A Financial Education Event
     

The Science of Laughter

Next week, I have the privilege of keynoting at the AFCPE symposium and I’ll present The Science of Laughter. This is a topic near to my heart because it’s the way I’ve lived my life.

When I married my husband, I got a three for one deal: I married the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot and I also inherited two young stepdaughters. Then my groom said, “let’s join the active duty Air Force and we can see the world.” But what he really showed me was five more children in seven years for a total of seven children. Then we took the show on the road and moved eleven times in thirteen years. I learned, very quickly, that I needed to learn to look at life in a funny way or end up on the funny farm.

I chose laughter.

I chose joy.

And my life has been better for it.

It has been said that “Laughter is Good Medicine,” but why is that actually true? There are a number of ways that laughter benefits the health and wealth of the communities we serve. These benefits exist on a number of levels.

 

The Physical Benefits of Laughter – Research from a variety of sources, including UCLA’s famous RxLaughter program explains what happens to someone physically when they laugh.  It has a measurable benefit for an individual’s blood pressure and stress levels, it decreases heart disease, and improves overall physical health. In fact, Lee Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University, asserts that “Laughter appears to cause all the reciprocal, or opposite effects of stress.”  The amazing result is that when we laugh more, we stress less.

 

The Social Benefits of Laughter Robert R. Provide, a behavioral neuroscientist from the University of Maryland indicates that laughter is a social behavior. His studies testify that humor is contagious & can spread to an audience, it’s actually a form of communication. Sara Algoe, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has said, “We think laughter can draw us closer together to other people and grease the wheels for better social interaction”

There is also a specific science behind jokes, anecdotes and one-liners. When you build these into your work and presentations, everyone receives a quick, mental vacation.

 

The Financial Benefits of Laughter – You may have heard the classic premise of “laughing all the way to the bank,” but it is actually true in some ways.  The quantitative data & my own personal experience proves how incorporating laughter into speaking events, financial education & contract negotiations improve an entrepreneur’s bottom line. Humor also helps teams maximize efficiency, effectiveness and it facilitates employee retention.

I was once working a contract to gain funding for Heroes at Home, my non-profit dedicated to providing free financial education to young military members. I was making very little headway with lead decision maker and it looked like we were going to end in a “no deal” situation. We decided to table the discussion until the end of our lunch together. I took the time to share humorous anecdotes about my biggest gaffes in my work with these service members and also shared some lighthearted stories that made the table begin to laugh. And I shared more and they laughed more. You’ve probably guessed the end of this story—we got our funding and more. I didn’t share the stories to get the contract, I shared them to lighten the environment. In the end, everyone was happier, and my military audiences were the ones who gained the most.

Take Away/Application to the Field

There is a very specific take away to the Science of Laughter and the way it applies to the entrepreneurs, the field of financial education and AFC® practitioners. I’ve seen these results in some of the 2000 financial education presentations that I’ve made to hundreds of thousands of participants and I’ve been gratified by the results. Using laughter helps in many unexpected ways such as information retention, better health and as a way to grow your business.

 

Information Retention – Humor helps the AFC®’s clients learn more in financial education sessions, whether it’s one-on-one or in front of 5,000 people. By including very specific humorous examples & conducting exercises that are effective but are also workplace appropriate, we can help our clients and audiences retain more information. One of my guiding principles is: when in doubt about a joke, always err on the side of propriety. I’m not willing to lose an audience member in the name of humor if it could alienate them in the process. But sharing a lighthearted quote or story can give the mind a break and then allow my audience to reengage in order to learn more.

 

Greater Health – Incorporating humor into your work life not only helps others, it helps the entrepreneur as well. If you are presenting at a workshop, a keynote or even in your own Toastmasters group, your audiences can experience this real time with some simple, short exercises that they can do during the session you present. One such exercise is to have them imagine what they would look like if they were shocked with an electrical shock, then turn to the person next to them, and without a word–imitate that look. It’s almost impossible NOT to laugh.

Another example of seeing this in action was when I was at FinCon19 and one of the keynote speakers quoted Mayo Angelou’s famous quote, “’I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Bethany Bayless, the wildly funny FinCon emcee, applauded the speaker and then said to the audience, “Now turn to the person sitting next to you, put your hand on their arm and say, ‘I will always remember how you feel.’” It took a moment for them to understand the humorous twist. But it was such an in-the-moment and funny turn on the quote that the audience kept laughing, in waves, for a full 3 minutes.” They needed the mental break from the heavy content they just heard from the keynote and this humorous exercise was just what the doctor ordered.

Grow Your Practice and your Business – Incorporating humor improves audience feedback and can lead to more opportunities for the practitioner. It’s one of the reasons we use liberal doses of humor in our podcast, The Money Millhouse. Whether it is word of mouth amongst individual clients, a greater social following or a demand for these skills in front of larger audiences, anyone can grow a practice or a business by adding the tool of laughter to their toolkit.

Texas to Toronto – From Ya’ll to Eh!

My “Living Rich for Less” book tour took me from my original stomping grounds in Texas all the way to the frozen white north of Toronto. I tend to adapt easily to my surroundings, so when I did TV shows in Canada, I found myself saying, “The thing aboot finances if that you have to stay on top of them, eh?”

In Dallas, I had to keep myself from saying, “Hey ya’ll, I’m fixing to tell you some thangs that are gonna help you a bushel with yer money.” But somehow I managed and you can see some of these clips to get short, pithy and helpful hints that will help to save you $30,000 in 2009! This was on CBS NEWS You be the judge and tell me if you think the Financial Expert or the Texan took over in these interviews!

