Living Cheap in Naples, Florida

By - September 10, 2012

It's time for more tips and tricks for living frugally in Naples, Florida. In the first installment I went over the cheap fruits and vegetables of Florida, as well as where to get other groceries inexpensively. I covered the availability of cheap housing and dental care and other things as well. Now we'll look at entertainment and restaurants and going out for the evening without spending much.

If you are really frugal you generally don't go out to eat or watch movies. But if you enjoy going out like Ana and I do, and you are on a budget, you just have to find cheaper ways. Here are some of the tricks to doing this in Naples.

Free Meals and Entertainment

At Winners Casino they will feed you dinner for free at five every evening. We go every other Friday or so. You have to be playing the slot machines, of course, but that's not a problem, as I'll explain.

When you initially sign up as a member and get your membership card, you pay the casino $5 and they load your card with $10, effectively giving you $5 for free. Insert the card in a machine and you can go for hours on that amount if you keep the paying to five cents per play and don't rush. The money you win, or whatever you have left on the card, can't be redeemed in the form of cash. I don't know if that's the law here or what, but you redeem in the form of gift cards once you have $25 or more. Since they offer gift cards for Walmart and Shell gas stations, both of which we shop at, this is essentially the same as cash.

They also have a bingo every hour on the hour, which you play using the card attached to the slot machine you are at. On our second trip there I won the consolation prize of $10--which was added to the card. In addition they give members $5 in play every time they come in (you give them $5 and they put $10 on the card). I usually quit before I have lost even the $5 they add (and I sometimes win a bit as well), meaning my card balance grows. We never spend more than the $10 it takes for the two of us to get $10 ($5 each), and we have so far never lost all of that even. I recently bought $50 in groceries at Walmart using two gift cards I received at Winners, and both of our player's club cards still have balances on them.

Meanwhile we get dinner. It isn't anything special, but the eggplant parmesan they had one evening was delicious. The salad varies in quality. Pop, snacks, and even a glass or two of wine are all free as well.

If you really want to work it to your financial advantage (as I'm sure some residents of the mobile home park just behind the casino do), here's the entertainment-timing routine to follow. Come a few minutes before four and leave shortly after five. That way you get to play two of the free hourly bingo games, and if you play the slot machines at a relaxed pace you will only use up the free $5 you were given. The worst you do is get an hour-and-a-half of free entertainment and a free meal, but occasionally you'll win from the machines or the bingo.

Happy Hours

Many of the bars in Naples have good happy hour specials. Pelican Larry's, for example, has domestic draft beers for $1.35. South Street has small pizzas for $5, and cheap appetizers are a normal offering at most places. Check online for the specials, and also for the timing. Happy hours can be from eleven in the morning to eight at night, but most are shorter and encompass the hours from four to six. Plan to arrive at four-thirty and order your last drink a few minutes before six. South Street sometimes has live music early in the evening; check for that online.

Free Outdoor Movies

At the shopping center called Mercato they have free movies on the lawn (shown on an outdoor screen) every 3rd Tuesday from late May to mid-December. Recently they showed the original "Jaws," and "Grease." Mercato has other free events, including art exhibits where free food and drink is occasionally offered. We went to a free concert when they had a food festival, and though we spent $10 on various samples I also won a $50 restaurant card in a free drawing.

Cheap Cruises

There are all sorts of short cruises offered in the Naples area. Many cost less than $50 for an hour or two on the water, and in the off-season you can get coupons that bring the cost down to $20 each. But the cheapest way to get out on the ocean for a good long stretch is to board the "Big M Casino" boat at Fort Myers Beach. At the moment it costs just $10 and the cruise lasts for six hours. Of course they expect to make their money from the slot machines and table games, but you are not obligated to play or to lose too much if you do. They have roulette, blackjack and poker tables.

It is $21.61 per passenger if you want to also get the all-you-can-eat buffet. Where else can you get dinner and a six-hour ocean cruise for that price? Even if you gamble away $25 at the roulette table you have spent less than $50 for a lot of food and entertainment. We plan to do the Big M sunset cruise soon.

Free Food

The best place in town for free food samples is Whole Foods. Most days you'll find at least six to ten different items out for you to try. The cheeses are always delicious. Other common offerings are whole grain crackers, tortilla chips, coffee and juice. We often end up buying a few things while we are there, but if you shop the sales at this otherwise expensive store, you can spend what you would have elsewhere and fill yourself up with free samples. They recently opened a bar inside the grocery store too, so if you feel like a beer after eating, you can take a break--and then eat more samples.

A Plan

Here's a plan for an afternoon/evening out for two that will be cheaper than cheap. Go to Whole Foods at three-thirty and eat all those healthy snacks they put out. Buy a one of the jars of lemonade they often have on sale for $1.50. Then move down the road a mile to Winners Casino, arriving just before four. Get your free $5 each, play the free bingo games at four and five, eat the free meal, and have a glass of free wine. If you play smart, this part costs you nothing, and you might win something even. Then head over to Pelican Larry's and have a beer each while you relax and enjoy whatever music they are playing. With a $2 tip this will be about $5. By the time you arrive home with lemonade, a full stomach, and having had a couple drinks each, you'll have spent $6.50 total. There may be more exciting ways to spend the evening, but it doesn't get much cheaper than that. Living in Naples doesn't have to be as expensive as people claim.

Other Pages

Wise Giving

Taking Surveys for Money

Living Cheap in Naples