A Financial Education Event
 

New Year Savings Habits

You are what you think! That’s what positive thinking gurus tell us and I believe it to a certain extent. But thinking it without doing something about it isn’t going to help you develop better money habits. In this New Year, I’m challenging you to implement some really easy money savings habits. Let me know which of these that: 1) you already do and 2) you are going to start doing or 3) you ain’t ever gonna do, no way, no how!

PRICE MATCHING—ASK YOUR STORE

If you have a store that will match competitors’ ads, then this helps save time and money. Most Walmart stores offer this benefit to their consumers. This price-matching tip is also good outside of the grocery area because there are dozens of other stores that will honor competitors’ ads, including Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples, the military exchanges, and more. Since these policies vary from year to year (and even month to month), it’s important to inquire at the customer service desk before you try to use the price-matching benefit.

To implement this tip, just take in all the local sale ads and have the store match the sale price from the circulars, or pull them up on your phone. There may be some restrictions, so be sure you ask for the details at the customer service desk. For example, Walmart will not honor a “buy one/get one free,” nor will they honor “percentage off” sales. But they will substitute their brand for other store brands that are on sale and it may even end up being a better-quality deal!

 

SEARCH HIGH AND LOW FOR BARGAINS

In today’s grocery stores, many bargains are located on the top and bottom shelves. The expensive items are at eye level. To those in marketing, the reason is obvious—you’ll buy something that’s in front of your nose! Also, avoid the floral, deli, and bakery departments. They’re usually overpriced and can bust your budget.

 

USE A SHOPPING LIST—DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT!

When shopping, you should never leave home without an organized list. It minimizes time spent in the store and helps you stay on target, thus avoiding impulse buying. It can also serve as a reminder of sale prices and coupons you may have. When I first started saving money with coupons and sales, there were only flyers and paper coupons. Flipp is an app that combines the best of old and new by providing a digital library of all the latest flyers and help you build a shopping list within the app. Just tap on a digitized coupon or product and the app will circle it and add it to your digital grocery list.

 

SAVE ON TRAVEL

My crafty little informant over at Hopper just gave me the 2018 Travel Cheat Sheet telling you when the best time to buy is for those 2018 trips. It gives fantastic insider tips, for example:

  • When to buy airfare for major US holidays
    • President’s Day: Book by Monday, January 29
    • Easter: Book by Sunday, February 18
    • Fourth of July: Book by Wednesday, June 13
  • Top 10 domestic and international destinations to watch in January for the best deals:
    • Los Angeles: Round-trip flight prices currently average $328, but are expected to drop 43% this month.
    • Las Vegas: Round-trip flight prices currently average $178, but are expected to drop 28% this month.
    • Cartagena, Colombia: Round-trip flight prices currently average $354, but are expected to drop 35% this month.
    • Lisbon, Portugal: Round-trip flight prices currently average $622, but are expectedto drop 32% this month.

If you’re wanting to read more about saving money on travel, check out Wanderlust For Less, an upbeat look at ways to save money on travel AND still pay the light bill.

COUPON APPS AND WEBSITES

My son, Jonathan, gave me his back-

 

to-school-for-the-spring-semester wish list. He had a gorgeous item that was a pair of shoes at the Bostonian website. The first thing I did was look up the online site in RetailMeNot. Instantly, I got a coupon for 25% off the exact shoes Jonathan wanted. That’s something that made both of us happy.

Coupon Sherpa and CouponMom are also user friendly apps to help you find great values at your local store. Download these apps and use them regularly to save 30 percent or more. Both use geographic location or zip codes to target deals at stores near you. You may also want to try the Redlaser app, it can be used to scan the bar code of a product and find out if the item is cheaper elsewhere.

Don’t forget to listen to my quirky, sometimes geeky co-host, Bethany Bayless and myself on our new podcast called The Money Millhouse. We’ve give lots of tips after drinking lots of coffee and have some of the best financial guests in America on our show! 

Remember to let you know what you are already doing, what you’re gonna do and what you ain’t gonna ever do to save money in 2018!

Holiday Travel Hacks by Bethany Bayless

Ah, the Holidays—it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Also the most expensive—especially when you don’t live near your loved ones. Holiday travel can be awesome or awful. Here are a few tips that can help when it comes to booking your travel.

