Camping Out West Part 1: The Budget

Guest post by Margaret Slattery


Since Katie and I share two passions—camping and couponing—I offered to share some of the tips and lessons learned from our recent trip out west to seven national parks. Our family of five includes three kids ages 12, 9, and 7, and we are all fairly seasoned car campers. However, this summer we took it to the next level.

For 14 days, our family drove 2000 miles to explore some of America’s most spectacular venues: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Sequoia, Kings Canyon,Yosemite, and Death Valley. We never skimped on experiences and managed to stay within our budget of $3500. Here are our expenses in a nutshell; I’ll go more in-depth with how we saved in future posts.



Since Knoxville to Grand Canyon is about 1800 miles, you’d need an extra 4-5 days to drive vs fly. When Allegiant opened direct flights to Las Vegas for $69 each way,we jumped on them. Now that’s just the lure you in fare. Once we paid for taxes and fees, five checked bags, and the privilege of sitting together, RT tickets were about $200 a person. Total: $1054.


We rented a Nissan Pathfinder through Budget that allowed unlimited miles within the states we would be driving—an important detail to check. We were packed in like a puzzle with zero extra space, but we managed. Total (including gas): $661.


Since most of our nights were spent at campsites within national parks, we usually only spent $20-$25/night. For our first night, last night, and one in the middle, we booked moderate hotels. By one week in, we were all ready for a pool, showers, and laundry facilities. Total: $627.


We purchased most of what we needed in two shopping trips: one at the beginning, and one mid-way. We bought ice and firewood every other day and ice cream as treats occasionally. The few times we did go out to dinner equaled the amount we spent on groceries, reminding us you really do save money by preparing your own meals. Total: $734.


The nice thing about national parks is that once you’re in, there’s usually little extra expense to enjoy the park. We’re used to no entry fee to the Smokys, but most national parks charge $20-$30 entry. The annual pass for all parks runs $85. This year, if you have a fourth grader, s/he can get the whole family in for free. Ask your teacher when you return to school.

Your first stop to every national park should be the visitor center. They’re like mini-museums, they list loads of free programs, and suggest hikes suitable to various skill levels. The Junior Ranger Programs are awesome for elementary age kids. Shuttle buses providing often the easiest transportation inside parks are also free. Our one splurge was horseback riding: $200 for the family. We let the kids pick out small souvenirs at each place. I recommend the tokens you can collect or decks of cards from each park. Total: $418.

Note: I did not count costs for camping gear required for a trip like this: a tent, sleeping pads & bags, cook sets, hiking shoes & poles, camelbacks, etc. because we had those from previous trips. If you’re starting from ground zero, expect to invest another $1000-$1500 for good gear, but hey, it’s an investment for lots of trips. And I would suggest if you’re new to camping, start small with a weekend getaway close to home and borrow gear from a friend.


Margaret is a freelance writer in Knoxville, TN. She writes and produces for HGTV and has been couponing since 2009.

The Twelve Days of a Budget Christmas-Day 3 Frugal Gift Baskets

christmas post day 03

Day 3 ideas come from Honey. She is a great frugal friend and when she left a comment that she was putting the free meat thermometer in a gift basket I told her that was a great idea. She offered to write a guest post on how to assemble other frugal gift baskets and I could not say yes fast enough. So enjoy Honey’s great ideas.

Here are some gift ideas. By being creative and practical you can give gifts that will be well received without spending too much. Think about your Christmas list, upcoming weddings, and birthdays. By “shopping” all year you can get many bargains on high quality items that will easily fit into these categories.

“Sewing Kit” (Martha Stewart’s idea)
Items needed:
Ball Jar (or other durable, inexpensive container)
Thread (black, white, red, blue, tan)
Various sewing notions (seam ripper, thimble, small scissors)
Buttons (variety of colors)

“Instant Date Night
Items needed:
Bowl or Bucket
2 Glasses (Check Dollar Tree for first two items)
Microwave Popcorn
Blockbuster Gift Card ($5 gets you a movie)

“Pasta Bowl”
Items needed:
Pasta Bowl (check the person’s registry or places like Home Goods)
Cloth Napkin(s) to line the bowl
Bag of Pasta (gourmet varieties)
Pasta Sauce
Tongs or Pasta Spoon
Cheese grater
Seasonings, the list goes on and on…

“Pantry basket”
Items needed:
Bowl, Bucket, Basket or Tray
Various Gadgets (look at Bed, Bath & Beyond-use their coupons, Big Lots, Dollar Tree)
Cook Books/Booklets (look at Big Lots, Discount book stores, grocery stores or sign up for online freebies. I found two free baking booklets at Kroger yesterday-this is the time of year to find those.)

