Camping in a pine forest with a smoking wood fire for vacation.

Great Vacations With Limited Funds

How to enjoy a great vacation when your funds are limited!

Yes You Can Vacation

Yes, these are uncertain times. Yes, unemployment is on the rise. Yes, money is tight. But if you’re thinking there is no way that you can take some well-deserved time off for a vacation this year the answer is NO. Well actually that is a double negative, so the answer is really YES . . . yes you can have a memorable and enjoyable vacation. But before you start jumping for joy as if you won the lottery we must qualify our statement. Yes you can take a vacation as long as you spend only what you have saved — meager as it may be. Spending only what we have saved is the only way we ever take (and thoroughly enjoy) vacations.

The Fundamental Question about Vacations

If your savings are small, be encouraged that there are many options for you.

Instead of asking, "Where do we want to go on vacation this year . . . and how much will that cost?"

We ask ourselves, "How much do we have saved . . . and how far with that take us?"

We’ll briefly give you a few ideas for how we've saved money on vacation and then we’ll share some tips from a couple of frugal subscribers who love to travel.

Plan For Vacation Fun on a Budget

When you money is limited, your planning must be unrestrained. Check every source you can find: visitors and convention bureaus, AAA, friends, national forests, state parks, YMCA, YWCA and Boy Scout camps, private and public colleges and public and private campgrounds.

Discount Lodging Options

Lodging is usually one of the most expensive parts of a vacation, so cutting the cost for where you’ll sleep can really stretch your vacation dollar. We’ve stayed in discounted hotels, college dorm rooms and “camped” in nicely maintained campgrounds with hot showers. With the economic crunch hitting everyone, you may find your best bet this year on college campuses where the administration might want to take in some extra money. The University of Texas at Austin maintains a web site that lists and links to every University in the US — We used this resource to locate schools in the Washington, DC area for our 2005 vacation. We found American University would rent dorm rooms then for $40 per night. And don’t forget if you want to go to Read More...

Girl in a pink sparkly prom dress with a wrist corsage of flowers and credit cards.

How to Help Your Teen Establish a Good Credit Score

Question about helping a teen establish credit

I was wondering if you don't use any credit cards, how did you establish your credit history?  My son is 17 years old and I would like to tell him to only get an American Express (which he has to pay off each month) when he becomes an adult so he can establish a credit history.  Then, when he decides to purchase a house, he can do so with a lower interest loan that comes with good credit (now they are stipulating a FICO score of over 700 or 720). However, if there is a way for him to avoid getting a credit or charge cards altogether and he would still be able to get a mortgage, I would obviously prefer this method.  Could you please advise?

Answer about helping our kids establish a credit score

You pose an excellent question.

We never had a credit card and had no problem borrowing money for a home. We put 15% down and borrowed much less than the bank would have let us borrow. Later when we went to refinance, it still was no issue. You don’t need a long credit history to borrow responsibly.

But what about our kids?

That was good enough for us, but we’ve decided to do something a little different for our kids.

Helping our teens establish credit

We’ve helped them establish credit by getting a student credit card (we don’t like the idea, but we know how the credit score system works). You need to know the rules and play by the system, but you don’t need to get totally sucked into the debt-laden lifestyle. Most banks offer a free credit card (no annual fee). Daughter Becky only uses it for her gas purchases and has it automatically paid out of her checking account each month.

The components of your credit score?

Remember that some of the components that make up your credit score are:

  1. How long you've had the line of credit
  2. Payment history - do you always pay on time
  3. Amount of available credit you are using (never use more than 50%)

The results of this credit building strategy for our kids

Because Becky has had the card for several years, always pays on time and has never used more than about 5 percent of her available credit, her credit score is around 800.

Becky hasn’t applied for a home loan yet, but her goal is to have enough cash to put down that her credit score will be of little consequence.

If you help your kids learn to manage money at a young age, and help them understand the credit game, they can establish a great credit score without paying any interest.

