A Financial Education Event
     

Back to College – Debt Free (part 1)

Back To College—Debt-Free (part 1)

When Bethany was four years old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”
“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!” Her chubby arms held my neck tight.
“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.
She sat up straight, “I don’t?”
Wiping away her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”
I figured out later that all the drama was because Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. She thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her sad.
Fast forward the better part of two decades and she’s now a rising senior at Moody in Chicago, majoring in media communications. She’s not crying when she goes back to school, although we miss her. The good news is that she, along with all our other kids, are graduating debt-free! We don’t have any student loans and we didn’t have to refinance our house. Here are a few quick tips to pay for college. For more info, email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “College Crunch File.”

1. Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the University of Texas (Arlington) over the scholarship he got to Syracuse and TCU because he would still have 60K in student loan debt after the scholarships ran out. He graduated with honors and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice.

2. Save Big on Books by Renting – The average student pays more than $600 for course materials – the largest expense after tuition and room and board. I’ve recently partnered with Follett and found that by renting textbooks through their Rent-A-Text program, students can cut costs by 50 percent or more. CafeScribe’s digital textbooks are another great way to save, and both options are available to purchase at more than 800 Follett bookstore locations and online through efollett.com. Students at non-Follett schools can also purchase their digital textbooks on CafeScribe.com. I ordered Joshua’s textbooks this week and saved 52%!!

3. Make Scholarships a Part-Time Job – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Go to www.collegeboard.com or www.salliemae.com to find scholarships that might be a fit for you.

4. Create a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by loading funds on a campus card to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert

Top Ten Failure Factors for Finances

Welcome to Thursday. Did you know there are only 8 days left in February? By now, it seems that most of our New Year’s resolutions are either given up on, pushed to the side for a little while, or lost a little bit of steam along the way.

It is never too late to reevaluate our resolutions and start over. We never need to wait until the next January 1st to get our finances under control. When we fall off the wagon, it is best to get up and keep going.

Many times when we set goals, they are unachievable. These are the top ten failure factors to setting any goal from my latest book Lean Body, Fat Wallet:

Top Ten Failure Factors:

•   Set unrealistic goals

•   Motivated by the wrong motives

•   Believed failure was inevitable

•   Fulfilled the need for immediate gratification too often

•   Influenced unduly by other people

•   Practiced a “deprivation mentality”  – all or nothing/black or white

•   Rationalized and made excuses rather than taking responsibility

•   Displaced emotional issues through overspending and overeating

•   Procrastinated rather than taking action

•   Lacked the tools to make compounding incremental change

Reread the list above and circle any of the “failure factors” which you believe may be significant influences in your life. Failure needs to be seen as a profound learning opportunity. It’s time to stop trying so hard and start training toward a new way of addressing your wealth challenges. Past failures do not need to be repeated.

After you circle the “failure factors” that may apply to your situation, take the time to write three ways you believe you can counter those factors and turn them into successful areas of your life. I believe in the old saying that “people don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.” Having a plan can be over half the battle in discovering ways to be successful in your finances. But implementing that plan is the other half of finding success.

One of the ways that I have found most people can create and stick to a plan is by having a “money buddy.”  If you are married, this might be your partner, and if you are single, it can be a like-minded friend who is good with their own financial resources. Get together with your money buddy and go over this “failure factor” list. Let them help you come up with ways that you can counter the failure to turn it into success. Then, set a date to meet with your financial partner and track your success. It’s kind of like Weight Watchers for money matters and there is great power in unity with other like-minded people who want to overcome their own failure factors.

For great tips for understanding your money better can be found at mint.com—an excellent site for managing finances. Keep checking in week to week for help along the way. You are not alone in this financial journey! There are so many tools to help along the way.

Ellie Kay

The Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour Update

We’ve visited JBSA, San Antonio, Lackland AFB, Randolph AFB, Laughlin AFB and the last stop was Sheppard AFB. At every base there are things that are the same: 1) we have a lot of fun presenting financial education to our military audiences 2) everyone wants to win the iPad 3) they are surprised that they can learn and have a good time simultaneously and 4) we are always grateful to USAA for providing for so many aspects of this tour. But

Friends and family at every base!

at every base there are also challenges that our military members face that are unique to that base.