Ellie’s personal story: Runs 2:40
– Ellie on the economy: Runs :43
– How to save on Homeowner’s Insurance: Runs: 1:51
– How to save on Auto Insurance: Runs 1:31
– Grocery Savings: Runs 1:14
– Restaurant savings: Runs :55
– Saving Is Cool: Runs: :24
– Tips on Refinancing your mortgage: Runs: :47
– Charitable Donations: Runs: 2:09

I’ll be back to Texas to do shows for CBS “Prime Time” (interactive perhaps?) and other shows on March 19th–so stay tuned!

Hey ya’ll, check back again for more helpful hints on my blog, eh?

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert

Twelve Summer Savings Tips

School is out for Summer! So it’s time to post my top twelve summer savings tips that can help you get through the summer with your savings and your sanity intact:

1. Use Cash, Save 20% – Use cash for three main problem areas: food, entertainment and gas. Put the budgeted money in three separate envelopes. When you go grocery shopping, go to your cash envelope and do the same when your family wants to go to a movie. The constant visual cash reminder can save as much as 20% in each area. And you avoid going further into debt by not using credit cards.

2. Book It – Entertainment.com offers a coupon book that is available for 150 metro markets and usually costs between $25 and $45 but is on sale for only $10! Preview the coupon booklet for your area (or an area where you will vacation) to see if the coupons are ones you will use. An added benefit: you’ll not only save on eating out, but you can also save on movie theaters, theme parks, dry cleaning, and at local shops. Average advertised total book savings—$17,000. To redeem only 25 percent is an annual savings of $4,250.

3. For Movie Fanatics – Check with your local theater for special discount days or about reward programs for frequent visitors, some of which may also offer discounts on food and even free future tickets. Some theaters offer “Summer Movies” that are designed for kids and can cost as little as $1. Be aware that you can often purchase the matinee ticket at discounted prices. Sometimes the difference in a full price and matinee price is only ten minutes (the 5:55 PM showing is cheaper than the 6:05 showing). Some theater chains have special purchases of multiple tickets (usually packages of 50) that can be redeemed over a specific period of time—but make sure you will actually use these in time in order to maximize the value of your investment. Your employer, credit union, credit card provider, alumni association or even your union may also offer movie discount values.

4. New and Improved Staycations – Replicate a “taking a vacation” feeling without going far by exploring your town or region like you never have before. Check out the “newcomers package” at your local chamber of commerce or visit your regional parks and recreation website to discover programs available for families. At www.FactoryToursUSA.com, search your area for fun tours for seeing how things are made. Many historic homes and governmental buildings, such as state capital buildings, also offer free tours. You might be surprised at all the fun things to do right in your backyard. And speaking of your backyard, why not stage a family campout? Your family gets to sleep in tents, tell scary stories and make s’mores (over a propane grill).

5. Eat New for Less – If you want to try a new restaurant but not pay full price, go to Restaurant.com, a site that issues coupons and gift certificates for over 6,000 eateries around the country. Our family picks a spot and pays $10 for a $25 gift certificate—we save over 50 percent in the process. The average restaurant bill for a family of four is $86. Our family saves $43 x 52 weeks = $2,236. Also watch for summer sales on this site, we recently bought $25 gift certificates for only $2 for a couple of local eateries.

6. Plant a Vegetable Garden or Try Community Gardening – Stake out a piece of the backyard or fill window boxes, barrels and tubs, urns or even pots and hanging basket with seedlings and starter plants for a vegetable and/or herb garden. Aside from the food bill savings, harvesting the bounty with your children will provide months of good taste and good cheer. Some neighborhoods offer community gardening where you pay $5 for your plot and get to know your neighbors while gardening. If you don’t have access to community gardening, but know a friend or colleague that loves to garden, offer to help with the cost of plants and seeds and care products in exchange for going shopping in their garden.

7. Big to Little Bag – Whether you’re wheeling around town or on a 300 mile road trip, avoid fast food joints and pricey convenience store traps by buying healthy snacks in larger quantities and then packing them in reusable containers and keeping them in your car. Any time you divide menu items from a larger quantity to a lunch bag size, you save BIG! For example, buying a two pound bag of mini-carrots and dividing them into snack size plastic bags, I’ve saved 40% over the prepackaged, smaller baggies of carrots. Do this for chips, cookies, nuts, fruit snacks, raisins, grapes, sweet snap peas, celery, cherries, and anything else your family enjoys!

8. Get Everyone Their Own Bottle – The same advice above applies to drinks. Instead of pulling over to buy expensive bottles of water, soda or juice, everyone in your family should have their own colorful, reusable plastic bottle filled with their favorite refreshment. Toss them in a cooler and take them along wherever you go and lap up the savings while being good to the environment.

9. Breakfast for Dinner – Being creative is the key to cost savings and along that line you can have a “breakfast for dinner” night. My kids love it when my husband makes waffles on Sunday and we freeze the extras for a breakfast night–it saves time AND money.

10. Don’t Get Zapped – Electricity is a big expense in the summer, and some states are offering a special discount for those who are willing to restrict their use during certain times of the day. It can be as simple as raising an air conditioning setting during the day and running your swimming pool pump at night. Our family has a band on our air conditioning unit that saves us $150 per month, & we’ve stayed cool with temps as high as 115 outside! Check with your power company for details.

11. Flush Wisely – With bathrooms in use more with the kids home 24/7, save money with water displacement. Don’t put bricks, however, in your toilet tank to do so. They can break apart, clog pipes and cost you thousands of dollars in repairs. Instead, use a one quart plastic container that will not interfere with the toilet flapper valve and put this in the tank. It will save $150 per year per bathroom. In our house that is $450 per year!

