A Financial Education Event
 

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!   

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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!

Saving Every Day, the Kay Way

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This week, I got a phone call from Jonathan, my fighter pilot son, sharing his latest bargain. He may have gotten his flying abilities from the World’s Greatest Fighter pilot, but he learned how to save from another family member, who will remain nameless. He talked about how he scored a new bedding set at Bed, Bath and Beyond by layering the savings. As he shared, his excitement gained momentum,

“Yeah, so the regular price for the bed set was $245, it was on clearance for $109, then the clearance was marked down another 50% for one day only, so it was $55. Then I used my 20% off coupon (found at Retail Me Not) and saved $21 more.” He came up for air, with the coup de gras,

“I only paid $34 for a bedding set valued at $245.”

He is my favorite son. *

After I complimented his money savings prowess, I excitedly told him about my recent discovery from our local County of Los Angeles Public Library in Quartz Hills. I found out that instead of paying $14.95 for Audible, (which is a good deal if you listen to a lot of audible books) you can get them for free at the library online. It was so easy. You just download the Overdrive app for free, register your library card and voila! I’ve already downloaded Dr. Who, The Underwater Menace and Jodi Picolt’s Small Great Things. Since it’s a digital download, I can listen to iton my phone in the car or on a plane–all for FREE. When I’m done, it’s automatically returned on the system.

Truth be told, I taught my kids from an early age how to save money. It’s in their DNA and it’s served them well as millennials in the cold, sometimes cruel world of adulting. The good news is that these skills can be learned, even if you weren’t taught from the womb how to get the best bargain.

For example, my daughter’s friend, Kristen, went to Downtown Disney with my daughter and I recently and we educated her at the Rainforest Cafe in a major way.

The first perk we received was when we called ahead to make a reservation (at 4:00 PM) and were told there were no reservations left until 9:00 PM. To which I replied,

“But I’m a Landry’s Select Club member.” I heard a quick intake of breath on the other side of the phone.

“Oh well, that’s different. Just come to the front of the line when you get here and they’ll be a 15-minute wait max for you.”

Sweet dreams are made of this.

We were happily seated upstairs at a table overlooking the two-story Atlas fountain and right in front of our own personal monkey. While we perused our menus, I explained how the Landry Select Club works.

“You only pay $25 to get the card and you earn a $25 credit for every $250 you spend at hundreds of participating restaurants, casinos and hotels across the county. It’s not a credit card, it’s just like a membership card. Restaurants like Bubba Gump, the Chart House, Saltgrass & McCormick and Schmick’s.”  I paused for a quick breath and continued,

“Plus, you get $25 credit your birthday month. There’s no renewal fees and you always get priority seating.” About that time, the Manager came over and asked us how it was going (another perk of being a member.) As soon as the manager left, my daughter added,

“Also, as soon as you register your new card online, you automatically get a $25 credit. So it pays for itself right away.”

Just then the storm began with a loud clap of thunder. The elephants at the end of the aisle started snorting loudly and our monkey friend kind of freaked out at the weather.

It was the end of our educational session. But not the end of our passion about saving money every day–the Kay way!

What are some of your day to day savings discoveries? Let me know!

 

*To be  clear all of Ellie Kay’s kids are her favorites.  She’s not a horrible mom who loves one child more than another. (Except when they buy her gifts for no reason, then they really are her favorite because gift giving is her love language, which really is a thing.)

What I Luv About Southwest Airlines – part 3

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When my grandson, Liam was born, I had already scheduled a trip to see him. But he would be 8 weeks old and on the verge of no longer being a newborn. I couldn’t stand it, I had to see him sooner than later. I went online, changed my flight home from a business trip in NYC to go to Dallas and I saw that beautiful blue eyed boy! It was so worth it to hold him in my arms and experience the joy of the miracle of life.

All of this was possible because I was flying #Southwest and there were no change fees. I only had to pay the current cost of the fare. But since I was flying business class, with a client paying the bill, I could downgrade it and break even in my out of pocket costs—sweet!