At JBSA there are 11 different units from all branches and consequently we have a “purple” audience with Airmen, soldiers, Marines and sailors in attendance. As a mom with sons in each of these branches, I can still relate to my audiences. At Lackland, which is “out in the middle of nowhere” they were so appreciative that we came “all the way out” to Del Rio, TX, (right by the border) to spend time with them. They were a welcoming audience and have a unique mission of training pilots who will go into all parts of the world, flying different kinds of airplanes. We called them “the little base with a big mission,” they also have big hearts.

This past week, we went to Sheppard AFB and saw yet another demographic of Airmen who are in freshly out of boot camp and in military training for their big world mission. Many are mechanics, but there are all kinds of technical professions trained there as well—60,000 per year. There’s also ENJPT (Euro NATO Jet Pilot Training) where future fighter pilots are trained (about 200 per year).

One of the unique challenges of Airmen at Sheppard is that they are vulnerable

A Full house at Sheppard AFB. Photobombing my fellow speakers Ingrid Bruns from USAA and Bethany Grace our high energy emcee!

financially in two areas: family and love. Some of these young military members are pressured by extended family members to send money back home. We stressed that when you are getting a flight briefing from the flight attendant on a commercial airline, she says, “If the cabin depressurizes, air masks will fall from the upper compartment. If you are traveling with someone who needs assistance, put on your own mask first, then assist them.” That’s the same premise we stressed with our young Airmen, “take care of your own finances first and get financially fit and healthy, then teach your family how to do the same.” From the platform, I stressed the old adage, “You can give a man a fish, and feet him for a day. But you can teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Yep! We gave some fishing lessons.

The other thing that slips up Airmen is love. They spend money they don’t have trying to impress a significant other by going out to eat, to movies and even buying them jewelry. Some of the jewelry stores convince these young Airmen to sign on the bottom line and they end up paying for years at 30% interest for a necklace or a ring. At one point, I almost shouted from the stage, “If you don’t remember anything I said today, remember this: NEVER SIGN FOR A LOAN WITHOUT HAVING SOMEONE LOOK IT OVER!” I believe the 1300 trainees in the audience got that point. “There are folks at Airmen and Family Readiness who would be more than happy to review a loan before you sign it.” This tip alone could save them thousands of dollars on auto, jewelry, computer and personal loans.

     One of my favorite aspects of the Heroes at Home Financial Event is reconnecting with friends and family. In San Antonio, my BFF Brenda Taylor was there in the audience. A friend knows a lot about you, a BFF knows enough to blackmail you. Brenda can blackmail me many times over! At Laughlin AFB, my good friend Beth Runkle was not only instrumental in getting the spouses together the night before the financial event, but she also introduced me as well. I love the heroes in the Runkle family! At Sheppard, our longtime friends, BG Pat “Moon” Doherty and his wife Dee Dee were there to welcome us royally. I’d call him the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot because he did fly me in an F15E Strike Eagle once, but Bob would beg to differ about that designation. These Heroes not only brought me out to Seymour Johnson AFB many “moons” ago, but they were instrumental in bringing this tour to the Air Force!

     But the one audience member on this tour whom I love more than life itself is my son Jonathan, who is a student at ENJPT and was a smiling face that I adore. I removed a slide or two that might prove embarrassing in front of 1300 Airmen and tried really hard to not highlight my son in my presentation or during the tour day. If you want to know if I was successful in this regard, you’ll have to ask Jonathan. Apparently, parents can embarrass their kids without even knowing they are doing that. There was just one time, when I ate a blue mint in the General’s office and then addressed his staff of 55 commanders that might have been a problem. I was told later, my teeth were Air Force Blue.

We may be coming to a base near you, this schedule is constantly changing and we are adding news dates regularly. Contact us at assistant @elliekay.com for more info and continue to Aim High!

Driving Cars for Free

BGadmin

In our Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour, one of the most popular segments deals with “how to drive a car for free.” The concept is fairly simple, but less than 10% of Americans actually follow the steps to experience debt free living when it comes to transportation. We love our military audiences because even though some military members are “ordered” to attend our show, by the time it is over, they are laughing, they’ve learned something and they realize how much fellow Americans loves them.