12. Stop Doing Dishes! – Every now and then I give some advice that I really like! If you stop washing your dishes by hand and only run the dishwasher to clean your dirty dishes, you could save $1.50 per load. The reason is that it costs money to heat the water and pipes in your home, which is something that happens every time you wash a few dishes by hand.

Here’s the most valuable tip of all: hug, love, kiss and squeeze those munchkins as much as you can because they grow and go too quickly!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com

The Great Escape Plan – Vacation for Less!

There’s nothing worse than anticipating a much needed getaway only to discover a lot of unexpected fees, add-ons and additional expenses once you get to your dream spot. With so many sites and so many choices, how do you know if you’re getting the best deal?
Today, I was on KLOVE, with the fun-loving Scott and Kelli to make some recommendations that will make the process easier and more rewarding.

STEP 1: Be the Expert –
You may think you have a good idea of what a great price is for airfare to the Grand Canyon, but how can you be sure? By subscribing to a few travel alerts and newsletters, such as Travelzoo, SmarterTravel, Yapta are good as well as Bing.

STEP 2: Beware! —
You don’t want to show up for your dream vacation and find out that the “Five Star” hotel you booked looks more like the Professor’s hut on Gilligan’s Island. For videos of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, go to Tripfilms and take a peek from videos posted by other travelers. You can also look at families’ vacation photos of your destination at Flickr. Or read reviews by others posted at TripAdvisor.

STEP 3: Be Smart —
“A Wise man count the cost before he builds a tower” says Proverbs. When you’re searching for the best air fare, go to BookingBuddy, which will save time and money because it will search almost all of the OTHER airfare research sites (such as Orbitz, Expedia, CheapTickets, etc) to give you the best price. Also, find out the real price of your airline experience by checking Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide at SmarterTravel where you’ll find the cost of carryons, checked luggage, blankets, pillows or if you have to cough up $100 more for that extra leg room!

STEP 4: Be Open —
It’s really a buyer’s market in some areas this year, especially if you are open to more than one vacation idea. For example, this year, according to the 40% to 60% off deals at Travel-ticker to go on a seven day Mexican Carribbean Cruise than it is for us to go to Disneyland. So we’ll feast on fajitas this year and leave the mouse ears for next year!

STEP 5: Be Social –
Do you want to know if that restaurant you’re considering is good or not? Then turn to your social media friends (and a smart phone) to find out! By using facebook and twitter, just ask your friends what they think. Or log onto Yelp to see what others are saying. By getting a free app with FlightAware you can track your flight within five minutes of real time.

Question of the Week from Georgina from Baker, FL – Ellie, I know you purchase $25 gift certificates when they go on sale at
Restaurant.com for only $2, but is there a “catch” or any restrictions involved?
ELLIE: Georgina, I find out that these are on sale by subscribing to the Top Twenty and I LOVE them! The restrictions are listed and usually include the fact that they will add 18% automatically at the restaurant for a tip (before the gift certificate, so don’t double tip) and you have to spend $35 to use the $25 gift certificate. Even so, we still save about 50% and it’s worth it!

More Sites for Savings

Hotels.com – Find best prices on hotels internationally and earn bonus stays
Ifly.com – terminal maps, estimates on how long security lines are, where to eat.
Otalo.com – vacation house rental deals
Tripkick.com – detailed info on hotels and specific room info
TVtrip.com – photos of lobbies, rooms and neighborhoods
Oyster.com – pros and cons of different hotels
Voyij.com – checks best sales, promotions and package deals from departure city
Seatexpert.com – guide to the best and worst airline seats
Have a Great Escape!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert

Your Questions about Organics, Vacations & Broadway Tickets!

I was on ABC NEWS Good Money again this week, answering your questions!

Q. We are trying to feed my family a healthier, organic menu, especially when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables. But it’s making us go broke because organic costs so much. Are there ways to save in this area?

Samantha and Ted from Riverside, CA via facebook

Ellie: Yes, according to the USDA organic can cost as much as 50% to 100% more than non-organic. When it comes to fresh produce, spend your “organic” dollars on those products you have higher levels of pesticide residue, even after washing—such as any kind of berries, apples, potatoes, cherries and grapes. Then you could go with non-organic for pineapples, bananas, mangos, broccoli, onions, cauliflower and corn. Or, try to buy from Farmers Markets and local farms, for a list of organic farms, go to localharvest.org . When it comes to other products, look for store brand organics, buy in bulk or go to couponmom.com to find deals in your area on organic products.

Q. My husband says it’s going to be cheaper to drive from New York to our timeshare in Florida because there are fewer flights and the price of airline tickets is going up this summer. Once we get to Florida, we don’t need a rental car as everything is within walking distance and we’re mainly spending our time at the beach. By the time we pay for one night’s hotel each way on the drive down, I think it’s going to be much cheaper to fly. My husband said he’d go with your opinion.

Al and Sharon from Oxford, NY via online contact form

ELLIE: Wow, no pressure here! It’s going to be pretty easy for you to calculate who is right. Just go to costToDrive.com to calculate the mileage, gas, travel time and carbon footprint of anywhere in the US. You’ll also need to go to hotels.com to add that expense to your total. Then, go to bookingbuddy.com to find the best price on airfare. This site will compare the prices from other travel sites such as expedia, orbitz, Travelocity, cheaptickets and more. Do the math and the winner has to buy the loser an iced tea once you get there!