  1. Avoid Peak Days: Don’t travel on peak days. Guess what—Everyone is flying those days! They are by far the most expensive days to fly. For Christmas, those days are December 22, 23, and 24. For New Year, it is December 29 and January 2. Look at your schedule to see if you are able to tweak your travel days just a little to get the best price on flights.
  2. Travel Early or Late in the Day: Another thing to keep in mind is that the cheapest flights are generally the first and last flights of the day. Don’t be afraid to adjust your sleeping schedule just a bit by flying super early or super late. These are going to be the cheaper flights.
  3. Do your research: Use apps like Hopper to find the cheapest days to fly. They will even keep you alerted to when it comes time to buy at the cheapest rate. With Holiday travel, buying sooner rather than later is always advised.
  4. Shop Around: When it comes to flying, use those dates you got from Hopper and plug them into a site like skyscanner.com, or go directly to airlines sites. Southwest only posts on their website—so make sure you check Southwest for the prices they have on flights. Keep in mind, also, that though Southwest is not always the cheapest fare, your bags will always fly for free. That can make all the difference!
  5. Send Presents Ahead: If you can get away with it, don’t check a bag. We know the holidays mean lots of presents. Think ahead—use Amazon Prime to ship directly to the people receiving them or the house you will be staying in, or send them ahead of time. It will save you headaches when it comes to sweating your connections or losing your bags. It will save you time, and sometimes it can even save you money!

What are some of your favorite tips and ways to save money when it comes to Holiday Travel?

Bethany Bayless is a popular speaker, blogger and emcee. She worked in Europe for a non-profit organization before becoming the Director of Communications for the non-profit, Heroes at Home. Her work can be found at WanderlustforLess

Holiday Travel Planning Guide – Hint: Buy Early

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One of my favorite things to do when I have my adult children home is to go to church. We always went as a family when they were growing up and having them join in when they are home brings back great memories. The last time they came home, I stood in our row with Jonathan and Joshua sitting next to me and fought back tears of gratitude. At the end of the service, the music swelled loudly, our cue to leave the sanctuary and make room for the next service in our large church.

Bob and I got separated from the boys in the exiting crowd and when I looked back to see where they were, I was stunned to see the two boys wrestling in the aisles. Jonathan had Joshua in a headlock and Joshua was trying to punch him in the kidneys to break the lock.

Oy vey. Some things never change. “We were just having some fun!” they declared as I grabbed them by the ears and they straightened up.

Family times are the best times.

They Kay family loves to get together for the holidays, but travel can be expensive. Knowing when to buy those airline tickets can mean the difference between paying cash for your holiday travel or going into further credit card debt.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are still weeks away, but October is the month you should look to book flights for both holidays.

In fact, travel app Hopper recently released its Holiday Travel Index which includes data on when to fly and buy for both holidays. Here’s a few findings I found from the study:

  • Although Thanksgiving travel is expensive (even more so this year than last — domestic flight prices are currently averaging about $325 round-trip compared to $288 last year), prices won’t vary much during the month of October. You can put it off for a bit, but make sure you book your Thanksgiving flights before Halloween.
  • If you wait to book your flight until after Halloween, it will cost you about $1 per day, every day that you wait. Prices will then begin spiking closer to $10 per day during the final two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
  • Unlike Thanksgiving prices, holiday flight prices tend to rise more steadily as Christmas approaches, and then spike heavily in the last two weeks.
  • The best time to book Christmas flights this year is the first weeks of October. If you have to wait to buy, make sure you watch prices closely, as they will fluctuate and then start spiking moderately 15-25 days prior to departure. They will spike dramatically (about $7 per day) in the final two weeksleading up to Christmas.
  • If your plans are flexible, you can save the most money by leaving on Tuesday, December 19 and returning Thursday, January 4

Keep in mind that it’s important to budget for holiday travel in conjunction with all the other expenses accrued during the holidays.

In our family, we value experiences over things. This means we will spend money to get kids home and spend less on their gifts once they get here. After all, it would be boring if we didn’t have Jonathan and Joshua fighting in the church aisles during the holidays.

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 – part two

BGadmin

Before @SouthwestAir had boarding groups and numbers, people would show up an hour or more before the flights and sit on the floor in the boarding area to get in a first come first served line. It was chaotic, but it’s just the way it was. One day, I was on my way to New York City for a very important Satellite Media Tour featuring 35 TV shows in one day. I had a meeting when I landed and couldn’t afford a delay or missed flight. As we were lining up, people kept invading each other’s space in the cattle call also known as a line. There were two men in front of me, a tall one and a short one. All the sudden, the short man turned around,

“You’d better back off and stop bumping me or I’m going to kick your butt” he shouted.

