99 Days At The 99¢ Store, WEEK FIVE: Home For The Holidays

A whopping 35% of my discretionary spending has been on dog-related necessities since the launch of this challenge, but it’s one thing I truly feel is worth every penny.
Publish date:
January 9, 2013
money, dollar stores

Negative or single digit temperatures have been the norm since arriving in my icicled hometown in Siberia Minnesota. Spoiled by SoCal weather which is at least 50 degrees warmer, burrowing inside for the duration of the trip is pretty much the only option: this morning marked my first venture out in three days.

Fortunately, the intense familial love radiates out from my heart to keep all but my pointiest extremities -– fingers, toes, and nipples -– warm. This week started off harried with travel preparations, but today I’m so contented, it’s hard to believe my mother ever managed to wean me and push me out of the nest.

"Home for the holidays" seemed to be the Zeitgeist this year; even I, a frequent deflector, felt the urge.

The only things missing are my boyfriend and my dog. My bf and I, both long overdue to spend Christmas with our respective families, took separate trips, while my boxer-pit Georgia is “busy keeping her new friends active and entertained,” says the boarder.

Until the 99¢ Store branches out into dog boarding, a lot of research was called for to make this an even remotely economical decision. Any friends I would have been comfortable leaving her with were already out-of-town, since I flew out on Christmas Day to save money (ticket purchased mid-November).

My 3-year-old boxer-pit is so cute that she induces involuntary teeth grinding, but she has a few characteristics that require special consideration when it comes to dog sitting or boarding. She’s deaf, super high energy, and, as a doggie death row rescue, has some pretty serious separation anxiety.

Dog boarding in LA, like everything else in this city, is hugely expensive. Traditional kennels charge at least $40-50 a day for a 50-lb. dog like Georgia, in addition to a $7-10 holiday surcharge -– plus a lot of places charge for exercise! Ultra lux places with the human dorm room setup -– complete with a bed and A LAMP -– come at an even higher premium.

DogVacay, a home boarding dog kennel alternative, had a few $20-30 options on the low end of their price spectrum, but they were quickly disqualified for one reason or another: apartment setup, no 24/7 care, only offering a boarding/sitting combination which is out of the question with her temperament.

Georgia is a well-meaning tornado with an incredible capacity for destruction, yet another deterrent from leaving her with an individual instead of a company. About a year and a half ago, she stayed with a good friend of mine for a week. Even though it was a dog-proofed house, and home two other pups, she wound up ruining a bunch of stuff –- which meant an awkward conversation and the added expense of replacement.

After some careful mulling, I decided to go with the cage-free boarding at Happy Trails in Tehachapi. Though almost two hours outside of L.A, at $30 a day and no holiday fee, Happy Trails is easily one of the most economical providers. Also, the fact that it’s a farm with loads of room to run around and play with other dogs was no small influence. Georgia’s separation anxiety is significantly better when she can play the role of antagonistic beta in a pack of dogs.

While I’d decided the extra to-and-fro travel to take and retrieve her was worth it, unfortunately my car put forth a rebuttal. After myriad transportation trouble last fall (three cars in three months), a friend tipped me off to a well-maintained ’91 Lexus for $1500. Aside from having a slight issue climbing steep, fast-moving hills, it’s been the answer to my automotive prayers.

Unfortunately, steep, fast-moving hills are plentiful on the drive to Tehachapi, so there’s no way my car would make it out there. It’s the perfect car for city driving, and it would be stupid to put that in jeopardy by testing its outer limits. I originally found Happy Trails in preparation of our road trip to Seattle last Christmas. I remembered a shuttle service being offered then, so this time I asked upfront.

Apparently there hadn’t been any demand this year, but owner/operator Cathy agreed to take Georgia back with her visiting family in the area. Our meetup was one day earlier than I’d planned to drop Georgia off, but Cathy didn’t charge for the transportation -– only the extra day; so at less than the cost of gas to get out there, I saved money, not to mention time, out of the deal. Never hurts to ask! My boyfriend is covering the return trip, picking her up on the last leg of his road trip back to L.A.

With all that said and done, Georgia is boarding 9 days, for a total of $270, which had to be paid in advance. Not only that, but I had to re-up early on dog food in order to pack enough for her stay. Even though coupons make my OCD flare up trying to keep track of them, I used the $1 off manufacturer’s coupon I got last time.

A whopping 35% of my discretionary spending has been on dog-related necessities since the launch of this challenge, but it’s one thing I truly feel is worth every penny. I got Georgia when I was going through a horrible breakup and she did the impossible task of making me feel whole again. Even now, the structure involved with her care aids in my own quest for sanity and her love and puppy licks make me an infinitely more positive person.

Since I was cleaning out my fridge (with my mouth) to prepare for the trip, I only incurred two other discretionary expenses this week. I spent $8.65 on food from the 99¢ Store after getting down to a meager rotation of hot cocoa and oatmeal. And though I decided Facebook-begging a ride to the airport on Christmas morning was a little gauche for my taste, I was able to find a cheap solution: Shuttle2LAX provides a $20 flat-rate service -- so with a $5 tip my total came to $25.

In addition, I limited my luggage to carry-on only, saving myself 25 bucks, and, in a college era move of frugality, I packed dirty clothes to avoid spending 75¢ a load on laundry. Plus, an added benefit to rejoining the family unit is that I get a little holiday from spending money on gas or food.

Even a fool knows that love is priceless, but the longer I spend on the Minnesota tundra, I realize another thing is true: so are thawed-out nipples. But it is reassuring to know if I moved back home, I could have a full-on career as a glasscutter.

Follow me every penny-pinching step of the way on Twitter @courtneykocak and Tumblr.