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?