Today is part three of a three-part series on how to get the most bang out of your buck when flying Southwest airlines @SouthwestAir. Parts one and two got a lot of responses!

Companion Pass

If you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year, then you earn a companion pass for the rest of the current year and the following year. You can choose your companion and only change it three times. I have had Companion for a couple years now and Bethany Bayless, our Heroes at Home Director of Communication flies for free, saving our non-profit thousands in air fares.

Keep in mind that you cannot use purchased or transferred points toward
this tier. If you purchase a trip on points, then your companion can still come along!

 

Purchasing Points or Fares?

I’ve shown you all kinds of ways to earn points, but what about purchasing points? If you subscribe to the email alerts and you get a Southwest Chase card, you will be notified when points go on sale. These sales vary tremendously such as earning 30%, 40% or even 50% in bonus points when you purchase these. But remember that they don’t count toward tiers and when you fly on points, that flight won’t help you earn your next tier level (other than the dollar amount spent on your Chase Southwest card to purchase them) because you will only earn points on flights purchased with dollars. You can also gift or transfer points from one Rapid Rewards member to another or donate points to charity. You can normally get 10,000 p
oints for $275. Right now, they are on sale for 25% off their normal amount when you purchase 5,000 points or more by August 1st.

When it comes to purchasing fares, you have the advantage of earning points on your flights but you also won’t get your money back unless you purchase the pricey fully refundable fares. The good news is that you can use your unused fares for up to a year toward another flight in your name. But you cannot use them for someone else. So, if you’re flying your college student home for spring break and they want to go to the Bahamas instead, you won’t get the money back and you’ll have to bring that same child for Christmas or another flight within a year from the date of original purchase. Instead, we usually fly our kids around on points because if/when they are cancelled, they go back into my account and I can use them on anyone.

My Happy Seat

By flying the way that I’ve outlined, I’d say that I get exit row about 90% of the time. I will get the exit row with the double seats (and an empty space next to one of the seats.) I also like the biggest exit row that is across from the double seats. I get the exit and Bethany gets the window seat. Then we hope no one sits in the middle (I’m tempted to get an emergency bag and pretend I’m sick to my stomach to discourage people from sitting there, but I don’t!). There’s more room in these rows and I like the extra space. On the 800 series, there are double the exit rows. You can look at the plane from the boarding area and if there are two doors in the center of the plane, then it’s your lucky day to double your chances of getting an exit row.

 

Higher Math – Frequent Fliers Only

Sometimes, at the end of the year (see Early Bird), Bethany gets a much lower boarding number than I do and we look at whether we want to upgrade her boarding position to priority boarding along with the Business Select passengers (A-1 through A-15). We will ask the gate attendant how many “through passengers” there are on the flight before we decide to buy. These are the passengers that stay on the plane from the previous leg and they can move about the cabin to get the good seats. If there are many “throughs,” then it’s a waste of money to upgrade. But if there aren’t that many, then it could be worth it so that we can try to get those coveted exit rows. Interested side note, most of the passengers who get on the plane first, want to sit at the front of the plane so they can be the first off. That can leave the exit rows open for those who board later.

Wild Rides, New Friends, Free Drinks and Quick Exits

I remember the first time that I flew out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County. I was already a frequent traveler, but usually flew into Burbank or LAX. So, when I took off from John Wayne and the airplane put us back in our seat like the California Screamin’ rollercoaster at Disney’s California Adventure park, I was unprepared. It kind of freaked me out a bit because it wasn’t “normal.” The flight attendant told me that there are very strict noise ordinances and they must climb out that way to stay within regulations.

