Keep Your Summer Budget Under Control

Summer is right around the corner.  Before long the kids will be done with school. Grills will be filling the streets with smells of burgers and hot dogs. The ice cream truck will be jangling down the street.  Summer is the time to enjoy the world, and boy can that be expensive!  Your wallet can take a hit if your summer budget gets out of control.  But, you can keep things under control.

Here are a few summer budget tips so that you can have fun and keep your finances in check!

Shop For Travel Deals

Travel and leisure activities abound during the summer months.   These can add up to big spending amounts if you’re not careful.  The good news is that you can often find deals.  Look through Groupon or other apps.  Visit travel websites or those of places you’d like to go.  There are often specials.  If you want to get away, look for places like AirBnB.  This can reduce the cost compared to more expensive hotel options.

Pay For What You Can Afford

It’s tempting to go all out for that great family adventure. This is all great so long as you can afford it.  Summer fun is not worth going into debt for. If you can’t afford to pay off your summer fun, look for ways to cut back.

Save All Year Around

It may be too late to stash money aside this year, but make a plan for next year.  Stick a hundred bucks per month aside, and you’ll have more freedom next year.

Mix In Free Things

Summer doesn’t have to be all about money to have fun.  Picnics at the park are a free option, but still make great times.  Bike rides along local trails are another free adventure.  A hike along the woods?  That doesn’t cost anything at all if you do it right.  Working in some free options is a great way to keep your summer budget in line.

Enjoy Your Personal Space

If you have a patio or deck, summer is the time to use it!  Invite over neighbors or friends and enjoy some drinks or a dinner.  It’s a great way to have fun and keep money in your summer budget for other things.

Adjust Your Air Conditioning

A big cost that can blow a summer budget is air conditioning.  When it gets hot, you have to shut the windows and keep things cool.  That makes sense, but look for ways to reduce your A/C bills.  If you can, open the windows at night.  If you’re gone during the day, don’t run the A/C all day.  Change your filters to make sure your A/C is running efficiently.  If you can save $20 per month during the summer month, that can equal an extra evening out!

Consider Seasonal Memberships

Zoos, museums, and beaches often offer seasonal passes. If you use these options regularly, an annual pass can save you big time.  We use several annual memberships to our advantage.  On top of saving money, you always have a fallback plan if you can’t think of anything to do!

Hopefully these ideas help prevent your summer budget from stressing you out.  With the warm, long days ahead, having one less thing to worry about is all for the better!

Readers, what summer budget saving ideas do you have?  Please share in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Summer Break: Protect Yourself Before You Travel

It’s that time of year when the kids are off school, and families travel to their favorite destinations. It’s Summer Break!

So while you’re planning the trip of a lifetime for the whole family, make sure you have all your bases covered. That includes protection in case the unthinkable, such as an accident or severe illness, were to happen.

Keep yourself prepared by purchasing insurance. There are many different ways to ensure your family’s protection whether you’re traveling in the US or abroad. Here are a few common types of insurance to consider before you step out the door.

Travel Insurance

Travellers insurance covers a wide range of “what ifs,” from lost luggage to injury-related incidences. Here is a basic summary of what travel insurance can include:

Trip Cancellation: Certain packages will include trip cancellation coverage. If for some reason you need to cancel your trip or cut your vacation short because something unforeseen comes up, this insurance will cover the cost of otherwise non-refundable expenses, such as hotel bookings. But make sure to read the authorized reasons for cancelling a trip.

Luggage Coverage: Sometimes your luggage doesn’t make it to your destination on time, or it just doesn’t make it at all. Some travel insurance packages have luggage coverage if your belongings are lost, damaged or stolen on your trip.

Medical Coverage: If you become ill or are seriously injured while travelling, the expenses could be thousands of dollars. For this reason, it’s crucial to have health coverage, whether that means purchasing insurance for your trip, or confirming with your current health plan if you need approval for any certain type of care. If you choose to purchase insurance for your trip, there are two common types: travel medical insurance for short trips, and major medical for stays of six months or longer.

