Money Life Network Summer Saving Series Articles

Real Joy

The Summer Saving Series has come to an end.  In all there were 15 articles from the Money Life Network.  We also had about 15 articles from other writers who wrote about Summer savings on their sites!  Check the Money Life Network site for the contest winner announcement.

I hope we were able to provide a lot of info on how to save in the Summer!  We’re thinking up some new contests/series so let us know what you thought of this one.

Here are the great articles written by the Money Life Network:

Monday 6/9: Summer Savings Series #1: Food is a big expense. How can you save?

Tuesday 6/10: Summer Savings Series #2: 9 Money Saving Ways to Prepare For a Vacation

Wednesday 6/11: Summer Savings Series #3: Everyone Can Save Money This Way In The Heat!

Thursday 6/12: Summer Savings Series #4: Fun Frugal Ices With Your Child

Friday 6/13: Summer Savings Series #5: Make Summer Activities Affordable

Monday 6/16: Summer Savings Series #6: Save like you’re paying off a high interest debt

Tuesday 6/17: Summer Savings Series #7 – Send Your Kid to Summer Camp Without Blowing the Budget

Wednesday 6/18: Summer Savings Series Tip #8 – Watch Movies And Play Video Games For Free!

Thursday 6/19: Summer Savings Series #9 – Our Disney World Vacation

Friday 6/20: Summer Savings Series #10 – What is a staycation?

Monday 6/23: Summer Savings Series #11 – Saving at the movies this summer

Tuesday 6/24: Summer Savings Series #12: Save Money and Get Fit with These Summertime Activities and Programs

Wednesday 6/25: Summer Savings Series #13 – Don’t Drive 10 Miles Out Of Your Way To Save $0.20 On Gas! Use GasBuddy!

Thursday 6/26: Summer Saving Series #14: New York State Empire Passport

Friday 6/27: Summer Savings Series #15: The art of Hypermiling

And these amazing articles were submitted to us from other sites:

8 cheap summer fun ideas @ Broke Grad Student

Military Discounts @ Military Finance Network

Summer Savings – What I did @ OneGirlsQuest

You Know What I Did This Summer – Save Money! @ Are You Going To Be This Way The Rest of The Time I Know You?

7 Ways to save money this summer @ Dreamline Savings

10 Money Saving Vacation Tips @ Think your way to wealth

Summer Savings Series: My Game Plan @ Kingdom First Mom

Freeze Your Air Conditioning Costs @ CashMoneyLife.com

How I Plan to Save Money This Summer @ Amelia’s Healthy Life

How I Will Save Money on My Summer Vacation @ The Dangling Conversation

Saving Money This Summer @ Keep it Simple

Here are some of the comment tips:

The Happy Rock “Get your air conditioning unit checked and tuned up to help save on energy costs.”

otherdeb (Deb Wunder)“Know that bicycle that’s been moldering against your back porch/in your attic/in your garage, etc? Get it out, get it checked over, and start using it for local errands!

If you are anything like me, as you build up a bit of endurance, you will also want to start using it to do some local sightseeing!”

Rachel“Summer Money Saving Tip: For a cheap sun burn treatment that won’t require an extra trip to the pharmacy, freeze some of the lotion you already have on hand on a piece of tin foil. Once it’s frozen, it cools and soothes the burn and also moisturizers to ease peeling and blistering. Works great too for those who are allergic to Aloe Vera like me! :-)

Sam”Turn you thermostat up to 80 and use your ceiling fans or box fans.

We also turn off the AC at night and just use our ceiling fans.”

That One Caveman “Vacation in or near your hometown. There are often a lot of cheap or free ways to entertain yourself – you just have to look for them. We’ll be visiting a few local museums (free entrance + free air conditioning), the zoo, the lake, and a few parks this summer – all for free!”

Mercedes”This summer I have decided to quit driving my kids around for activities and stay local. I have been lucky to have found things to do in the small town that I live. So far I love this simple summer life. I am kicking back and enjoying the nice weather without a hectic lifestyle.”

There are a bunch of other great tips as well.  Make sure to check out the comments section of the original article!