“Gym Bag”
Items needed
Tote Bag
Sports Drinks/supplements
(You could also include sport-specific gear like swimming caps, goggles, running socks, golf balls/tees, etc.)

“The Spa Treatment”
Items needed:
Luxury bath items (like bath oil, soaps, essential oils, bubble bath)
Quality bath towel (look for sales, coupons)
Lighting tool/matches
Magazine or Paperback
Relaxing Music CD (check for these at Dollar Tree)

“College Survival Kit”
Items needed:
Change for Laundry
Laundry detergent
Washcloths, Towels
Snacks & Sodas
Non-Perishable Food (trust me they will eat anything!)
McDonald’s gift card
Notebooks, Pencils and other school supplies
Personal Care items (soap, toothpaste/brushes, feminine, deodorant, razors, etc)
Hot Pot (dish liquid and scrubber -to clean the crock pot)
“Write now”
Items needed:
Quality Pen
Postage Stamps
Poetry book or book of quotes
Diary (check at Borders using sale/coupon or Dollar Tree, Target, Big Lots-I got some last year which were leather bound and had gilded pages for $5!)
Small dictionary or thesaurus
Art supplies or gift card for them (AC Moore, etc)

Hostess Gift Ideas
With the holidays around the corner, many will be invited to parties. Here are some ideas for small tokens of appreciation:
Baked Goods (from your own kitchen or store bought from Fresh Market)
Jars of jam , honey, or nuts (Dollar Tree, Big Lots has some nice gourmet ones)
Fragrant Candles (dig out the freebies from Walgreens and CVS)
Christmas Ornament
Decorative Napkins
Offer to help clean up or serve food (hey-that’s free!)
Chocolates and other treats
Small Notepad/Pen
Handwritten note thanking them for their hospitality
Plants (if the person likes them-I enjoyed the small Rosemary shrubs Lowe’s carries)
Small serving bowl
Most of these ideas are things the person can use to entertain (since that’s what they like to do). But I have heard (etiquette-wise) that it is not expected that the person would use your item at that event. So don’t be offended if they concentrate on their guests and leave the gift in the bag to open and enjoy later.

Have you ever received or given one of these creative gifts? Do you have any more ideas on frugal creative gifts? Leave a comment and inspire us all.

Best Place in Knoxville for Sunday Lunch?

Sunday LunchI wrote a post today on which asks the question:

Who offers the best Sun­day Lunch expe­ri­ence in Knoxville?

Go here and leave a comment.

There are no rules for nom­i­na­tions*, but I would expect that this ‘expe­ri­ence’ would include the fol­low­ing:
1. Fla­vor­ful Fare
2. Atmos­phere
3. Kid/Family Friend­li­ness
4. Bud­get
5. Convenience

*The estab­lish­ment that receives the most rec­om­men­da­tions will win the GRAND PRIZE

The Coupon Katie fam­ily will test said estab­lish­ment for the ‘expe­ri­ence’ sug­ges­tions listed above, and I will ded­i­cate a post on describ­ing the Sun­day Lunch­ing endeavor.

Be care­ful who you nom­i­nate; they might not sur­vive my family.

Thanks to the folks at for hosting this ‘Contest.’

Who offers the best Sun­day Lunch expe­ri­ence in Knoxville?

THRIFT STORE SHOPPING – a way to save on Children’s Clothing

**Thanks to Honey, loyal reader and frugal mom of 5 for this guest post.

thriftstoreSaving on Children’s Items

I have always loved thrift stores/garage sales. Where else can you find a Ralph Lauren button-down for $1. It’s not only an earth-friendly way to shop, but a budget saving one as well. Here are a few tips:

1.  Plan ahead. Thrift store shopping requires you to think ahead over the next year or so. It’s the equivalent of grocery stockpiling. I am usually open to buying clothing for the next 2 seasons for each child. Most thrift stores don’t “sell seasonally” the way consignment sales and shops do, so you might find swim trunks and a winter coat all in the same trip. I try to keep a mental, if not paper list, of things we do and do not need. *One note: I have not had as much success with buying shoes ahead. But if you have a larger family or your children are spaced out a bit, it may be worth it to buy shoes ahead and find that someone may be able to wear them. Especially tennis shoes or other non-seasonal shoes.

