Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How To Save Money and Still Do Big City Marathons (or even Small City Marathons!): Running on the Cheap!

At the time I got into running, really got into running (2007/2008 as evidenced by the sheer number of races I did), I was only really doing short distance races and I still had my high dollar job.  I still had that job when I found out I had gotten into NYC Marathon (2008) but a couple of months before that, I found myself without a job.

I almost cancelled out going, because well, I couldnt find a job (even though I did a week beforehand, but it was at HALF my previous salary), and I didnt want to spend savings, and lets face it, going to NYC on the cheap is not easy if you hadnt planned it in the first place.  But I made it work, thankfully most everything was paid for well in advance (broadway show, tour of city, etc.) and well since my sister went, and she covered my hotel room which we ALL shared (4 of us)...so there was that...
After that though I was hooked on marathoning and I wanted to travel to other places to do that and even if its just one state over or just a few hours away, it can be pricey for someone on a budget.  Which describes me ever since that day in 2008...Yes I have a better paying job, but not by much, so basically I still work part time at the Locker to pay for my extras (races, travel, etc) so that I can still sock away money in 401K and my regular savings without it affecting my ability to still have fun!

These are just some ideas I have learned along the way.

Planning Your Races
  • First figure out the places you would like to travel to and then sort.  For example, once I knew I was going to do Chicago again this year, that put Disney (Goofy Challenge) off for January 2012, and I settled for doing Dallas (close proximity) and Houston (obvious hometown choice).  Also had I not chosen Chicago AND got into NYC (which I didnt thank goodness!), then I would have deferred NYC to late 2012.  Since I knew early on in the year that I was doing Chicago, I started setting aside money right then and there.  One of the good things about Chicago though is that it falls in October, and I get extra 2 paychecks in October (I get paid every other Friday at both jobs), so basically thats getting paid 6 times in October instead of 4.
    • Bottom line is to plan your 1-2 bigger races, and then go around those with smaller ones if you are a multiple offender like I am!  This year I am kinda splurging with San Fran in May and then Chicago (and then there is Dallas) but I saved a lot to be able to do it comfortably ... It just takes determination .. saving is HARD, but easy when you set your mind to it.  AND I am happy because I already have Christmas money saved as well...
      • Booking at the host hotel is really great!  You can get such great deals doing this.  For example in Dallas for White Rock, I am getting a hotel room for about 65% off what it normally would be.  They generally also provide free transporation to expos and race start/finish, saving you $$ on transporation not to mention the headaches and costs of parking at those events, gas and just the stress of not knowing where you are going in a new city.  Now of course there are always cheaper options, and definitely search those out, but weigh the costs of everything to make sure its really the better deal.  Where I really lucked out this year is in Chicago:  I am staying with 2 girls (one being one of my besties), who happens to have gotten a corporate rate at a great hotel not far from the start (a mile maybe), and basically my cost for 4 nights???  $80.  TOTAL.  And that includes breakfast!!!  Last year I paid $500 (and no breakfast!) for 5 nights (I was there 1 night extra by myself so I had to pay more).  So look at that savings!!!  When I ran NYC, I booked a great room right on the subway in Queens for $99 a night.  It only took 20 min into Times Square/Manhattan and all we did was sleep there anyway.  Who needs a $500 a night hotel IN the city?  Not this girl!!  Not even when I had the high dollar job, which I did when I booked that room.
  • Stay with a friend who happens to live in that city!  Or a friend of a friend!  I could have done this for DWR, but I have 2 others going and we are splitting the cost of the room anyway!
  • Look on sites such as Runners World forums for others who may need to share a room because one of their party got injured.
  • Book EARLY.  The closer to the race, the more expensive the rooms are going to be (generally) plus you will more than likely end up somewhere that truly sucks, or is far away from the Start/Finish and even those will be high priced due to demand.
  • Try and avoid it.  This takes research especially if its not a city with really great public transportation (Chicago and NYC for example).  In those 2 cities, you don't need anything more than a subway/transpo ticket.  $25 for 7 days in NYC, and $7 for 3 days in Chicago.  Good for both bus and subway/train.  Awesome.  So public transportation is just the way to go, but find out how good that is before commiting to that.  I remember even when going overseas to London (3weeks) everything was done by train/subway and it was way cheap.  My sister did pay for a car the night before the NYC marathon so that I could stay off my feet while going into Manhatten for dinner and Broadway show.  So if you do have something special, you can get a cab, share the expense! 
  • If you go to a city that doesnt offer train/subway from the airport, there are always shuttles for round trip fairly cheap, definitely cheaper than renting a car (which means gas and parking fees which are EXPENSIVE in Chi, NYC and San Fran!!)  In San Fran, my friend had her car as she lived in CA, but at the hotel we stayed at, it was $42 A DAY to park your car!  And we didnt even use it the whole time we were there!  It sat in the parking lot!  And that was on top of the room charge!  I can't say enough that renting a car (for the most part) is just too much of an expense!
  • I guess if you drive to your marathon city, that saves on airfare so the other parts are kind of a wash; e.g. Dallas White Rock   At least I share costs for gas and parking as last year I had a passenger and will this year as well.  Always another good idea.  Share!  Share!  Share!
  • Book.  Early.  Especially for cities that are just normal hubs or are popular destinations.  The longer you wait, your choice of departing/arrival times goes significantly down.   You might get lucky but who wants to count on luck?  It took me about 3 weeks before I knew I had the lowest fare I was going to get for the times/days I wanted for Chicago.   I am very picky and don't like layovers and changing planes, but obviously if you can handle this you could save more.  However, for me, time is money.  I want to get to my destination without a lot of hassle and drama.  This is typically one area I wont scrimp on.  But I will say, Tuesdays are the best days to book a flight :O)

