Book Excerpt: Caviar Living on Fish Stick Money by Marilyn Whelan

Non Fiction
Date Published: April 29, 2015

“Life must be a mixture of frugality and luxury.” — Marilyn Whelan


Caviar Living is a hand guide of home-spun lessons from a life well lived. Marilyn Whelan shares her wisdom from how to connect with your community to how to play your mortgage like a game.


With short snappy chapters Whelan gives us tips and tidbits on:


·         Fun ways to teach your kids and grandkids about money

·         How to keep a clutter-free house – and why!

·         Creative ways to get a tax break

·         How to stretch a dollar on everything from real estate to creative vacations


Part budget guide, part spiritual manual, and a whole lotta charm, Caviar Living is a lifetime of lessons wrapped up in this 98-pages of fun.


“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

– Saint Augustine



Travel is and always will be my passion. My

vacations are planned around volunteering,

family, adventure, learning and fun. As long as

I can be warm, I am willing to go anywhere at

any time. I have had the good luck to experience

many different types of getaways.

Volunteer Travel

Because my husband was retired military,

this allowed us to travel on military cargo

planes. We often would sign up for five destinations

and take the first one offered. Our main

objective was to cross the ocean. We traveled


often to Spain, Italy, Germany and England and

branched out from there.

We served a tour of duty in the United States

Peace Corps. We served in the Philippines, and

I still keep up with good friends we made there.

Many people do not realize Peace Corps volunteers

are drawn mostly from two groups: people

fresh out of college and retirees.

There are many wonderful opportunities for

volunteer-oriented vacations. Perhaps you’d like

to try an archeological dig, or pulling weeds on

a mountain trail, or counting turtles on a distant


One of my favorite adventures was a month

I spent volunteering for the National Park Service

at Andersonville, GA. Andersonville was

the site of the largest prisoner of war camp in

the South for Union soldiers during the Civil

War. It is now a national park that includes a

museum devoted to POWs from all of America’s

wars. I was a greeter in the museum, helping

visitors look up their ancestors, and I sometimes

helped in the gift shop. My two days off

per week were spent touring the area. While

I was there, I stayed in a small cottage in the


cemetery. I was the only one on the grounds

at night. It gave me lots of time to reflect, and I

took several projects with me to work on. There

was no television reception in the area, nor did

I have Internet access.

My second-favorite volunteer location was

with Pueblo Ingles. This is a for-profit agency

that helps Spanish executives perfect their English.

For the Spaniards, it is a very expensive

program paid for by their employers. The program

does not accept participants who speak

only Spanish, because the goal is for them to

totally immerse themselves in English. Once

you are accepted into the program as a volunteer,

you work with program personnel to select

a date. If you’re coming with friends, they

work with you to offer a week to your party as

a group.

We paid only for airfare. We were met in

Madrid the evening before departure for the resort

and taken to a banquet and flamenco show

with our fellow Anglos. Anglos come from all

English-speaking countries, such as the U.S.,

England, Ireland, Wales and South Africa.


The next day we were taken by bus about 2

1/2 hours from Madrid into the mountains near

the Portugal border. The resort was beautiful.

Each of us was assigned with a Spaniard to a

casita with a bedroom and bath for the Spaniard

upstairs and a bedroom and bath downstairs

for the volunteer. We shared a small living

room and kitchen area. A chef prepared three

meals a day, with wine accompanying lunch

and dinner. It truly was an unforgettable week

for a lifetime of memories. You can learn about

this program at

Vacations are for fun, excitement and trying

something new. Consider participating on

a cattle drive. Dryhead Ranch in Montana is

a working cattle and guest ranch. One of the

most popular activities there is driving the cattle

50 miles on Bad Pass Trail. This is a three-hour

drive that gives you to chance to get acquainted

with the beautiful Montana country. For more

information, go to


Getting a trip off to a great start can be as

simple as packing correctly. A list is essential.


It helps to have a master list to start from. On

this list are the items you are most likely to

need wherever you go, such as an alarm clock,

camera, cell phone charger, medication, small

flashlight or night light. Give thought to what

your days and nights will entail. Think of the

things that will bring you comfort and ease.

