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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 — www.UTexas.edu/world/univ/state. 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 Hawaii, that Read More...

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

Teens and How to Establish a Good Credit Score

Question: 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: 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.

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

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. 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%)

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.

Walk-up rental car rate

Rental Car Hack

 

We were travelling to Richmond Virginia to speak at a conference and to do a little vacationing with family and friends. There would be six of us travelling 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!

 

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Rehabing my Finances with Groceries?

Question: 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: 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.

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

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.

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 typeand meatless meal. Getting these things down on paper will make creating a menu much easier and productive for you. 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.

These four steps will help you cut your grocery bill and stress greatly.

Have you made a change that has benefited your grocery budget? We'd love to hear what works for you!

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A picnic on the beach with fruit and veggies.

10 Ways to Save on Vacation Meals

Eating out on Vacation can be Expensive!

Here are 10 ways to save money on Vacation food and dining

1) Eat out Selectively

When we fly to a destination and stay in a hotel we save money on food by minimizing the number of meals we eat at a restaurant. Because restaurant meals can be pricy - especially for 3 meals each day, we plan to eat in our room for some meals and then eat out for only 1 per day. With a large family this idea can save a load of cash.

2) Restaurant Savings

We've used the Entertainment Book for years to save on dining out. They've got coupons for hundreds of restaurants from fast food to elegant sit-down restaurants. Buy one for the city you are going to visit on vacation. Entertainment books are steeply discounted just before the start of summer - the perfect time to pick one up for your trip. Not only will you get 2 for 1 and other discounts on meals, but you'll be able to easily find restaurants (fast food and sit down) near your lodging or touring location.

3) Chillin’ Your Food

When we do vacation with hotel lodging we always ask for a refrigerator to be put in the room (if it doesn't already have one). Then we go to a nearby grocery store and pick up fresh fruits, veggies and sandwich makings. You could also purchase an inexpensive Styrofoam cooler at a grocery store and use the free ice machine that most hotels provide. Just give the cooler to a hotel staff member when you leave.

4) Crock Pot

If your hotel room has a microwave you'll be set to heat up some in-room meals. If not, we've gone so far as to purchase a $5 Crockpot at a local thrift store, and used it to heat up canned stew or soup. Add some rolls and veggies or fruit purchased from a local grocer and you’ll have a balanced and inexpensive meal.

5) Soda and Ice Cream Stop

On a driving vacation, as a special treat, we stopped for soda at a grocery store. We picked 3 different flavors of soda the kids could all agree on, and asked the deli counter if they could fill our cups with ice. Of course we could have stopped at a convenience store and paid $1 for each person to have a 32-ounce drink, but this way we spent about $4 on three 2-litre bottles and had plenty left over for later. We know that soda isn't particularly healthy for us, but on vacation, a little deviation from a healthy diet is okay - and a little fun for the kids. BTW we also picked up a couple of packs of novelty ice cream treats. All told we spent less than $8 and had a delicious summer road-trip treat! 

6) Picnic Lunches and All-You-Can-Eat Restaurants

If we're heading out for a long day of site seeing, we'll pack a lunch and plan to buy dinner at an all you can eat restaurant (this is especially helpful for saving money when traveling with teens). The nice thing about packing a lunch is you can have a wonderful picnic in a park on a beach or basically anywhere picturesque that you happen to be driving by.

7) Your Car Is An Oven?

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