A Financial Education Event
 

Valentines Day

 

Even after 30 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. 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 GrouponLiving Social 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)

Before You Say “I Do” – Premarital Financial Counseling

BGadmin

“Bye, bye!”  I smiled and waved from the front porch, Bob by my side, “Nice to meet you!”

Speaking like a ventriloquist, I continued to wave at my son and his girlfriend,

“I give It less than one week” I told my husband, “two weeks tops.”

Bob smiled, giving his very poor ventriloquist rendition, “I don’t know, she was, ah, very conversational.”

“Yeah,” we turned to walk back in, “and her favorite topic was herself!”

We had just entertained one of our sons and a girl he brought home to meet us. In our family, we are predisposed to like the significant others that our children bring home because our kids have very good judgement. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t sitting on “no” when it comes to these friendships that could blossom into something more.

One week later, we got a call from our son letting us know that he and the girl were not going to work out.

“Yeah,” our son reported, “I realized that the only thing we had in common was that we both thought she was pretty.”

The Kay whammy had struck again.

“What is the Kay whammy?” you ask.  It’s pretty simple, when our kids bring a special person home to meet our family, they either stay together for life and get married. Or, they break up within two weeks.

We are an intense family and we tend to drive away the faint of heart. But we are also a loving, loud and loquacious family and that attracts the brave hearts.

When it comes to a spouse, our kids look for certain qualities and when they get serious, we ask for a credit report.

I’m kidding.

Not really.

Knowing your future mate’s money habits is a significant part of deciding if they are a “forever” friend or not. Since “money matters” is cited as the #1 reason for divorce in America, it’s important to be on the same page regarding this topic. So far, all of our kids have opted for premarital counseling before the big day and this counseling should include the topic of money management.

Here’s a quick list of the financial topics that should be covered before you say I do.

8 Topics to Cover in Financial Premarital Counseling

Your Family of Origin’s Financial Situation

How did your parents manage money? What did they teach you about money? Chances are good you may manage your finances the way that your family did and this may be different from your significant other’s point of view. Did your parents save, believe in tithing, pay cash for everything or did they live paycheck to paycheck? Hashing out the differences, finding the similarities and developing a new plan for you and your spouse will be topics you cover under this heading.

Your Spend Plan

Do you currently have a budget? Go over both of your current budgets. If you don’t have one, then that is also a discussion point. Decide on what a new budget will look like for you as a couple when you are married. There’s a great app I use called Mint that can be accessed and updated by both parties at any time. This is especially good for military families who are apart but want to keep track of mutual spending.

 Holidays, Birthdays and Vacations

How do you spend money on vacations and holidays? Some families spend so much on Christmas, that it takes until the following May to pay off that debt. Others never take a family vacation. Our family had a low-key Christmas where each child got three modest gifts so the emphasis could stay on the Christ child. Then we went all out on their birthdays where the child was so celebrated that it became a highlight of the year for them. All these different approaches will impact your budget and your relationship.

 Born Spender or Saver?

What is your money personality? You could take the Money Harmony Quiz to see whether you are a born hoarder, spender, money monk, avoider or amasser.  Bob was a born spender, I was a born saver and we made it work nonetheless. But it took a lot of discussion and an action plan to learn to live in harmony with an opposite type of money personality.

 One Checkbook or Two?

Are you each going to keep your own checking account or are you going to combine them? Who will pay for which bill? What about savings accounts and credit cards? Will those be combined or remain separate? Now is a good time to download my free Sixty Minute Money Workout to help you learn how to discuss this topic and others within a time frame that minimizes conflict and maximizes the work you are doing in this area.

 Your Credit History or Debt

You and your significant other need to bring your credit reports to a premarital financial counseling session. Depending on what is there, it may be a wee bit uncomfortable. I married into 40K of consumer debt I didn’t know about and it had a huge impact on our lives together. Your mate may not count student loan debt as debt and you may find out there is an 80K loan that will impact your marriage. You can get a copy of your credit report, once a year, for free at Annual Credit Report and get one for each of the three reporting bureaus at this site. You can also get a copy of your credit score (different from a report) at Credit.com where they will also tell you ways to improve your score. Be prepared to enter your social security number to get this information. Talk about these debts and discuss a repayment plan.

Long Term Financial Priorities

My adult daughter says that life is about investing in experiences, not things. Her priority is travel over a newer car or designer clothes. Her husband’s priorities are slightly different because he’s a born saver. They learned how to discuss these diverse perspectives by doing a Sixty Minute Money Workout so they can get on the same page.  Your mate may want to buy a house as soon as possible and would forgo vacations to make that happen. You may not care that much about home ownership but really want to go home for the holidays. It’s important to discuss topics like housing, retirement, vacation and other long term goals before you get married. I like to say that you can have it all, but not at the same time. Bob and I chose to put our kids in private schools rather than drive new cars. Today, our kids are done with school and we drive the newer cars. We just have to choose the timing on our purchases.

 

Who Does the Math?

Someone is going to need to balance the checkbook, pay the bills and set up the budget. Yes, you should set up your spend plan together, you can even pay the bills together, but that’s usually the exception rather than the norm. One of you may be predisposed to balancing the books better than the other. One of you may actually enjoy paying the bills. In our family, I’m the financial expert and my husband flies jets, so you would think I balance the checkbook. But I also know that my husband needs to be aware of the bottom line because he’s the born spender, so he keeps the books and I review the statements. There needs to be a check and balance. One person should not have absolute control over the couple’s money. Sometimes, he who controls the money controls the house. So it’s important that both partners have access so that there’s no abuse of power.

Which of these topics have you already discussed with your significant other? Which topics still need to be explored? Set a day, time and topic to talk about money with your mate and don’t forget to get the free Sixty Minute Money Workout download.

 

Polite Bargaining – 8 Ways to Negotiate on Everything

BGadmin

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!

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!

Valentines Day

BGadmin

 

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)

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.

Keeping to the “B” Word

Families usually have favorite restaurants, movies, and even special songs that reflect the character and tastes of the family. Your budget will be just as unique as your family. It will be based on variable factors, such as your family’s size, geographical location, debt load, and income.

When Bob and I first set up a budget, we realized that both of us wanted to have healthy finances, even though we approached money differently. As you go through the sometimes-painful process of establishing and sticking to a family budget, it is important to make a real commitment to these important issues. We also realized that we didn’t need to go overboard by pinching our pennies so tightly that it strained our relationship and took all the enjoyment out of life. So we allowed for an occasional indulgence, implemented budget-cutting techniques slowly, and modified our plan as needed. As time went on, we fine-tuned some aspects of our budget and then did an annual check-up to make adjustments that allowed the budget to become a part of our lifestyle.

Wrapping Up Summer: Savings at Theme Parks

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

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

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

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

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

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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