Surefire Way to Save on Hotel or Rental Accommodations

This strategy isn’t for the faint of heart. This is for all you OCD types who are willing to take risks and take great pride in stretching your hard-earned dollars.

I have been itching to go on vacation ever since we flew back home from spending Christmas and New Year’s in the UK. As fun as that was, I have been dying for some R&R in the sun!

We bounced around Palm Springs and Los Angeles as options, but decided it was best to stay local and opted for an easy jaunt to wine country. Securing a luxe hotel reservation during spring time in Napa or Sonoma is like trying to score a same day reservation at French Laundry. It ain’t gonna happen, especially if you’re looking to book only a week or two in advance.

This is where renting a place online has really alleviated a lot of stress when it comes to finding a place to stay. There are so many beautiful, well-maintained properties on Vrbo.com, Airbnb.com or HomeAway.com. You’ll always find a handful that are available. In fact, there were a couple places I was really interested in that showed no availability, but I emailed the owners and they said it had either recently become available or they had another property available. Here are photos (credit Vrbo.com) of places I was negotiating with.

This is the best time to negotiate, when you know they’re hoping to rent their property, it’s just a couple days out, and their property is still available. BAM! Hit them with your terms. You want a free night, you don’t want to pay tax or the cleaning fee, and you’re ready to submit payment in full immediately. Not a single no. All 3 property owners I emailed agreed to my terms.

Now even though these were all gorgeous properties, I consulted with my hubby (the true decision maker, ahem, cough). And he insisted that to make this feel like a true vacation, we needed to be spoiled and sitting pool-side. Hence, a discounted last minute booking opened up at the Lodge at Sonoma—at a price similar to what I was looking at for rental properties—and I pounced on it.

Here is our home (photo credit Marriott.com) for the next few days. Heaven!

Treasure Island Flea Market

I am under so much pressure right now, I feel my heart is going to burst out of my chest. Work is insane. I’m in escrow with the sale of my condo closing any day now. And we still have a bunch of crap at my place which needs to be vacated any day now. Best thing to do would be to toss all our stuff on the sidewalk. We don’t have time to deal!

Over the weekend, we did manage to go to the Treasure Island Flea Market which was so much fun. I’m really trying to stay away from being such a consumer, but the weather was fantastic (albeit a bit chilly right by the water) and you can’t beat the Chairman food truck which was there on Saturday. I’m a downer when it comes to food trucks (overpriced with no seating), but the Chairman is orgasmically delish. OMG! The pork belly is TO-DIE-FOR! Follow this truck! I swear they’re catering my next party. I can’t get enough of their buns.

Dean and I both ‘splurged’ on $10 hats at the popular hat booth. Then proceeded to play skeeball, which proves once again, how bad my hand-eye coordination is! I think my total score was 10. I promised the owner I’d blog about his business. Check it out. JoeytheCat.com for skeeball rental. Tons of fun. He’s the one who took pictures of me and Dean having a jolly good time.

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Budget: Extreme Makeover

I’ve been crunching numbers non-stop lately.

It started when my tenant gave notice that he’d be leaving at the end of this month. Quick to Craigslist. What’s the going rate for a 1-bedroom apartment in Lower Pac Heights? I’ve been renting my place for more than two years, steadily increasing the rent with each new lease. But this time, I aimed a lot higher. The rental market is dot-com hot. I’ve got Googlers, engineers, doctors, interns, VCs emailing and calling. A New Yorker hired at Facebook told me he was contending with crowds of applicants at every open house. Bejesus! Instead of 20%, I should have increased the rent by 30%. I still would have had the demand.

With the rental money covering my mortgage, HOAs, and property taxes combined, I don’t want to be one of those un-disciplined Americans who takes that extra money and spends it. Like when we get raises, we adjust our lifestyle accordingly. No, I want to be fiscally conservative.

More research! Even before the tenant changeover, I have been eyeing mortgage rates, targeting a 4% or lower 30-year rate. Then a friend tipped me off to consider a 15-year. THANKS KITTY! I couldn’t seem to make the numbers work, but I kept on it. Determined to cash in on these low rates, I searched all the major banks’ websites for mortgage rates. I scoured the web. I looked at ING and First Republic. I called Residential Finance Corporation because they had mailed me a promotion. And lastly, I checked Navy Federal Credit Union who I used to refinance my private student loan. There it was, a 3.125% 15-year mortgage rate – right on the money.

A little bit of luck, ample social networking, friendship, a lot of research, and persistence. It pays.

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