  • Living Social, Groupon, BuyWithMe.  All great for use for food!  All you have to do is sign up for the deals in that city ahead of time.  A few months is my best advice.
  • Pack your snacks in your carry on for food in the airport, on the plane and for any layovers.  Its way cheaper and even whatever they give you on the plane (if anything), its going to be healthier your way!! 
  • Carry your empty water bottle, even if its just one that used to have water in it and you drank it all. You can take an empty bottle through security, and then you can fill up at a FREE water fountain inside the terminal!
  • Also, take snacks in your regular luggage for when the hungries make an appearance while in the hotel room (stay away from the room snacks and the vending machine which are both VERY expensive and VERY unhealthy!) or tuck in your purse when you are out and about exploring the city!  You can do the small Ziploc snack bags or just bars, or whatever your fancy.    Also, a coffee pot in your room is great for heating water and using oatmeal packets you bring yourself!
  • SHARE meals.  Everyone knows that restaurants over portion so get an appetizer and one entree and split it!  If the restaurant doesnt allow that, then find somewhere else to go. 
  • If you can swing it, getting a room with a small fridge is good to keep leftovers or buy yogurts etc., at the local store.  OR take out whatever is in the mini-fridge and put yours in there.
  • Living Social, Groupon, BuyWithMe.  All great for use for entertainment!  All you have to do is sign up for the deals in that city ahead of time.  A few months is my best advice.
  • There are always a lot of things/sites to see in a city that are free!  And most places will have a reduced rate or a free day a week, so depending on when you are there, you can take advantage of this.
  • I do think this is one area where I tend to not really care, because you are traveling and seeing the sites are one of the great things!  I did get reduced rates on tours and a Broadway show in NYC, and in Chicago, most everything I wanted to do was free anyway!!  The Sears Tower wasn't but I think it was something like $15 maybe.  Nothing outrageous.  It was a Monday though so maybe that was a reduced rate.
Anyone else have any tips????


Xaarlin said...

Awesome detailed helpful post!

TX Runner Mom said...

Great post. We used homeaway.com to book a cool 2-bedroom apt in NYC for much less than it would cost to get a hotel room. And, we're sharing the cost with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I am going to sign up for living social and groupon in NYC...thanks for that tip!