A Financial Education Event
 

Identity Theft Protection for Girlfriends, Grandma and Grandkids

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My husband brought me the credit card bill and asked “What did you DO on your last trip to New York?” He was stunned, “These charges are to a tattoo shop, an liquor store and a series of bars. Please tell me this is some kind of mistake!”
It was a classic case of identity theft. I may have been guilty of buying one too many lattes and pastries at Dean and Delucas in New York, but I had no tattoos! I tried to respond to my hubby but couldn’t speak . . .
And then I woke up.

Yes, I know. I’m a strange breed because my nightmares consist of dreams about identity theft. Unfortunately, my nightmares are other people’s reality, especially in light of recent major data breaches.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, it takes 12 months, on average, for a victim of identity theft to notice the crime. You may feel YOU are safe, but what about your girlfriends in your group of friends? What about Grandma in the retirement home? She’s a prime target. So is your four year old grandson, when scammers want to take over his social security number.

I just got back from an informative trip to USAA in San Antonio. They flew out a group of us, who also write about these topics, and they shared the newest ways they help their members in a variety of areas. I interviewed Mike Slaugh, the Executive Director of Financial Crimes Prevention and he gave me some great ways to keep you and (those who love) safe from the ever growing threat of identity theft. Here are some ways to identify and protect yourself from the latest scams.

Phishing Scams – Never give your social security number, account numbers, date of birth or other personal information via email or on the phone unless you initiated the contact.  Never click a link in an email, no matter how official the email looks. Instead, open a browser and put in the name of your credit card or lending institution sending the email. “Some of the most popular scams are romance, charity, work at home and advanced fee scams” says Slaugh. “If you are asked to send money so they can pay you money, then that’s classified as an advanced fee scam.”

Checks – When you pay your credit card by check, never put your credit card’s full account number on the check, just write the last four digits. This will prevent someone in transit from harvesting your account number. Better yet, set up an automatic pay from your checking account and you won’t have to write a check at all (plus, you’ll never be late on your payments.)

• Data Breach – To see if your data was among those compromised during the Equifax Data breach, just go to the website they set up to verify your data. You’ll only use 6 digits of your social to see if your name appears on the list. Remind your girlfriends, Grandma and grandkids to check this info as well. If your info was compromised, then they offer a list of actions to take to help, this also includes getting credit monitoring. Your bank or credit card company might offer free credit monitoring as a benefit to their customers. Our family are USAA members and they partner with Experian to provide those members with free credit monitoring. I’ve seen alerts that tell me new lines of credit were opened.  If these accounts weren’t opened by me, then I can take immediate action.

MFA or Multifactor Authentication – Mike Slaugh emphasized the need to “make sure your financial accounts utilize MFA.” This means that your mobile app or website requires a touch ID, face or voice authentication, and/or a four digit pin, or a security token built into the app. This could include email or cell phone authentication or recovery that would send a code to your phone or email to authenticate usage on a new device.

• Deployed Military Members — During our Heroes at Home Financial events at bases, we encourage deploying military members to bring a device with them that can support MFA such as a keychain token. At the USAA Deployment Checklist you’ll find where a USAA member can go to their security section and ask for the token. Furthermore, you may want to put a credit alert on your social security number to make sure that scammers can’t use personal info to authenticate. Dana Martinez, USAA Director of Corporate Communications adds, “The Active Duty Alert gives extra protection for the service member.” You can put this alert in place by contacting any of the three credit reporting bureaus: Experian, TransUnion or Equifax.

• Auction Fraud or Fraudulent Websites– Auction fraud is a frequently reported consumer fraud complaint at the FTC, totaling 51,000 auction complaints last year. The fraud is simple – put up a fake ad on eBay or other auction site, let someone “win” the bid and send in their money, but never send out the merchandise. Make sure the seller has an established history before you click “buy.” Also, watch out for websites that offer deals that are incredibly good. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” says Mike Slaugh. Check out any questionable website with the Better Business Bureau. Or google the website name, address or phone number and see the results.

I had a family member recently try to buy a dog for a great deal. She checked out the website and it wasn’t reported as fraudulent. But when she got to the payment portion, they wanted a Western Union payment before she got the dog– red flag!  There’s no recourse with that kind of payment and you can’t get your money back with a wire transfer or a money order. She googled the phone number listed on the website and saw it was connected to a previous scam website that was taken down. Her savvy sleuthing saved her from losing a lot of money just by being aware and doing her research.

