Yet again, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have engaged in frugal weirdo behavior of relatively epic proportion. This time, it was in the form of a road trip. A very long road trip. Did you know you can rent a car at 10pm on a Tuesday night in Charlotte, NC and return it the very next night at 10pm in Boston, MA and only be charged for a single day? Well, you can.
And I’m certain some of you frugal bosses have in fact done this before, but this was news to us. As soon as we were in possession of the knowledge that we could pay for a single day of car rental for a 901-mile journey, we were possessed with the idea of doing it. Ever the opportunists for money-saving hacks, we smelled a grand adventure.
Tools: The Need For The Drive
Before I delve into the gory details of our road travails, allow me to first explain exactly why we felt the need to embark on this car-fueled jaunt. Mr. FW’s wonderful parents live in Charlotte, NC and are in the process of downsizing. They’re on much the same clutter-annihilating binge as yours truly and are systematically attacking their closets, attics, and sundry storage locations.
As part of this laudable pre-move organizational surge, they’re allocating to Mr. FW and his siblings their respective belongings. Additionally they saved quite a few baby items, which they’re sweetly passing along to us for their first grandchild, aka Babywoods. Thus armed with the goal to collect the trappings of Mr. FW’s youth, we booked supremely inexpensive one-way flights ($78.10 per person) down to Charlotte and hatched the plan to drive back.
Sidenote on using credit card points (of which we have many saved up): our friend Brad from Richmond Savers educated us on the redemption value of points and the wisdom of not utilizing points when you can secure flights as cheaply as we could for this trip. It’s not worth it to waste points when you can purchase a flight for so little cash. If you ever have any travel hacking questions, I highly recommend Brad’s stellar advice. The bonus is that we know him (in real life!) and he’s a truly awesome guy.
We spent a few days at my in-laws’ earlier this week sorting through Mr. FW’s childhood books, trophies (including 1st place for being an “accelerated reader” in 5th grade), several tuba mouthpieces, a bag of change, his Bert & Ernie dolls from babyhood, and assorted accouterments. Tellingly, much of the ephemera from his youth mirrors his current interests.
We found camping knives, tents, books on astronomy and computer programming (“25 Exciting Games Written In Basic” anyone?), and an art project he did at age 7 proclaiming that his favorite food was pizza, his favorite animal was a dog, and that he wanted to be a truck driver or architect when he grew up. Apparently Mr. FW has been pretty clear on his life goals from the start ;). It was fun to uncover these trinkets of his past and I’m thrilled to bring these tidbits back home to someday show to Babywoods.
Most importantly, Mr. FW recently inherited a handmade wooden chest of carpentry tools from the late 1800s, including: planes, chisels, augers, saws, squares, etc, which belonged to his great-great grandfather. This chest, which is over three feet long and tremendously heavy, was residing in his parents’ garage.
Mr. FW is touched to inherit these tools in part because he’ll actually use them. It’s pretty incredible to have such a robust set of tools that his great-great grandfather employed in much the same manner as he will: to build and repair wooden things. All around quite nifty and definitely worth the trip.
To Ship Or To Drive? Also, Why A Rental Car?
We investigated options for shipping the tool chest to our home in Cambridge and quickly discovered that the cost would far outstrip that of a rental car. Plus, given both the sentimental and practical value of the tools, we weren’t eager to risk the potential perils of shipping. With the addition of Mr. FW’s childhood effects and the hand-me-down baby items, driving seemed the only sane option.
Now we do love and revere our one car, the venerable Frugalwoods-mobile. However, she’s a 19-year-old, 206,000+ mile vehicle and we honestly didn’t want to risk her life on an 1,802 mile round-trip trek from Massachusetts to North Carolina.
Since Frugalwoods-mobile is dirt cheap for us to own and operate ($400/yr insurance… need I say more?), we’d like to continue driving her for as long as motor-vehicularly possible and this adventure seemed like it might prematurely hasten her demise. Given this interest in prolonging Frugalwoods-mobile’s lifespan, we decided that a rental car would be the safest option.
I imagine that a non-frugal weirdo would likely assess the length of this odyssey (901 miles, to be exact) and elect to make it into at least a two-day sojourn, replete with a hotel stay and restaurant meals peppered in. But as you know, Mr. FW and I generally do the exact opposite of what normal folks do. Makes life more interesting and saves a ton of dough.
Sure, we could’ve incurred the additional expense to stretch out our outing, but here’s the thing: mild discomfort is temporary; losing money is permanent. One day after the trip—regardless of which option we’d chosen—it’s forgotten about. It’s a finite amount of time and a finite amount of challenge. In the grand scheme of things, driving 14.5 hours in one day isn’t that big of a deal. And since we’re optimizers to the core, finding a way to hack this expedition was a delightful endeavor for us. When you turn everything into a frugal efficiency game, life becomes a great deal more enjoyable and, as a byproduct, a great deal less expensive.
Let’s Do The Numbers!
I know, I know, this is your favorite part! No one else would care exactly how much we spent and exactly how much we saved, but I know you all do. And that’s why I love writing for you! Where else can I wax poetic about the merits of packing all of one’s own food for a 14-hour drive!?