Q: We’re taking a big vacation to New York city later this summer and I’m really looking forward to it. We want to see some broadway shows while we are there. On one hand, I want to make sure we get tix for the nights we’re there at the shows we want to see, but on the other hand, I don’t want to pay full price. Should I buy the tix beforehand or should I take a chance and go to the Times Square half price ticket booth once I get there?

Audrey Dixson submitted via Online Contact Form

Ellie: Congrats, Audrey on an upcoming cool trip. I LOVE New York and try to go to the theater every time I’m there! If you go to the half price ticket booth, you’re going to save 50% but chances are good you’re going to “invest” about 3 hours of your time (or more) traveling to Times Square earlier in the day and waiting in line. Then, there aren’t any guarantees the show you want to see will be listed. You also have to pay cash. On the other hand, you can save 40 to 50% by buying your tickets online at broadwaybox.com or goldstar.com, which is where I always buy my tix. Most of the time I’m saving at least 40% (instead of the 50% I’d save at the half price tix booth). This translates into me paying $10 more per ticket. I also save three hours of my time in NYC. I figure my time is worth more than $3.33 per hour! So buy online and enjoy the show!

Q. What do you think of prepaid hotel rooms—the kind that are non-refundable? Is it worth it to “invest” in one of these ahead of time to save money? Or should I just wait until I get there and look around for the best deal?

Moriah Stephens from Allentown, PA

Ellie: I’ve purchased the prepaid rooms and it’s a good deal when: 1) rooms are going to be scarce or at a premium—such as a convention, sporting event or graduation and 2) the savings is at least 30%. To comparison shop, you can go to hotels.com, priceline.com and travelzoo.com .

Q. For the last few years, we’ve always bought the entertainment book that has coupons for restaurants, sporting events, oil changes, dry cleaning and more. We pay $35 for the book and I’m not sure it’s worth it because I don’t think we’re really using it that much. Do you buy these books?

Mike from Mechanicsville, VA via Ellie Kay’s blog

Ellie: Right now, Mike, you can get the 2010 book (which expires at the end of this year) for free when you reserve a 2011 book. If you use just one of the buy one/get one free coupons for dinner at an upscale restaurant, then it has paid for itself. Most offer $12,000+ in values and if you only use 1% of that, you’ve saved $120—less the $35 price of the book for a total savings of $85. Keep the book in your car, check it religiously and save righteously!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

The Family Road Trip

This week on ABC NEWS NOW, I talked about how to take a Family Road trip that won’t traumatize your children! I remember my dad stuffing us kids in the back of a VW bug and traveling from TX to IN, making about 600 miles per day. Need I say more?

Here are some ideas that will make your family trip a lot more fun and affordable.

Q. First of all, let’s look at a question that many families are asking: is it cheaper to take that long family road trip, or is it more cost effective to fly?

ELLIE: It’s all in the numbers including how far you have to travel, how many family members and how many nights on the road. It’s going to be pretty easy for you to calculate the bottom line for flying versus driving. Just go to costToDrive.com to calculate the mileage, gas, travel time and carbon footprint of anywhere in the US. You’ll also need to go to hotels.com to add that expense to your total. Then, go to bookingbuddy.com to find the best price on airfare. This site will compare the prices from other travel sites such as expedia, orbitz, Travelocity, cheaptickets and more. Don’t forget the rental car if you’re flying, you can research that on hotwire.com .

Q. One of the greatest expenses while traveling down the highway is for snacks, lunch and dinner. It can not only get pricey, but these purchases can also take a toll on health as there seems to be an emphasis on eating fast food while on the road. Do you have any ideas on other options?

ELLIE: If your children are little, the stops you make on the road are essential for them to be able to get out and stretch their legs—adults need that, too. When our kids were little, we packed a lunch for the first day on the road and stopped at roadside parks. It’s easy to plan these stops with the assistance of your GPS or your smartphone, just locate a parks along the way and plan accordingly. To save money on snacks, pack some healthy options in individual bags for each family member and include options such as carrots, grapes, cherries, pretzels or trail mix.

Q. One of the tips you share is to set realistic expectations. So how long can you realistically expect to travel in a car with a three year old?

ELLIE: I think that you shouldn’t try to conquer more than 300 miles a day with a preschooler, because they’ll arrive tired and cranky at your destination AND SO WILL YOU! You need to know your child(ren) and adjust your expectations accordingly. Are you one of those blessed families whose kids sleep as soon as you get in the car? Then you can probably handle a few more miles a day. Does any of your family members have health issues that require frequent stops, then add some extra time to your trip so you aren’t stressed. Setting realistic expectations will help you and your family have a better trip.

Q. Another challenge for families is keeping the kids occupied. Older children can use their Ipods to stay busy and everyone enjoys movies on the way. But even these options can lead to the inevitable boredom as kids start to get restless. You’re a mother of many, what do you suggest?

ELLIE: I think this is where creativity comes into play. When our kids were all school aged and we had a long trip (or a military move), I shop ahead of time for small games, books, activity puzzles, little toys and other trinkets I knew they would like. Then I’d wrap these “surprises” in gift paper and put each child’s name on it. At the top of every hour, if they were good on the road, we would give them their individual present. Sometimes, a grouchy child wouldn’t get his because he wasn’t co-operating. He’d watch his siblings playing with their gifts and it would motivate him to behave. I also think that an adult should be in charge of not only disbursing the surprises, but also handing out the individual snacks at certain times as well. You can give them out at certain mile markers that the kids can look for and it becomes an effective way of passing the time.
This is also the time to develop your own traditions. My older kids liked creating Mad Libs and played slug bug or I Spy. But our younger kids developed a game called, “Name that movie line” which became a tradition in our family. We still play it when we get together and find it creates family bonding moments and is a unique Kay Family Tradition.