Another tip is something I do almost by mistake. When my Apple Watch tells me I need to get my stand goal, I go to the back of the plane at 5 minutes before the top of the hour and stay there until after the hour, moving around a bit to get my stand goals (please tell me I’m not a little compulsive on my daily Apple Watch goals.) In the process, I talk to the flight attendants and make new friends. Sometimes we laugh a lot and it’s great. In fact, I’ve been offered free drinks dozens of times from my new flight attendant friends, but I don’t drink, so I usually decline. But if you DO drink, you could save money this way, too!

One last hack, when you fly into or out of my favorite airport in the whole world, Burbank, be aware that you embark and debark both at the front and back of the plane. If you sit at the back, you’ll also be one of the first people off the plane when you land in Burbank.

 

 

What Do I Do With My Southwest Points?

When I’m on tour with Heroes at Home, we can be on as much as 70% travel and it’s not all glamour and glitz. It’s long and sometimes exhausting days that takes us away from family and our puppy dogs. But providing free financial education to military members is worth it. Currently, I have 200,000+ points. I use them for creating forever memories with friends and families. I’ve flown friends to weddings, military members home for the holidays and children to graduations. In fact, my next trip on points is to go see a new grandson who is due next month.

Southwest, thank you for helping me spread the love!

What I Luv About Southwest Airlines – Favorite Hacks Part 1

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If you’ve never flown Southwest Airlines before, then you may not be aware that they board by groups and by number. When you get on the airplane, it’s open seating—first come, first served. I was boarding with an A-18 number which lined up adjacent to the higher numbers. An outgoing Millennial lady came up to another a Boomer woman standing on my left and asked, “what number are you?” Because she wanted to line up in order.

The well dressed and friendly Boomer answered, “I’m 50.”

I leaned over and whispered, “You don’t look a day over 35.”

At first she was surprised, but then smiled, “Actually, I’m 55 years old.” She whispered, “And I like 55.”

Cool. Gotta Luv a woman comfortable in her own skin!

This is not a sponsored post for this airline. I’m writing about this simply because it’s a big part of my life and a lot of my followers use this discount airline. I fly Southwest in order to save our Heroes at Home organization money on travel when we provide free financial education for our military members.

Here are my favorite hacks to fly high with less stress and more money in your pocket:

Shop the Sales

If you know you are traveling in a few months, then don’t buy right away. Keep an eye on the sales in order to get the “Wanna Get Away” fares, which are the cheapest. Subscribe to Click N Save in order to get an alert when fares go on sale. Keep in mind that you can look for fares in either dollars or points and when fares go on sale in dollars, they also go on sale in points.

Shortcut to Savings

If you have any latitude in when you fly, then you may want to check out the Low Fare Calendar

This resource gives the lowest fare on the calendar date for the month. It will only list the lowest fare for the day, so you’ll have to pick and choose the schedule you want and it may not be the lowest of the day. Sometimes, I just use the calendar to avoid buyer’s remorse in realizing there wasn’t a cheaper fare on a different day.

Rapid Rewards

Sign up for the frequent flyer card at the Rapid Rewards center on Southwest.com. This isn’t the credit card, it’s a number you get when you enroll that you will also enter when you book travel. These points don’t expire as long as you show some kind of points generating activity once every 24 months with either flights or partners. See below for partner opportunities as well as part two in next week’s blog.


Southwest Credit Card

Be sure you check out the Chase Southwest Chase credit card if you really want to generate points to earn more flights. Right now, brand new cardholders can earn 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. I recommend that you pay off your card each month to avoid paying interest. The annual fee is $69 and if you have a friend who already has this card, then let them sign you up on a referral. That way, you can earn the same benefit of 40,000 points, but your friend can earn 10,000 points as well. These benefits change regularly, so be sure you know the current terms before you sign up. You earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases, then you earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. If you have a business, then you can rack up even more points by using it early and often. Just make sure you pay attention to utilization and if you charge more than 30% of the available credit, then pay off the balance before the billing cycle ends. This will help you keep a good credit score.