The Frugalwoods Road Trip Stats:
|14 hours, 30 minutes
|Number of days on road:
|Number of stops:
|PB&J sandwiches consumed:
|Number of times we heard an NPR report about the Pope’s visit and/or Yogi Berra’s death:
|Number of This American Life podcasts listened to:
|Number of states driven through:
The Money We Spent:
|Car rental for 1 day (defined by the Alamo car rental company as a 24-hr period… I doubt they expected us to take the 24 hrs so literally):
|Food and drinks:
|Tolls (forgot our EZPass, dang it!):
|Our total cost:
Now, just for funsies, let’s compare our actual total with the projected total of extending our junket to two days and going the more traditional route of purchasing meals.
Estimated Amount Saved by Traveling like Frugal Weirdos:
|Car rental for 2 days:
|Estimated cost of lunches, dinners, snacks, and drinks:
|One night in a hotel (I priced out hotels in Harrisburg, PA, which is roughly the half-way point):
|Total estimated cost:
|Total amount we saved:
I don’t know about you, but I’m elated to save $352.39 just by buckling down and getting this voyage knocked out in a day. Plus, I imagine this type of power trip might not be possible/wise once Babywoods is born, so why not take advantage of our current no-kid status?
For the record, Babywoods and I did just fine in the car at exactly 31 weeks (aka 7.75 months) pregnant. She contentedly kicked along and when I wasn’t driving, I sat cross-legged in the passenger seat (with my seatbelt on, don’t worry), which made my hips very happy. Thank you yoga for keeping me in shape!
How We Did It
While the principal hack for this trek was simply determination, there were a few strategies we employed to pull it off. I was going to say “without a hitch,” but there was that time pulling out of a rest area when I accidentally turned the car on in ‘accessory mode,’ which looks deceptively like actual driving mode, but doesn’t allow you to accelerate beyond approximately 3 miles per hour… superb moment for me.
There have apparently been quite a few innovations in car manufacturing since 1996 (Frugalwoods-mobile’s birth year) and this car turned on with a button, which I somehow managed to press incorrectly. In my defense, this rental car had more lights, buttons, dials, gauges, screens, and displays than a fighter jet cockpit (as if I’d know, right?). We found the whole apparatus pretty hilarious since we do just fine with our simplified, ancient car. Sometimes (ok, actually often), more is decidedly not better. However, I will say that I very much enjoyed the heated seat option early in the morning. Hot buns, anyone? Ok, back to the hacks:
We picked up the rental car at the latest possible moment the night before: 10pm. We knew we’d need to get a solid night’s sleep, but we didn’t want to hem ourselves in on the other end by picking the car up too early. Hence, 10pm seemed like a reasonable balance. Turns out, we returned the car at 8:30pm the next night, so we gave ourselves a nice little buffer.
- We stacked and organized all of the stuff we wanted to schlep ahead of time. After returning to Mr. FW’s parents’ home with the car on Tuesday night, it took us a mere 15 minutes to load the vehicle. Quite quick indeed, which enabled us to jump in bed with great haste.
- We executed what we term “hike day morning” (aka the strategy we follow when we make the 3-hour trek to the White Mountains for a day of hiking). We awoke at 5am, showered, dressed, packed up our food and coffee, and left the driveway at 5:27am. Prepping everything from sandwiches to socks the night before enabled us to roll out the door rapidly. We wanted to avoid Charlotte’s morning rush hour by a wide margin, which we were happily able to accomplish.
We packed all of our own food. This is one of those double-edged benefits for the road-tripping frugal weirdo. In addition to the at least $75 saved on food itself, having on-board meals allowed us to ration our stops and save tons of time. We pulled off the highway a mere 6 times for restroom and re-fueling breaks. A huge thanks to my in-laws for providing us with peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, coffee, scones, granola bars and more for the road. Our parents are incredibly generous and we deeply appreciate it!
- Mr. FW mapped a route that circumvented all major east coast cities, with the goal of avoiding any and all rush hours. Thus, we added some mileage to our total journey, but cleverly skirted Washington, DC (especially crucial given that our sojourn coincided with the Pope’s visit), New York City, and other miscellaneous medium to large cities on our route. We instead enjoyed rather bucolic countryside scenery replete with cows, trees, mountains, and horses. Moo!
It’s All About The Mindset
Finally and most crucially, we viewed this quest as an intriguing frugal challenge. Instead of dreading it or fretting over it, we considered it just another exemplification of our extreme frugality mode of existence. The ability to derive enjoyment from our frugality is a key element to leading a hilarious, fulfilling, and luxuriously frugal life.
Mr. FW and I looked at each other when devising this plan and said, “why not cram 14.5 hours of driving into one day?” We honestly couldn’t think of a single reason not to. We knew we could do it safely with two drivers and ample snacks. And, as I’m fond of saying, you can do just about anything for a short amount of time.
This trip is by no means the most extreme feat of travel ever performed in the name of frugality and efficiency, but I think it serves as a prime example of life optimization. Enduring short-term challenges to reap longer-term financial gains are almost always worth it. Plus, we now have a story to tell Babywoods about that one time mommy nearly tried to merge onto the highway in a rental car that was in neutral…