Q. How do you feel about souvenirs? Do you think that saving money means you just say “no” to the t-shirts, coffee mugs, statues and commemorative books?

ELLIE: I think that souvenirs are an important part of any vacation time but it’s also important to not overspend on these category. We give our kids a budget for souvenirs and let them choose. We also encourage them to pick things that are of a better quality and yet inexpensive such as spoons, shot glasses, or magnets.

Q. What if you haven’t taken a vacation yet and don’t know if you can afford it. Do you have any creative ways to save money on a place to stay on the family road trip?

ELLIE: If you have friends that you like a lot and think your friendship can survive the test of a family road trip and vacation, then double up with that family and cut your bills in half. For example, the normal price of a week-long mountain cabin rental with three bedrooms in Manitou Springs, CO was $900. If each family pays $450 instead of the full price, they may be able to afford a vacation that might not have been available to them otherwise. You can go to vrbo.com or www.findrental.com. Suite hotels that offer extra rooms are also an option such as the ones found at orbitz.com or cheaphotels.com. For those who love the great outdoors, sharing campsite fees or RV rentals can split the price of a camping adventure. At RVRental.com we found rentals across the country that ranged from $117/day to $385 per day. Depending on the owner of the RV, other charges to consider are hospitality kits, kitchen kits, and/or emergency road kits. Cleaning fees will apply if the RV is not returned in the condition in which it was rented.

Q. What about saving money on food and entertainment once you get to your destination?

ELLIE: I recommend you go to entertaimnent.com and enter the zip code of where you’ll be traveling in order to preview their entertainment books for that destination. These are currently on sale and you can find discounts on food, movie tickets, amusement parks, hotels and much more. Also go to restaurant.com and enter the zip code to get gift certificates for half price and while you’re there, see if they have any sales. I recently bought $25 gift certificates at that site for only $2. Plus, use your smartphone by entering the attraction’s name to see if there are any coupons or codes you can download on your phone and use on the spot.

Enjoy your Family Road Trip!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com

Valentines Dates- Part II – Taking Your Questions!

QUESTION: My boyfriend is a tech junkie, and while he never forgets to get the latest upgrade, he does sometimes forget special days like my birthday or our anniversary. Is there a way to help my high tech love realize that Valentine’s Day is around the corner?
Simmering Cindy in Cincinnati

ELLIE: There’s some good news for you, Cindy, there are quite a few apps you can buy for your romantically challenged love. The first one is only $.99 and is called CREATIVE ROMANTIC IDEAS: $.99, IPHONE, IPOD TOUCH, IPAD This app will give him ideas that are ranked by price and difficulty, from personalized M&Ms to more elaborate ideas that go beyond the usual candy and flowers. OPEN TABLE: IPHONE, IPOD TOUCH, IPAD, ANDROID, BLACKBERRY This app will help him from being caught without a restaurant reservation. This popular app lets him find restaurants that are nearby, check to see availability and make a reservation. Get info you need from restaurant profiles to menus, including for the budget-minded $$ ratings so you can stay in your price range. Finally, there’s a free app called CINEPLEX MOBILE: IPHONE, IPOD TOUCH, IPAD, BLACKBERRY, ANDROID. Useful for dates or any other occasion when he wants to find out what’s playing at a theatre near you. Read entertainment news and reviews, see trailers and buy tickets online. Cindy, by speaking his high tech language, you’ll find better results.

QUESTION: My husband has been off work for 18 months and works odd jobs here and there just to help pay the bills until he can find regular work as a full time welder. Do you have any ideas for Valentines gifts for people with NO money to spend?
Jessie Johnson from Detroit, MI

ELLIE: Trade chores for the day. Surprise your loved one by completing all of his/her chores. Clean the house for your wife or take out the trash for your hubby. Add a special touch by leaving heart shaped cookies in the home or a meaningful note in their car. No matter how small the chore, having someone else complete it will be sure to leave a smile on your loved one’s face.
Make a book of coupons. The coupons could include a massage, free pass for a girls or guys night out, cooking a favorite meal, or even promising a day of sports TV without any interruptions! Recognizing things that are important to your significant other will go a long way in showing how much you care. My husband just presented me with a 12 year old coupon that says, “good for a new corvette when I sell 100,000 copies of my book. I passed that mark several years ago and he just found the coupon when cleaning out a drawyer!

QUESTION:
My fiancée is in the military and is overseas. Do you have any extra special ideas that I can send him via email. I already mailed a package, but I wanted to do something. Jason Sampson, submitted via facebook


ELLIE:
There’s an app that costs $1.99 and is called VOICE VALENTINES: IPHONE, IPOD TOUCH, IPAD. You can impress your Valentine with a customized ecard that you can send by email, Twitter or Facebook. Design your card, add a photo and message and your Valentine’s Day love delivered in your own voice. Or you could get an app for $1.99 or under that is called BUILD-A-CARD, CUPID ADDITION: IPHONE, IPOD, $.99 AND $1.99 FOR IPAD. With this app you can create customized ecards to email, Facebook or Twitter. You can take photos from your camera, your album or your Facebook account to build a one-of-a-kind card.