High school girl in a pink prom dress with a wrist corsage of pink roses and credit cards.

Several stacks of copper pennies on a white background.

Stack Up the Savings

This money-saving blog post is from Justin Weinger.

Stack Up the Savings

There is an old saying, “Take care of your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.” This adage is not about saving pennies in a jar, but is about making saving money into a habit. Every time that you buy anything, you should attempt to get the best price possible.  Especially when shopping online, we often may leave money on the table, because we are in a hurry or don’t really know how to search and find the very best deals. It is like throwing money away or lighting it on fire. However, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to quickly find the best deals every time you shop online.

Use the Google tools

A basic Google internet search for an item will not only give you sites with that item for sale, but websites that even talk about that item. Among those results that do sell the items, their position in the search engine rankings has nothing to do with price. Adding words such as “for sale” or “buy” to the search terms doesn’t help either. However, Google can be a great shopping tool if you just click two more buttons.

After you do a basic Google search for an item and are on the results page, click “Shopping.” You will then see a page showing online stores that have that item for sale. Then click to sort by “Price - Low to high.”  Now the cheapest prices that Google knows about will be displayed, with the least expensive first.  This technique alone will probably get you better results than you would have been able to get before. This should just be your starting point though, for now it is time to start layering on the savings.

Check for Coupon Codes

These magic codes are put into shopping carts to give you things like a percentage discount off the total price or free shipping. Sometimes they even give you access to secret sales. If you have ever looked for “coupon codes” from a search engine, you know how frustrating that can be. A great many of them are invalid and have out of date for months. You might go to a dozen different websites who say they have codes, just to find that none of them work. The exception is Groupon Coupons. They have up-to-date codes for tens of thousands of merchants, as in this example for Ticket Liquidator. Check there for codes for the top 3 cheapest items in your initial comparative price search. You may find that the cheapest item in the Google search is not the cheapest, because the one that is a dollar more expensive has a 40% off coupon from Groupons.

Join Store Email Clubs / Newsletters

Online stores retain and reward loyal customers with perks that you find in their newsletters. They often have coupons or secret sales, that only subscribers know about. Most people don’t take advantage of these newsletters, because they just are tired of email overload. Use a Gmail account and you can have these emails go to a “Promotions” tab, within the inbox, and keep it from cluttering up your main inbox.  You can just look in that pile of emails once in awhile or when you are looking for something specific. For example, my family enjoys ordering pizza once a every couple months. Before ordering, I will look in the Gmail promotion box for this week's’ pizza specials. It will usually save 50% off regular price, have a buy 1 get 1, or a free item.

Most people join these after they have already bought from a store. Try joining before your first purchase. Just a few minutes later your email might present you with a “welcome” email and a 25% off coupon, which you can use on the first purchase instead of the next purchase.

Join store rewards programs

Most rewards programs give either a percentage off per purchase or give you a store credit when you reach some purchase milestone, such as $100. These rewards generally work out to be a 5-10% discount.  These are especially helpful for stores that you actually shop at frequently, for you can save money on frequently purchased items. Check out this list of companies with great customer service.

Make these techniques into habits and you will become quick and efficient at finding the cheapest prices and the biggest available discounts. Every dollar you save will be like a pay raise, that betters your standard of living. 

Walk-up rental car rate

Rental Car Hack

A Rental Car Hack that saved us more than $200!

We were traveling to Richmond Virginia to speak at a conference and to do a little vacationing with family and friends. There would be six of us traveling plus luggage for one week and 24 boxes of books.

We reserved a mini van for seven days with Budget using an Entertainment coupon for one free weekend day — the price was $654. As a comparison, Annette’s dad, who was traveling with us reserved a full sized SUV – Ford Expedition—through Costco without a coupon. His price for the same seven day rental was $485.77— savings $168 (25% off).

The Walk Up Rate Discount Discovered: While making our reservation, a counter agent in Richmond offered this tip.

