Budget Analysis: NYT “Frugal Traveler,” Part Deux

November 25, 2007

in Budget, Cheap Activities, City Tips, Drink, Food, Lodging, Online Media, Travel, USA

This week, “Frugal Traveler” Matt Gross of the NY Times details a weekend in Seattle. Again, he has the envy-worth budget of $500 for two days on the town (which I guess makes me a “grunge aficionado” in his book). We’ll look more closely at where his money goes after the jump.

Matt had five major expenses: accommodation, entertainment, food, drink and transportation. We’ll look at each in turn.

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Lodging . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Matt stays at a bed and breakfast. Here he is served a delicious and filling breakfast every morning inclusive.

subtotal: $250.47

Entertainment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday night, Matt visited a gallery for free. Saturday he visited Pike’s Place Market for free. Then he mysteriously “drives” around the coast. He heads back to the Olympic Sculpture Park (free), and that evening watches a hard-core band ($5). Sunday he notes the boat cruises are free, though he doesn’t note if he actually goes on one or not.

subtotal: $5

Food . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday night eating took a backseat to drinking. He’s also treating his sister all night.

+ first bar snacks: free

+ second bar burgers: $11

+ third bar pizza: $5.50

Friday night subtotal: $16.50

Saturday he eats a free gigantic breakfast, donuts from the Market, a disappointing salmon burger lunch and Vietnamese dinner.

Saturday subtotal: $40.26

Sunday he eats another free breakfast and grabs a better salmon burger for lunch.

Sunday subtotal: $6.95

subtotal: $63.71

Drink . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday night, Matt and his sister hit four different bars. His drinking total (with tips) for this night alone is $53.50. Saturday, he had drinks with lunch and dinner but didn’t mention prices, so they are included in the total above. He had a $2 beer Saturday night.

subtotal: $55.50

Transportation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There are two points where Matt mentions driving, yet doesn’t mention WHAT he’s driving. (I assume he’s driving the car that he used to make his cross-country trip in a summer NYT roadtrip series.) These costs are not included in his total.

The difference between his declared total and mine based on his reporting ($374.68) is $17.71 — the noted cab and bus fare.

subtotal: $17.71


Grand total: $392.39 + car costs

 

Here is where Matt can truly be frugal: entertainment. He regularly seeks out free or cheap activities in the cities he visits. Last week, he spent $32 on museum entry and tour (with coupon); this week $5 for a concert.

Here is where Matt needs to cut the fat: lodging, food and drink. For this trip, hotel costs were 64% of his total spending. He could easily bring the grand total down by finding a cheaper place to stay.

I guess the real question is this: is Matt Gross a travel writer or a FRUGAL travel writer? Because frugal travelers — they’re staying at the free wifi, free breakfast, free pool Holiday Inn Express for max $75/night, not at a $125/night bed and breakfast. Or they’re camping for $10/night. Or they’re on their friend’s couch, or they’re couch surfing. At the Holiday Inn, he’s already under $300 for the weekend; free accommodation brings the total under $150.

Again, with food and drink: I’m sure the NYT finds $60/day a relatively “cheap” per diem. But is drinking $60 worth of restaurant booze in 2 days frugal? A travel writer can drink $10 martinis, a FRUGAL travel writer should be sticking to the $2 beer specials. Further, in the two days he was visiting, his sister and her husband spent $70 eating out with him! Had he cut out the drinking and stayed with his sister, his trip would have been under the $100 mark.

As I mentioned in last week’s analysis, we want travel writers to eat and drink for us so we know what is splurge-worthy and what is best avoided. I don’t begrudge him this too much. At the same time, however, his budget is always FAR too large. Being frugal is about making choices with the limited funds we have. Matt seemingly never has to make choices to spend below his budget. Moral of the story, NYT: stop giving the “frugal traveler” $500 per weekend. If you must, make that include airfare and let him spend the rest. Both this weekend and last, Matt could have easily gotten by with $150; cut him down under $100, and he’d have to start getting creative. This — not $125 dinners — is what I want to read about.

I know I could easily have a fun weekend anywhere in the world with $500. All of us with any common sense could. What most people struggle with is how to have just as much fun while getting by on 1/5 to 1/3 of this amount. Matt’s intro to the article says it all: the frugal traveler’s budget is only really frugal for high-tech billionaires. The rest of us are left scratching our heads and pondering the relative meaning of practicing frugality.

Read Part One in this Series:  Chicago

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Phil 01.07.08 at 8:29 pm

You are right on the money (sorry) regarding Matt Gross. I was shocked by his sense of poverty at have to spend only $500 on two nights in Seattle, and I’ve been looking for a critique of his so-called frugal travels. Thanks.

2 wanderlust 10.21.08 at 4:43 pm

It is obvious he is not spending his own money, hence he has no need or desire to be frugal (although one could argue that since he is NOT spending his money, he is being extremely “frugal”).

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