QUESTION: I’ve been married three years and my husband and I have a very good relationship. The only thing that bothers me is that he doesn’t have any photos of me at work, he says he has them on his iPhone and shows people that way. We are on a budget and for Valentines Day, I wanted to give him a photo for his desk. Any ideas to make this gift not seem too cheap? Amanda from San Antonio, TX

ELLIE: By all means, Amanda, frame up all kinds of his favorites—not just photos. In the digital age, chances are good that your mate doesn’t have a hard copy of some of your favorite memories. If your man has a treasured baseball card or an old family photo, have it framed so he can hang in a special place. Then add a second gift of your best photos as a couple. You can get a customized collage for less than $5 at Costco.com or Walgreens and request same day or next day service. If you want to be less obvious, you could do the same in a mousepad or coffee mug for

QUESTION: My wife and I have been married for 25 years and we raised 3 outstanding children together. I love her very much. For Valentines Day, I like to give her chocolate because she likes it. The problem is that she’s been on a diet off and on for months now and if I don’t give her chocolate then she may think I’m saying she’s overweight and doesn’t need it. But if I do give her candy, she might go off her diet and blame me. What do you suggest? Anonymous but still in love in Destin, FL

ELLIE: This has the potential to be one of those no win situations, so you need to approach this carefully. If you buy your woman a 5 lb. box of chocolate in the shape of a heart, she’s either going to eat a few pieces and waste the rest or eat a bunch of it and feel guilty or sick.
I recommend that you find out what kind of candy she likes and get a small portion of that kind of candy. Since you’ve been married for so long, you could also include a mix “tape.” Burn a CD of your favorite songs or those that are special to your relationship. Create a personalized cover with photographs of the two of you and place it in a plastic CD case for presentation. You can also load a special mix onto your significant other’s MP3 player so you can share it together in the car or at home. The thot you put into the CD should outweigh any potential conflict from the candy and you should emerge unscathed. 

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Mulitgenerational Travel Bargains

When I was a little girl and dinosaurs roamed airport tarmacs, my Spanish grandmother took me back to Spain for the vacation of a lifetime. “Abuela” was a no nonsense woman, so I was on my best behavior. She asked the man sitting next to me in the airplane to put out his cigarette (yes, they used to smoke on airplanes back when).

He refused, so she took care of it.

When he went to the bathroom, leaving his ciggie on the ash tray, she leaned over, snubbed it out, then took his package of cigarettes and hid them. When he returned, he was confused for a minute and gave me a hard look. It was then he noticed the evil eye my 4’ 10” Abuela was giving him and he dropped the subject of smokes.

Ah, traveling with Abuela. Good times. Good times.

Multigenerational travel has always been popular, but thanks to a recovering tourist industry and great bargains available in a post recession economy, there has never been a better time for grandparents to hit the road with their progeny. Here are some trends and tips to keep in mind when planning this year’s travel.


Buyer’s Market

Being a part of a military family, meant that we had extended family members visit when my spouse deployed. Or, they may come to just see our part of the world. It also means that sometimes grandparents want to bond with their grandchildren and take the kids off your hands at the same time. Whether you are hosting family or getting rid of family (for a little while), you can take that multigenerational vacation for less.

To help extended family members get the best deals, start by subscribing to the top travel email alert sites and check them daily in order to begin your research. Don’t forget to check for military discounts, too! Some of the best alerts are found at travelzoo.com, kayak.com, smartertravel.com and travel-ticker.com . Be flexible with your destinations and get even more savings. If a cruise to the Mexican Riveria ends up costing ½ of what a trip to Disneyland costs, then readjust your expectations and save the mouse ears for another year.

Then compare the alert prices with values found at the one-stop shopping site called BookingBuddy.com . At this site, you’ll find deals from 140 travel sites including Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline. When in doubt as to whether “now” is the best time to book your flight or package, go to bing.com’s Price Predictor to see if prices are likely to rise or fall in the next week. But before you click “buy” be sure that you’ve also gone to RetailMeNot.com to find additional codes that might get you an even better deal.

Grand Times With Grandkids!

Some Grandparents’ idea of a dream trip is to vacation with their grandkids and make forever memories that provide enrichment and education. If they like the great outdoors, the look at some of the summer camps that are geared toward grandparents and grandkids, you can find these at found at Elderhostel.org. You’ll also find options to include intergenerational educational trips worldwide with 300 learning vacations designed for grandparents and grandkids such as Share a Marine Science Adventure in Virginia or Age of the Dinosaurs in Southwest Utah National Parks. Be sure to also check out Grandtravel.com, you’ll find a site that focuses on domestic and international trips with grandparents and grandkids. The founder, a grandmother of ten, believes in leaving your grandchildren with “a cultural inheritance” that will last them a lifetime.

If your family members are active grandparents, then check out the Sierra Club’s intergenerational program in Lake Tahoe, go to Sierraclub.org/outings to find other family camp programs in your area that provide affordable camping and hiking. If grandparents are 62+, then visit the National Parks site at NPS.com where they pay only $10 for a parks pass. Usually, children sixteen years of age and under get in for free. While at this site, look at the list of camps and trails for the young and young at heart to conquer.

The most important aspect of any vacation is to concentrate on meaningful time with family members. Families can do this in any part of the country by taking advantage of daytrips where multigenerational members can share a historical experience together in your city. For example, Colonial Williamsburg may not offer a specific grandparent program, but they do offer family packages that would allow the city’s exploration to stay within a budget. Other fun trips include buying a season pass to a museum that offers reciprocal passes to other museums across the country. Go to Association of Science Technology Center (Astc.org) or the Art Museum Network (AMN.org) to explore these creative options.
Sometimes a new experience for a child becomes an adventure as well, so look for activities that your children have never participated in and open the doors for loads of fun. For example, a cross-country train trip is a wonderful way to try something different while seeing the country through a child’s eyes. Creating forever memories with your family is what true adventure is all about!