There are many other reasons to purchase travel insurance before you leave. For example, some policies provide coverage if severe weather damages your destination. You can even get coverage for a lost passport, which would help speed up the process of replacing it.

Life Insurance

If you don’t already have a life insurance policy, you should strongly consider getting one before you leave. Just as travel insurance prepares you for the unexpected while on vacation, life insurance prepares you for the unexpected in life.

You plan for a safe trip, but in reality, some circumstances are beyond your control. Life insurance can provide financial protection for you and your entire family. If you were to pass away unexpectedly, life insurance could cover the cost of funeral expenses or for the loss of income to help provide a financial cushion for your family during a difficult time.

There are many policies available to you, including term life insurance, which is very popular. Term insurance is coverage for a set period, after which you have the option to renew the policy.

Before you leave for your trip, talk to your insurance professional to help find a trustworthy insurer with options that best suit your needs.

Other Protection Tips

There are other things you can do to help protect you and your family while on vacation. A good idea is to make a copy of your passport and ID, and leave the copies behind with someone you trust or in a place that a friend or family member can access. This way, if your identification is stolen or lost, you have documentation.

Another tip is to only bring what you need, and this includes your wallet. It’s possible your wallet could get lost or stolen, so make sure you’re just carrying the cards you absolutely need.

So while you are planning your itinerary, make sure to add some of these tips to the checklist. Seriously consider travel and life insurance before you take off. Make sure you are going to a trusted company and are getting what you need.

10 Things I Loved About Our Disney World Trip (And 2 I Didn’t)

We recently went down to Disney World.  This was the second time for our family. It was a great time.  We actually spent a few days in Florida at the beach, so it was like two trips in one!  It was a fantastic trip, for the most part.  Disney World can definitely be the most magical place on Earth, though magic means that you’re tired, that’s for sure.

Here are ten things I loved and two I didn’t.

Things We Loved

Our Hotel

We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter hotel.  This was our first time staying at a moderate.  We loved it.  Compared to just about every other resort, it’s very small.  The rooms aren’t decorated with Disney themed decor, but more New Orleans decor.  At first my 6-year old daughter was not impressed.  However, by the end of the trip, we were all in love.  It was a very peaceful and relaxing place to stay.  We took a stroll along the riverside, which was practically right outside our door.

We even got to save money here.  They offered us $10 in gift card credits if we would decline housekeeping.  We were glad to do this, and got a $40 gift card as a result.  Bonus!

Our Meal Plan

When we booked the trip, we were just going to pay as you go.  But, a few weeks ago we booked the meal plan.  This gives each person the following per day:

  • One table service meal
  • One quick service meal
  • Two snack credits

My wife did a lot of research and we definitely got good value for our plan. She booked us at some places that would have cost quite a bit out of pocket.  Plus, we got to try some amazing side dishes and deserts that would have cost quite a bit.  But, in the end, we had no regrets at all about this cost.

YouTube Videos

There are bloggers and vloggers that make a living dispensing Disney related advice.  I’m not lying.  And it’s good advice!  My wife spent the weeks leading up to the trip watching videos while on the treadmill each morning.  We learned a lot of fantastic things as result.  From places to eat (and to avoid) to travel tips, we learned a lot from different videos.  And best of all, it’s all free!

Travel Agent

On both of our trips, we used a travel agent, but this was a much better experience.  Our last agent really didn’t seem all that helpful.  She worked with us but never really seemed to got to know us.  The whole ‘blah’ experience was exemplified when she never followed up during the trip or afterward to see how things went.

For this trip, we found someone different, and she was, in a word, incredible!  Her name was Kelly from Simply Enchanted Travel.  (I get nothing back from referrals).  She was in constant touch with us before, during, and even after the trip.  She sent us this goodie bag before the trip, complete with a customized, bound itinerary handbook.  Booking through a travel agent doesn’t cost you any more than if you book things yourself.  So the cost savings is good to begin with, but it’s especially awesome when you find a great agent!

