Planning Our Spring Break Trip To Madeira Beach, FL

Our last big family trip was to Disney World in November 2015.  It was great and we had a great time.  As soon as we were done, we started thinking about our next trip.  We didn’t want to do anything as big as Disney, but we wanted to do another trip to Florida.  This time we were thinking Spring Break.  In order to give ourselves time to catch up financially, we targeted the spring of 2017 for our trip.

Well, spring break is almost here, and we’ve gone ahead and planned most of our trip.  Here are some of the details.

Picking Our Spring Break Destination

We knew that we wanted to do a beach trip.  Our family loves camping in the summer and most of our trips seem to be centered around the beach.  We both have had various trips in the past to Florida, so we initially looked at two locations.

  • Panama City Beach. I did a six month assignment in 2005 down in Panama City.  During this time, I fell in love with the beaches and knew that a vacation there would be awesome.  I had a good feel for many of the areas and was able to get a good start on looking for places.
  • Tampa Bay area (Maderia Beach, to be exact).  When my wife was younger, they did family beaches to this area.  We actually went a few years back with my in-laws.  My son was only a baby and my daughter hadn’t
    Image from MorgueFiles courtesy of Lash.

    even been born yet.  Still, with us having been down (my wife many times), we again knew the ins and out.

We actually started planning last fall and the price comparisons weren’t even close.  Since we were limited to the week that the kids are off for spring break, we knew we’d be hitting peak times.  The pricing for comparable units (we planned on renting a condo) was about 30% different.

So, Madeira Beach it was!

Lodging

Our lodging was the first thing we addressed.  We knew that things would be pretty full with us competing with peak spring break times. There were a few different options along the beach and near a popular boardwalk and started contacting owners or managers.  We ended up finding a unit in the same building where we took our last trip.  The pricing was pretty high, but we knew that it would be going in.

We put a deposit down and were able to cross a big item off of our checklist.

Transportation – Driving

When we started planning the trip, we said that we would drive down. With every 4-5 hour trip we took, we lamented on how things would go for a 19 hour drive, which is about what it would take.  Our plan was to do a considerable amount of driving at night, splitting time for the overnight hours.

Our driving options would likely be centered around renting a minivan or SUV to get down there.  I have a pickup truck and it would be ill suited to drive down with all of our stuff.  My wife does have an SUV but we are leasing, and putting the miles plus the wear and tear were just not something we wanted to do.

Renting a minivan or big enough SUV looked to be around $700-1000 for the time we were looking.  Additionally, we factored gas to cost at least another few hundred.

Transportation – Flying

We started looking at flying.  For our last two trips to Florida, we’ve flown Delta.  Their prices were ridiculous.  It would cost around $3,000 to fly down there.

Then we found Southwest Airlines.  We’ve never flown but have heard great things.  They’re cheaper.  You don’t pay for bags.  And, the prices were a lot more reasonable.  Still, flying down from Detroit would cost around $2,000.

My wife did some reading and someone suggested checking different airports.  We looked at the other airport in Michigan that they fly out of and the pricing was no different.  However, we started looking at airports in neighboring Ohio and the difference was staggering.

We ended up finding a deal where we fly in and out of Columbus (about a four hour drive) for a total cost (with all taxes and fees) of $1,220.  This is a non-stop flight there and a quick (1-hour) layover on the way back where we don’t even switch planes.  All at times that were ideal.

We decided to do this and sign up for a Southwest Airlines credit card that will give us 50,000 free points.  This, combined with our mileage, will likely earn 1-2 free flights the next time we want to fly down to Florida.

A Night At A Luxury Resort

The pricing on our flight had us flying down one day earlier.  If we would have flown down on the original day we’re staying, it would have cost around $300 more.  So what are we going to do for a day?

Stay at a brand new 4-star resort for a night.  The room we’re staying at would normally go for $475.  How much are we paying?  Not a penny.