• Identity Theft or Credit Repair Scams — The Federal Trade Commission has warned that some companies that claim to be identity theft prevention companies are scam artists trying to get your driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, Social Security number or credit and bank account numbers. If you are unsure about a firm, check it out with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org .

 

Keep your data safe and be sure to pass along your knowledge to friends and family members, you could save them a lot of grief just by sharing this wealth of information.

 

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

 

Polite Bargaining – 8 Ways to Negotiate on Everything

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My longtime friend, Edith and I found heaven on earth this past weekend and we were determined to milk it for all it was worth. Milk chocolate that is! We took a day trip to Chocolate World in Hershey, PA from her new house in Mechanicsburg and we racked up the discounts all day. There was a Groupon for four special events: a chocolate tasting, the 4D chocolate experience, a trolley ride and build your own candy bar. We saved 30% on those bundled tickets.

Chocoholics forever 

When we had lunch and bought tons of candy to take to our chocoholic friends and family, we got a military discount. When we left, we were astonished to realize that our 3 hours of free parking had grown to $45 for the 6 hours we were there! When we went to pay, Edith (who has 20+ years of military service) asked for a veteran’s discount and we breezed through the exit with a 100% parking discount. We were on a sugar high and a savings high as well! 

My grandma Laudeman used to quote a Bible verse that has stuck with me throughout my whole life: “you have not because you ask not.”

Even though I was a shy person growing up, I was never shy about parting with less of my hard-earned money if there was a chance I could save some bucks.

So, how do you bargain in every day matters without embarrassing yourself or your family? Consumer Reports says that 89% of those who regularly ask for discounts get a “yes” on that discount at least once. Those are good odds.

Here are 8 tried and true ways that can help you become a polite negotiator.  

Everything Is Fair Game – Almost everything in retail goes on sale at some point, so why not try to create your own sale? A retailer may not want to give the sale to everyone, but they may give you a discount if they are still making a profit. Ask the manager if the item has recently been on sale, if it is going on sale soon or if they can sell it at a discount. One college student in Chicago routinely asks for the “good guy discount” because he’s a good guy and they’ll be a good guy if they give him a discount. If you’re military, use the Scout app to find those discounts. Don’t forget the classic money saver, RetailMeNot for additional savings.

Find Something Wrong – A makeup smudge, a missing button or a slight hole along a seam that is easily repaired are all good reasons for a big discount. Show the sales clerk or manager the damaged area and ask for a 30% discount, you can settle for less, but ask for more since it can’t be sold as brand new.

Do Your Research – Comparison shop online using apps like Amazon which has a barcode scanner that you can use when you’re in a store to immediately find the item on Amazon and check its price. Just choose the camera icon next to the search bar and hold it over a barcode. You can do the same thing with Walmart Savings Catcher, which is a part of their regular app. Show the manager the comparison price and ask if they will match it. Check out Yelp to also get check in discounts and review the vendor.

Use Your Expertise – If you are a geek at an electronics store or at a gaming outlet, talk with the sales person and capitalize on your mutual passion for the products. But don’t be a bore and inundate them with a one-way monologue. Instead, build a rapport with the sales person by asking them questions and letting them be the expert they are. You’ll come across as a qualified buyer who is worthy of a discounted price.

Don’t Be Intimidated by Professionals with Titles – Just because someone is an MD, CPA, or a lawyer doesn’t mean you can’t get a discount. One lady was told her eye surgery was going to be 10K and she didn’t have insurance coverage for the procedure. She told the doctor that it was too much and “could he work with her to get it for less?” He told her that besides the big city practice he had (where she saw him) he also had a smaller office in a neighboring smaller city. If she went to that smaller office, he would reduced his fee to $1000, use the smaller clinic that charged a lot less than the hospital surgery room and they got a discounted rate on the anesthesiologist as well. The new price on the surgery? $2800

Buy Everything in Bulk—Even Services! It’s hard for most vendors to turn down cold, hard, cash. I have learned to negotiate paying for services in advance to save even more. These would be known vendors you work with frequently and trust. At my mail and more store where I have a PO Box, I paid for a year and asked for a deal I saw elsewhere where they offered 2 months for free by paying the full year—he gave it to me in seconds. For haircuts, spa treatments, and massage treatments, I’ll prepay anywhere from 5 to 10 services at a 30% discount. Then we keep up with services as we go along, counting down to the next bulk payment. This works especially well for services you know you will get regularly.