Great Wait Staff

One of the knocks on Disney World is that their dining experiences are often iffy.  Wait staff can be a big knock here.  But, for several of our ‘signature’ meals in the places we were looking forward to the most, the staff was awesome. This turned several really good sit-down meals into absolutely awesome meals.

Alcohol

The dining plan has recently been modified so that table service and quick service meals include an adult beverage.  After a long day at the park, this definitely was a nice little touch.  On our last trip, we often purchased a drink anyway, so this worked out very nicelly.

Fun Characters

Our kids are of the age (8 and 6) where meeting characters was still a big draw.  There were a few really fun characters that they’ll remember for a long time.  Olaf (from Frozen) acted scared of my son’s Darth Vader shirt.  Sadness (from Inside Out) was just perfect, making you want to do nothing more than give her hug after hug.  It’s really cool to see the characters that we all know ‘come to life’.

The Nighttime Castle Show

I can’t remember what’s it’s called, but they do a show at the Cinderella castle that’s amazing.  I grumbled at having to stake out our spot over an hour in advance, but it’s awesome.  The castle is transformed over and over again to capture moments from many Disney and Pixar movies.  There’s fireworks and music and it’s truly amazing.

The Love For Mickey & Minnie

On our last day, each kid got a stuffed character toy.  My son got Mickey Mouse and my daughter got Minnie.  After they got them, there were so many cast members (Disney workers) that would acknowledge them, waving or saying hello to Mickey and Minnie.  It always brought a smile to the kids faces.  It’s great to see the special love for the characters that got the whole thing started.

Flight of Passage

The hot ride across all four parks right now is Pandora: Flight of Passage.  It just opened last year and the wait times are always high, and the longest of any ride.  We got a Fast Pass for it so we got right on.  Both my wife and I agreed that we didn’t want to know anything about it.  As such, we avoided reading about it or having others tell us anything about it.

With that in mind, I won’t spoil any details, either, but I will say this: It. Was. Awesome.  I’ve been on a lot of different rides at different parks and this was definitely like no other.  It was absolutely breathtaking.

Things We Didn’t Love

There were a few things we could have lived without.  None of this took away from our overall experience, as we realize no trip is ever perfect.  Still, maybe this will help others in future planning.

Mission: Space

I’ve been on this ride before.  It’s where you get buckled into a simulated space ship and go for a training mission around Earth. It’s a pretty cool ride and was shaping up to be this time as well, when it abruptly stopped.  Something malfunctioned and we stopped moving.  Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but you’re in a very, very enclosed space.  Like, you sit down, the shoulder harness comes down, and then the pod closes right on top of that.  Once we stopped, you quickly realize how you are trapped.

Luckily, we were only trapped for about ten minutes, but both my son and wife started getting upset, and we were extremely glad to get out. Disney did give us an extra fast pass to use for the trouble.  Still, all four of us agreed that we’ll definitely skip this one in the future.

Busy Season Is All The Time

Many people try to plan trips around how busy it gets.  A piece of advice: Don’t bother.  It’s busy all the time.  Disney is spending a lot of money on park upgrades and really focusing on revenue growth in this area.  They just opened Pandora last year.  Toy Story land will open this year.  Star Wars land will open next year.  These are all projects where they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars apiece.

With that in mind, they are working hard and succeeding at keeping the parks full.  Simply put, there is no time where things aren’t busy.  You will have to wait in line.  You’re going to be among crowds of people most of the time.  It’s unavoidable.  But, if you go in knowing what to expect, you’ll be fine.

That, and a great travel agent helps!

Have you been to a Disney park lately? Any plans?  Let me know in the comments below.

Greed Or Smart? Disney Overnight Parking Will No Longer Be Free

We are just a couple of weeks away from our family spring vacation.  Part of it will be spent at Disney World.  We did a family vacation a few years ago at Disney World, and had a blast.  We wanted one more experience while the kids are still charged at lower rates.  With our vacation coming up, we’ve been following all things Disney related.  Last week a big announcement came in that Disney overnight parking will no longer be free.

