What Are Your Kids Gift Expectations?

The boys were a little puzzled about what to do on their last duck hunt

I hear some people complain that they have to buy expensive things for their kids because it’s what they expect.  Some don’t know what they are going to do this holiday season as times are getting tight.  How are we going to get little Johnny the latest (insert expensive popular toy here)?!?

Here’s what I say – Don’t!!

Where do your kids get their expectations from?  Do they get them from friends?  From television?  Those are influences but not the real source.  Children get their expectations from their parents!!

If you make it a habit to buy your kids expensive gifts for every occasion then you are setting yourself up for financial trouble!  The younger you start the worse it will be.  If you are already buying expensive items when the child is a toddler what are you going to do when they get older?  How about when they are in their teens?

It’s tough to tell kids they won’t be getting all the goodies they are used to. But if your spending is putting you in debt or you don’t have an adequate amount for savings and retirement then you better re-think your holiday spending plans!  Make your kids understand that they won’t be getting as much this year.

But all their friends are getting it!! Hmm.  Are their friends paying your bills?  Are they putting money away for retirement.  Are they making sure the mortgage is on time?  I didn’t think so.  Teach your child to take pride in who they are not what they have.  This lesson will be valuable for their entire life!

And you better practice what you preach!! Your child’s expectations come from watching you as well.  Don’t think you’re getting that new flat-screen TV or expensive cell phone while they don’t get the goods.  Parents must set the example for their kids.  We are not our stuff!!

Say that to yourself – We are not our stuff! It’s important.  Get this into your mind set and teach it to your children, not just by explaining but by setting the example.

I’m not saying don’t buy any gifts. But watch what you buy for your kids.  Yes, they love getting stuff.  I know I did as a kid.  But what is the child really getting out of it?  Are they using and loving the gift?  Not just for a day but for months, maybe years?  Or did they say it was their favorite for a few days then it joined all their other stuff in the corner?  Do your kids really appreciate the gift?  If your always buying them expensive stuff then your kids will start to see you a the person who will get them stuff.  Not for the person you are!  Think about that.

Stop the cycle of consumerism that hurts us in the end. You don’t have to buy your kids everything they want.  Let them love you as the great parent you are rather than the person who gets them stuff.  They won’t hate you if you don’t get them all the hottest toys.  If they say they do then think about the values you are teaching them.  We all want to make our kids happy but we need them to grow up responsible too.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Gaetan Lee

What We’re Doing To Adjust To One Income

Contando Dinheiro

As I told you yesterday we’re moving from a two income family to one income. This will take some adjusting on our part.  If you’re considering moving from two incomes to one you should check out 9 Tips For Going To One Income from PT Money.

Among the things we have done so far to adjust:

  • Changed my 401(k) contributions – I was contributing more than the company match for my 401(k).  I’ve now lowered it to the company match.  Anything lower than the company match and I would be missing out on free money.
  • Roth IRA contributions – We lowered our monthly contribution to our Roth IRA’s.  Yes it’s important to save for retirement but for right now we need to make sure we can handle our new budget constraints.  If we find we have enough left over we’ll up the amount.
  • 529 Plans - Again, it’s important that our kids are able to go to college but having money now is more important.  We didn’t eliminate contributions, just lowered them.
  • Tax Withholding – With my wife not working I plan to change my tax withholding so I can keep more of my paycheck.  We’re waiting to hear back from our accountant for advice on what we should set my withholding for.
  • Health Care – Our health care was through my wife’s job.  I’ll have to switch it over to my company’s once my wife’s coverage officially ends.  This will cost us as my wife had free coverage and I don’t.  We had to keep this in mind when we worked out our budget.
  • Look for ways to trim expenses – The Starbucks days are coming to an end.  And now when we go to Target or BJ’s we’ll go in with a set list of things we need and not buy things we want.
  • Work on finding alternate sources of income – We’re keeping an eye out to see if there are any ways to earn some extra money.  I’d love to say this site would help support us but blogging isn’t as lucrative as some make it out to be.
  • Go through all of our monthly bills/expenses – We made sure to see where our money was going monthly.  We didn’t want to build a budget then find out we skipped something that would make us go over.  Make sure you check for any automatic contributions or payments you may have set up!

This will be a big adjustment for us but it will be worth it.  We’ve saved and planned and budgeted and I think we’ll be fine.  A little tighter than we used to be but fine.

Do you have any other ideas?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Jeff Belmonte

What Is Raising A Child Worth – We’re Going To One Income

island hopping

What is it worth to raise your child? Is it worth giving up an income?  For us the answer will be yes.  First the first time in a long while my wife will not be heading back to work this September (she works in education).  Instead she will be staying home to raise our little guy and our princess (19 months and 8 yrs old respectively).  This wasn’t an easy decision for us.  Giving up her income will require us to be a lot more frugal and we’ll really have to watch our spending now.  Our future savings will also decrease as we won’t have as much to put away.  We have  a nice cushion already and I think we can do this; it just requires us to change our lifestyle.