Without you, the reader, the Summer Saving Series would not be possible.  It’s great to see all of the articles and comments that were submitted!

photo credit: Todd Baker << technowannabe

New York State Empire Passport – Summer Saving

Beach Chair

Summer’s here!  How are you going to spend your time? Will you go to the beach?  Maybe a pool or a lake is more your speed?  Maybe go to the park for a picnic?  How about camping?  Perhaps you’ll go for a bike ride or maybe a nice hike through the woods on a historic trail?

If you live in or near New York State then you have access to all of these activities and more in New York’s State Parks!

A great way to take advantage of all that NY State Parks have to offer is to purchase the NYS Empire Passport. For $65 you get access to most of NY State’s parks and facilities.  Consider this: parking is easily $8 for Jones beach.  That means the pass pays for itself with about 7 visits to the beach!  But what’s great is the pass can be used for so much more.  In fact it’s good from April 1st until March 30th of next year.  Using it 7 times over the year is easy!

My wife has the summer off as she works in education.  This gives her all summer to go to beaches such as Jones Beach or Robert Moses State Park.  We worked it out a couple of years ago and the Empire Passport easily saves us money!  You can also use the passport to pay for parking for concerts at the Jones Beach Theater (park in an adjacent lot and walk over, it will also be easier to leave after the concert)

Outside of summer beaches we’ve also gone to Harriman State Park, Bear Mountain State Park, Fahnestock State Park, and Valley Stream State Park.  Harriman and Bear Mountain aren’t too far from the Woodbury Commons shopping center where you can find some frugal deals.

I’ve gotta say, in putting this article together I’m seeing how much we can do and what we’ve been missing out on!  I can’t wait to get out with the family again!

You can order an Empire Passport online.  The site says it could arrive in 3-4 weeks but we got ours in a week.  You can also visit a state park office and buy it direct.  Check online to see which parks sell the pass directly.  The quicker you get yous the sooner you can enjoy all that NYS Parks have to offer!

How will you use your NYS Empire Passport?

This article is #14 of the Summer Savings Series from the Money Life Network. Check out the article on the MLN site to see how you can participate in the Summer Savings Series and possibly win a $100 Amazon gift certificate! You can see tip #13 at My Investing Blog. Article #10 will be at Milk Your Money tomorrow!

 

One Hundred Pushups For A Healthy Fit Frugal Summer

One Hundred Pushups

Ok, I’m in! I’ve been seeing a lot about the site One Hundred Pushups around the blogosphere lately.  I first heard about it from Pete at Bible Money Matters via Twitter.  Then Pete posted about starting on the program.  Then I saw Pinyo at Moolanomy mentioned it.  And also JD at Get Rich/Fit Slowly fame.  And Wazzy on Twitter.  And I’m sure many others I don’t know about yet…

So what is One Hundred Pushups? It’s a site that lists out a six week program for increasing your strength to the point where, in the final test, you do one hundred pushups!

Why Pushups? From the site:

Push ups are one of the basic and most common exercises for the human body. Push ups are not only great for your chest, but do a tremendous job of defining your abs, triceps, shoulders and torso.

Push ups can be performed no matter where you are, and best of all, they are completely free – no expensive equipment or annual gym fees required! If you’re looking to develop a great chest and shoulders, you could do much worse than follow along with the hundred push ups plan. Your core strength will also go through the roof too!

Check out that second paragraph…”they are completely free.”  How much is the average gym membership? I would guess you’re paying anywhere from $250 a year to $1200 a year.  Free is a whole lot better.

And a pushup is a great measure of your overall fitness.

I’ve been looking for a good workout program for a couple of months now.  I have some free weights but I haven’t been able to commit to a consistent plan.  I’ll workout for two weeks then stop for two weeks; I don’t keep up with it.  I even almost joined a gym about a month ago.  That would have cost me about $500 for the year.  I didn’t join since I wasn’t sure I’d use it enough to justify the cost.

But with all of the bloggers already on the One Hundred Pushup band-wagon I thought I’d give it a try.  Not only is there a framework to follow for the plan (which I need) but by putting it out here on Free From Broke I’m making myself accountable for following the plan (I hope).

I’ve already done the initial test and the first day of week one (already feeling it in my chest).  I set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs so I can track my performance.  You can follow my One Hundred Pushup progress here.  I hope you check it out and help root me on!  If fact join in and we can go through this together!