Partner Points

If you book a rental car on the Southwest.com portal, then you can earn 2 points per $1 or more, depending on the provider. You can also book hotels for points and can earn as much as 10,000 per night (I’ve never found a provider that actually gives me that many for one night because they are for hotels in other cities that I’m not visiting.) They disclose how many Rapid Rewards points they will give you when you are booking.

Rapid Rewards Dining

celebrating our sweet points!

If you sign up for rapid rewards dining, then you can earn points in partner restaurants by registering every card you may use in a restaurant (not just your Chase SWA card). I’ve registered all of my own cards and my husband’s debit and credit cards, too. I keep it simple by just going to the restaurants we want to eat at and if I end up getting a bonus, it’s icing on the cake. If you want to be more proactive, you can look at the list of partner restaurants and visit one of those for more points. Be sure you read the rules associated with the dining points, so you know what to expect.

These hacks are too good for just one post, so join us next week to see how you can earn even more points by shopping in order to earn tier benefits and whether you should invest in Early Bird or not.

What’s your favorite @SouthwestAir city to visit?

Valentines Day

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Even after 29 years of marriage, Valentines Day is still consider a “high holy day” in the Kay house! If Bob ever lived in a world where he thought he could skip over the day in an effort to “save money” he would end up spending Valentines with Buddy, our mini schnauzer in his dog house! But you don’t have to spend a lot for your gift to mean a lot, here are some ideas that may help.

Is it OK to Scrimp on Valentine’s Day?

For Valentine’s Day, you might feel the need to pull out all the stops, but it’s not necessary. Sure, some people want to celebrate the holiday in a lavish way, but others prefer to go the low-key route. Whether you fit into these descriptions or fall somewhere in the middle, there are a romantic date ideas for Valentine’s Day or the weekend before that suit every budget.

The Least Expensive Way to Spend Feb 14th

After a home-cooked meal, snuggle up with your honey and enjoy a movie night on the cheap. Look for specials at Redbox and get a romantic dramedy plus an action movie to keep both of you happy. Or get both action and romance by renting a flick like “Knight and Day” with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. If you are an amazon prime member then you have access through your computer or TV to free movies that are not available for free to non-members. You may not even be aware of the freebies offered, so be sure to check them out.

Flower Power

When it comes to flowers, you usually get what you pay for and one way to cut costs is to hand deliver, this can save anywhere from $8 to $20. You could look at grouponLocal Living, Living Social or SeizeTheDeal for offers such as $20 for $40 worth of flowers with FTD.

One kind of fun option reminds me of one of my favorite romantic comedies, “Kate and Leopold” and that is to give flowers with specific meanings. Go to TheFlowerExpert.com to find out the meaning of different flowers. For example, red roses mean romantic love while a bouquet of mixed roses means “I don’t know my feelings about you yet, but I’m sending you roses anyway.” Carnations are a less expensive option and a red carnation conveys love pride, beauty and admiration. Daisys are also inexpensive and convey “loyal love.” A sunflower symbolizes pure thoughts. So you can select a cheaper flower if, and only if, you write a note explaining the meaning of the flower and why you chose it for your true love.

Dinner and a Show

Going out for dinner seems to be a Valentine’s Day mainstay and dinner for two can range anywhere from $20 to $200 or more. How to you have a nice meal without sending a signal to your mate that you want to spend as little as possible? After all, aren’t they worth a splurge on Valentine’s Day?

There are quite a few ways to save a lot in this area and still have a nice time together. Lunch or brunch can be half the price of dinner and you could go on the Sunday before the big day. In fact, some restaurants are offering prix fix menus for the weekend or entire Valentine week. Go to your favorite restaurant’s twitter or facebook page and see what specials they are offering to get the best value. Some of these values are only offered to social media friends.

