California vacation: being frugal can cost you more

Rodeo drive, where the rich and wanna-look-rich shop.

We recently just came back from a trip to the west coast. It was a week-long vacation with lots of driving between different cities within the state of California. I had to be careful not to overspend. I may be a millionaire, but keep in mind that it’s 2017– a million bucks won’t even buy a decent house in San Francisco (maybe a shoebox, but that’s not an option unless you don’t mind smelling like a shoe).

Just some background…

California, pronounced by its ex-governator Arnold  Schwarzenegger as Ca-li-for-nia, is easily America’s richest state by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is not surprising because it is the most populous state in the United States and the third largest in terms of area. The fact is, according to Forbes, there are more billionaires in the state than any country, with the exception of the U.S. itself and China. The state is a magnet for wealthy people. Immigrants and non-immigrants alike are flocking to California ever since gold was discovered there in 1848.

So when I got invited to attend my 30th high school reunion in San Diego (see Katy Perry spraying me with foam @ 2:27 of the video), I knew it was the perfect opportunity to visit the Golden State. The last time I’ve been there was in 2011, but that was mainly in San Francisco area. I figured it was my chance to re-explore other cities.

Because I’m bringing my entire family with me, there are other goals that we need to accomplish. Unfortunately, mining gold is not one of them.

  • Bring my wife to her mini college reunion in American Canyon
  • Pay my physician sisters a visit in Sacramento
  • See the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles

While we did accomplish all our goals, one thing that I can conclude, time and time again, on every vacation is that being frugal can sometimes cost you more.

Here’s why.

Booking a cheap flight

So far, the best way to search flights is through Google Flights. The site showed me the available fares to Los Angeles for the selected dates. You can also track prices by enabling email notifications if you want to. I could have flown to San Diego, but it seems cheaper to fly to Los Angeles if you’re coming from Philadelphia.

Since we had a flexible schedule, I chose to leave Philadelphia on a weekday, particularly Wednesday. That’s usually the best day to travel if you’re hunting for bargain deals.

In the end, I found an American Airlines flight that will bring us to LA for $195 and a $186 Spirit Airlines flight for the return trip, for each per person. I purchased the tickets through my Expedia account where I get to accumulate reward points.

As it turned out, the Spirit flight costs more. The fare may be cheaper, but the fees can add up quickly: $50 for a carry-on bag, $9 to reserve a seat or $5 for a bottle of water. My impression is that if they can charge a separate fare for your soul, they would. It’s just not worth it unless you’re a backpacker.

Being frugal can sometimes cost you more.

Renting a car

I originally booked a Mitsubishi Mirage, a subcompact car, along with my flight on Expedia because I want to stay within my budget. But after arriving in Los Angeles, it dawned on me that I want something that is safer as the city has some of the worst drivers in the country.

Sorry, Mr. Money Mustache, but safety is an expensive illusion only until you get into a major accident. I don’t want to take any chances, especially when my entire family is involved.

I’ve survived being sandwiched between two bigger cars on my subcompact before, but that was really a minor one in spite of the lawsuit.

Also, I wanted to have a more comfortable ride as I can easily accumulate over 1,000 miles traveling back and forth from one city to another:

  • Los Angeles to Sacramento to Los Angeles, 770 miles
  • Sacramento to American Canyon to Sacramento, 110 miles
  • Los Angeles to San Diego to Los Angeles, 240 miles

So I quickly realized that I need want a bigger car. Besides, this is supposed to be a vacation– I’ve already been driving a Prius C all year round.

I end up upgrading to a bigger car for an extra $188 for the entire week. It would have been cheaper if I booked a full-size car outright.

Again, being frugal can sometimes cost you more.

Drive from Sacramento to Los Angeles
Drive from Sacramento to Los Angeles

Airport parking

It’s a common dilemma for frugal people about to fly– where to leave your car while vacationing. Once upon a time, I asked my neighbor friend to go with me to the airport so he can drive my car back home. In this way, I don’t have to pay airport parking fees. Everything was good until the moment when I boarded the plane. That’s when I realized that my car keys were still with me!

My poor friend had to commute to get back home (probably cursing me along the way) and I had to pay the short-term airport parking rates, which was about 4x the rate of regular economy parking. Fortunately, I was gone for only a few days.

The lesson is that being a cheapo and dumb at the same time can cost you even more!

For this trip, I opted to use Philadelphia Airport’s economy parking for a flat fee of $11 per day. I’m sure there are cheaper alternatives, especially with online coupons. But we’re only going to be away for a week. It’s simply not worth my time.

Hotel stay

My gracious sister owns stupid timeshares that she seldom uses. So she ends up offering it to relatives and friends. I gladly accepted the offer because it will surely save us some money as we get to stay there for 2 nights, absolutely free.

A decent hotel, but 60 miles away from my reunion venue.
A decent hotel, but 60 miles away from my reunion venue.

It turns out that the hotel was 60 minutes away from the event that we’re attending and the traffic on I-5 can sometimes go into a grinding halt, which it did. Had we stayed in downtown San Diego, we could have used the time to bring the kids to Balboa Park or Seaport Village. We could have used the time to socialize with friends.

It did save us money, but it cost us a lot of time. And since time is money, being frugal can sometimes cost more!

We stayed at my sister’s place in Sacramento for the rest of the trip. So we end up paying for just 1 night stay in a fancy hotel in LA for $160.

Finally relaxing in our LA hotel, tired and exhausted.
Finally relaxing in our LA hotel, tired and exhausted.


Total cost of trip

All in all, we didn’t overspend. We managed to stay below our budget of $3,000 dollars for the whole trip.

Regardless of the cost, it was all worth it. We had a fabulous time together. I’m looking forward to visiting California again in the near future.

I know what you're thinking. Keep in mind that the guy is 6'2".
I know what you’re thinking. Keep in mind that the guy is 6’2″.


Excited to see Ironman in Hollywood
Excited to see Ironman in Hollywood


Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills
Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills


Thanks for visiting.
Thanks for visiting.


“a million bucks won’t even buy a decent house in San Francisco” – What?! I didn’t know it’s that expensive in San Francisco. 😮 *Not really good with geography.* Hope to get to see that place some day and will take your advice on not to skimp too much and end up paying more. 😛

Houses in San Francisco are skyrocketing like crazy because of the tech boom. But there’s a bit of exaggeration in that statement. There are actually many houses in San Francisco selling for less than a million. They are just not as nice as you might expect 😉

I don’t endorse credit cards with annual fees, unless of course you can afford it. In other words, I consider that a luxury item. I certainly don’t endorse going on vacation on credit either– unless it’s paid in full in the next billing cycle 🙂


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