Make sure you have clearance from your doctor before you start any fitness program.

So are you up to the one hundred push up training program?

Disney World Vacation Tips and How We Saved Money

Disney Bucks

Last Summer we needed to figure out where we wanted to go on vacation.

It would be my wife, our 7-year-old daughter, our 7-month-old son, and myself.  Since our son was so young we wanted to keep the flights short.

We decided now would be a great time to go to Disney world!

Why Disney World?

Our daughter grew up on everything Disney.  There was a point a few years back when there would always be some Disney princess on the TV.  We knew she would have a great time and she was old enough to truly appreciate Disney World.

With our son we figured he was old enough to take on vacation but young enough still that he would spend most of his time in the stroller and not want to run around on his own.  Maybe that sounds strange but toddlers have varying moods of staying quietly in a stroller and being fiercely independent.  No, he wouldn’t really remember the trip but we didn’t think he’d appreciate it until he was older anyway.  The Summer of ’07 was our best window of opportunity to go to Disney World (at least until the little guy was older).

We knew Disney World could be expensive so we needed to do some research. 

Ok, a LOT of research.  I spent many hours checking various sites for info on where was good to stay and what was the best deal.

We started off with a recommendation from a friend: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids.

I checked it out on Amazon as well as at the local bookstore.  The book gives a nice detailed review of each park and their rides in DW and provides itineraries that you can use based on your children’s age.  It also gives suggestions on what rides to go on, when to see attractions, and general tips for having a good time in Orlando.

What I also liked was the reviews of all the local hotels, Disney and otherwise. (There are a lot of hotels in the area to choose from!)  We compared the guide to similar books and liked this one the best (they also have The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World that doesn’t focus on kids).

We bought the book and I went into devouring all of the information. 

A big decision to make for a Disney World trip is whether to stay in a Disney resort or stay off site. I had an idea of a couple of places where I wanted to stay.  Now to find rates!

I have to jump in for a second and tell you about a great resource site I found: Mousesavers.com

This site really gave us great info for Disney.  They tell you all about the different parks, hotels, vacation packages, various discount codes, freebies, specials, ride closings, etc…

If you plan on going on a Disney trip you should check out the site and sign up for their newsletter which has exclusive discounts.  The site really helped me get my head around all of the choices in a Disney World vacation.

We used three main sources for our flight and hotel. 

First we went to Liberty Travel agency to see what deals they have.  I like starting with them since some of their sales people are real knowledgeable on different vacations and occasionally they get really good packages.

Unfortunately the person we dealt with didn’t know a lot about Disney and couldn’t really tell us much.  Too bad for them.  (And travel agents wonder why their services are dying.)

Next was to look online.  We flipped back and forth between Expedia, the official Walt Disney World site, and Jet Blue.

Would the official Disney site be more expensive?

Not always.  And at least you can get an idea of what they are charging versus what other travel sites charge.

Originally we planned on Expedia for the hotel and Jet Blue for the flight (we heard so many good things about them, we wanted to try them).  I actually found a good deal for one of the Disney resort hotels on Expedia.  We were trying to book it but there was a computer glitch that wouldn’t let the reservation book.  Disappointed I poked around the Jet Blue site looking at flights.

I noticed that Jet Blue also had vacation packages!

I never knew that before (we never even flew them previously).  I started looking up the hotel I found on Expedia.  They had a similar deal but I actually found one that was better!  I found a great deal for the Hyatt Regency Grand Cyprus.  This is a four star hotel with a ridiculous amount of things to do including a giant pool with two waterslides (this will be important later on).  We jumped on the package which was 6 nights at the hotel and flights for the four of us on Jet Blue.  (When I checked into the hotel the clerk was actually surprised at the price we got the room for).

The hotel was in the Lake Buena Vista area.  They had some transportation to Disney parks but our best bet would be to rent a car.  Believe it or not the four main Disney parks aren’t all connected and next to each other.  A car would help us get around as well as give us more choices for eating. The area we stayed had a number of other hotels and lots of food choices not Disney.  We actually went to Dunkin Donuts a few times to cut down on breakfast costs.  A car would also give us the opportunity to go to Target or Wal-Mart a few times to buy water and snacks (rather than buy them at the parks for much more).