Since Budget and Avis are now one company, make a reservation at Avis, but walk up to the Budget counter in the airport and ask for the Walk-Up Rate for the mini van or SUV. If this location had a surplus number of cars, they would be willing to rent them for a much lower rate. She quoted the same mini van that we reserved for $654, with a walk up rate of $330. We tucked this information away, cancelled our $654 reservation and went on our trip.

It worked! When we arrived at the Avis counter in Virginia, Steve asked for the walk-up rate for a large vehicle. They didn’t have any extra full sized SUVs on the lot, but they did have a mini van. The rate, including insurance was $250. We declined the insurance, but the agent had already started writing up the contract. By the time she canceled the contract and restarted, someone at the Budget counter rented the mini van to another visitor. Through an interesting series of events the counter agent, and then the manager, worked out for us to rent a 12 passenger van for seven days for $201 (this van ended up getting 16 mpg / a little less than the 20 mpg we were expecting from a mini van).

This turned out to be multiple blessings in one.

  1. The lower price: $201 versus $485.77 (saving $284) more than 50 percent.
  2. Another bonus: No Courier Service. We were going to hire a local courier service for $50 to move our books from a friend’s house to the convention center.
  3. Room for friends. We took a side trip to visit Walton’s Mountain Museum (the TV show The Waltons, was conceived in the small town of Schyler, VA. near Earl Hamners home) and because of the size of the van, all nine of us (six in our family and three additional family friends) were all able to travel to the museum in one vehicle (saved gas).

The take away: Make the best deal for a rental car before you travel, but always ask for the walk-up rate when you get to the counter. You may get a real bonus like we did!



A yellow shopping cart parked in front of a weathered wooden wall.

Rehabing my Finances with Groceries?

Question about making changes in my budget to get ahead.

I want to start rehabilitating my finances where the fastest impact is. So following your advice, I’m revamping my grocery shopping. I home school our 4 young children and they tend to drink a gallon of milk a day (just to give you an idea). We have stopped buying $10 milk and $4 eggs fresh from a local farm. I have to say I feel a little bit guilty, but know the savings are significant. I was really hoping that you would provide a monthly menu (I saw the weekly menu your grocery book) that I could follow so I could get my budget down to where yours is.

Answer about managing your grocery expenses to get ahead financially

It’s great that you are evaluating your grocery expenses. Feeling guilty is normal as you make changes, especially ones that affect your children. Drinking lots of milk is not the only way to add calcium to your diet. We learned early in our marriage that calcium was found in numerous foods other than milk, including; almonds, broccoli, cabbage, kale, oats, orangesstring cheese and yogurt—just to name a few. As a result we cut back on our kids consumption of milk, replacing it with calcium rich foods and good filtered water. All of our kids are strong and in good health.

The power of a monthly menu

Regarding a monthly menu. We purposely don’t include this type of detail for a couple of reasons. First our tastes wouldn’t be your tastes. And secondly, our menu is built off of what we have in stock (freezer and pantry) over the past several months. The chances of finding everything on OUR menu, on sale, this week is highly unlikely. Yes it would be easier to simply read what someone else does, but in the planning chapter of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half, we included a template for building your own menu. Make a list of every kind of vegetable, starch and protein that your family likes to consume. Then assemble meals / a menu by mixing and matching those items to create a balanced diet.

Could you turn your family's finances around in the grocery store - we think so.

Make a list of the meals you know how to cook

Annette also made a list (which we did provide in the book) of the 92 plus meals (available to website subscribers here) she knows how to cook. These are categorized by meat type and meatless meal. Getting these things down on paper will make creating a menu much easier and productive for you.

Summing Up Your Grocery Savings List

Start with three small steps:

  1. Write down the various components your family likes—vegetable, starch and protein
  2. Make a list of meals your family enjoys, that you know how to cook.
  3. Take stock of the food you have in the house.
  4. Create a weekly menu based on a balanced diet, what you know how to cook and what you have in stock.
  5.


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