Get Discounts on Existing Service by Mentioning the C Word – Take those sale circulars you get in the mail, are hanging on your door, or you find in the paper and call your existing provider to renegotiate your current service. Whether you are getting cable service, cell phone service, entomology or house cleaning services. Call your current provider, tell them you want to “cancel” or talk to the cancellations department. You’ll likely be transferred to a department that has more authority to offer you freebies to keep your business. If you mention the introductory pricing from one of their competitors, you might not get that exact price, but you could use it as leverage to get deeper discounts on your current service.

Be Willing to Walk Away- Whether you are in a department store or a Turkish bazaar, decide ahead of time what your “comfortable” price is for the goods or service you are negotiating. Decide this ahead of time so you won’t get caught up in the moment. My favorite words, when discussing prices, are: “I don’t feel good about that price.” Then the seller usually tries to find out what price I would feel good about. I’ve often been stopped while walking away with a lower price that will seal the deal. And if I’m not followed out with the promise of a bargain? That’s OK, too, I can feel good about walking away if I don’t get the price that floats my boat!   

****

I have a friend who is a newly single mom and her part time job is making phone calls to get discounts on existing payments she must make. We figured she is earning about $50/ per hour for her time investment. She has talked to utility providers, mortgage bankers, insurance companies and the city to get free items such as light bulbs, a/c filters, a refrigerator, a swamp cooler (also installed free), low moisture landscaping and much more. She’s a firm believer in “you have not because you ask not.”

What’s your bargaining story? Let me hear from you!

Summer Jobs For Kids

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Nifty Ways for Kids to Earn Money This Summer

The first job my sons Daniel and Philip ever had was a paper route. It gave them something to do during the summer, helped them start managing their finances and was even a little fun (at first). While we said they could only do it if they committed to it for a year, they occasionally passed duties on to their younger brothers, Jonathan (age 7 at the time) and Joshua (age 6).

While mama (age undisclosed) did the driving, the little boys did the delivering. On Joshua’s very first house, he grabbed the paper in his tight fist, barreled up the sidewalk, got his arm into an admirable wind-up and pitched the paper on top of the house! Rooftop-bound periodicals aside, allowing your kids to earn money can be a fun and prosperous adventure, as long as you’re willing to supervise them. Simply set boundaries that are appropriate and let them go to work.

Here are some great ideas to help your kids raise their own cash this summer while enjoying the benefits of earning, saving and sharing:

  • Rent-A-Kid – If you, a church or neighbor (someone you know) needs any odd jobs done, this is a great idea. When advertising the service, it’s important to plan early and be specific, polite and careful. You can even help your child make a small business card on the computer!
  • Washing cars and/or windows – This can be advertised similar to the Rent-A-Kid idea and only requires suds, soap and elbow grease. Focus on safe neighborhoods and quality work. Always accompany your child until you know the employer better.
  • Babysitting – A popular choice for young guys and girls, safety is key for this job. Encourage your child to take a babysitting/CPR course and babysitting people you know. Also, if they keep the house tidy and the kids happy, it can lead to repeat business.
  • Caring for pets – Since summer is a popular time for vacations, people are usually looking for affordable ways to care for their pets. For kids who like animals, this is perfect. Recommend they pass out flyers and visit the animal before they take the job.
  • Mowing lawns – For older kids, this is a go-to summer job and an excellent source of income. It can be dangerous, so it’s important to exercise caution and safety. Make sure they have the proper supply and safety gear and encourage a job well done (the best form of advertising).
  • Making and selling candy or drinks – Everyone loves candy, cool drinks and cookies/cakes, so this is a great option for the future chef. With permission, you can sell at sporting events, church bazaars, carnivals, festivals or farmer’s markets.

Before your kids take on a job this summer, be sure to think about safety, age-appropriate work, training, quality and following through. And after they’re finished, praise them for a job well done! Be sure they are working for family members or trusted friends and feel free to supervise their work by tagging along as long as they are young enough to need you!

What kind of summer job did you do as a kid?

