A Financial Education Event
     

Service Academies and Military Funded Education

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 I recently spoke at Congresswoman Katie Hill’s (25th Congressional District) Military Academy night.  The audience members were parents and students in high school.   These federal academies are highly competitive and look at the whole person. So it’s not enough to be a brainianc (super smart), they are also looking for students who are exceptional in the area of athletics, community involvement and leadership.  In return for this amazing education valued at $450,000, your student will be required to serve in the military for their “commitment” period. The commitment is a minimum of 5 years of service and can be longer, depending on a number of factors in regards to additional training after graduation.  If you have a “hero at home” who wants to go to a service academy, there are several things to keep in mind.


One of the first places to visit is your service academy’s admissions site:

USAFA – The United States Air Force Academy

USNA – The United States Naval Academy
USMA — The United States Military Academy

USMMA  The Merchant Marine Academy

USCGA    Coast Guard Academy (does not require a congressional nomination)

From Prospect to Appointee:  

  • Prospect: A student who has filled out the initial response form showing interest. This means they are essentially on an admissions mailing list. You can fill this out as early as middle school by going to the academy’s website.
  • Applicant: The individual has filled out a pre-candidate questionnaire and provided initial info on PSAT/SAT/ACT scores, grades and extra-curricular activities. This is usually done NO LATER than the spring of their junior year. This is also the time to contact your congressman and senator in regards to a nomination. In addition, if the student’s parent is qualified for a Presidential nomination, (see nominations and appointments below) then the student can contact the academy directly to pursue this nomination as well.
  • Candidate: To move from applicant to candidate indicates that you have cleared your first competitive hurdle. This step is decided by the Academies admissions staff in the early summer of a student’s Senior year. Not all students will get to this point, but this is when they will be interviewed by the Academy Liaison Officer (or the equivalent). It is from this list that appointments will be offered as early as the fall. For example, one of our sons was offered an USNA appointment by October.
  • Appointee: This means that the candidate has been offered an appointment into the Academy. They can choose to accept it or turn it down, but it means they have not only received an official nomination, but they have also been approved by the Academy’s admissions board and offered an actual appointment.

The Essay

It’s never too early to begin to think about what you would like to write in your admissions application essay. These are very important and should be well thought out before submitting. Be sure to have you liaison officer review it before you submit it or ask an academy graduate to help. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a faculty member from your school review it as well. More eyes on the project can mean a broader perspective, but it still needs to be your own voice, so you will have the final word on the essay.

The Negotiator

There is good news about the current economy: it’s a buyers market in more ways than just housing. Learning to negotiate can be as simple as asking: “Is this your best price?” Here are some ways to become “the negotiator!”

  • Negotiate — It’s a buyer’s market, so feel free to negotiate on just about everything! You can even negotiate spa services (manicures, pedicures, massages, haircuts &color) by asking your service provider if they offer quantity discounts (buy 4, get one free). Service industries are hard hit and you don’t have eliminate these services or pay more to keep yourself pampered in style.
  • Renegotiate – Even if you have secured a particular rate for your vacation destination, don’t be afraid to renegotiate the price. One client of mine, who subscribed to http://www.travelzoo.com/ in order to get the latest sales notices, found that his Bahama resort was advertising a new sale. Even though he and his wife had already booked the trip (and the reservation) for their anniversary, he called the resort, quoted the sale price and got the discount! He saved $1800 with one phone call by renegotiating!
  • Prenegotiate — Two months before your tenant lease is renewed, ask your landlord if your current rent is “the best they can do” as you are concerned with the current economy and really need a lower rent. You’d like to stay where you are, and if they could renegotiate for a lower price on the lease, then you won’t have to look elsewhere. You’ll be surprised at how most landlords would rather renegotiate than lose their tenants!

Happy Negotiating!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

www.elliekay.com

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

Mother’s Day Gifts – 8 Cool & Inexpensive Gifts

This is a test. It’s a test to see if ANY of my kids ever read my blog. If I get at least ONE item from the following list, then I’ll KNOW you guys read your mama’s website. If I don’t….well you don’t wanna know–trust me! 🙂 So if you know my kids and you read this blog, you might want to send them a heads up that their heads are on the line on this one!

Here are some ideas I came up with that are cool and inexpensive gifts for Mother’s Day 2009. And I would be happy with ANY of these!