Here is why we’re moving to one income:

  • Child Care Cost – We were paying a LOT in child care.  And yet for all we were paying our son was getting sick way too often, catching bugs from the other kids at day care.  Not that the day care was bad; it’s just inevitable that a child gets sick and spreads it around.
  • Sick Days – My wife took a lot of sick days during the last school year.  As I mentioned the little guy was getting sick a lot.  Day care is supposed to help us go to work but it was causing a lot of stress instead.  Let’s face it, it’s painful seeing your child sick and not be able to do much about it.  And my wife was getting to a point where her sick days were going to start costing her.
  • Stress of getting around and making arrangements - Mornings were hectic to say the least in our home.  Getting two kids ready and getting to work on time s a big deal.  The evening before we had to make sure everything was prepared and laid out for the next day.  Then there’s actually dropping the little guy off and picking him up (sitting in traffic, finding a spot, etc…).  Ever leave you child with someone else and have him cry for you?  It will break your heart!  We also had to find arrangements for our daughter after school for a good part of the year.  And because I was dropping her off in the morning I was getting to work and leaving later.
  • Enjoying raising our children – Last on this list but first in our hearts, the main reason for my wife staying home to raise the kids is because we feel it’s the right thing to do.  We feel strongly about being there for our children in their formative years.  My wife originally intended to take more time out when the little guy was born but she ended up going back anyway.  Now she will take the time off to be there for them.

It’s a shame that in today’s economy having a parent stay at home to raise the kids has to be a difficult decision.  When did it switch from a second income being gravy to it being just about necessary?

Stay tuned to see what we have done so far to adjust to one income!

Have you moved from two incomes to one?  How is it working for you?

Creative Commons License photo credit: quarxdmz

Our Vacation To Virginia Beach And Such

We got back a few days ago from our trip to Virginia Beach. According to Google Maps this was around 380 miles and should take about 7 and 1/2 hours to get there (more on that later).  We drove down on Sunday morning and came back Friday evening.

I was originally going to call this our “staycation” but it seems that staycation really means that you stay home and go to local attractions.  Still, this was our first driving vacation.  In previous years we would fly to our destinations.  Since we just bought a new mini-van we figured it would be a great time to drive and save money on plane fare too!  Virginia Beach seemed close enough to drive to from NYC and we heard a lot of great things about it.

So we packed up our stuff and put the kids in the car and left Sunday morning.  Many, many hours and rest stops later we finally made it to Virginia Beach (we had a major delay at one point but more on that later).  It was basically an all day drive for us, what with stops and all.  One exciting about the drive was going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel which spans 20 miles (on the way back we saw what might have been a a Navy Destroyer passing through the channel section).  It was also interesting to see all of the different towns and landscapes in the different states (four total: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia).

Virginia Beach is beautiful! Our hotel really was just two quick blocks to the beach!  There was a beautiful boardwalk on the beach to walk along with a separate trail for bikes (we wanted to rent a bike for all of us but we didn’t get a chance).  Within two from the beach are places to eat (the four main  food sources seem to be seafood, ice cream, waffle/pancakes, and pizza), shops, a fun house, a haunted house, lots of ice cream shops, outdoor performance areas, miniature golf, and more!  It was really fun to walk around at night and take in the scenery.  In fact one of the performances we saw was the Edgar Winter Group at a bandstand right off the beach (we caught Frankenstein and Free Ride)!

An interesting thing we discovered was that Virginia Beach is close to a Naval base.  As a result there are military jets flying routes overhead all day.  Living near two airports in Queens, NY I’m used to hearing planes overhead but seeing military jets is different.  The last time I saw a military jet flying was on September 11th over the Empire State Building so it brought back some somber memories.  Once I got used to that though it was pretty awesome seeing the jets flying.  At times we would see three together flying in close formation.  If we ever go back we’ll have to tour the Naval base!

Funny story…One day my daughter wanted to go to the pool rather than go to the beach.  She couldn’t quite grasp that we didn’t drive 400 miles to go to a small hotel pool!  Well the beach won out.  As I was playing with her, jumping waves I saw a fin a little ways off.  I noticed it was a curved fin.  I told I thought I saw a dolphon but wasn’t sure.  She got worried thinking it could be a shark!  A few minutes later I saw for sure two dolphins swim to the surface.  Other people noticed it too.  In all there were about four dolphins swimming around and playing a little ways off from us.  We saw a couple jump out of the water and twist.  We must have watched them swim around on and off for the next hour!  At one point, holding my daughter up to see the dolphins, I asked her if she would have rather stayed at the pool.  Begrudgingly she said no, that it was much more fun at the beach.  Ha!  On a similar note, I had seen dolphin watching boat rides advertised for about $20 a person.  We saved a bundle by just going to the beach instead!

