine most of the time. You’ll be tempted hop over to pinterest and fill your board full of 27-step keto cake recipes, but these complicated recipes should not be your staple.
  • Decide what your dietary priorities are – Figure out what your non-negotiables are and budget accordingly. I don’t buy grass-fed beef or organic food because that cuts quite a bit into my grocery budget. I have a brand preference if I’m buying diet soda, though, and will pay extra to not buy generic.
  • Decide what your time priorities are – Know how much time you can devote for meal prep – and don’t be aspirational, be realistic. It’s cheaper to buy a head of cauliflower than a bag of cauliflower rice, but I choose to buy the bag of cauliflower rice because it saves me time, and I’m more likely to use it. I buy pre-cooked chicken even though it’s more expensive because it’s quicker for me to turn into a dish.
  • Find a support group – It’s so much easier to follow the diet if you know other people who are doing it, too. I am a member of a women’s-only keto group on reddit, I’m part of a low carb support group on facebook, and several of my friends on twitter eat keto. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in these groups!

Meal planning on a budget:

There are meal planning services out there with low carb options, but I find that I spend more money on groceries when I use those and that the carb counts are higher, so I plan my own meals. This is my approach to meal planning.

  • Buy staples that you can use in multiple meals – Ingredients that can be used in several dishes can be a time and money saver. With cauliflower rice and chicken as my base, I can make taco bowls, chicken tikka masala, fried cauli rice, faux pasta, and so much more.
  • Plan out how you want to make your meals – Your cooking has to fit your lifestyle, so plan accordingly. Some people like to prep their meals on Sunday and store them in the freezer. I prefer to have meals that I can cook right before I eat them in 20 minutes or less, so I plan meals that are quick and simple. Again, be realistic about the time you want to spend cooking.
  • Buy simple snacks that require no prep work – You won’t be tempted to snack on a non-keto treat if you’re surrounded by quick, keto-friendly options. Almonds and cheese are great for me.
  • Do not spend a dime on ketones or keto products – These products are money. Down. The. Drain. Your body produces ketones on the keto diet, and you’ll just pee out the excess. And that keto coffee I see being peddled? Regular coffee is keto-friendly and costs SO MUCH LESS.
  • Make fathead pizza – Yes, this is worthy of its own category. The recipe is all over the internet, and one version of it is here. It’s a real game changer.
  • Consider free grocery pickup or delivery – Grocery pickup can save you time and money. You’ll save money because you can do price comparison online, and you won’t be tempted to add things to your cart you see in the aisle. You’ll save time because you’re not having to wander through the aisles to find what you want. Click here to save $10 on your first Walmart Grocery Pickup order over $50 (and I’ll save $10, too!).

My grocery staples:

My approach is to keep things simple! I eat a lot of the same staple foods and then change up the spices so it won’t get monotonous.

Meats:
Frozen, pre-cooked chicken
Ground beef
Ground turkey
Turkey pepperoni (regular is fine, I just have a thing about pork after watching an online video with a pig smiling while its hair was being brushed)
Beyond-meat beef crumbles

Dairy and eggs:
Cream cheese
Shredded Mozzarella
Eggs (I get the cheapest ones possible)
Cracker cut cheese

Vegetables:
Frozen cauliflower rice
Frozen broccoli florets
Salad mix
Celery
Avocados IF AND ONLY IF they are on sale or I’m just really having a craving
Zucchini

Pantry/shelf stable items:
Nut butter
Almond flour
Mixed nuts
Hunt’s canned pasta sauce
Coconut milk
Curry paste
Swerve (erythritol)
Raw stevia
Spices
Olive oil
Coconut oil

Beverages:
Sparkling water
Diet soda (some people say to not drink diet drinks, but I drink up)
Coffee

I generally get the cheapest version possible of all these things, and I do not have to buy all of these items every week. However, I find that with the right seasonings and sauces, these groceries can be very versatile.

What works for me might not work for you, but this information might give you an idea of where to start. What about you, keto-ers? What advice do you have?


My dog Birdie has a broken heart. Click here to learn more about her story or make a donation.

Frugal Habits that were a Big Fat Waste of my Time

There is zero point in spending time to earn and save money if you don’t get a good return on your time invested. When I first got serious about being frugal, I scoured the internet to see what worked for other people. Some of those methods were valuable. Others, listed below, were a big fat waste of my time.

Survey Sites – I guess that the internet is chock full o’ 30-something white women wanting to earn a few pennies completing surveys, because about 90% of my time spent on survey sites is getting halfway through a survey only to find out that the survey has already been filled for my demographic. Then, once I finally get to complete a survey, my reward is the equivalent to $1.30 for 27 minutes worth of work. And then I can’t even cash that out until I earn $10 from surveys, but I can never earn that much because I’m kicked out of 90% of surveys. I’m making less than minimum wage when I could be spending that time stuffing my hand in between couch cushions. It would take less time and I’d make more money.