So where to get a car?

We actually found some great discount codes on the Mousesavers site.  The one we ended up using was a flat fee for a mini-van at Dollar car rental for American Express card holders.  We paid less for a mini-van than we would have for many smaller cars.  Now we wouldn’t have to worry about installing our car seat (no climbing into a compact to figure it out) and we knew we would have enough room for our luggage and stroller.

This was really the best deal for us out there.

If you ever use Dollar I would suggest signing up for their Dollar Express program.  It can save you time at the rental counter as you get your own line (very important with two kids in tow)!

Let’s recap: Hotel – check; Flights – check; Car – check…what’s missing? 

Disney tickets!

Disney World is made up of four major theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom), two water parks, and a lot of other stuff!  We wanted to see the four main parks and we were considering the water parks.  Since our hotel had such a great pool with water slides we decided we could do without the water parks (wise decision since we would have seen less of the main parks if we went to the water parks).

So we needed tickets for the main parks.

There’s a lot of ticket options that I won’t go through here.  The option we did pick was the Park Hopper option which allowed us to go to more than one park a day (definite plus for us).  Again Mousesavers was a great help for ticket advice and discounts.  Through their newsletter you can get a code for a discount on the site Undercover Tourist which sells tickets to many diffferent attractions.  We saved a lot through Undercover Tourist.  Their great price included taxes and were shipped free.

Did we have fun at Disney World?

Growing up I was never a Disney person.  I always preferred Bugs Bunny to Mickey Mouse.  I figured we were going to Disney World mostly for our princess.

But you know what?  It was a blast!

Our daughter wants to go back there this year (maybe in a few years honey) and I wouldn’t mind going back either.  We went on roller coasters, rides, attractions, ate, swam…we really had a great time!

If I were going back I would cut out Epcot (was kind of boring; the international food was interesting but not enough to carry the park) and Animal Kingdom (if you have a good zoo in your area, like the Bronx Zoo, then you aren’t going to see too much new).

We would have spent more time at Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (maybe my favorite – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Muppets, stunt show).  We would have also spent more time at the hotel.  We didn’t even get a chance to take advantage of all of the activities in our hotel.

Was it the most frugal vacation we could have gone on?

No.  But it was well worth the money for the experiences we had (like my daughter saying “I lived!” after coming off of Space Mountain) and we found ways to save along the way.

Things to consider/to do if you’re planning a Disney World trip:

  • Check hotel/flight/car prices in a number of different places for the best price/package.
  • Check out Mousesavers.com – They really helped save money and they have great advice.
  • Get yourself a guide for the parks – There’s so much to do you really want to make sure you spend your time in the right places.
  • Consider renting a car and staying off the Disnet resorts – You can get some great hotel deals and having a car gives you a lot of flexibility on food and supplies.  You can even add in attractions like Sea World and Universal if you have a car.
  • If your child still uses a stroller bring along one that folds and rolls easily We borrowed one from a neighbor).  Even with a car you’re still going to have to use Disney transportation to get from the parking lot to the park.  If your child is old enough for an umbrella stroller consider buying one in Orlando at Target or Wal-Mart.  You can rent a stroller in the Disney parks but I think it’s better to have your own.
  • Buy water and snacks at Target or Wal-Mart and bring it with you to the parks.  It gets hot fast in Orlando and you need to keep hydrated.
  • Plan your day ahead/build an itinerary – Know where you want to go and what rides you want to go on for each day.  Some shows only play at certain times and some parks have later hours on different days.
  • With a Park Hopper pass you can split your day up and see one park in the morning, go back to your hotel and rest a bit, then see another park in the evening.

Do you have any Disney World tips?

photo by idogcow

Murphy’s Law Of The Workplace

Work

Murphy’s Law – If anything can go wrong, it will.