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

5 Ways to Stick to That Summer Budget!

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I love summer. It means a lot of fun things for the Kay Family. We have two weddings this year with one on Memorial day weekend and another in July! It means a lot of travel and budgeting to make sure we don’t go into debt!

Summer is a tough time for anyone to control spending, much less stay on a budget.  With the kids out of school and summer vacation around the corner, it’s a time when people fall victim to the thought, “I’ll go on vacation now and deal with the bills later.”

But there are ways to cut back on spending to stay on budget before summer hits. The three areas that require consumers to spend money on a regular basis, that do not go away with difficult economic times: groceries, gas and family essentials (such as clothing, birthday gifts, etc). You can plan for summer and still stay on budget for these “little” areas that add up to big expenses. Here are some questions I got when I went on ABC NEWS that you might find helpful.

Q. Ellie, we often think of the holidays as a difficult time to stay on a personal finance budget, but this time of the year is really is a difficult time to stay as well. There are end of the school year gifts to buy, vacations to plan and a summer clothes to get for the kids. We have to start somewhere, and you say the first step is to start with a plan?

ELLIE: Yes, it’s amazing how kids keep growing every year and the summer clothes they wore last season are two sizes too small this year. But having a plan is a good place to start and while the basic a plan is a budget,  now is the time to break down the household budget into a plan for the more manageable subsections. This time of year, stores and websites are cleverly designed to get you to spend more than you intended. So it’s important to know what you are going to get and spend before you go to the mall or online. This plan will take into consideration past spending behavior and any impulse buys that tend to kick in while you’re in spending mode. Write down what you are going to spend in the little areas and be specific. If your two preschoolers need clothing, then conduct an inventory of what each of them has—including any hand-me-downs and the vacation gear they may need for the entire season. If you’re planning a vacation and find that you will eat fewer meals at home because you’re going to be away, then don’t budget the same amount for the grocery store. Otherwise, you’re adding spending upon spending when you should be cutting in one area and adding in another.

Q. So we have a plan, the next step is to not fall for questionable “deals.” What do you mean by this?

ELLIE: This time of year, you’ll see sales on summer clothing, electronics and even summer foods—all the things that people are thinking about as the school year winds down and vacation time starts to gear up. But not all sales are created equal and you may see a lot of $90 digital cameras and $100 GPS sales but there can be a huge difference in the models. So before you pick up a steal of a deal, do a general price search on the specific model at Shopping.com or amazon.com before you get too excited. Plus, if you go into the store and they do not have it in stock, ask for a substitute that is an upgrade from the model that is on sale. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save by just asking. It’s also important to read the fine print in a sale advertisement. If there is a “limited quantity” or “no substitutions” then that could impact your spending plan. Finally, look at the whole world of “price comps” this is where a store offers to match the price of competitors in any sale advertisement that you bring into the store. While one store may not have that GPS in stock and may not offer rainchecks, another store might match the sale and have plenty in stock. We’ve taken advantage of this kind of offer quite a few times, so much so that price comping has become a habit in our family. This can also save quite a bit of money and help to keep you on track in the “little” areas that can tend to torpedo the budget.

Q. So we have a plan, we’re not falling for questionable “deals” and now you say that the next step is “don’t miss any discounts.” How can this help keep us on track and what if there aren’t any discounts—especially for things like gas and other essentials?

ELLIE: Just because a store or website doesn’t mention a discount on merchandise or shipping on its site or in the ads doesn’t mean its not offering any. There is often a number out there in cyberspace that can be retried into either the promotional code box online or even a coupon code into the register at the mall. To find out if what you are buying has an additional discount, go to RetailMeNot.com on your computer or smartphone and enter the store’s name. Or you can go to CouponCabin.comBradsDeals.com and you may find digital coupons that you can download from the store’s websites.
The same principle applies in the grocery store or when filling up your tank with gas. Go to couponmom.com to save in the grocery store and Go to gaspricewatch.com to find the best values on gas. Don’t forget to check and see if the gas station may offer an unadvertised free car wash, cup of coffee or soda. I just found out that I could have been a lot more caffeinated, for free, at my neighborhood gas station when the attendant asked me, “are you going to get your free cup of coffee?” Once again, if you just do your research you’ll find all kinds of freebies and these “little” things, when multiplied and combined will add up to big savings if you create this awareness level.