Last spring we surprised my son with a one night trip to Great Wolf Lodge for his birthday.  It was just for him and he loved it, as this is about his favorite place in the world.  We stayed one night and we were having such a good time that we decided to rent a room at a nearby hotel so we could stay at the water park until the end of the day.  We booked online at a Howard Johnson a couple miles up the road.

When we got there, there were huge problems.  The manager was rude to us, rude to his employees (he made someone cry in front of us) and the place was filthy.  We ended up walking out.  I contacted Wyndham, the parent company, and explained what had happened.  They provided me a free night at any Wyndham location in the United States.  So, when we found that we could use the points on our early arrival at a 4-star high rise on Clearwater Beach, we jumped.

Other Costs

We won’t have a car while we’re down there, but that shouldn’t be a big deal.  We’ll take Uber rides from the airport to the hotel to the condo and back to the airport again.  We can probably use them to go out and make a grocery store run when we get to the condo.  Everything else we need is within walking distance.

We’ll have to pay for parking at the Columbus airport, which is around $7-10 per night.  This is a welcome surprised since Metro Airport (Detroit) is at least double that.

All in all, we are really looking forward to our vacation.  We love the beach. The kids do as well and we’re excited to show them the ocean, as well as build some more great family memories.  Since we’ve worked hard to find savings in multiple areas, we’re excited to have a great time on what looks to be an affordable budget.

Readers, do you have any spring break plans or big trips planned?  How have you saved money?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

3 Ways We’re Streamlining And Saving On Christmas

The Christmas season is fully upon us.  We have finished our decorating and are getting ready for all the shopping, family gatherings, and seasonal activities.  A big part of Christmas has become gift giving.  This is true for us, especially with younger children.  Although we have our Christmas gift fully funded, we came up with some ideas to save us time and money.  Here are thee ways that we’re streamlining and saving on Christmas this year.

Saving Time And Money On A Gift Exchange

On my wife’s side, there are six adults that exchange gifts.  Traditionally, we had a budget and list for both of my in-laws, plus my sister-in-law, as well as her boyfriend.  That was four people to buy for.  This year, we all agreed to a system where we drew names and each person will buy for one other person out of the four people not in our household.  This means that between my wife and I, we’ll only have two people to shop for instead of four.  This is also less gifts to wrap.  We also put a cap on the budget, which will save us around $50 versus the budget we had previously in place to cover all four people.

Using Gift Cards

When we signed up for our new cell phone plan, we got lots of Best Buy gift cards as we traded old phones in and signed for new plans.  We used a lot of these up front, but still ended up with some left over.  We plan on using these for some stuff for each other that Santa might get.  This will basically be allowing us to buy gifts using money we’ve already spent!  This will probably save us around $100.

Cutting Back On Each Other

My wife and I always joke about couples that have been married a long time who don’t get each other anything.  It

The holidays are here.  We're saving on Christmas putting time and money back in our court. Image from Morguefiles courtesy jzlomek
The holidays are here. We’re saving on Christmas putting time and money back in our court.
Image from Morguefiles courtesy jzlomek

always seems to happen, but so far, we have stuck to buying each other a number of gifts.  Although we’re not giving up all gifts, we decided to both scale back.  This will allow us to start setting money aside for other long term goals.  It’s nice to give each other gifts, but we’re both realizing that having the money ready for other things is just as fulfilling.  This should save us at least $200.

Saving On Christmas: Time And Money!

We’re looking forward to just these three things making a difference on Christmas.  Together, this would save at least $350, and maybe more.  It’s also less time spent on looking for gifts, wrapping gifts, and tracking the gift buying list.  That’s less stress, more money, and extra time.  For my money, those are some pretty worthwhile benefits.

Readers, are you doing anything different this year to save money or time?  How have your shopping and gift giving habits evolved?  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Stockpiling Works For Us (At Least For Now)

One of my long time favorite bloggers, Funny About Money, is contemplating something that you rarely hear about: Quitting Costco.  She’s finding that, for her, not going to Costco is actually saving her money.  Could bucking the stockpiling trend actually work?