So whether you’re going to Spain with a Spanish Grandmother or driving to the Grand Canyon with a beloved Grandparent—you can have the vacation of your dreams and your dream can remain debt free as well!

Sites for Savings

Hotels.com – Find best prices on hotels internationally and earn bonus stays
Ifly.com – terminal maps, estimates on how long security lines are, where to eat.
Flightaware.com – track flights by airline and flight number within 5 minutes of real time.
Otalo.com – vacation house rental deals
Tripkick.com – detailed info on hotels and specific room info
TVtrip.com – photos of lobbies, rooms and neighborhoods
Oyster.com – pros and cons of different hotels
Voyij.com – checks best sales, promotions and package deals from departure city
Seatexpert.com – guide to the best and worst airline seats
Smartertravel.com – gives real price of airline tickets with all fees including charges for blankets, sodas, luggage and seats with more legroom.
Tripadvisor –traveler reviews on hotels, package deals, airlines and destinations
Airfarewatchdog.com – dealhounds post latest and best deals all day long.
Tripfilms.com – see traveler videos of hotels, restaurants and activities

Happy Travel!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

The Family Road Trip


When I was ten years old, I wrote a report on King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein, also known as “The Disneyland Castle.” At that time a dream to see that fabulous site was birthed in my mind. Three decades later, I was able to fulfill those travel dreams, debt free, thanks my work in helping people save money.
Your travel dreams might come true in 2011, thanks to a recovering tourist industry. Here are some trends and tips to keep in mind when planning this year’s travel.

Flyer’s Market A recent poll conducted by USA Today/Gallup Poll indicated that only 16% of respondents plan to fly more or stay more often in hotels this year than they did last year. In fact, 30% indicate they will travel less often. This means there will be better travel deals for those who do their research and take advantage of the bargains that become available.
To take advantage, start by subscribing to the top travel email alert sites and check them daily in order to begin your research. Some of the best alerts are found at travelzoo.com, kayak.com, smartertravel.com and travel-ticker.com . Be flexible with your destinations and get even more savings. If a cruise to the Mexican Riveria ends up costing ½ of what a trip to Disneyland costs, then readjust your expectations and save the mouse ears for another year. Also check out the info from last week’s blog.
Then compare the alert prices with values found at the one-stop shopping site called BookingBuddy.com . At this site, you’ll find deals from 140 travel sites including Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline. When in doubt as to whether “now” is the best time to buy your flight or package, go to bing.com’s Price Predictor to see if prices are likely to rise or fall in the next week. But before you click “buy” be sure that you’ve also gone to a coupon code site called RetailMeNot.com to enter additional codes that might get you an even better deal.

Fun Eats and Tech Savvy Treats Since you’ve already signed up for the email alerts on the best deals, be on the lookout for specials in your destination’s area. For example, on travelzoo.com, I received notification that Restaurant.com was running a special where $25 gift certificates were on sale for only $2. Since they are good for twelve months, I entered zip codes for our vacation areas and bought five different $25 restaurant certificates for a total of only $10! You can also go to entertainment.com, enter the zip code of your destination and look at the coupons and values for attractions, hotels, restaurants and more. These coupon books cost around $35. There are also money smart social media sites, such as FatWallet.com, that list great bargains across the country. Other savers post their experiences on the “deals” so that you know whether it’s worth your time and effort or not. I recently found a post for a free coupon for grande lattes at Barnes and Noble where there wasn’t a limit, so I printed four coupons. Three of my kids and I enjoyed free drinks—all courtesy of the FatWallet bloggers.

Fab Phonesdeals If you have a smart phone, then you know that the online world of travel deals make instant savings more gratifying than ever. If you haven’t signed up for a social networking site such as facebook or twitter, then you could be losing money! From these sites you can discover “flash sales” for everything from air travel, theater tickets, restaurant deals and hotel sales. It’s also a great way to get insider information. Another way to use your phone is to find out which TSA gate to go through with the new On the Spot System’s iPhone app that lets users rate TSA screening checkpoints.
“Check in” to your flight at Foursqure, a free app for iPhones, BlackBerrys, Palms and Android phones. There are also apps to order room service before you arrive at the hotel (apps for Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites). These apps will save you time and we all know that time is money. To get the best value in a travel or vacation related app and to find out which ones might be free, go to the review site Appolicious.com.

Faith Tourism In the midst of a struggling global economy, one bright spot for the travel industry is the upswing in faith tourism. If you’re stationed overseas, you may be one of the more than 300 million people are traveling this year for religious and pilgrimage reasons. So if you always wanted to go to see the Western Wall in Israel, then this could be your year. Go to GoIsrael.com and click onto their specials to plan your journey. There, you’ll also find tips, such as: 1) staying at a kibbutz or guest house is cheaper than a hotel, and 2) buying a pass to all the country’s national parks save a lot over buying them individually.
So whether you’re going to Germany to see the original Disneyland castle or driving to Anaheim to see the replica—you can have the vacation of your dreams and your dream can remain debt free as well!