The Old Policy

Previously, if you were staying at a Disney resort, overnight parking was free.  This was a nice perk, presumably to make their resorts more attractive than surrounding hotels.  But, they announced that soon, there will be a daily fee between $13-$24 depending on the resort.

Bummer.

What This Means For Us

Thankfully, we are not impacted for our upcoming trip.  Although we’re driving, the fee only impacts bookings made after March 21st.  Any bookings made before then will not have this charge.  We made our booking a few months ago, so we’re good.  For this trip.

Greed Or Smart Thinking?

Many people are outraged.  Reading some of the Facebook groups, people are upset.  This should come as no big surprise.  It is, after all, an extra cost to which customers get no added value.

So why is Disney doing it?

Greed?  Many people say that Disney is being greedy with this move.  They point out that this was a nice perk for people that made Disney resorts more attractive.  Many also point out the ever increasing cost, and figure it’s just a money grab.

That could be.  Or maybe they’re being….

Smart?  One of the things that we’ve seen with Disney World is that it’s busy.  You’d expect this, but it’s always busy.  When we went a few years ago, there were certain times of the year that you could book and expect to enjoy low or moderate crowds.  Now, there is really no such thing.  If you read the real time reports, crowd levels are either high or really high. That’s pretty much it.

So you could say that Disney is making a smart business decision by increasing their revenue.  If demand is up, then you could argue that they have a responsibility to their shareholders to maximize their revenue based on that demand. Yes, I majored in Economics in college! After all, if park admissions (and presumably resort reservations) are running at robust levels, would an increase in costs put that at risk?

Probably not.  I’m sure the bean counters at Disney made sure of it.

What Do You Think?  Greed Or Smart?

I’m curious what you think.  Is Disney being greedy or smart by charging for something that was formerly free?

My answer: I think it’s a bit of both.  If I were a Disney shareholder, I’d love the move.  As a Disney customer, not so much.

What do you think?  Leave your answer in the comments below.

 

Why We’re Spending $2,540 On Gift Cards In A Single Week

Over the past week, we have spent $2,540 on gift cards.  You might think I’m crazy.  I’m not.  Maybe we’re going nuts for Christmas this year?  Nope.  We’re actually cutting back.

So then why are we spending all this money on gift cards?  Because….we’re going back to Disney World!

What does one have to do with another?  Well, read on.  I’ll first go over the trip, then make clear why we dropped some serious bank on gift cards.

Recapturing The Magic

Long time readers might remember that we went to Disney World in 2015.  We had a great time.  During that trip, we stayed for eight nights.  We stayed at a deluxe resort.  We dined with a Disney meal plan.  It was a fantastic time with all of our family.

My wife is our trip planner, and from the moment we got back, she was planning our next trip in her head.  She wanted us to go while both of our kids were nine or under.  Why?  Because tickets get much more expensive after they turn ten.

We went on a fantastic spring break trip to Tampa last year during the kids week off of school.  We loved it so much that we booked the same rental for the same week in 2018.

It was early fall when my wife brought up the idea of modifying the trip so that we could go back to Disney World.  We looked through the numbers and made it work.

We’re still going to our rental place, but for five nights instead of a week.  Then, we’re going to Disney World!

Trip Variations

It’ll be different than last time in a few ways:

  • Length – We’re staying at Disney World for five nights.  It’s still a longer total trip, but less time at Disney made it more affordable.
  • Resort – Last time we stayed at a deluxe resort to get the best experience.  This time, we are staying at a moderate resort.
  • Dining – Instead of using the Disney meal plan, we’re paying our way.  We’ll still be eating at restaurants around the parks, but we think we’ll save money.  We found that with the meal plan (which was free as part of a promo last time), we were eating all the time.  We ate meals when we weren’t hungry because we felt we had to.  This time, we’ll eat less frequently.  Plus the kids can split meals and such.
  • Driving – We flew down to Disney World on our last trip.  Since we’re going to Florida near Easter, flight prices were not affordable for us, so we are driving.