Q. The final step you recommend in order to stay on budget in the little things is to use cash or debit cards. There are pros and cons to using debit instead of credit, what are your thoughts on this?

ELLIE: Yes, there is a time to use a credit card instead of debit when it comes to charges that you may dispute on your credit card or when you want an extended warranty or the added protection that comes from using a credit card. However, for these little areas, we tend to track the spending better by using cash or debit and consumers are far less likely to go into debt because people simply spend less when they are using cash according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Applied. Store clerks have long found that it is easier to persuade people who are using credit cards to spend more than they were intending. And when it comes to shopping online, you dn’t necessarily need a credit card to have more protection than using your debit card online. One other option that won’t get you into debt is to research the layaway plan at your local retailer by going to eLayaway.com

Happy Summer!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Heroes at Home Financial Event – JBSA and Del Rio

“You crashed!”
Again?
It seems that every time I get in a simulator, I either run off the runway before I take off or I crash it once I get airborne.
I suppose I’ll leave the flying to the pilots in the family!

We’ve officially launched our 2016 Heroes at Home Financial Event with the help of our friends at #USAA. We are meeting great military members from all branches at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA). Every attendee received a “Command Your Cash” from the USAA Educational Foundation through their MFRC or AFRC. At the back of that book is information on how to have the Ed Foundation bring a course on “Command Your Cash” to your military unit. We also gave away 100 copies of the choice of two of my books: either “Heroes at Home” or “Lean Body, Fat Wallet.”
Our high energy millennial emcee, Bethany Grace, kept the fun level high in the room and gave away quite a few gift cards and an IPad at the end of the events.

Bethany Grace, Ingrid Bruns and Ellie Kay at Laughlin AFB

One of the things that struck me about the men and women of JBSA was that they were part of a huge network of 11 units and billions of dollars of military assets, yet they had their own identity. This was evident in our tours of Lackland AFB, Fort Sam and Randolph AFB.
Next, we immediately dovetailed a trip to Laughlin AFB in Del Rio where I connected with my friend, Beth, whose husband flew the Stealth F117A with my husband a few years ago. She was instrumental in the kind of welcome we received there and I had the opportunity to speak to the military spouses the night before the main event.
As soon as we drove on to Del Rio, a buzz started traveling the base at warp speed and continued throughout the entire time we were there.

I loved seeing the flight line and hearing about the mission. The pride in the Airmen when we toured the Medical Facility, Fitness Center, and Altitude chamber was evident.

      When our four speakers are up on stage, presenting 20 minute segments of financial education, it’s a gratifying feeling to know that the audience is appreciative and eager to learn. But the greatest sense of all is the knowledge that these strangers in the audience are my tribe–my new friends and even my family. I love these military men and women and their families and my whole heart’s desire is to make their lives easier by helping them with their money matters. But I also leave them with the knowledge that they are loved and appreciated by America.

If every military audience gets one main message, I would want that to be:

We love you, we are so proud of you and together, we will be all right.

Ellie Kay

Sharing and Saving on Hotels

Spring break is here, and summer will be upon us before we know it. If you want to get away from the day-to-day, it can be difficult to work it into your budget. Since the recession, the idea of a “Staycation” has become popular, where a family camps out in the backyard, or does something special to make their time at home feel more like time away. While these are great ideas to save money for people on a budget, I believe there are other ways to get away from home and have an affordable vacation away. Here are some ways to get away for less:

Volunteer Your Way to a Cheaper Vacation: Steve and Debby Trigg first discovered their favorite family vacation spot when they had an ample budget for family fun. They went to a Christian campground in Colorado and fell in love with the staff, landscape, and activities. They also caught the vision of how combining ministry with vacation can help teach their kids the concept of servant missions.

When Steve had his hours cut back at work, they found their vacation budget reduced during those belt-tightening years. They opted to go back to the campground as staff for a week. While their workload was increased, they still had plenty of family time with a ministry emphasis. Steve said, “We decided to volunteer to teach our children the benefits of servant missions and NOT for the benefit of a low-cost vacation—that is a serendipitous blessing.”

Instead of paying $1000 for the week (which is still a bargain for those who are paid guests) they had a working vacation for free. Not all campgrounds offer this kind of a trade-off, but if your family enjoys this kind of environment, it would be worth your time to contact a local retreat center or campground. Go to Acacamps.org for the American Camping Association or try www.google.com and enter your state and “Christian Campground” to find a location near you.