2. Set a budget. For me, setting aside something like $20 a month for clothing for the children is way easier than finding yourself in April needing $100 to get caught up for summer clothes. Enough said.

3.  Set aside time. I like to go “thrifting” once or twice a month, if possible. This prevents the problem described in tip #2. If I need to bring the children along, I try to get them involved in looking for their own clothing. They can pull out things they like, then put them in the cart. I then go back and edit them for size, condition, and appropriateness. This keeps them out of trouble, I mean uh, makes them part of the process. Also it teaches them how to get the most for my your money. When we go to a regular store, I sometimes show them an article of clothing and tell them the price. I then compare it to the 5 pieces of clothing we got at the thrift store. Then they get the lesson. (This isn’t to say that we never buy “new” clothing, but I want them to understand the benefits of being frugal).

4.  Have a plan for storage. We use heavy duty Rubbermaid containers. For some cardboard boxes work fine. We just have allergies and find that they don’t get as dusty. I do wash the clothing as soon as we bring it home. This way when we pull it out for the season we need we don’t also have the chore of washing, too. Label your boxes with gender, season and size.

5.  Buy large. Because the clothing is used (unless you find some goodies with labels still on) they have been washed and may not be true to size. You can eyeball it and see if it looks like it is really that size.

6.  “Recycle”. I recycle all our clothing. No, not in the recycle bin, but back into our budget. While I would love to just pass all our things on to someone else, I am constrained by my budget to recoup money on some of our items. If things are top brand names and in excellent condition you can take them to consignment. Then when you are paid you can use the money to buy some more clothing for the next season. By doing it this way, I find that I usually only need to buy a few pieces and some shoes and underclothes when a new season rolls around.


  • Goodwill– I especially like the Bearden location. The last full weekend of the month everything in the store is ½ off! And they run daily specials. For instance, “all orange tags $1”or “half off all winter coats, jackets.”
  • Amvets-all childrens’ clothing is .79! There are locations on Chapman Highway and on Magnolia Avenue.
  • Garage sales-all over town. See Craig’s list for some in your area. Garage sales usually sell things for less than thrift stores.
  • Ladies of Charity (Big Catholic Church on Central)-all children’s clothing $1. Also shoes, books, toys.
  • Other thrift stores include KARM, American Council for the Blind, Habitat for Humanity, and Salvation Army. (Most thrift stores support charities.)

Happy Hunting!

SAVING AT THREE RIVERS MARKET – Knoxville’s Commuinty Food CO-OP

*Guest post by Honey, a loyal reader and frugal mom of five!

coopThree Rivers Market

Knoxville’s Community Food Co-Op

I discovered the Co-Op more than 10 years ago. It is a big blue Victorian located at 937 N. Broadway. Inside you’ll find original hardwood floors that creak, nice aromas, pleasant staff, and lots of treasures. The Co-Op carries homemade goodies, natural health supplements, commercially packaged foods, organic/locally-grown produce, and more.

Most importantly, for all you “frugalites” there are bountiful choices of bulk goods. Everything from steel cut oats to whole wheat couscous and lots more besides. The beauty of buying bulk is that you are skipping the packaging. You may bring in your own containers or they sell containers (or give plastic baggies for free). You can stop at the front, weigh your container, go fill it as full as you want, and then bring it back to the front. They will then subtract the price of the container from the price-per-pound of the product, and you pay the difference.

In addition to buying bulk, you can also become a member of the Co-Op. By buying a $25 share, you receive a 10% discount on all local items for the year. These items may vary on a rotating basis each year. You would also receive a 10% discount on bulk orders. For more info on membership visit

And lastly, there are monthly sales. You can stop in to pick up their sales flier. The Co-Op takes coupons and you can combine those with “what’s on sale” to stock up on the things you need at a good price. I really like Mambo Sprouts coupon booklets.
And they do double days… meaning the last 3 days of the month the sales for the following month are available. For example, you can go the last 3 days of March and buy March specials and April specials!

Sounds good to me.

* Be sure to check out the “Plum and Walnut Mediterranee yogurt” and the “6 Grain Pear yogurt” both by Liberte. There is no better yogurt!
(Extra Parking is across the street at the carpet place)

Thanks Honey for the guest post.

Interested in a Guest Post spot on…Check out the Contact page and follow the format listed there.