You can also go to restaurant.com where gift certificates have gone on sale this week. You can get a $25 gift certificate for your favorite restaurant for as little as $6 by entering the coupon code found at RetailMeNot. Check community billboards at your local chamber of commerce website. For example, in our area, a local Greek center is offering a romantic, candlelight dinner for two with champagne, flowers, dinner and dancing for $50 a person. While this may not seem like a bargain at first, when you add up the cost of the individual items like the food, flowers, bottle of bubbly and a cover charge you would have to pay to dance, it’s an all inclusive deal that is sure to please. Plus, you can learn how to dance the Kalamatianos, a traditional Greek dance. Can you say, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding!”?

Great Dates that Double As A Great Gift

Right now, there are some great deals to be had at Travelzoo such as a quick, 2 night getaway on a $299 cruise, with an oceanview room. Bob and I took a cruise this way and really loved it. This week, there are also really nice hotels from Orlando to Seattle that range from $49 to $99 a night. Or, if you want to get up, up and away, there’s a $125 two hour helicopter ride featured.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

The Homestretch – Hearts Apart Stay Connected

I became a Veteran at sending a husband away for stretches of time while keeping the home fires burning. It wasn’t fun when the five youngest kids all had the stomach bug at the same time and Bob was stuck in Hawaii with a broken jet for two weeks. But we made it work.

These days, my military sons and I are apart as they serve at home an abroad. My Marine is overseas and some days, I just miss him something fierce (as they say in Texas). Here are some ways to stay connected whether you are a spouse, a sibling or a parent.

Special Connections – My Army son, Joshua and I will take
a screen shot of our phones when all the numbers are the same, then we send it to each other. We don’t have to add words because that is a unique connection that means “I’m thinking of you and I love you.” I have another friend who bought a watch for her son and her husband that has an audible timer. She set the watches for the same time in her part of the United States and her husband’s location overseas. Every day when the alarm went off, the father/son knew that the other was thinking of them and they felt connected every time.

Your Local Base, Post or Unit – Be sure you stay in touch with a military support group that is sponsored by your local unit. Family support groups will be in the know about the status of your military member’s communication capabilities. Often, you can sign up for free services that are offered to the bases such as pillow cases with a photo of your military member for each of the kids or a Stand Up Daddy project. They will also let you know when the unit allows email or other contact and where to mail packages. We are members of a Marine parents group that keeps us informed and reminds us of OPSEC (Operation Security.)

Skype – Schedule regular and free communication with www.oovoo.com or www.skype.com. Be sure your military member is allowed this kind of access and that it’s not against any regulations. We have a date with our Marine at the same time every week and we prioritize it. Keep the dialog positive while they are deployed and share the negative stuff with a trusted friend or chaplain. Deployed members need us to keep it light, but when they come home, they’ll get diaper duty. 

Apps and More – Viber is a free app that allows for free texting and calls. Text 4 free is also a free app that allows you to text when your phone is connected via Wi-Fi (in case they don’t have cell phone access). Facetime is a great app for users of iPhones, iPads, Macs, or iPods. Words With Friends is also free and lets you play games with free texting through the game.

It’s also important when they get back home to try and spend time together as well. But you don’t want to go off budget either. It’s important to not give into the temptation for “splurge spending” just because they are back home again.

Staying Connected When You’re Together:

  • RetailMeNot – This isn’t just a great app to look up discount codes inside every store you visit in person or online. It’s also a resource for coupons. I had a Mimi’s “Buy one entrée, get one free” in my email inbox but forgot to bring it to the restaurant. Happily, I found it on the RetailMeNot app and used it from my phone!
  • Google Search and Social Media – Find your favorite restaurant’s web site and check out their values or like them on their Facebook or Twitter to get special deals. Many sites will offer printable coupons as well as weekly specials. Or download Coupon Sherpa or Yowza apps to find deals.
  • Two for One/One for Two! – If your fave place doesn’t offer a “buy one/get one free” special, then why not share a meal? This savvy approach is especially smart at a restaurant that’s notorious for serving larger portions. You may have to pay a small surcharge for an extra plate, but your wallet (and waistlines) will thank you.
  • Entertainment Books – These coupon books cost around $35 (and sometimes run on sale for $10). Go to entertainment.com to find offers near you. Not only do they feature restaurant coupons, but they also offer great values on a variety of local and national services. But be forewarned: they’re not cost effective if you leave them at home!
  • Restaurant.com – At this site, you can get $25 restaurant gift certificates for only $10 and be sure to sign up for their sale notifications when you can get that $25 gift certificate for only $2!