Not all vacation packages are faith-based; some are education-based as well. At Family Hostel, HostelWorld.com, there are trips offered that match families with learning vacations around the world. There are even Elder Hostels, which offer those 55 and older up to 10,000 options starting at as little as $556 for a six day photography workshop in Massachusetts.

WildernessVolunteers.org is a nonprofit organization created in 1997, which offers people of any age a chance to help and maintain national parks, forests, and wilderness areas across the United States. Everything from trail maintenance to vegetation projects may be on the agenda. Participants provide their own camping gear and share campsite chores. Most Wilderness Volunteer trips last about a week and cost around $219.

Great Deals on Hotels: If you have a certain destination in mind, sometimes all you need is a hotel. Check out these sites that can help your vacation be just that much sweeter:

TravelZoo: If you are thinking of visiting a certain place, look under the Hotels tab on TravelZoo.com and pick your destination. It will show you the current deals. It will also give you the option to search prices on several sites. Just make sure you have your check in and out dates.

priceline.com: I love this site. I have used it to get amazing deals at unimaginable prices. The “Name Your Price” tool is a wonder. Start off low and work your way up! This also has International options.

hotels.com: Another great site for finding hotel deals and steals. A unique feature for hotels.com is their rewards program that can help you build up stays and earn a free night. It is never too late to save big with their “Last Minute Deals” tab for all the quick getaway trips.

kayak.com: This is another great site for hotels, as well as flights. It will search hundreds of travel sites to find you the best deals on the web. Through Kayak, you are able to save at least 25%, sometimes even more. You can even scan the popular cities on the home page in order to see what hotels are going for in the area.

No matter what your vacation budget is, it’s important to take time off from the real world to create and develop a meaningful time to foster friendship, marriage and family. In years to come, you may not recall the price of the condominium or quality of the room service, but you will remember those forever memories with the people you love—because they are priceless.

De-Stress for Less (Part 1)

De-stress for Less Part 1: On the Run

You can get the stress out of your life without breaking your budget if you follow a few steps to de-stress for less. Here are some creative ways to relax and be entertained while paying attention to your bottom line. I encourage you to pursue a sustainable lifestyle of balance, because the price we pay for living under constant stress is much too high. In fact, a CNN poll reveals that the number-one reason for stress in most countries is money.

The countries most stressed out by money are Malaysia, China, Singapore, and the United States. The countries least stressed out about money are Russia, France, and Italy. It would be self-defeating to ask you to be less stressed about money and then suggest ways to de-stress that cost a lot of money.

As a mom of many children, I was often a mom on the run. I’ve seen the price that people pay for never slowing down, and the cost can include frequent headaches, arthritis, high blood pressure, and even heart attacks. I determined when my children were young that I would learn to do things that relieved me of the pressures of a large and busy family. I also learned that some of the simplest activities could bring the most enjoyment. Here are some simple and free options I’ve used many times over the years to de-stress my life:

  • Take a power nap.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Listen to an audiobook.
  • People-watch on a bench.
  • Talk to God. Write out prayers for friends and family.
  • Light a candle.
  • Eat a sack lunch at a park or somewhere outside.
  • Take a stroll and stop to smell some roses.
  • Write in a journal in your backyard or in a garden.
  • Draw a picture of your house. Or backyard. Or somewhere that makes you happy.
  • Write out favorite quotes or passages of literature and put it somewhere you will see it.
  • Call a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while.

I know you are aware of these simple pleasures, but do you practice them? Intentional breaks from your usual routine can make a huge difference not only in your stress, but in your overall productivity later in the day.

