Cheapskates Visit Vegas

Just this past weekend, I took a short trip to Las Vegas as part of a “reunion” weekend of sorts.  A group of 5 of us who went to business school together decided to meet up to reconnect and relive some good times. With our lives really busy, and the reality that we live in different parts of the country, Vegas seemed like a natural fit.

Now, it’s been a while since we all got our MBA together, and the guys are in their late 30’s and early 40’s.  Still, I figured that we could be in store for a crazy weekend.

It was crazy all right, but it different ways than I would have thought.

My previous experiences in going to Vegas entailed me being the frugal person of the group. In some circles, it’s almost like giving up your “man card” if you’re afraid to spend at the casino. I’ve seen people drop thousands of dollars and almost take pride in it, with some big bets along the way. Remember, on guys weekends there’s some machismo at play, with lots of drinks and taking chances with cards or rolling the dice. I’ve always been the more conservative one who might gamble only $50 to $100 the whole time but really gets more enjoyment out of the atmosphere, shows, food, etc. All while finding deals of course.

In this case, I wasn’t the most conservative one. I was the LEAST conservative one. And yes, I was still frugal while being the least conservative.  Hard to imagine that The Squirreler was the least frugal, but I was out-squirreled by these guys.  It was surprising, even though I knew that a few of these guys were “saver” types anyway.

Let’s put it this way: I spent $28 on gambling over the weekend, and that was the biggest loss out of anyone. One guy dropped $17, two guys seemed to break even or make a few bucks, and the fifth guy never gambled at all. When you’re maxing out at $2 blackjack at an out of the way casino, it screams of cheapness!

That said, we had a great time at the tables. We played for quite a while, and had some good banter back and forth with the dealers. There was trash talking as well, and it even included the dealer dishing it out too.  So despite spending so little, we had a really good time.

So, aside from gambling, what else is there to do? Well, how about shows? As it turns out, we saw but one show together. Of course, one of the cheapskates picked up the show tickets at half price. It was a Cirque du Soleil show with a Beatles theme, and it turned out to be absolutely fantastic (totally recommend it if you go to Vegas, best show I’ve seen there and I’ve quite a few).  Discount price or not, regardless of money-saving motives, it was really good.

As for food, there are a ton of great places in Vegas. It’s no longer like the 1980’s, where in that generation one could walk up and down the Strip and get a steak dinner for $3.95. Today, the casinos are filled with a mix of restaurants dominated by higher end places.

We went to one place that was $30 per person, but aside from that went to a cheap buffet elsewhere, an average Italian meal somewhere else, and fast food.  One guy even got up early, without telling anyone, and bought an all-day discount pass to a mediocre hotel buffet (yuck).  His urge to save a buck or two was THAT strong!

The kicker was the Mexican restaurant we ate at which was totally off the strip. In fact, in was on the fringe of town near the desert on the way to Hoover Dam (1 hour from Vegas). The same cheapskate who bought the show tickets picked out this place by surfing on his smart phone.  He said it was rated with one”$” for price (on a $ to $$$$$ scale), but got a few really good reviews.  I wasn’t about to argue, no matter how amazed I was that we would be visiting Las Vegas but going to eat someplace outside of town, in a building I would never set foot in based on appearances.

The place was way out in the middle of nowhere in a beat up old building with a dusty-looking parking lot. It looked like the place was a total dive, and when we went inside it looked that way too. It resembled a diner that hadn’t been updated since about 1965.  I couldn’t imagine any guys weekends in Vegas ever taking this path.

However, the food was fantastic. We got a really, really good meal and excellent margaritas at a low cost. I’ve eaten at much more expensive trendy Mexican places that couldn’t match this place’s food. Yet again, we had a lot of fun without spending much.

Following the hidden gem Mexican place, we checked out Hoover Dam. Really, it was a good excuse to get outside and enjoy the 90+ degree heat – a welcome opportunity for all of us who reside in cooler Midwest/East Coast climates.  At Hoover Dam, one guy really wanted to take a tour of it, which cost $30. Not surprisingly, given how cheap everyone was (myself included this time), nobody else wanted to go. So, we let him go, and drove off to explore the surrounding desert area on our own for 90 minutes while we waited.  We checked out some incredibly scenic views, walked a little bit, and even drove off road for a short while. Again, most of us spent nothing but had a really good time.

You see a theme here? Basically, we didn’t spend a much on the trip, but ended up having fun.  Hanging out with good friends and having a lot of laughs (at each other’s expense usually), and a good time in general doesn’t necessarily require shelling out big bucks.