I think that many people don’t even consider such a thing.  They just assume that Costco saves them money by giving them lower pricing, with the tradeoff that you have to buy in larger quantities in order to realize the lower per-unit pricing.  So, the kicker is that you have to use more in order to really realize the savings.

Looking At Our Stockpiling Habits

After my wife took a recent trip and left me the pile of stuff to put away, as is our arrangement, I started taking a look at our stockpile in our pantry to see if waste was leading to us actually overpaying for items.

I’m happy to report that we went through our entire pantry shelf and found just two items that we threw out because they were past their due dates to the point where we no longer felt comfortable using them:

A can of cream soup and a half a box of taco shells, both which expired in early 2014.

And, what’s even better: Neither of these items was bought at Costco.

So, it seems that for us, the food we buy at Costco to take advantage of the lower per-unit pricing actually gets eaten.  This is a good thing.

The (Much Much Higher Priced) Organic Trend

We’re still keeping an eye on Costco.  I think there are factors that come into play that affect our ‘value proposition’.  For example,  who’s noticed that they’re shifting more and more food items to organic options?  If you have this as your preference, then I suppose this is great.  However, for people who don’t necessarily have the budget or the desire, buying organic may not be practical.mb-2015-03-checkbook

Every trip we take, we seem to find at least one item on our ‘regular’ list that we either have to choose to pay more for to get organically, or switch back to our grocery store to purchase the non-organic option.

Right now, we still save money with our Costco membership, but it’s started to occur to us that if Costco really wants to shape themselves as the Whole Foods of the bulk warehouse shopping category, they might very well lose us as customers.

Funny makes a great point. It’s always good to really take a step back and make sure that you’re getting value from your membership.  Even though Costco memberships are a way of life, they aren’t always a guaranteed money saver.

Readers, do you save money with your Costco (or other warehouse) membership?  How often do you check and how do you evaluate your return on investment?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How I Easily Saved Money At Lowes

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year, but one of the things I don’t like are the inevitable costs that come about for the upkeep on the yard areas.  Flowers are exempt, because, well, flowers are awesome, but there’s always a few other things.  I had a list of items that I needed to get and decided it was time for a trip to Lowe’s.  I was pretty happy with how things turned out because I saved money at Lowes by doing a few simple things.

Our Lowe’s Shopping List

  • Garden Soil for the soon-to-be planted flower beds
  • Potting Soil for the flowers we put out on the deck
  • Top Soil to fill in a hole where a rotting tree stump used to be
  • Grass seed for the aforementioned spot
  • A new hose nozzle as I broke the handle on the old one last year by snagging it on a tree.  Oopsmb-2016-05-sandbox
  • New play sand for the kids sand box
  • A bag of mulch.  We mulched last year and most of it lasts every two years.  There’s one tree in the street that needs it more often because the lawn mower tends to chew up the mulch
  • Wasp and hornet spray.  We get at least one nest every year.

How We Saved Money At Lowes

All together, the items above totaled out to $63.  We ended up paying about $8 less than that with two simple things:

  1. Took advantage of a gift card offer at the grocery store.   By clipping an online coupon, we bought a $30 Lowe’s gift card for $25.
  2. Used our Lowes Credit Card for the balance.  When you use your Lowe’s credit card, you get 5% off your order.  And, what’s nifty is that you get the 5% on the whole order, not just the amount that’s charged to the card, so we got 5% off the full amount, even though we paid $30 for the gift card.

Is $8 world changing?  Of course not.  Still, it felt pretty good to save money on items that we were going to buy no matter what.  If you’re bringing the items home anyways, you might as well bring back a few extra bucks, right?

That’s the name of the game!

Readers, have you scored any small deals that made you feel extra good lately? 

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.