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 2)

In order to fully embrace the value of free time, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of recreation and relaxation in our overall quality of life and productivity. Our families, marriages, and friendships all need time to regenerate and celebrate so we can be refreshed and ready to face the next round of daily demands of modern living. Unfortunately, if we are not mindful, those rewarding activities can become costly and negatively impact our budgets—which puts us right back into stress mode!

If entertainment and eating out is scheduled into your spending plan, then there’s no stress of going off budget. But what if you could go out twice as often and still stay on budget? Here are some ways to have twice the fun at the same price:

Woo the One You Love!

Woo the one you love—Have fun:

Some of the best dates I’ve had with Bob have been the simplest ones—when we take time out of a hectic schedule, turn off the radio, television and computer, and just enjoy each other’s company.

Bob and I have discovered that we don’t need a trip to Rio, an expensive meal at a posh restaurant, or a big day at the them park to have genuine, guilt-free fun. You can #savemoney and have fun at the same time! Take it from me and my mounds of correspondence from debt riddled readers who are paying big credit card bills for family fun—accumulating debt isn’t relaxing.

Since summer is coming to a close, I thought I would share a few secrets to enjoy the weather and woo the one you love.

  • Beach time: When playing in the waves, take time to snuggle your mate in the water. Walk to a ice cream shop on the strand and talk about your worst sunburns.
  • Balcony Dates: Try to select a room with a view and while the kids are asleep or watching a movie, have coffee on the veranda under the stars.
  • Flowers anyone?: Surprise your mate with a bouquet from a street vendor or local field (but not your neighbors yard).
  • Sunsets: Check out the time of sunset at Weather Channel and then schedule dinner at a local restaurant, asking for a table with a view.
  • Gifts: Before your vacation, wrap a few inexpensive, yet meaningful gifts for your mate. Place one on his/her pillow each night. Or if not on vacation, do it for fun one night.
  • Touch: Meaningful touch can often get lost in the rapid pace of life. Grab your spouse’s hand and give him a kiss under the moonlight.
  • Carriage Ride: Take advantage of the romantic element in family activities. Let your kids rid in the front of a carriage ride while you snuggle in the back.
  • Reflection Time: Schedule a date at the end of each day to share what you felt was your most romantic moment and why—you may be surprised at what you learn about your mate in the process!
  • Go to an Outdoor Concert or Movie Screening: Check the local listings in your town or nearby area to see the summer showings and events. Pack a picnic lunch and bring a couple of lawn chairs if it’s appropriate. Or, bring a blanket and cuddle as you watch the free entertainment.
  • Learn Together: Take a dance, art, woodworking, or pottery class together – sites like Groupon and Living Social often have deals for these types of events
  • Become a tourist: You will not believe the number of New Yorkers who have never been the Statue of Liberty, or how many Chicagoans haven’t seen The Bean. Embrace being a tourist for a day and meander around the famous sites in your town or local area. Make a fake budget and “buy” a few souvenirs or wish list items and compare. Oh, and take pictures!
  • Have a Bookstore Scavenger Hunt: Go to the local bookstore and find books that describe you, like finding a book about your favorite cuisine, a place you want to visit, or a hobby you would like to take up. End at the coffee shop and compare notes.
  • Tour a local brewery or winery: Most breweries and wineries offer free tours which usually include free tastings at the end!
  • Movie Night: Rent a Redbox, search Netflix, or pop in a family favorite and stay in for the night. Make some popcorn on the stove and throw pillows on the floor with blankets for a cuddle-friendly seat.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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