So how do you do it? Just follow three steps:

  1. Start with a Debt Free Car – This is usually going to be the car you just paid off. Or, it might be a vehicle a parent or someone else gave you (it might even have seen better days). In our lives, we were “given” one car and we gave away 8 cars. It might be that you agree to be a one-car family for 18 months instead of a two-car family. This is how the Kays did it to start with. If you don’t absolutely have to drive a car (you are a one car family, public transportation, driving someone else’s car, etc.), then you can go to step #2.
  1. Pay Yourself – The monthly payment for your car that you used to pay before it was paid off is a payment you will now pay to yourself instead of to the lienholder. So let’s say your car payment was $300. You will pay yourself $300 every month for 18 months. At the end of that time, you take the $5400 you have saved and then sell your existing vehicle for as much as you can get for it. You will get more money for your vehicle if you detail it, get everything running as well as possible (without a huge investment) and then sell it yourself. Go to KBB for 10 steps on how to sell your car yourself.  Let’s say you sell it for $8000. Now you have $13,400 to work with.
  1. Pay Cash for Your Next Car – Follow my steps from my previous blog on How to Buy A Car 101 – Even if you aren’t a USAA member (for an additional military discount), you can still follow the steps listed to pay the least price possible for your next vehicle. Make a special note: You cannot do this with a new car! It has to be a used car. The average new car depreciates $8000 in 8 seconds (when you drive it off the lot). So you have to buy a car that is slightly used (or real used until you trade up). The example in my blog shows how I traded up consistently until I was driving a modest Mercedes. (Is there such a thing as a modest Mercedes? I believe there is).
  1. Trade Up Until You’re Satisfied – After you’re in a new-to-you “paid for” car, then start with step number two all over again and start paying yourself. Let’s say you bought a car for $13,400 and you got into it low (as I showed you how to do in my previous blog), then in only 18 months a used car won’t depreciate that much (if you take care of it and try to keep low mileage on it) and you can sell it for close to what you paid for it. You sell it after 18 months for $13,000 and add the additional $5400 that you have saved by paying yourself every month. Now you have $18,400 going into step #3 and you can trade up your vehicle.

Does this work? It absolutely does. Not only do I do this in my own family, but I have children who do it as well. When my kids ask for my advice (sometimes it’s nice having a mom who is America’s Family Financial Expert ®), I advise them to not be wasting money on expensive car interest payments or crazy expensive leases. The difference is enough money saved over the course of five years to be able to put money down on a house instead of having to rent. It truly adds up!

Keep trading up until you are satisfied with your car and you can trade up into a car with a substantial manufacturer’s warranty (or negotiate that warranty). I do practice what I preach, and I did this to get my 2014 Mercedes, which is under mfg warranty until 2022. The only perceived downside is that my dream car is red and I thought that red cars get more speeding tickets than other colors. But good news! That’s a myth. Pedal to the metal!

What can you do today to drive your cars for free tomorrow? Let me hear from you!

Ellie Kay

MilCents Helps Build Your Financial Foundation

BGadmin

Are you ready to understand, manage, plan, and protect your money? I know I’m ready and helping others do the same!

I love creative ways to learn about money that are easy and interactive. That’s why I work in Washington DC on the advisory panel of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN).  I am writing to share an exciting update about MilCents — MFAN’s financial education social learning program.

Over the last few months, MFAN has worked with financial education experts to develop five customized program tracks that correspond with stages within the military life cycle.

While our Heroes at Home Financial Event helps families learn in a live show, MilCents goes further online and at your own pace. Stages include: ROTC/Service Academies, actively serving, transitioning military, veteran, and retiree. The customized tracks allow users to get the tailored information they need, when they need it. In addition, they’ve enhanced their monitored social community, added gaming elements, and refreshed all MilCents content — especially the content focused on military retirement. 

Are you confused about the changes to military retirement? Don’t worry — MilCents breaks it down so it’s easy to understand in the retirement section.

BONUS: The first 150 participants to complete MilCents and earn all the program badges will receive a $20 Amazon gift card.

Click here to get started. And make sure to tell your friends and family — learning’s more fun when you’re doing it with others.

There’s also a better way to budget. Take control of your money by joining the @Military Family Advisory Network’s customized online #MilCents financial education program and get help with your spend plan.

To the partners who helped make MilCents possible — thank you. We know this program will continue to help families within our broad military community.