1. Gift Mom Her Own Facebook Page: Middle aged women are the most quickly growing demographic on facebook! Set it up and have the family write a profile for Mom. Tweens and teens love this one and even Dad can get involved Your Mom can then use the site to do her own social and professional networking as well as keep in touch with the family.

2. Help Her Organize A Room: Give Mom a room of her choice and help her clean it out and simplify things. Design a gift certificate that’s good for a few hours one morning or afternoon. From the kitchen to her office, this is a great idea for any home area that needs de-cluttering. She’ll not only love the stress-busting effects of an organized environment, but even more importantly, the time she’ll have with you. For more ideas on how to organize, go to Marcia Ramsland’s site, www.organizingpro.com

3. Assemble a Playlist for her iPod or other portable music player: Know some songs that bring your Mom to mind? Nothing will bring a smile to her face faster than music with lyrics that say what she means to you or take her back to a special time. Think Bette Milder’s Wind Beneath My Wings or the Caribbean tunes she fell in love with on vacation.

4. YouTube Tribute: Take it one step further and marry one or two of her favorite tunes with photos and funny videos from the family collection for a full multi-media extravaganza. Post it at www.youtube.com . These can also be assembled into a special Mother’s Day e-book online at need website suggestion here.

5. Personalized Coupon Book: If all these tips are too high tech for you, then let’s go back to yesterday and a low tech, but meaningful gift, one that I remember my kids making for me when they looked like the kids sitting on this camper! Make your own coupon book with gift certificates for everything from doing the dishes for a week and mowing the lawn to a Mom and Dad’s night out or allowing Mom to be queen for the day. The latter means that dinner is on the table when she gets home, no one argues with her and she gets to watch her favorite TV show or movie without interruption! The one catch: you gotta mean it!

6. Coupon Collection: Speaking of coupons, agree for a month to take over the chore of maintaining and organizing the coupon collection. For Ellie, who saves $8,000 annually on groceries, this is a huge help and time saver especially with the number and variety of coupons available on the market today.

7. Plant a Vegetable Garden: 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 will provide months of good taste and good cheer for your Mom and others.

8. If you’ve left it to the very, very, very last minute: Remember anything personalized is better. So, instead of the generic stuffed animal, go with the item labeled “World’s Greatest Mom.”

Remember, Kay kids, that your mama loves you!

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

Ellie on ABC News “Money Matters”

It’s one of those west coast satellite interviews where I’m picked up at my hotel at 5:40 AM, in studio by 6:00 AM and on the air by
6:30. Except things don’t always go as planned–especially in media.

I really enjoy being on shows like Money Matters because the hosts are out to give people news they can use, so there’s good natured bantering associated with the practical tips.

I arrived at the west coast ABC bureau and they put me in a studio. As they were putting on my microphone, the audio feed box broke–something clearly beyond anyone’s control. The tech (who has been doing TV stuff for 25 years) fiddled here & there and kept saying “Oh no!” and “this isn’t good.” Trust me, these are not words that bring comfort as you’re waiting to on national television in front of a gazillion people. But this guy looked resourceful and he kept fiddling, trying one thing after another.

By now, we’re 5 minutes to air. Finally, he takes a phone and a microphone, then DUCT TAPES the microphone to the top part of the phone. Then he plugs the audio feed into the phone and puts the mini earpiece into my ear. This allowed me to “hear” the producer on the phone from NY and also hear the host ask me questions! All of this you’d never know to watch the piece on Money Matters .

The result is a fun, upbeat piece on Mother’s Day gifts that you can even use for Father’s Day too, if you want to get a jumpstart on that holiday.

As a mom of so many, I find that Mother’s Day isn’t just “a” day around our house–it’s a season by the time all the gifts come trickling in from all the kids. Hope YOU have a great Mom’s Day, too!

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

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

Dead, Near Dead, and Drop Dead Gorgeous

I just got back from the Thelma Wells “Ready to Win” cruise for women where I was a featured speaker. My girlfriends, Brenda and Allison were drop dead gorgeous in their formal night clothing. But don’t let this photo deceive you, we survived some strange adventures before we ended up smiling in a photo!

