Goals Are Great Motivators

Marathon de New York : Verrazano Bridge

Goals can be great motivators to help you achieve! I find that when I have a specific goal it’s much easier to focus on what I want to accomplish.  For example: For me to save money is one thing but when I have something specific to save for I find that I can save up much quicker.  When I was younger I wanted a new stereo (the hand-me-down I was given still had an 8-track in it).  I made a goal of saving up for a new stereo.  When I sacrificed some expense for savings I knew i was to help me get that stereo.  When I worked extra hours in the supermarket I knew it was for the stereo.  In no time I had enough to go out and buy a new stereo, equipped with not one but two tape decks! (Have I dated myself or what?)

Let me give you some other goals I’ve set for myself and accomplished:

Ran the NYC Marathon – In 2005 I decided I wanted to run the NYC Marathon.  I knew I needed time to train and run enough races (you have to run 9 NYC RoadRunner races for guaranteed entree).  In 2006 I mapped out what races I would run to qualify for the next year’s race.  It was tough to keep up but I ran and finished all nine races for entry.  In 2007 I started a training program to get me in shape for the marathon.  In June I started my longs runs every weekend to get me ready for the distance.  The first Sunday last November I woke up at the crack of dawn and hopped on the Staten Island ferry to get to the start of the marathon.  Later that afternoon I would be able to call myself a marathon runner.  I don’t think I ever would have run the distance without a specific goal of running the marathon.

Paid off my credit cards – Some years ago I finally got fed up with how much I was paying monthly in interest for my credit cards.  I resolved to pay them off.  It started slowly but bit by bit I started to gain ground.  After an incident that led me to move back with the ‘rents I was able to turbo charge my payments and finish off my credit card debt.  I haven’t had more than a month’s charges since then (I pay my cards off in full every month).  Without resolving to pay off my credit cards once and for all I would still be idling along with minimum payments and a ton of debt piling up.

Started a personal finance blog/site – In October of 2007 I had discovered blogging via Zen Habits then Get Rich Slowly.  I was already itching to find something productive to do with my time and had healthy interest in personal finance.  I set a goal of starting up my own blog and making it successful.  I’m still in the middle of this goal but I feel like what I’ve done so far has been a success, especially when I look back at my first month of original posts on my Blogger site.  Without my goal I might be surfing fantasy baseball sites instead of writing this article.

Build up our savings – My wife and I wanted to make sure we had enough in savings for any emergency and then some.  Rather than hope to put some money away with what was left over at the end of every month we calculated a specific amount we could afford to do without and set up our ING savings to automatically withdraw money from our checking every week.  We have since achieved our emergency savings goal and exceeded it.  If we didn’t create a specific plan our savings would be considerably less and we’d be scratching our heads wondering where our money went.

The lesson here is that I was motivated to accomplish different things because I set a goal to achieve!  Having a goal in mind keeps my mind focused.  Without a goal set I would have just floated along in many cases.  My savings would be lower, my credit card debt still existing, my running much less, this site just a thought…

One way to accomplish a goal is to make it SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. (Thanks to Cash Money Life for turning me onto that concept.)

I also like to think in terms of short and long term goals. For example – The goal of saving up for a down payment on a home, while an admirable goal, may seem a bit too big to ever accomplish.  That could be a long-term goal.  To make it more achievable you can create a short-term goal of saving X dollars a month towards a down payment.  This way you see your small goals achieved which helps build up the confidence to achieve your bigger goal.

Check out this article on the science of setting goals.  When you set a goal you are actively engaging your brain to help you with your goal!

What goals have you accomplished?  What are your current goals and how will you achieve them?

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photo credit: Martineric

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

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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