When planning clothes, select only three

colors that will go with each other. Make sure

you have both solid and patterned bottoms and

tops. Choose items that go with more than one

other item. My rule is that each top must go

with three things. Roll your clothes. They will

take less room and are less likely to wrinkle.

Consider the mood of the vacation when you

pack. Will it be an exciting adventure, casual

down time, family event? Choose your clothes

accordingly. Have a plan. Your trip plan doesn’t

have to be written in stone; it can be changed

along the way. But have a plan for the things

you think you want to do or see. That said, be

open to changes in the plan. Be flexible.



When shopping for souvenirs, consider

adding a special piece to your wardrobe or buy

something for your home you can incorporate

into your decorating scheme. Make it authentic

– something a craftsman made or a work of

art. Let it remind you of the wonderful trip you

took. You want to look at it for years and smile. I

often carry my purchases on the plane with me.

I feel like I can replace my clothes if lost, but

not my special remembrances.

Travel Deals

Vacations do not have to be costly. Thanks

to technology, you have more tools than ever

to nab the best price for a great getaway. These

tips will help you save time and money, both

when searching for deals and while you’re actually


  • When purchasing airfare, try to be flexible

about your travel days for a lower


  • Consider buying early. If you must travel

during peak travel times, such as when

school is out or over Christmas or Easter


vacation, buy as early as possible. Airline

ticket prices typically go up in the

last two weeks before flying.

  • Consider buying late. This is major risk,

but sometimes airlines have open seats

at the last minute and offer them in

newsletters to their loyal flyers. A simple

online search will help you find the

cheapest days to fly.

  • Shop around. Always, always check

as many prices as time permits. Never

book the first price you see. A small

sampling of sites to check includes,,,

flights,, and www. These sites will help

you figure out which airlines fly to your

destination. Next, you can go to the

website of the airline with the lowest

fare and check it directly. Maybe that

airline will offer a special sale or promotion,

or maybe you can just hit the

site at the right time.

  • Be flexible. If you live near more than


one airport, check out fares from all the

airports near you. Many online faresearching

engines will ask you if you are

willing to depart from or arrive in alternative


  • You’ll usually find the lowest fares for

travel if you look on Tuesdays, Wednesdays

and Saturdays. Also try to fly midweek,

which is less costly. Prices on the

Internet are lower for car rentals, hotels

and flights. You can compare prices

among Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz.

  • Peak seasons are tricky. Often flying the

week before or the week after a peak

season can make a huge difference.

I remember once taking a cruise to

Alaska the last week of the peak season.

It turned out to be the warmest week of

that season.

com can tell you when a good deal

comes along. Check for coupons and

specials. This site will track your reservation

and alert you when a special deal

is offered.


  • When buying travel insurance, try a

multi-insurance site such as www. Don’t buy insurance

from a tour operator, travel agency or

cruise line. They work with only one

agency and may use the one that offers

them the highest commission rather

than the one that best meets your needs.

  • For booking a hotel room last-minute,

download an app called Hotel Tonight.

It not only gives you up to 70 percent

off, but you can check availability a

week in advance.

  • Have an RV? For a $35 annual fee,

you can park free overnight at one of

351 farms or wineries. Find out more

at For free or

nearly free RV campgrounds, try www.

  • Satisfied with only a place to lay your

head? Consider a Pod Hotel. Arabella

Bowen, executive director for Fodor’s

travel likens the pods to cruise cabins.

After all, most travelers do not spend a

lot of time in their rooms, but consider


the hotel a place to be comfortable at

night. Pod Hotels can be found in many

foreign countries and also airports such

as Atlanta and Heathrow. One example

is Tubo Hotel in Tepoztlan, Mexico,

where you sleep in a recycled drainage

pipe. All rooms have a queen-size bed,

light, fan and Wi-Fi. There is a swimming

pool on the grounds. A package

plan is offered for cooking lessons with

fabulous celebrity chef, Ana Garcia, the

Mexican Rachel Ray. Check it out at

  • Italy’s newest high-speed trains, Italo,

advertise larger windows, wider seats,

more elbow room, smoke-free and air

conditioned cars, and Wi-Fi. Find out

more at

  • When planning a trip, check online for

free activities. Many regions and cities

offer free concerts in the park, lectures

in the library and ranger-led walks, just

to name a few. While online, check for

discounted tickets and special deals.