Brenda and I had to come in the day before the cruise and stayed at a Hilton in Fort Lauderdale. TIP: I used an “best available rate” room special where you prepay, but save over $200 by getting the room cheaper than the local Hampton Inn. Plus, I get frequent stayer points & a free breakfast with my Hilton Honors gold card. When we checked into the room, it smelled like smoke. TIP: We knew you should always let management know and that by asking, we could possibly get a room upgrade. The hotel manager was great! He met us at our room with keys to the PRESIDENTIAL SUITE! The nicest room in the 8 story hotel! When he took us in, it was gynormous, featuring a table for twelve, a full kitchen, a private balcony and several sitting areas. The bedroom suite was off the main room. There was just one insey weensy problem.

He showed us around the suite, highlighting the amenities. When he got to the bathroom, he pointed at some stains on the tile, “Don’t worry about those stains, they are going to replace the tiles later this week. It’s just that a woman died here last night and there was a lot of blood. But they cleaned up all the blood and it’s really no problem.”

Then he left.

I looked at Brenda, “Did he just say what I thought he said and was he kidding?” Looking pale, she nodded her head and whispered, “He said there was a dead body in this room last night.”

We bolted off the main suite and barricaded ourselves in the bedroom area while dreaming of the Sixth Sense and “I see dead people.”
The adventure continued when we got on the cruise and reached our first port–Grand Caymans. We signed up for the kayaking and snorkel excursion. When we arrived it was sprinkling and they announced they only had 6 power scooters for 8 people, so if someone wanted to get 1/2 a refund on their excursion, they could forgo the scooter. TIP: It’s really easy to share a power scooter when snorkeling with a friend. In fact, it’s relaxing to just snorkel on your own, then take a turn with the scooter. We saved 50% in the process.

By the time we paddled out, it was a steady drizzle, but it didn’t keep us from enjoying the snorkel experience around the reef with beautiful tropical fish and bright blue waters! When everyone got back on their kayaks to go over to the shipwreck area, it was raining harder. Then–all of the sudden, the heavens opened up and we found ourselves in the middle of a STORM at sea! The guides were too far ahead of us and couldn’t see us. Visibility was limited and the rain felt like sharp pepples pelting down on our faces and legs. The kayak was taking on water and the waves were swelling bigger and bigger. We positioned the kayak to meet the ways head on to avoid capsizing. That’s when the lightening started. We looked down at our metal paddles and just kept paddling in tandem for shore. It was one of those surreal experiences when you find yourself wondering what your family would do if you were swept out to sea, struck by lightening or put in a psych ward because you freaked out over the trauma.

It took us only fifteen minutes to paddle out but almost an hour to paddle back to the shore. The guides finally got a clue and came back for the other two kayaks that were still in the storm and attached a line to them to get them back safely.

The final day was our big parasailing excursion in Cozumel. We prayed for it to be singularly UNEVENTFUL. We wanted NO more dead bodies or “near death” experiences. Just the intrinsic thrill of flying tandam 600 feet above the water in a parachute. As you’ll see from the photo–we succeeded in our goal, putting the “death” theme to rest in peace!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

The Honeymooners – How to Have a Debt Free Wedding


One of the most invisible women at a wedding is the mother of the groom. I found that being invisible was actually a lot of fun because my son was marrying the right little lady at the right time and in the right way! All eyes should be on the bride–and groom.

The bride wore white and the groom was in black–in the black, to be precise. Our oldest son, Daniel, graduated from college debt free last month with a great FICO score and no consumer debt. This past week he got married and once again, there was no debt associated with the ceremony, reception or honeymoon! In fact the only “red” that this new couple got into was their (paid for) red convertible. And it wasn’t because mommy and daddy took care of all the boy’s bills, it was because he learned about financial freedom and living within your means. Starting out well in life by paying cash may mean you wait on the things you want to get, but it also means that there’s twice the likelihood Daniel and his bride will not divorce since one in two couples cite “money issues” as the reason they separated.

I gave them The New Bride Guide when they got engaged over a year ago and they used it as their wedding planner. Thousands of other couples have done the same and here are just a few of the key tips to have the wedding of your dreams in the reality of today’s economy.

  • Live Your Plan – It’s important to evaluate how much you can spend by having careful and honest discussions with parents, grandparents or others who will contribute to the wedding. Don’t work your plan until you know how much you have to spend. I have a chapter that gives you the step by step guidelines for these discussions. Too many couples make their plans first then struggle with a way to pay for it later which usually means debt.
  • Bargaining – By incorporating five words (is this your best price?) you can save thousands of dollars on everything from invitations, dresses, flowers, photography, the rehearsal dinner and the honeymoon! Learn the fine art of bargaining.
  • Honeymoon Savings – Daniel followed the tips on vacations and got a rock bottom price on an incredible honeymoon trip to Ireland. They layered the savings online for other items they needed for the trip and saved as much as 50%.