How many times at work have you had a Murphy’s Law experience?  Just when it’s important that things go right something goes wrong.  Here are some of my workplace Murphy’s Law observations:

  • When you don’t check your email – That will be the time when the VP needs a report from you ASAP!
  • The day you don’t dress your best is the day you have a surprise meeting first thing in the morning.
  • And those meetings that start the day?  You’re going to be late for one through no fault of your own.  When you walk in everyone will stop for a second and look at you like you’ve missed the birth of your child.
  • That one time you “trust” a subordinate with a project and don’t go over it with a fine-tooth comb it ends up being wrong.  And your bosses see it.
  • You  make sure to do any web surfing during your lunch hour because your boss is a stickler for that.  The one time you don’t?  Your boss sneaks up behind you asking what you’re working on (or your boss’ boss sees you and tells your boss and you don’t even realize you got caught until you’re sitting in your boss’ office getting reamed).
  • That project that’s making you tear your hair out that you just can’t get your head around comes right before your performance review.
  • And that project that you absolutely aced; getting it done before the deadline and making your boss look great?  Right after your performance review.
  • Your child’s recital?  Same day as your huge presentation at work that you cannot miss.
  • The one time you click on that link that your buddy sent in an email?  Crash and burn!  You whole computer starts whacking out and less-than-appropriate sites start popping up on your screen (bonus is when your speakers are turned on).
  • The great vacation deal you found that’s only good for one week (or the family function you need to travel to) ends up being the same week your boss already planned to take off but didn’t mention to the staff.
  • Those personal copies you made or that fax you sent?  You left a few pages behind incriminating you.  Of course it was sensitive material like tax info or medical documents (or worse that resume you’ve been sending out).

So what do you do about it?

First – Accept that there will be a Murphy’s Law moment.  It’s inevitable.  Something will go wrong when you need it to go right.  When it does happen, regardless of the situation, look at it in a positive light.  Don’t throw around blame.  See if you can take the situation in a positive direction.  I once had a situation at work where a big screwup blew up and involved VP’s yelling at each other.  Rather than taking sides, my stance was to say “It’s great that this happened.  It exposed a big hole that we didn’t know was there.  We can now put a process into place so this doesn’t happen again.”  That attitude helped ease things over.

Second – The ‘ole Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared.  If something important is coming up, run through your head all of the things that can go wrong.  Trying to understand what can go wrong can help you build contingencies should Murphy’s Law strike.

How do you handle Murphy’s Law at work?  What’s happened to you?

photo by Yo Spiff

Customer Service Done Right 1800Contacts.com

Contact lenses in eyes

I needed to order new disposable contacts.

I realized I was on my last couple of pairs.  I didn’t want to go to my previous eye care provider since their salespeople, what’s the eloquent word?, oh yeah SUCK!  The past few times they have been pushy and do what they can to get you to commit to a purchase.  They speak all sorts of double speak when you ask about prices which just leaves you confused and fed up.  I’d like to think it was just me but my wife has experienced this as well.  I wasn’t going to give them my money again!

That brings me to 1800CONTACTS.com.

I heard all of the commercials and saw the ads online as well as heard great things about them from friends.  I had to at least look into them, right?

Right off the bat I saw two things that interested me: Free shipping on online orders over $50 and they price match against other sites and take off an additional 2%.

Now, I usually check out a price in a few locations but this gave me a real incentive!  Lo and behold I found my contacts on another site for much less.  I was now armed with a price to see if they would match it.

One option the 1800Contacts.com site gives you is to have one of their people call you.  You enter your phone number on the site and they call back.  I did it and immediately got a call with very little waiting.  A real person with little wait?  Another plus!  Ends up this person was located in Utah.

So I tell the woman that I was interested in ordering contacts and I saw a lower price on another site.  I waited a few moments while she looked it up.  (She apologized for the wait too, which wasn’t much.  Another plus).  She found the price and told me they would match it and take off an additional 2%.  We were now looking at a price for 8 boxes of contacts that was less than what 1800Contacts and my previous provider offered!  I’m real close to sold.

Remember that free shipping on online orders over $50?  So I’m on the phone, right?  Not online.  I mention the offer to the woman and she said that because they were price matching they could give me the free shipping too.  Nice!

The next step was to give her the prescription information on my contacts box and give the location of my previous provider who have my eye prescription on file (in New York your prescription is good for a year).  She looked up the location and told me they would contact them for verification.  Once that was done my contacts would ship out.

I felt really good doing business with them at this point.