Savings Site Favorites
Hotels.com – Find best prices on hotels internationally and earn bonus stays
Ifly.com – terminal maps, estimates on how long security lines are, where to eat.
Flightaware.com – track flights by airline and flight number within 5 minutes of real time.
Elderhostel.org – worldwide educational travel adventures with 300 learning vacations designed for grandparents and grandkids
NPS.com – national park service website offering $10 park passes to seniors 62+
Sierraclub.org/outings – family camp programs that provide affordable camping and hiking
Astc.org. – Association of Science Technology Center with seasons passes to all participating science museums.
AMN.org– buy a reciprocal pass to multiple art museums.
Otalo.com – vacation house rental deals
Tripkick.com – detailed info on hotels and specific room info
TVtrip.com – photos of lobbies, rooms and neighborhoods
Oyster.com – pros and cons of different hotels
Voyij.com – checks best sales, promotions and package deals from departure city
Seatexpert.com – guide to the best and worst airline seats
Smartertravel.com – gives real price of airline tickets with all fees including charges for blankets, sodas, luggage and seats with more legroom.
Tripadvistor –traveler reviews on hotels, package deals, airlines and destinations
Airfarewatchdog.com – dealhounds post latest and best deals all day long.
Tripfilms.com – see traveler videos of hotels, restaurants and activities

Happy Trails to you!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Top Tips To Titanic Savings on Cruises

There he was, my retired military man in full uniform, with pants that could still zip and pockets that didn’t bulge at the seams! I was so proud of him as I stood proudly at his side, waiting for formal night aboard the cruise ship to start. As we chatted by the closed doors to the waiting room, Bob checked the new watch I gave him when his Stealth F-117 fighter jet was retired earlier in the month. Two warriors, a man and his jet, were now a part of history—but he still looked great in his uniform.
“Excuse me” a woman in a black jet beaded dress said to Bob, “Can you tell me how long it will be before the dining room doors open.”
Bob checked his watch, “About 3 more minutes, ma’am.”
She glided back to join her party but scarcely had she left before a older gentleman in a black tux tapped his shoulder,
“Captain,” he began, “my friends and I were discussing the average speed of a ship this size and wanted to know if you could tell us how fast your ship cruises.”
Suddenly, Bob and I both realized that some of these people thought he was the ship’s captain! The rest of the night, I enjoyed watching the attention that my retired fighter pilot got as passengers asked him various questions about the ship!
Cruising can be affordable and a great experience experience. So how you find the cheap cruises and what are savvy and simple ways to keep the costs down?

Here are some Top Tips for Titanic Saving:

Cruise the Sites – The first step is to find the best price on a cruise by going to get competitive bids on CruiseCompete.com or CruiseNow.com. If you are worried that the prices will go up or down, go to Cayole.com which predicts rates based on seven months of data. Plus, try to look for packages that include the gratuity in the cost and other benefits like an online credit voucher, gift certificates to restaurant.com or free room upgrades.

Pre-Cruise Hotels – If you have to fly in the night before your cruise, then book a hotel ahead of time and look for a non-refundable purchase where you can save 40% or more on a room. For example, Priceline.com. For more info, go to BidOnTravel.com

On Board Extras – This can include some of the tips below (drinks, spas, etc) but can also include jewelry “deals”, art auctions, premium dining options or photography classes

Spa Tips – Be prepared to say “no” when you go to the spa on that $99 special (or the equivalent) because they make most of their money on the products they try to sell you. It’s pretty amazing, the staff starts to “sell” while they’re massaging your shoulders or finishing up your beautiful hair, and while you are relaxed and vulnerable. Be prepared to say “no” even if you’re told your hair will fall out if you don’t buy their product!

Pass on the Soda Pass – The first day you may be offered a “soda pass” that gives you all the pop you can drink for one low price. Au Contraire! You want to drink lots of water, not soda on this cruise to get your money’s worth. Water keeps you healthy from all the salt in the rich food.

Pack Two Water Bottles – Each person should pack two bottles of water (we stick them in shoes in our luggage) to save big bucks. You cannot bring in cases of water, or six packs of soda–that’s not allowed. But you can bring a couple of bottles to use and refill. The tap water in your room is the SAME water source used for glasses of water in the dining room.

Digital Pix – One of my fave nights is formal night with Bob in his dashing Air Force Mess Dress uniform that he spent 25 years earning. Be sure to have your new friends onboard take plenty of digital pix with your own camera–you’ll save the cost of the formal photo and probably get better shots anyway.

Digital Detox – Plan to go through this on your cruise. While newer ships have Wi-Fi, you’ll pay anywhere from .35 to $1.25 a minute to connect. Roaming cellphone charges take a major bite, too. So just abstain and concentrate on your family, friends and fun on the cruise.

Rank and Research Shore Excursions – You could easily double or triple the bottom line cruise total by spending money on shore excursions. Before you sail, go to the cruise website and print out the shore excursions options. Or do this as soon as you get onboard. To get the best value rank the top three for: things you want to do, the amount of time included on the excursion and the cost involved.

Book Your Own Excursions
– Just because the cruise line offers the excursion doesn’t mean you’re getting a discount. In some cases, you are pay a premium for the cruise line to get their commission! Go to PortPromotions.com, ShoreTrips.com and Viator.com . If you are in a US port, try websites such as TravelZoo.com’s local deals, Dealery.com or Yipit.com, which aggregate city specific deals available through Groupon, Living Social and the like.

Excursion Extras – It’s important to walk and work off some of that rich food–you’ll feel better and get more for your money, time and effort. Try to walk as much as possible on excursions and avoid bus, shuttle or cab fares. Eat breakfast on board before you go to save $$ on food. Try to postpone lunch until you’re back on ship, or bring an apple or banana to tide you over.

It’s SHOW Business
– The entertainment on board is generally pretty good–but it’s a hit and miss. Get your money’s worth by going to the shows (and walk out if it stinks). Sign up for free classes (salsa, line dancing, pilates, yoga, etc) and try your hand at karaoke.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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