You don’t have to be the son of a financial expert to learn how to have a tasteful debt free wedding. As I told Daniel, it’s not about planning a wedding, it’s about planning a marriage and starting a marriage debt free is the best gift you can give your bride.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

www.elliekay.com

Back To School, Baby! – ABC News “Good Money” Show

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Summers are great and kids run free, but by the end of the break, a lot of parents are more than ready to start that back-to-school shopping. Truth be told, I think my “babies” are as ready to get back in the academic groove as I am ready to send them back! (BTW, I still call my 6’5″ sons baby and get away with it). But getting ready can be hard on the old bank account if you are not strategic in how you shop. Here are some ideas that I shared on a new ABC News Now show called “Good Money”
1. Layer the Savings –When shopping online, look for sale items where you can also use a coupon or code to save even more on the price, shipping, or by getting free products. With the economy forcing parents to make hard decisions about what’s really a necessity, putting a little research into finding extra discounts can add up to big savings.

2. “Double Dipping” – To maximize limited back-to-school shopping dollars, look for items that have good value, but also look to shop at locations where you can have a percentage of that purchase deposited into your child’s college savings account. Sign up for www.upromise.com so that a percentage of your purchases will go into your child’s 529 plan.

3. Logistical Savings – If your college-bound baby is attending a school out of state, shop at online retailers that also have physical stores in the town where she/he is going to school. Often times, these retailers have online-to-store options where they will send the products to one of their local stores without charging a shipping fee. This option will allow parents and students to shop at their leisure online, take advantage of all the savings options, and have the convenience of going to a local store to pick up the items they ordered.

4. Link-in Friends and Family – Oftentimes, family and friends want to help contribute to a child’s education, but they don’t know how to help – especially in a recession. Grandparents or others can sign up for Upromise as well, for free to have a percentage of their purchases from hundreds of participating merchants deposited in a college savings account.

5. Family Spending Plan – Distinguish between “needs” and “wants” by making financial savings a family affair. Give children a spending plan that shows them how much money they can spend on back-to-school items. Inform children that what they do not spend, they can keep. This added motivation of learning ways to spend less and save more not only saves the family money, but trains children in money matters, making them more adept as young adults.

Wonderfully Yours!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Tax Free Holidays

Consumers across the country are searching for ways to cut their spending and still buy what they need, especially when shopping for back-to-school essentials for kids. Many states offer tax free holidays during the back to school shopping season to help families purchase back to school necessities.

The tax free holidays are just around the corner and if your state offers this, it’s important to take full advantage of this holiday. Here are some tips to help:

FIND OUT THE DEALS – Take advantage of savings opportunities linked by local retailers to the upcoming Tax Free Holiday weekends. Don’t worry, there will be lots of ads in your local paper. Some stores like Sears even offer further discounts like $10 off a $50 apparel purchase just for showing your PTA or PTO card or student id. Be sure you go shopping prepared with these forms of identification to get your discounts.

FIND OUT LIMITATIONS – Each state has its limitations, so ask the cashier at your retailer what the rules are for your state. For example, some states will only allow up to $100 on any single item of clothing and only up to $750 on a computer. So know the rules by googling your state, “tax free holiday” and “2009.”

FIND LAYAWAY – Some stores such as K-mart have reinstituted layaway in direct response to the recession. This option varies from family to family but our family tries to minimize credit card debt and layaway is another option that helps avoid consumer debt.

Upcoming Tax Free Holiday Dates

STATE

Vermont 8/22
Georgia 7/30 to 8/2
Mississippi 7/31 to 8/1
D C 8/1 to 8/9
Alabama 8/7 to 8/9
Iowa 8/7 to 8/8
Louisiana 8/7 to 8/8
Missouri 8/7 to 8/9
New Mexico 8/7 to 8/9
North Carolina 8/7 to 8/9
Oklahoma 8/7 to 8/9
South Carolina 8/7 to 8/9
Tennessee 8/7 to 8/9
Virginia 8/7 to 8/9

Happy Savings!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/

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