Where Gift Cards Come In

It’s the holidays.  For some reasons, holidays find great deal on gift cards.  They mark them down so that you shop at the store.  So deals are bountiful and we took advantage.

Meijer

We do most of our grocery shopping at Meijer.  Now, Meijer has a whole display of gift cards.  You can buy gift cards for just about anywhere.  Amazon, Home Depot, Applebee’s.  And also Disney.

Meijer is running a special where, for every $100 you spend on gift cards, you get a $10 credit on your next bill.  Each person registered in their in-store rewards program can spend up to $1,000 to get this reward.

So, we each spent $1,000 on Disney gift cards and each got $100 towards future shopping trips.  By spending $2,000, we are getting $200 in groceries for nothing!

Target

This was another great find.  One day per year around the holidays, Target offers 10% off their own gift cards.  Each person can buy up to $300 in gift cards at 10% off.  You can then use those gift cards to buy other gift cards, including Disney cards.  So, we each bought $300 of Target gift cards for $270.  We then each ‘spent’ those on $300 of Disney gift cards.

Grand Total

So, when it’s all said and done, we spent $2,540 and ended up with:

  • $2,600 in Disney gift cards that we can apply toward our trip costs
  • $200 in Meijer gift cards that will pay for 2+ weeks of groceries.

By spending $2,540, which was money we were going to spend regardless, we ended up with $2,800 in spending power.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Offset

The only downside is that we lost a little bit of money on cash back rewards.  Had we spent the equivlant $2,540 directly with our travel agent, we would have gotten 3% cash back on our credit card.  That would have given us $76.20.

Our card gives us 2% cash back at Meijer, and 1% at Target, so we’ll end up with $45.40 in rewards.  So, while we’re gaining $260 in freebies, it does, in a sense, cost us around $30.  But we still come out ahead.  Plus, I always look at the cash back as extra, in that we never count on it.  So, either way we’re still coming out ahead.

All in all, we are pretty pleased with how things turned out.  I love when we can find ways to save on spending that would happen no matter what.

Readers, have you ever used gift card promotions as a way to keep money in your pocket?  Let me know what works for you in the comments below.  Thanks so much for reading!

How To Winterize Your RV

Is it time to winterize your RV?  If your season is done, as is ours, then it’s probably time.

End of Season

Our camping season is finished.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to finish out as we usually do.  The state park we go to does it up during weekends in October.  There’s a haunted house.  They arrange a parade and trick or treating.  They organize arts and crafts centered around Halloween.  The campground is always full and our kids look forward to it.  It’s usually our last trip of the year.  We had it all booked for the year but decided last minute to cancel.  What had been forecasted all week to be a few showers suddenly changed to weekend long rain when a front shifted a bit south.  We were bummed, but we knew that a whole October weekend in the rain wasn’t for us.

We have never cancelled a trip before.  We’d brought it home and got it prepped and ready to go, so some time and effort was wasted.

But all was not lost, because we needed to winterize.  We normally would have done it after the end of the trip, so at least the tow home wasn’t all for nothing.

Here are some of the things you need to know to winterize your RV.

Empty All Tanks

Make sure that all of your holding tanks are empty.  This includes your fresh water tank as well as your gray and black tanks.

Empty Your Water Heater

Most RVs come with a six gallon water heater.  You want this empty for the year.  Turn your water pump off and open up the hot water faucets.  This will depressurize the lines.  Then find your water lines.  Near the water heater will be three valves.  Switch the position of each of them.  This will cut off the water supply to your water heater.  Next, go outside and open the drain valve to your water heater.  This will empty out the water that’s inside.  We leave the drain valve off.

