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A Hedonist’s Guide to Frugality

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You may not consider yourself a hedonist, but you probably enjoy — or would like to enjoy — some of the finer things in life. The problem? You probably think your frugality requires you to forgo most luxuries. Well get that idea out of your head!

First, what’s the point of scrimping and saving anyhow? Once the bills are paid, isn’t being frugal just a way to save for what really matters to you? Sure, that might mean retirement and helping others, but it can also include drinking fine wine, eating the best chocolate, and traveling in style.

In other words daily frugality can be a hedonist’s best friend, because it helps pay for the good stuff. And if you also know how to spend less for those luxuries themselves you get to have more of them. So here are a few examples of the finer things in life, with a few ideas on how to enjoy each one for a little less (or a lot less) money…

Really Nice Hotels

My wife and I have stayed at Hyatt hotels in Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, Miami, Daytona Beach, and Savannah.  But the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe was our favorite. They hand you champagne to drink at check in. You can order food and drinks poolside. A reasonably-priced catamaran cruise on the lake includes all the hors d’oeuvres, wine, and beer you can consume.

Hyatt has some of the best hotels, and we’ve only paid for two nights of the last dozen we’ve spent at them. The rest were covered my Hyatt Card points. Right now you get two free nights at any Hyatt when you put $2,000 on your new card in the first three months, and they often waive the $75 annual fee the first year.

Other hotel cards have similar offers. For example, the Wyndham Rewards Visa, with no annual fee, gives you a free night after your first purchase. Really — buy a soda and you just earned a free night at any Wyndham hotel. We used our free night at the classy Shelborne South Beach, for a room with an ocean view that normally costs over $250.

Here are a few more hotel credit cards you might consider:

One more tip: If you stay at a Hyatt Regency using your points, consider paying for an upgrade to the Regency Club. You’ll be on a limited-access floor with a lounge (always with a view) that has free hors d’oeuvres all day and evening. The food is always delicious, and it’s filling enough that, when we do this, we avoid eating in the expensive restaurants elsewhere in the hotel. The $2 self-serve beer and wine is nice too.

Dining at the Best Restaurants

Great food and wonderful surroundings do not always come together. Some of the best food can be found at relatively simple and inexpensive restaurants, and restaurants with plush interiors and fantastic views sometimes have food that’s good, but not great.

To save money when the food is most important, check restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor. Work your way through the ones with the highest ratings to find those that are less expensive. The little dollar signs help, and you can go to the restaurant websites to see the menus for actual prices. Also, read some reviews to see what is said specifically about the food.

Once you’ve located an inexpensive place with great food you can save even more with a credit card that offers a high cash-back reward for restaurants. There are many cards that offer 3% cash back, and Discover’s 5% categories sometimes include restaurants (in the third quarter of 2017, for example).

What if you want to experience the atmosphere of an expensive restaurant (we love places on water or on rooftops), without going broke? Eat first at a cheaper place (home maybe) and then go to the nice place just for dessert or drinks. You get all the atmosphere without the cost of an entree.

What if you want to go to an expensive place with a killer view and great food? Go for lunch, (cheaper than dinner), check the menu online first to identify a meal you’ll love from among the less-expensive options, split the meal with your partner, and use the right cashback credit card.

For more ideas read my previous post on 52 ways to save when eating out.

Flying in Style

Shopping around for the best price for a flight is one way to save money, but if you want to go very inexpensively, and/or travel in style, get the right airline credit cards.

For example, the Frontier Airlines World MasterCard offers 40,000 points for charging $500 on the card in 90 days. That’s enough for two roundtrip tickets anywhere they fly in the continental U.S. It’s a great deal for a $69 annual fee. If you’re not going to use the card (or airline) regularly, use your freebie and cancel the card before the second year fee is due.

I’ve taken free flights on Frontier in this way, but I can’t say that I went in style (not really possible with Frontier). Fortunately I’m more concerned with enjoying my time at a destination than with the few hours on the plane.

However, if you want the opportunity to fly in first-class seats that you couldn’t normally afford, you can do that too with most cards. In fact, The Points Guy argues that “first-class flights offer some of the best value when redeeming points and miles.”

Here are some of travel and airline credit cards that offer the best signup bonuses, ongoing points rewards, and redemption options:

Relaxing on the Best Beaches

To bask in the sun and play in the waves on the best beaches in America, but without spending a fortune, choose a destination and use those free plane tickets to get there. With a little planning and a hotel credit card you might also stay for free at a nice hotel right on the beach.

Another option is to stay at the cheaper hotels away from the water and walk to the beach.

Also keep in mind that not all expensive hotels on the beach are limited to use by guests. For example, when we lived in Naples, Florida, my wife and I took a free shuttle through the mangrove swamps to the beach of the Naples Grande Beach Resort, where we were free to swim, sunbathe, or hang out on the decks and order a drink from the hotel snackbar.

Watching the Best Movies on the Big Screen

My wife and I just discovered a new theater near us. The seats are cushy recliners, and the concession stand has beer, wine, and pizza! Now that’s a theater for hedonists! And as much as we like to save money by watching movies on Netflix, some of them really should be seen on the big screen.

So how do you make a luxurious theater like this affordable? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Go to matinees ($6.50 in our case)
  • Go on discount days ($5.50 on Tuesdays)
  • Eat before you go (popcorn can cost as much as the movie)
  • Buy discounted theater gift cards online
  • Use the right cash-back credit card

For the latter you could try a card that lets you choose theaters as a bonus category. For example, the US Bank Cash+ Visa has theaters as a 5% cash-back category choice.

Finally, to keep it as cheap as possible, use several strategies at once. For example, eat first to avoid expensive theater food, go on a discount day matinee, and pay with a cash-back credit card or discounted gift card.

Enjoying Great Music Festivals

If you love the pleasure of getting together with others to enjoy great music, there is nothing quite like a music festival. But they can be expensive! The Ultra Music Festival in Miami is $400 per ticket! Fortunately there are alternatives.

My wife and I just went to the Tucson Folk Festival. There were more than 100 groups performing at five venues over two days. Great music, and it cost us… nothing. Okay, I hit the beer tent and we had veggie-burgers, but the festival itself is entirely free.

Here are some more free music festivals with top-notch performers:

Those are just a few examples from around the country. Google “free music festival” and the name of communities near you to find something within an affordable driving distance.

To maximize your pleasure at a minimum cost, bring delicious food and drinks with you. Most of these festivals are outdoor venues where you are free to carry a daypack or cooler.

Indulging All Your Hedonistic Desires for Less

As I said before, if you pay less you can have more, and that’s as true for luxuries as for groceries. So use the money-saving strategies found throughout this website to cut the cost when you spoil yourself.  And here are a few more specific suggestions for how to save money on some popular pleasures…

Finally, keep in mind that “rational hedonism,” starts with knowing what you truly enjoy. For example, I love a nice hotel, but a luxury rental car would be a waste of money because, for me, cars are nothing more than transportation. If you waste money on things you don’t really enjoy (or don’t enjoy enough for the price), you get less of what you really want.

What luxuries do you enjoy, and how do you save money on them? Tell us below, and happy frugaling!

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