 

Couponing – I am a big fan of buying generic anything except for when it comes to toilet paper and paper towels, but HEY, I thought one Sunday morning, HOW FUN WOULD IT BE TO COUPON TODAY! So I get my Sunday paper, pull out all the coupon inserts, and clip away.  That took me a good hour or so. Then I try to compare prices online to see where I can get the best deals with my coupons and that takes another good hour or so. I went shopping, and I wound up spending $38 on $58 worth of goods, which is nice, but I think I would have spent the same amount of money just going generic instead of spending all that time clip clip clipping.

 

Making my own cleaning supplies – Y’all, pinterest is chock full o’ recipes for making your own laundry soap, bathroom cleaner, kitchen cleaner, what have you.  And everyone will tell you OH I SAVED SO MUCH MONEY! AND THESE RECIPES ARE SO GOOD FOR YOU! But when I saw that one of these “cheap,” easy recipes for laundry soap involved buying stuff on Amazon and grating a bar of soap into a big bucket, I decided to go with the 22 pound bag of Foca laundry soap from Sam’s instead and assume that having a cleaning product that wasn’t “pure” wouldn’t make me grow an extra arm.

 

Shopping at multiple stores for the best deals – I could drive myself crazy doing comparison shopping for the best price, but with the time involved driving across town or scouring another website just to save a few cents, have I really made the best use of my time? My rule of thumb is that I will price compare and go shopping at two different stores (usually they wind up being Walmart and Dollar Tree), but then I have to stop. Anything beyond that and I’m just wasting time that I could be spending enjoying life.

I’m sure a lot of these things work for many people, or else they wouldn’t be raving about it online, but time is valuable, y’all. Better to snuggle with your dog for an hour than spend that hour saving 50 cents.

 

 

How I saved $100 on my wireless bill

I really loved my wireless provider, y’all. I loved the speed, the coverage, the bells and whistles. What I did not love was the bill. I was on a shared family plan with my parents, and even though that was supposed to save us money, I quietly wept as my bank account was drained each month on the bill’s due date.

When I finally decided to revamp my monthly budget, one of the first things I did was change my wireless providers. This is what I did when I decided to switch.

1. I looked for prepaid providers

Generally speaking, you’re going to be paying less for cellular if you have to pay at the beginning of your billing cycle instead of the end. Some of the Big Four wireless providers have prepaid plans, though there are some providers that *only* offer prepaid.

2. I compared coverage

There’s no point in having a super cheap wireless service if you can’t use it. The provider you choose should have a coverage map or some other indicator of where your cell phone will get 4G, 3G, or no service. Which plan you choose should depend on your region and where you plan to travel. One provider, for example, might be great for someone living in a particular city but have weak coverage in rural areas.

3. I incorporated the price of the phone when deciding to which to choose

The last time I got a cell phone, you could get the previous model iPhone for $99 or even free if you signed up for a two year contract. Now you have to set up installment payments or pay in full a large amount upfront. That’s not money I want to spends. Plus, if you’re buying insurance for the phone, that’s another big cost over the course of a year.

I really needed a new phone when I switched, so I bought a $100 ZTE that had good reviews and opted out of insurance. Even if the phone fell to pieces after the first month, it would still wind up being cheaper for me to get a new phone the next month than pay for the old wireless service!

There were smartphone options that were even more affordable than $100, but the ZTE had the specs I was looking for.

4. I got people to join me

Many pre-paid providers give you great deals if you get multiple people to sign up. I got my parents and my fiance to switch wireless providers, and each of us pay $30 for our bill and have our own data plan (my fiance even has unlimited!)

So who did I decide to go with?

Cricket Wireless. I’m really happy with the service and coverage. There were a few hiccups when I first switched over, mainly because I switched to an Android phone and my number was still associated with iMessage. However, I got that cleared up, the network has been reset, and voice, text and data is working smoothly now. The coverage is not quite as good as my previous provider, but I knew that going in, and I still prefer Cricket over my old provider.

Cricket is usually offering deals if you switch providers, and you are welcome to use my referral code if you would like to get a $25 account credit (and I get an account credit, too!)

There are several great wireless providers out there – just do your research, compare coverage, and have a good idea of what kind of data you’ll be using each month. Hopefully, you’ll be saving money in no time! Happy provider hunting!

This post is my opinion, and no one has sponsored me or otherwise influenced this post. I may earn account credit if you click my referral link.

© 2019 Cupcakes are Nice

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