Low-cost and lavish

Capital City Cheapo

Sometimes being frugal can get you down. It’s a great habit, but counting your cash all the time can be frustrating, depressing, and, hell, sometimes even embarrassing. (Not surprisingly, finances are one of the top five things couples fight about.) So, to fend off the budget blues, I’m suggesting that you take yourself somewhere nice… just this once. It doesn’t have to be a SoCo shopping spree or a Warehouse District bar tab splurge, but it does have to be somewhere you wouldn’t ordinarily go with your meager assets.

This lovely installment of Capital City Cheapo will be the first of many devoted to being thrifty in the face of extravagance. I like to call it “Inexpensive Options at Expensive Places.” Think of it as a Jeopardy category. You can even imagine SNL’s Sean Connery choosing it. Whatever gets you through the day. Here are a few pricey Austin staples and the cheap skeletons in their closet:

photo / Kent Wang Chefs at Uchi 

First up is a favorite haunt for hipsters, semi-famous alterna-rock bands, and Dell stockholders. Although nearly every restaurant review has listed Uchi as ultra expensive, there are actually ways to get out the door at a reasonable rate. I present Exhibit A. Their permanent menu has approximately 36 items priced at $5 or under. I already know your rebuttal: You’re going to say, “But Sarah, it adds up.” Yes, yes it does. But here’s my closing argument: Order water ($0), asparagus tempura ($2.50), the four cheapest pieces of sushi (suzuki, saba, tako, and ebi, which totals $8.75), and the ika sansai (marinated squid w/ Japanese veggies, $4.50) for a grand total of $15.75. If you’re still hungry, fill up on the flavorful Uchi ambiance and a stick of chewing gum.

Another great spot to spend mucho dinero is our beloved Alamo Drafthouse. We love the Alamo because it’s not like other theaters, but let’s be real about this. Dinner and a movie combined can easily put you out $30-$40 in a two-hour period. Here’s my advice for saving money at this world-famous cinema. Dig up your old student ID and drink water. The student discount is rare these days, but Alamo still honors the textbook-bound. Even if you graduated in 1978, they’re likely to accept your pitiful attempt to save $2. Second stingy tip for the Alamo: Don’t drink the soda or tea. If I could insert a Diet Coke I.V. into my arm, I would do it, so this is a big statement for me. Topping off at nearly $4 for a large soda or regular tea, it’s just not worth it. Reach for that big plastic cup of room temperature tap water and save the $4 for a rainy day.

You know your week is not going well when you spot that shady, close-up parking spot at HEB and think you’ve struck gold, only to return a half-hour later and discover 4,862 bird shit droppings on your car. The pigeons and monkey birds in this state are relentless, but Genie Car Wash is here to help. The Genie is granting shiny car wishes at three Austin locations, but with the price of a wash a whopping $10.99, your cheap ass should be at home with a garden hose and a bucket. The inexpensive option here is the half-off coupon. Print that money saver from their website or look for it in several Austin print publications. Your car deserves a scrub every once in a while.

With a just-washed car, you’ll be tempted to put on your Sunday best and go out on the town. For this, I have a solution. There’s nothing like pretending you have money when you don’t, and downtown’s McCormick & Schmick’s is more than willing to help you stroke your penniless ego. The classy Congress Ave locale has a self-proclaimed “famous” bar food carte du jour at happy hour. With $1.95 menu items, I can’t really argue with that. If you can pay for oyster shooters or steamed mussels with the quarters hiding beneath your couch cushions, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.

For today’s finale, we have Austin’s newest cultural epicenter. No, it’s not Gattitown, although I thought that, too! The Blanton Museum of Art borders the southern edge of the University of Texas and has been crowded since its opening in the spring of 2006. Full of Greek gods, Latin American masterpieces, and modern American treasures, the Blanton is the largest university-owned art museum in the United States. General admission will cost you $7 and the eye-candy filled B Scene will put you out $10, but this wondrous gallery is 100% free on Thursdays (10am-8pm).

Alright, kids. I hope this little cheat sheet helps you feel princely in your pauper-dom. In the next “Inexpensive Options,” we’ll cover outlet malls, Italian food, and bowling alleys. Austin is full of ritzy places with reasonable rates. Here’s hoping you find them before you become filthy rich.

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About Sarah Murray Sarah Murray is an Austin-based freelance writer and principal of Aerabela Brown Agency. Like everyone else in the world, she’s also working on a screenplay.