The salesperson I spoke with was very clear and polite and did everything she could to help me out.  This was how customer service should be handled.  She even informed me that if my prescription should change I could return any unused contact to exchange with a new prescription.  Now I didn’t have to worry that I might get stuck with contacts if my eyes changed (my eye prescription has leveled out so I wasn’t too concerned about my prescription but I have had to change brands).  Now other places will take back an unopened box.  1800Contacts will take back any unopened contacts!  This could save some money if my prescription changed mid-box.

This was last night.  Today I received an email saying they contacted my old eye-care provider and were told that my prescription expired so they had to put my order on hold.

Remember how bad I told you the old provider was?  They just didn’t want to give up my business.  I knew my prescription was still good so I called up 1800Contacts to see what could be done.  The new person I spoke to looked at my account and explained the situation.  She then asked if I would mind being put on hold while she called my old provider.  ”Sure,” I said.  I could always hang up and call back if it took too long.  A couple of minutes later the woman came back on and said that my old provider had made a “mistake” (the mistake was bad service to begin with) and my prescription was indeed still good!  They were giving 1800Contacts a hard time but the salesperson would follow up and get the prescription.  For the trouble, she was going to upgrade my shipping, which was already free, to next-day shipping!  Now I’m getting my contacts faster!

This, my friends, is customer service done right!

Let’s recap the positives here:

  • They price-matched and took off an additional 2%
  • They gave me free standard shipping
  • They were pleasant and helpful at all times
  • They took care of obtaining my prescription for me
  • When there was a problem they let me know about it then resolved it
  • I was upgraded to next-day shipping for my trouble (which wasn’t really trouble at all)
  • Both customer service salespeople spoke excellent English and I didn’t have to repeat myself once! I’m all for cost-cutting but some call centers outside of the US have people that are very hard to communicate with. It may be cheaper for the company that uses them but it makes for a frustrating customer experience!

There are always options these days.  We don’t have to settle for bad customer service!

What companies do you know have great customer service?

photo by Baston

Will The Economic Stimulus Payments Have To Be Paid Back

Will you have to pay the Economic Stimulus back?

Now that many have already received their economic stimulus payments, and have figured out what to do with it, I’m seeing a lot of questions asking “Will the stimulus payment need to be paid back?”

The quick answer is no. According to the IRS the economic stimulus payment is not taxable and will not reduce what you may be owed in a tax refund for 2008 (filed in 2009). In fact it’s possible that you get more back next year, if you didn’t already get the maximum, based on next year’s return. See the amount was based on your 2007 return so if you didn’t qualify for the full amount you may still qualify for the difference based on your 2008 return. Don’t worry if you received the full amount already. No matter what your 2008 return says you won’t have to pay anything back.

Now the the longer answer – You are going to have to pay back the economic stimulus payment! In some way, shape, or form we will pay that back. The money has to come from somewhere.

Let’s look at the ways in which the gov’t receives income:

  • Taxes (from income and corporate taxes).
  • Loans (in the forms of government backed securities such as bonds, bills, and notes).
  • Printing more money in the treasury.

Which do you think the money will come from? Printing money sounds like an easy way to find the dough but it’s not a policy the US uses due to the fact that more money creates inflation (Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon – thank you Milton Friedman). And who wants even higher prices?!? We can issue more loans. Did you know that in 2006 we paid $406 Billion in interest payments on loans made to cover the national debt? Where does that money come from? See above. So that leaves us with taxes.

Yes, I believe we will be paying back the economic stimulus payments in the form of taxes. It may not be as one lump sum like we received it but it will be paid out. It’s just lumped together with the rest of the national debt.

Could this be avoided? Maybe. But only if the national debt, which is over $9 Trillion, is reduced to zero in our lifetimes. This would mean that government would have to cut back it’s size and spending. Most likely many programs that help people would fall victim to the cuts. I’m not saying it’s impossible for this to happen, just improbable. I hope I’m wrong.

Of course another way to look at it is it won’t be us but our kid’s generation that will pay it back. I’m not too sure that’s a positive spin on it though.

So there you have it! Do we have to pay the economic stimulus payments back?

No, but yes.

What do you think?

Update: There has been a lot of confusion over paying the Economic Stimulus Payment back.  Please read Paying Back the Economic Stimulus – Lots of Tax Confusion for more information and clarification!

photo by Refracted Moments

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