Ellie Kay

Advisory Board Member

Military Family Advisory Network

 

Characteristics of a Hero at Home

BGadmin

Are you a Hero at Home? There are all kinds of heroes and I remember when my Marine came home from Afghanistan. We waited for hours in anticipation 100 degree weather in dusty 29 Palms, listening for the announcement their company was on its way. What a thrill it was to see his platoon marching up the road after 7 months of praying, worrying, emailing, skyping, waiting, and hoping he and his men came back unscathed. As we sat there amongst various, mostly young families, I couldn’t help but notice the strong heroes around me. There were women who held down the fort while their husbands were away, there were babies who had not met their fathers yet, and there were Moms, like me, who were waiting for the hero they raised to return home. All of these people are heroes at home–those who fight behind the scenes to keep our heroes in uniform safe on the field.

Characteristics of a Hero at Home

I’ve heard it said that if you follow your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, my passion is military families because we are one! I’ve given over 500 presentations of my “Heroes at Home” Financial Event in six countries and dozens of states including Hawaii (what a hardship tour that was!). In each and every venue I get to meet military members, spouses, kids and parents who love America and know what it means to serve.

I’ve been asked to please post the Top Ten Characteristics of a Hero at Home as a written version of what I speak about in these military venues. So today’s blog is dedicated to you, the hero at home. You may have your servicemember with you, they may be deployed, or they may be due back home any day.

The Top Ten Qualities of a Hidden Hero

1. Sense of Humor: An ability to laugh at oneself and with each other.

2. Flexibility: What it’s called when you create an elaborate candlelight dinner and farm out the kids for the night, and your husband calls to say he’s not coming home because they have an inspection coming up.

3. Courageous: The ability to wave good-bye for the two-hundredth time, fight back the tears, smile, and say, “I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’ll be all right.”

4. Extraordinary: An ability to move fifteen thousand pounds of household goods in twenty-four hours.

5. Strong: Nerves of steel (for all those close calls and near misses).

6. Patriotic: Unashamed to shed a tear during the presentation of the colors or the singing of the national anthem.

7. Faith-Full: Brimming over with faith in God and true to your country.

8. Independent: Confident during solo parenting gigs, but ready to move to interdependence when the spouse comes back home.

9. Acronym Reader: The ability to decode three-letter acronyms (TDY, PCS, UOD, MRE, OIC, SOF, BDU, SOL, etc.).

10. Superhero: The capability to conquer new lands, stay in touch with old friends, keep the home fires burning, jump buildings in a single bound, and stay out of the funny farm.

Which characteristic is your favorite and which one do you need to work on today?

What I Luv About Southwest Airlines – Favorite Hacks Part 1

BGadmin

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?

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 – part 3

BGadmin

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!

Back to College – The Kay Way – part one

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Back To College

When Bethany was four years old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”
“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!” Her chubby arms held my neck tight.
“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.
She sat up straight, “I don’t?”
Wiping away her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”
I figured out later that all the drama was because Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. She thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her sad.
Fast forward the better part of two decades and she’s now a rising senior at Moody in Chicago, majoring in media communications. She’s not crying when she goes back to school, although we miss her. The good news is that she, along with all our other kids, are graduating debt-free! We don’t have any student loans and we didn’t have to refinance our house. Here are a few quick tips to pay for college. For more info, email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “College Crunch File.”

1. Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the University of Texas (Arlington) over the scholarship he got to Syracuse and TCU because he would still have 60K in student loan debt after the scholarships ran out. He graduated with honors and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice. In fact, when his department downsized and he needed to find another job, many in his section were overwhelmed because of their student loan debt. But his lack of college debt allowed him the freedom to find a job he really enjoys and he didn’t have to take the first job that came along.

2. Save Big on Books by Renting – The average student pays more than $600 for course materials – the largest expense after tuition and room and board.  You may want to look at renting textbooks through Follett’s Rent-A-Text program, students can cut costs by 50 percent or more. Or go to amazon to find used textbooks, making sure that you have an amazon prime account and can filter the options with the prime filter to get free shipping.

3. Make Scholarships a Part-Time Job – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Have your student go to College Board or Fast Web  to find scholarships that might be a fit for your student.

4. Create a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by downloading Mint to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Join us next week for part two of our Back To College series and let me hear your tips and idea to make college more affordable!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert

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