Don’t get me wrong – there were a few instances where we overspent, but it was not on purpose.  3 of us were watching live music at one place where they charged us $31 for 3 drinks, including 2 beers and 1 soda. Ouch! Needless to say, we stopped ordering drinks :)

Have to admit, I never thought I’d be the least frugal out of any group of people, but it just happened….and it was a great weekend!

Side observation here – one can go to Las Vegas and have a really good visit without spending much money.  You actually can find good places to eat, shows to see, and things to do that won’t break the bank. Additionally, and many people don’t realize this, but there are some nice outdoor opportunities within an hour or so of there as well: Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire, Mount Charleston, and the list goes on.

My Questions for You:

If you have visited Las Vegas, have you spent quite a bit of money on casinos/entertainment, or have you enjoyed it on the cheap?

What other vacations have you taken, even if just for a weekend, where you’ve had a lot of fun but you spent very little money?

Comments

  1. says

    I have never been to Vegas, but it does sound fun. Is it smoky in the casinos?

    Sounds like you had a fantastic trip. I love that you were the biggest loser and it only cost you 28 bucks. (I was afraid you were out a lot more than that.) How great to hang out with a bunch of like-minded people.

    Did the guy like the Hoover Dam tour?

    Did you have the pop or the beer? :)

    • Squirrelers says

      Everyday Tips,

      Check out Vegas sometime! Not the best for kids, so consider that.

      It’s a bit smoky in the casinos, but it really depends on which casino. Many of them seem quite oxygenated (if that’s a word), as I suspect they pump in oxygen.

      The trip was great, and losing $28 over a weekend with a group of guys is nothing at all. Turned out to be a good thing to hang with like-minded people. The guy who visited the Hoover Dam liked it, I believe. Actually, I don’t think I even asked him, as once we picked him up we were ready to head back toward Vegas to finally get our taste of casino action.

      As for the expensive drinks, I’m the one who got a Sprite:) The other two guys there got beer.

  2. says

    I got married in Vegas and had the most expensive date of my life there (yes, it was with my soon to be husband). The babysitter was $40/hr + tip. She was good but nothing spectacular and if you talk to my kids they will tell you besides the ice cream cone she (we) bought it sucked. She made them clean up their hotel room and go to bed on time! We went to a show with amazing seats and had the most incredible meal ever! The cheap part of me knew we could do better but I don’t regret it- I can still taste the delicious duck pate 8 years later!

    • Squirrelers says

      Molly – I’ll bet you have some great memories of Vegas, way better than my enjoyable recent weekend. Sounds like a fun and incredibly special time you had there. Maybe the kids will appreciate the whole experience and memories later in life:)

  3. says

    My friends and I tend to do a lot of camping vacations or visit each other now that we’re spread out around the country. A campsite at a National Park is pretty cheap and once you’re there you really don’t spend any money but it’s lots of fun just to get out together and catch up. I also enjoy hosting and visiting friends. Playing tour guide for the day is a great excuse to go to all those places you’ve been meaning to see in your home town but haven’t.

    • Squirrelers says

      No Debt MBA – good point, getting to play tour guide is a great excuse to do those things. Sometimes we tend to just forget about things in our hometown that tourists gravitate toward.

    • Squirrelers says

      MoneyCone – well, I might say that it means that if you don’t play you don’t lose. I guess you’re considering that a win, eh?

  4. says

    You almost make Vegas sound palatable. I have never had a desire to go. I don’t like to gamble, “go to shows,” or shop. The outdoor activities sound like fun, though, and I do like to eat really good food. Frankly, the concept of Vegas is just so against my values that I have no desire to go, regardless.

    I’ve had some really fun weekends with my boyfriend while visiting his family, but I think the most memorable one was where we spent a weekend in Milwaukee. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t terribly expensive, either. The trips to visit family were quite cheap because we had no accomodation costs.

    • Squirrelers says

      Linda – Vegas isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. People seem to like it or can do without it. Personally, I think the place is not as enjoyable as it used to be. I liked the “old” Vegas better. That said, it’s still a good time. Also, consider that if you like the outdoors there are some great options nearby.

  5. says

    I have never been to Vegas and I probably never will since my husband has no desire to go, but it sounds like you had a really good time! I love that you found such a good restaurant in what looked like a total dive. Have your friends just recently become so frugal?

    • Squirrelers says

      Melissa –

      I think my friends have always been frugal but it was never really so apparent because when we all hung out back in graduate school, nobody spent much money! Years later, in Vegas, we were all acting similarly. That’s unusual, and speaks to the frugal approaches of the group:)

  6. says

    I’ve been to Vegas quite a few times and I never spent over $20 gambling. I don’t like gambling so it’s not a big deal to play just a little. I’ve been to Hoover damn when I was little, but I don’t remember much about it. I’ll have to head back again. I love cheap restaurants with great food. They are such gems.