Look on for dis85

counts on meals.

  • Military families, both active duty and

retired, can fly “space available” to

foreign countries. They can stay on

bases in short-term housing in the U.S.

and abroad. Most bases have a ticket

and tour office where discounted tickets

are available. I recently went with

several friends to the Naval Base in Key

West where we had a reservation for a

three-bedroom house for four days. It

was wonderful, complete with a fully

equipped kitchen and all linens.

Tax Advantages

While my goal is not to give tax advice, you

can often take advantage of having Uncle Sam

pay for part of your trip. Suppose you want to

buy a boat and “sail the ocean blue.” In addition

to your home mortgage taxes and interest, you

may be able to deduct a second home mortgage

taxes and interest. If the boat of your dreams has

sleeping and cooking quarters and a bathroom,

it could qualify as a second home. This also

holds true for a travel trailer or motor home.


If you are traveling to an exotic location for

a volunteer experience with an accredited organization,

you may be able to deduct the cost

of your travel expenses, as long as the volunteer

work is the primary reason for your expense.

One such trip I found recently is offered by

the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

It could be considered both a service and a

learning vacation. The committee is partnering

with BorderLinks. BorderLinks is a binational,

nonprofit educational organization at the U.S.-

Mexico border. The organization focuses on

cross-border relationship-building opportunities,

immigration issues, community formation

and development, and social justice in the borderlands

between Mexico, the United States,

and beyond.

BorderLinks has extensive experience designing

programs, and nearly 1,000 individuals

participate annually in BorderLinks learning

opportunities. Volunteers have the opportunity

to meet with Immigration and Customs Enforcement,

go on a desert walk, and participate in a

discussion with a public defender.

Other ideas are provided below. Many of


these organizations charge a fee, but others are


  • Want to learn to speak a foreign language?

Your course may be offset by the

lifetime learning tax credit worth up to


  • One-day cooking classes in Europe can

be found at http://www.theinternationalkitchen.


  • Many foreign countries have Englishspeaking

volunteer greeters who belong

to the Global Greeter Network. Find it

at The

greeters are not trained guides, but will

spend a few hours with you introducing

you to native haunts.

  • Dublin is known as the City of a Thousand

Welcomes. It matches first-time

visitors with volunteers for a cup of tea

or a pint. Find information at www.

organize dinners in private homes in


  • Find which takes you

to a facebook application whereby you


can join and stay with locals instead of

at hotels.

Flexibility and Resourcefulness

You don’t always get everything you desire

in accommodations. When I scheduled three

weeks in the Berkshires with a friend, we had

a great timeshare with two bedrooms and two

baths. The operators obviously did not want

visitors to do a lot of cooking, because the kitchen

had only a small refrigerator, a very small

microwave and a sink. It was a bit of a shock,

since we had not counted on eating three meals

a day in restaurants for three weeks. We went

to a local Kmart and purchased an electric hot

plate and a set of three pans. We shopped local

farmers’ markets for produce. By being flexible

and resourceful, we ended up preparing meals

that were gourmet quality.


“Travel is fatal to

prejudice, bigotry, and

narrow mindedness, and

many of our people need

it sorely on these accounts.

Broad, wholesome,

charitable views of men

and things cannot be

acquired by vegetating in one littlecorner of the earth

all one’s lifetime.”

– Mark Twain

Marilyn Whelan has worked as a reporter, a district supervisor in a first time youthful offenders program, and President of caviar-authorShoppers Critique International.  Her want is to die with something remaining on her bucket list, because when something is crossed off, something else is added.  

Marilyn currently lives in Clearwater, Florida, where she is Granny to seven, and Great Granny to three. She loves to travel and plays Mah Jongg twice a week.


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