As well as the beach and the local scenery we also went to the Virginia Beach Aquarium and spent a day in Colonial Williamsburg.  The little princess loved seeing all of the old time building and costumes.

Remember how I said Google Maps said the trip should be 7-8 hours?  I’ve discovered that with two kids we have to add at least 30% to the time listed!  Coming home took much longer with stops and traffic entering NYC.

The trip was a lot of fun and I would definitely consider going back to Virginia Beach but it seems for us every silver cloud has a lead lining.  While driving down there we got into a car accident.  We got rear ended on the highway.  Our brand new car now has a dent in the front and a smashed in rear door.  No one was hurt and the car runs but it really hurts to have a new car get beat up like that.  The accident was the other person’s fault and insurance should cover the repairs but it did put an ill feeling over the trip.  We even considered going back home after the accident but we’re glad we went through with the trip.

In all I think we saved money by not flying off someplace.  We certainly spent money but it was less than we would have flying to a Caribbean locale.

Accident aside, we had fun and I think we have more driving trips in our future. As you can see from the Frugal Things To Do series there’s so much to see and do in this country!  Even a couple of days before the big trip we went out to Sesame Place and a couple of weeks earlier we went to the Bronx Zoo.

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!

 

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

15 Things To Do With Your Economic Stimulus Check

The government Stimulus checks started going out on April 28th. If you are expecting one you should start looking for it in May (here’s a post listing the dates).

So what are you going to do with the extra money? Here are a list of ideas for using your stimulus check:

  • Pay off credit cards – If you have any credit card debt the stimulus check will be a great way knock some of that out! Paying off the debt gives you an instant return in savings of whatever you would have paid in interest fees. Psychologically, you will help in getting the debt monkey off your back.
  • Contribute to a Roth IRA – You can take your money and put it into your Roth IRA. For 2008 the contribution limit is $5000.
  • Start an emergency fund – If you don’t already have some sort of emergency fund (three to six months expenses seems to be the conventional wisdom) then your stimulus check is a good way to start one. Even if you have one you can use the money to increase your fund. A great place to start one is with ING Direct (you can even get a $25 bonus by opening your account with $250).
  • Contribute to a 529 college savings plan – You can use the money to help save for your kid’s education by putting the money in a 529 plan. Not only do you help save for college but you might get a tax break as well depending on your home state’s plan.
  • Pre-pay your mortgage – Take the money and make additional payments to your mortgage. By making additional payments you will own your home faster and pay less in interest. Just make sure the payments go towards the loan principle and not next month’s payment (also check that your lender will accept pre-payments without fees or penalties).
  • Go on vacation – You may have been planning to do this anyway so here is a good way to fund the vacation. Go and do something that will be a great experience for the family that you will all remember.
  • Improve the house – If there’s something you’ve needed to improve on your home, such as a furnace, you can use your stimulus check to pay for it (or at least help). Other options could be new paint job, carpet, furniture, appliances, etc…
  • Car maintenance – Have you been putting off a car repair? Need new brakes? New tires? Your stimulus money can fund it. If your car is about to go kaput your stimulus check could help pay for a new car (or a good new used car).
  • Learn to invest – Do some research and take the money and start investing. Companies such as Sharebuilder and Zecco offer low-fee investing. You have to do your homework with this option but it might be just enough money to start investing but not so much that you will be crazy worrying if you lose it. If you invest through Sharebuilder you can buy partial shares of Berkshire Hathaway B class shares. I hear that Warren Buffett is pretty good at investing.
  • Pay off student loans – If you have high interest student loans then your stimulus check can be a great way to help pay your student loans off. Just like with credit cards paying off your high interest student loans give you the instant return in savings of what you would have paid in interest.
  • Have a nice evening out – Take your spouse out to a really great meal. Get babysitting and go to that great restaurant you wanted to try. Go see that new show that everyone’s talking about. Make an experience you will always remember.
  • Get physically fit – The stimulus check should be enough to pay for a year’s gym membership (or more than a year). Use the stimulus check as a catalyst to get in shape and make your life healthier. Not sure about a gym? Find a class such as yoga or martial arts to join. Not into that? Buy a new bike and go riding. Or get yourself some good running sneakers and running attire. Join your local running club and enter a few small races. You never know, you may one day run a marathon.
  • Go to school – Use your stimulus check to enroll in a college course or two. This can be toward a degree or just continuing education. Hey, you can take a personal finance course. Maybe learn a second language?
  • Do nothing – This is the easiest of them all. Put the money in your savings account and forget about it. You don’t have to spend it or find any particular purpose for it. It doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. One day you might find a good use for it but for now it adds to your savings.

Personally, we’re closer to the Do Nothing suggestion. Our stimulus check will come via direct deposit right into our ING account. We have no specific plans for the money so it will be added into our savings. Our check may pay parts of many of the suggestions or for none of them. Either way it will earn interest until it finds a home somewhere else.

Do you have any other ideas for using the economic stimulus check?

photo by Argenberg
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