Empty Your Water Lines

Get rid of as much water as you can.  If you have an air compressor, get it set up.  There’s a connection somewhere on each camper.  Open up all your faucets (don’t forget your outside shower if you have one).  Make sure your pump is off.  Turn on your compressor.  This will push water out of the lines.  You can also look for labels for your low point valves.  Open these up to drain them.  Close them when you’re done.  Go inside and pull the flush on your toilet to get that water out too.  Remove the air compressor.  Turn off all of your faucets.

Note: Some people skip the emptying of the lines, and just move to the next step.  I’ve done this and have never had any problems.  It’s personal preference, though many in the RV world have strong opinions.

Run RV Antifreeze Through The Lines

Next you want to fill your water lines with antifreeze.  You want the kind that’s safe for RV.  It will be pink.   Locate

image from morguefile courtesy of xololounge

your water pump.  There will be a hose that runs to the water holding tank, and another that you can pull out to the camper.  Each will have a valve.  Reverse both.

Then, take the hose that you can pull out into the camper and stick it in your jug of antifreeze.  Turn on a faucet and then go turn on your pump.  This should start drawing the antifreeze out of the jug and through your lines.  When anitifreeze starts coming out of your faucet, turn it off.  Then turn on every faucet and repeat.  Make sure you get your toilet as well.

Now that this is done, all of your lines should be filled with antifreeze.  Walk around and look at every single point where water comes out.  Shower hoses, toilets, make sure you’ve had pink come out of them.  Miss even one thing and you could be in for an awful surprise next spring.

And, remember earlier how you flipped the valves around your water heater?  That means that you just saved yourself six gallons of antifreeze from flowing into the tank!

Flip the two valves back into their normal position.  This way, in the spring, the pump will draw off the holding tank as you’ll want it to do.

Put Some Antifreeze In Your Tanks And Traps

Pour a couple of cups of antifreeze down one of your sinks.  This will get it into your gray tank.  Pour some into your toilet and flush so that there’s a little in your black tank.  You shouldn’t need any in your water holding tank if you’ve emptied it completely.

Now, make sure that you pour a little in every sink so that there’s some antifreeze in each of the traps.  Finish off by pouring a little bit in the toilet.

Clean Out All Food

If you leave any food in your camper, get it out.  During the season, we’ll leave some stuff in a storage bin.  But, for the off season, everything comes out.  Also, anything that might have food particles should come out.  Camping stoves and camp pie makers.

Get Rid Of Potential Rodent Beds

During the winter, rodents will look for somewhere to stay warm.  We take out any towels, paper towels, kleenex, etc.  There’s no need to make your camper any more attractive to them than it might already be.

Remove Cleaning Supplies and Liquids

We take out all cleaning supplies and liquids just to make sure nothing freezes and breaks.  You can put a lot of the stuff from the last few categories into a bin that you can unpack in the spring.

Check Your Caulk And Seals

Take a look around places where water might get in.  Chances are you won’t be seeing your RV all that much during the winter.  A small leak can add up to big problems.  Fix any areas where things look cracked or rotting.

Remove Your RV Battery

Once you have your RV in place, disconnect and remove the battery.  We put ours in the basement.  First I check the water levels, and fill with distilled water if needed. Then we keep it connected to a trickle chargers.  RV and marine batteries should not be allowed to fully discharge.  It will dramatically reduce their longevity.

Remove All Batteries

Your main battery isn’t the only one to remove.  I find that it’s helpful to take all batteries out of the camper.  Remote controls, flashlights, smoke alarms.  I take them all out and put it in a storage bin that goes in the basement.  Leaving them in during cold weather seems to shorten their life.  Not to mention, they often leak if they’re left in.

Open Your Fridge

Make sure your refrigerator and freezer are not sealed.  Otherwise, if there’s any moisture, then you’ll end up with mold and mildew.

Consult Your Owners Manual

These are the steps that we take, and that I know are pretty common.  You’ll want to take a look at your manual before you’re done.  They might have something specific to your model.

Keeping your camper safe and snug over the winter is important.  It doesn’t take that long to do.  By following the proper steps, you’ll ensure that your RV will be ready to enjoy next spring.