The tall man looked down on him and blurted out, “Yeah? You and whose Army?”

This continued for a few rounds as everyone else in the gate area watched the incident escalate. When the guys started to fist up and it looked as if it would come to blows, I had an out of body experience. I found myself stepping in between them. I knew they had been through security and didn’t have guns or knives and with four tall sons, I’d stepped in between many a fight.

I looked at both, “Gentlemen, you need to stop this now! If you get into a flight, our plane will be delayed so they can pull off your luggage. I can’t afford a delay today and it’s not fair to all these other passengers either.”

The tall man instantly looked uncomfortable, as if he was wondering how he allowed himself to be pulled into such a confrontation. But the small man was not moved and remained in a pugnacious pose, fist ready and stared me down like he was ready to punch me to get to his nemesis.

I was taller than him and brought my face to within inches of his own. In my most authoritative mother of seven voice I sneered, “You, turn around, now!”

He stared at me.

“Now. I won’t ask you again.”

He slowly turned around, away from the potential fight and the gate area broke into applause at the mean mama who saved our flight from a delay.

Thankfully, I don’t have to fight for a spot in Southwest lines these days. Today, I’m continuing the blog I started last week with part two of a three-part series. I wanted to give my best hacks for ways to get the most out of flying with this popular discount airliner. Keep in mind that this is not a sponsored post, I just enjoy saving our Heroes at Home non-profit money when we travel around the world, helping military members with free financial education.

Rapid Rewards Shopping

By doing the shopping you were going to do anyway through the Southwest portal, you can earn anywhere from 1 point per dollar to 9 points per dollar. You’ll also get coupon codes at the portal. One caution, if you use outside coupon codes, then you could forfeit the points benefit on the SWA portal. So be sure you compare which coupon code would be the best option before you decide on your purchases. Some of my favorite sites are Thinkgeek & Harry & David (both are 3 points per dollar), plus I like Starbucks and the Disney Store (2 points/dollar). You can still combine a lot of savings by layering the savings on line. Today, I went through Rapid Rewards Dining and bought clearance items through Disney for the Heroes at Home Event as giveaways. I used their codes to get free shipping with the SHIP50 code they gave me and all my clearance items were 70% off. I spent $53 for $170 worth of merchandise and earned 106 points.

Early Bird

You can purchase Early Bird for $15 per leg, which is a service that will check you in 36 hours before the flight, so that you don’t have to try and get a better boarding group by clicking in exactly 24 hours before your flight. You can’t access your boarding number until 24 hours before the fight, event with early bird. Do not book Early Bird until you are certain you are not going to cancel your trip, because this is non-refundable. If SWA cancels the flight, then they will refund the Early Bird fees. Later in the year, when people begin to earn tier benefits such as A-List and A-List preferred, then it seems the Early Bird boarding positions get less and less beneficial. Last year, my husband got B36 with Early Bird because there were so many A-Listers. It might even be a better strategy to forgo Early Bird, and then just upgrade your boarding position for either $30 or $40, depending on the length of the leg. Yes, you’ll pay more than you would with Early Bird, but by upgrading your boarding position, you might qualify for more points and you should get a better seat.

A-List and A-List Preferred

If you earn 35,000 points in a year, then you can earn A-List for the rest of the current year and into the next calendar year. If you earn 70,000 points, you’ll be A-List Preferred. These tiers get you priority check-in and security lane access, an automatic A-List priority boarding (you don’t have to purchase Early Bird anymore) and 25% more earning bonus for flights. The highest level gives you a 100% earning bonus on points and free drinks and free inflight Wi-Fi. Keep in mind that you cannot use points you purchase to
qualify for these tiers. I currently have A-List and will earn A-List Preferred in a couple months.

Which of these hacks were you already aware of and which tips can you implement?

Next week is the third and final part of this money savings series on how to fly Southwest for business

and pleasure. We’ll learn about the Companion pass, whether you should use points or pay for fares, how to find a good seat and how to create forever memories with your points.

I’d Luv you to join us then!

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?

Heroes at Home Financial Event – JBSA and Del Rio

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

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

Bethany Grace, Ingrid Bruns and Ellie Kay at Laughlin AFB

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

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

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

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

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

Ellie Kay

Sharing and Saving on Hotels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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