Bonus De-Stress Tip:

Since the recession, the idea of a “stay-cation” has become popular, where a family camps out in the backyard or does something special to make their time at home feel more like a time away. While these are great ideas to save money for people on a budget, I believe there are other ways to get away from home and have an affordable vacation away. For one thing, you can check your local deals at httpe://www.groupon.com/, http:/travelzoo.com/, or http://livingsocial.com/ to get some really fun values. I went indoor skydiving for only $35 (a $110 value) and it changed my entire perspective! And don’t forget to check out Pinterest to see great ideas of fun activities

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 

Wrapping Up Summer: Savings at Theme Parks

Before school starts is a great time to go to a local amusement park and have a last bit of family fun. If you are like my girlfriends and I, you might even want to go AFTER the kids are in school, so you can enjoy all the big girl rides without taking turns while your spouse watches the kids. But be careful, my besties ended up in jail when we went to California Adventure!  Here are my best tips to get the most out of your theme park experience and they will also keep you above the law: 

  1. Start with the Tickets: Full price should always be the last option, even when shopping for tickets to Theme parks. Always keep an eye out on little things like Coke cans, deals at local grocery stores, and online specials for discounted tickets to your favorite theme parks. Purchasing more days or “Park hopper” tickets will save you money if you choose to go for more than one day. AAA and AARP also have discounts on tickets. If you or a family member is in the military, check out the deals they have for military families. Disneyland has a 3-day park hopper pass for only $125, and military members can get up to 6 tickets per ID.
  2. Eat Breakfast in Your Room – Unless you’ve got a character meal or some other exciting option for breakfast, eat in your room! Some hotels offer free breakfast, so take advantage before you head out to the park. Leaving a free breakfast at the hotel is like leaving money on the table. You may even choose to bring a new box of cereal and disposable bowls and silverware. Buy milk (store it in the room if there is a mini-fridge) and have cereal in the room.
  3. Give each child a budget: Set a budget for the day and give a set amount to each child. This will account for food, treats, and souvenirs. Help them with the math along the way, and remind them that when the money is gone, there is no more but they may keep what is left over. It will save you (and them) from spending mindlessly, and it teaches children to spend money wisely, as well!
  4. Share – Sharing is one of the smartest ways to save money. Many portions are large enough for two, and you definitely don’t want o carry around left-overs around the park for the rest of the day! If the meal wasn’t enough, have snacks in your bag or order more food, but I think you will find that fruits you bring with you are satisfying and healthy, which brings us to our next tip.
  5. Bring Snacks – While this is not necessarily the time forgo little treats once in a while (can you say cream cheese filled pretzels at Disneyland?), curb the hunger before the next meal by carrying snacks with you. A granola bar, almonds or fruit that you carry around in your bag without it getting smashed or melting are good options. Depending on the park’s food policy, you may need to leave it in a locker outside the park or in your car (or room if it’s nearby) and eat it in the picnic area outside the park.
  6. Bring out the Kid in You – If there is not an even number to share a meal, or you would like another inexpensive option, adults can order Kid’s Meals at restaurants, and sometimes that’s all you need. There are some table service restaurants that prohibit it, but others will let an adult order a plus-size kid’s meal for a reasonable price (normally a few dollars more than the standard kid’s meal). Just ask at the restaurant when you arrive. Counter service restaurants will almost always let anyone order a kid’s meal.
  7. Eat Offsite – It’s very easy to eat offsite at Disneyland. At any point during the day, you can walk across the street and have several less expensive options within walking distance. McDonald’s, IHOP, Mimi’s Cafe, the list goes on. They’re convenient and can save you money, especially if you check RetailMeNot.com for discount coupons and codes (see more on point 9).
  8. DVC, AP, Disney Visa, D23 Discounts – When you eat on the property, ask about any discounts you may be eligible for. There are almost always Annual Passholder discounts, and there are others for Disney Vacation Club Members, D23 Members, or Disney Visa cardholders.
  9.  Several Downtown Disney Restaurants Have Coupons – There are lots of restaurant coupons out there, you just have to look! The Landry’s Select Club, which includes the Rainforest Café, typically gives $25 bonuses both for signing up and birthdays. By registering on the Simply Patina Group website, you can get a $30 birthday gift card. The Simply Patina Group includes Tortilla Jo’s, Catal, UVA Bar & Café, Taqueria, and Naples. Woo hoo! Food discounts!

10.  Entertainment Book Coupons – Order an Entertainment Book for Orange County, or another entertainment book for the area where your theme park is located. The Entertainment Books are chock full of possibilities. There are usually discounts for the Rainforest Café, Wetzel’s Pretzels and other area eateries. There are also deals for other great places in the area if you would like to see something else while you are there.

Whether it’s just you and your spouse, a group of girlfriends or your entire family, be sure to have guilt free fun by spending the least amount possible.

I’d love to hear YOUR ideas of how you save at theme parks!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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