    • Squirrelers says

      retirebyforty – if you like cheap restaurants with great food, there’s a place there a few blocks off the Las Vegas Strip open 24hrs I believe with a $7.95 meal offering a 10oz steak, salad, vegetable, potato, and either beer or root beer. Didn’t eat there this time, but I did ask and they were still offering the deal off the menu.

  7. says

    Vegas was one of the cheapest vacations I’ve ever been on. Our activity was rock climbing and that’s free once you have the gear. Red rock canyon is right outside of vegas and our hotel room was $19 a night..it was a nice one too. I think our airfare was just over $100. This was about 10 years ago but it was a steal even then.

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s ironic that your cheapskate found his deals on a smart phone? I guess they are frugal where it counts and still manage to splurge on things that are important to them (Maybe it was a work phone?)

    • Squirrelers says

      First Gen – I recall the days of airfares like that. That’s not the case anymore, we all spent a lot on airfare. Maybe that’s why we ended up doing the whole thing on the cheap. As for the phone, yeah – I guess that’s ironic, good point! All of us actually had smartphones.

  8. says

    I went to Las Vegas on the way to Lake Mead with the family for vacation. A good time is not dependent on how much you spend. You saw that firsthand over the weekend!

    • Squirrelers says

      Krantcents – Lake Mead is a really scenic place, nice views. We caught some views of it on this trip. I agree with you on the notion that a good time isn’t dependent on how much you spend.

  9. Squirrelers says

    optionsdude – bummed out losing $2? You sound like the guys I went with! One guy put a dollar in a penny slot machine, got up to $2.26 if I recall correctly, then cashed out before losing. At least he laughed about it (along with me)!

    • Windyj2301 says

      Yes, Pawn Stars’ store was cool, but I’ve heard from friends that it’s not cool when they are filming because you have to wait and wait to get in. We went on the Monday before we flew out and got a picture with the Old Man and got to see Corey and Rick. Chum wasn’t there, which made my husband sad, but it was still cheap and cool to see!

  10. says

    Sounds like an awesome time. Birds of a feather? Forget the rat pack, sounds like you guys are the Squirrel Pack. I’m the most frugal of my group, but compared to your pack, I would be a high roller. Ten dollars tables, mind you! Funny, everything is relative. Thanks for sharing your trip!

  11. says

    We go to Vegas quite often (esp. during comedy convention). Last time we went with my sister and her husband. 4 of us, we spent $1200 for 4 days 2days Vegas/2 days in Grand Canyon. This included a 5* hotel in the strip for 3 nights, a helicopter tour in GC and 3 shows (O, KA and a magic show). It was absolutely awesome. But as you can imagine, we never gambled :) that doesn’t give us enjoyment like it does for others. We did attend some gambling classes though and liked it a lot.

  12. says

    Great article :) I never have gone to Vegas and always had this picture in my mind that to go there you had to have a huge budget. Glad to see that I could go there and spend a reasonable amount of cash doing so! Love the tip about the mexican restaurant and if I go I will be sure to check that one out!!

  13. says

    LOL $2 blackjack tables?? Where did you go? Like the Stratosphere or something? :)

    Glad to hear you had a grand time without spending money. Even more happy to hear you have friends who are frugal as well.

    Sometimes I come out of vegas with more money when I go in (uh oh, that’s gamblers talk speaking!).

  14. Windyj2301 says

    This is the first post I’ve read of yours, but I have to say it was great!

    My (now) husband and I went to Vegas last year in late April/early May for a long weekend and we didn’t spend a lot. We went to Red Rock (awesome by the way), Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. We stayed with some of my husband’s family and rented a car to get from their place in North Las Vegas to the strip where our friends all stayed. I think we ended up spending about $15 on gas for the whole weekend and a little over $100 for the car, which was a lot less than the other couples spent for their rooms on the strip. We both aren’t big gamblers, but we did play a few here and there. Just seeing Vegas, the shops along the street, the people, and everything can be just as fun as spending a ton of money. We had a great time just seeing things from the street mostly. (We did go up in the Eiffel Tower. My husband didn’t want to, but I didn’t get to go when I was in Paris, so he bought the tickets. We got to see the Belagio show from up there and see the beautiful lights, which was amazing!) You really can go on vacation for cheap if you want to! Good luck and great post!

  15. says

    I have learned to take trips in the past year without blowing money on souvenirs, overpriced tourist entertainment, and upscale dining. I look for the home cooking restaurant, take pictures for souvenirs and just enjoy wherever I am. That being said, it’s hard to do when everyone else in the group is spending like there’s no tomorrow. I need to find a group like yours and be the least frugal one. Sounds like a great time and a non-traditional Vegas trip.

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