Saving a buck when the kinship come a-knocking

Capital City Cheapo

Here’s the situation: Aunt Betty and Uncle Steve are coming to town for four blissful days of sightseeing and overeating. They’re low on funds and you want to impress them with your abundant expertise on Austin and newfound financial independence. Only problem is… you’re broke as a spoke.

photo / nika Bats! 

Rather than pretend you’ve got the cash while your credit card bill goes up, consider taking the relatives to these low-cost venues. It won’t be glitz and glam, but it will result in a debt-free holiday for you and your loved ones.

Start their stopover with some serious local flavor. Encourage summertime visits and give them the authentically Austin flyover with an observance of the Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge. Aside from playing Scrabble in your 400 square foot apartment, there’s nothing stingier than standing-room-only and 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Besides, how many trip journals include the entry, “Dear Diary: Today I watched the world’s biggest urban bat colony come out from under a bridge. It was a perfect evening!” Their flyaway times vary, so call the Bat Hotline (512-416-5700) to time up their emergence with your dinner plans.

Local flavor is always heightened by culture, so a stop at the Harry Ransom Center may be necessary after the bat-watching debut. Sure, the Bob Bullock museum may tell “The Story of Texas,” but the HRC (not to be confused with the Human Rights Campaign) has Mr. Bullock beat. They’ve got the Gutenberg Bible (circa 1455), Hemingway’s words, De Niro’s films, and Frida’s art. Popping in to the Ransom Center is free of charge and, as an added bonus, it will give your boarders a chance to see UT’s student-swarmed campus.

For an on-the-run snack or a $10 dinner, include P. Terry’s Burger Stand in your itinerary. Not only is P. Terry’s one of the best people-watching spots south of the river, but the laid-back charm and quirky-cool feel of this outdoors-only restaurant most definitely epitomizes Austin. Your tightwad tendencies will rejoice at the thought of their under $6 menu, and the relatives will be pleased with their Black Angus beef patties ($1.90) and just-cut fries ($1.45).

photo / Beard Papa P. Terry’s 

Since we’re already near the river, I must recommend Rowing Dock. Up the ante as host by taking advantage of this kayak and paddle boat rental facility. Ten bucks and you get an hour of exercise, an excellent view of Austin, and the opportunity to watch your antagonistic cousins teeter dangerously close to the watery edge. Of course, kayaking isn’t everyone’s ideal afternoon. But remember: The more out of one’s element one is, the more potential for fun. So coax Grandma’s old hips into that one-seater and throw her a paddle!

Thanks to the celebrity of health food and the ongoing organic grocery debate, Whole Foods Market has become an easy form of entertainment. Your guests have likely been to a Whole Foods before, but have they been to the world headquarters? The bulky edifice on the corner of 5th and Lamar is quite a spectacle, with its rooftop patio (turned wintertime ice skating rink), high-rise office space, and ultra fancy culinary center. No need to buy anything to enjoy this outing, but if someone in the group is insisting on a purchase, the nut stand produces some memorable (and edible) souvenir bags.

If your temporary live-ins are lucky enough to be here over a weekend, instill in them a sense of Austin’s twentysomething craze with an engrossing visit to our infamous Sixth Street. The wondrous appeal of Sixth? One can simply walk down the street and be entertained. There’s no need to set foot in any establishment because a walk-through will provide your guests with more humor than a $20 ticket to Esther’s Follies. Should hunger pangs strike, skip the bars and spend cash on a slice of pizza from the nearest pie stand. If you’re feeling like a big spender, dole out the $3.50 for a hot slice from local favorite, The Onion. Guaranteed to burn your mouth every time.

Although it’s been mentioned in this column’s space before, Mount Bonnell is not a shameful way to see the Central Texas sunset… especially if you’re a cheapskate with invaders from out of town. It’s free, it’s pretty, and it’s on an incline, which means you can work off a few of those breakfast tacos you’ve been eating thrice daily. Stand above the city and impress your kin with your vast knowledge of the city’s moon towers. (Here’s a hint to get you started: 17 of the original 31 towers remain intact.)

As always, it is my hope that this rather haphazard collection of thrifty suggestions will save you some cash in the long run. With my luck, you’ll have vacationers who hate bats, burgers, bars, moon towers, and organic food. These words will be useless to you. If that’s the case, take your aunt and uncle, make some PB&J, and have yourself a penny-pinching Zilker Park picnic.

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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.


Anonymous's picture

Terrific write-up. This gave me some awesome ideas. My in-laws are coming this weekend!