Best Financial Advice You’ve Received

Father and son surf lesson in Morro Bay, CA 12 of 12

There’s a meme going around that I saw at The Digerati Life who got it from Sound Money Matters.  It’s basically asking everyone to answer:

What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

Probably one of the best pieces of advice I received was from my dad.  When I go my forst credit card he told me to be careful and not go into debt with the cards.  “Pay off your balances every month,” he said.  Unfortunately I was young and headstrong and had to learn mistakes the hard way.  I’d go onto opening numerous credit cards – Macy’s, Bloomindale’s, two CitiBank cards, and others.

At first I was real good with my cards and paid them off.  But as I got older with more responsibilities the balances started to grow (that and I couldn’t keep my hands off buying “stuff”).  In the end I had debt in the thousands.  I was able to slowly pay everything off with a little help from my family as I moved back in with them for a while.

I was foolish for not taking my dad’s advice to heart.  I’m sure many people out there have a similar story.  They know what the right thing to do is but somehow their credit card debt got out of hand anyway.

If you’re one of these people – You can get out of debt! It may take a while but small steps will lead to big changes over time in paying back your cards.  Start now!

If you’re not in credit card debt then make sure you stay that way!  Be responsible with your charges and make sure you can pay back everything once the bill arrives.

I’m not one of those who thinks that credit cards are evil. The mistakes I’ve made with them I take full responsibility for.  They can be very useful in fact.  But you have to be responsible with them.

I’m tagging the other members of the Money Life Network to answer the question: What is the best financial advice you ever received?  (MiB Smarter Money, Bible Money Matters, Sense To Save, Remodeling This Life, Prime Time Money, and Milk Your Money).

If you’re reading this then consider yourself tagged too!  Write about it or drop a comment here.

What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

Booking A Hotel Through An Online Travel Site May Not Be Worth It

In planning our recent trip to Virginia Beach I discovered that using an online travel site isn’t always worth it.  In fact they could be ripping you off!

every time we say goodbye

We finally decided on going to Virginia Beach and we wanted to stay as close to the beach as possible.  At the same time we really didn’t know much about the area.  My wife and I scoured the various travel sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com, etc…  Whenever we saw something interesting we checked it in Trip Advisor to see what kind of feedback people who stayed there had.  We tried to find out what we could about the area and what was available.  Because we waited so long to plan our trip many hotels were either booked on certain days or too expensive.  Finally, through one of the sites (I won’t mention which), we found a decent hotel with a rate we were OK with paying.

Here’s where it gets interesting. So we found a good rate for a room.  We discovered that for $10 more a night we could also get a Continental breakfast included.  Ten dollars more a night to get the four of us going in the morning sounded like a good deal!  Before I was able to reserve the room my wife, in her mighty wisdom, told me to check out the hotel’s site and maybe give them a call to see what they charge.  Good thing she told me that.  I checked the hotel site and I found that their rooms were the same price as the online travel site.  Ok, no biggie.  Then I discovered that the Continental breakfast was included in all the reservations!!  The travel site was going to charge me $10 a night for something the hotel gave out for free!  It gets better.  We found that the hotel gives discounts to AAA members.  I plugged in our membership card and was pleased to see that the room would be discounted another $18!

In all we saved $28 a night by going directly to the hotel’s site rather than booking through an outside travel site!  Over five nights that’s a savings of $140.

I’m sure there are real great deals out there on these travel sites but this proves that you have to do your homework.  Sometimes the best deals may be from the hotel itself!

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Creative Commons License photo credit: [charlie cravero]

Dealing With Financial Problems With A Loved One

Purity

There may come a time when a financial problem comes up between you and a loved one. Maybe it’s a late payment that runs up some fees.  It could be an old debt that rears it’s ugly head again.  Perhaps someone did a little too much damage with credit card spending?  Whatever it is the issue will have to be addressed so a solution can be figured out.

Here are some things to consider when confronting your loved one about their financial management problems:

Don’t blame or accuse the other person for the problem.  Arguing and blaming doesn’t help.  When you lay blame and argue it’s like telling the other person that you’re right and they are wrong.  It may be that’s the case but nobody likes to hear that.  Start off a discussion like this and you immediately turn your loved one off to what you are saying.  Remember the situation has already happened.  The point now is to figure out how to solve it.

State the facts.  Talk about what has actually happened.  Try not to get your emotions involved.  This means no name calling.  It also means talking about the situation at hand and not bringing up any past discretion.  The facts will help you find a resolution.

Talk to your loved one about how the problem arose.  How did it get to this point?  Ask what they think can be done to solve the problem.  Offer your help.  Suggest some ideas of your own as a solution.  Assure your loved one that you are their for them and that you are in this together.  This leads us to…

Take accountability for the problem with your loved one. “But it wasn’t my fault” you might say.  Maybe not directly but by sharing in the responsibility you let your loved one know that you are there to help them.  The fact that this person is a loved one makes their pain yours as well to some extent.  Take that extra step with the olive branch and assure them that together you’ll figure out a solution.

Remember you want to open the person up to discussion. Getting into a financial mess is embarrassing for most.  Your loved one probably knows they screwed up somehow so they don’t want to be reminded of how bad a blunder it was.  Listen to them.  Work on finding a way to both fix the problem at hand and prevent it from happening in the future.

Hopefully you don’t have many financial problems with loved ones in your life.  If you come across any, these ideas should help you work things out.

photo credit: timsamoff

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

7 Credit Card Tips From ING Direct

Pile+Of+Credit+Cards

I was just on the ING Direct site checking out my savings accounts and decided to check out their tips. They list seven great credit card tips. Check them out (descriptions are mine):

  • Make your payments on time – Very important! Late fees can be very expensive on credit cards and can negatively affect your credit score. If you have problems with the due date you may be able to change your credit card due date.
  • Try to pay off the full balance every month – Pay off the full balance to avoid any interest charges.
  • Avoid cash advances – Cash advances on your credit card have different rates than normal credit. Yeah, it’s gonna be more expensive than if you just charged it.
  • Shop around – Compare rates and services from different credit card companies to get the best credit card offers.  Find one that fits your spending habits.  Make sure to read the fine print as well.
  • Use savings to pay off the cards – It’s great that ING Direct exists offering high interest rates on savings but that high rate doesn’t compare with the interest on your credit card (unless you have a low introductory rate).
  • If you’d like a better rate, just ask – If you have been a good customer you can call the credit card company and ask for a better rate. Try telling them that you received an offer from another company with a better credit card rate; odds are they can lower it for you. Make sure you understand what the new rate is though. It may only apply to new purchases not your outstanding balance.
  • Don’t be left holding all the cards – If you have a lot of cards it means you can do a lot of spending damage. This is bad for both you wallet and your credit score. Get rid of credit cards you hardly use or ask that the credits limits be lowered (a high credit limit can hurt you for some credit card companies).

Of course you should also watch your spending as well.  Don’t abuse your card and know what you can really afford.

Do you have any credit card tips to share?

Loose Change Gets Us Free Meals On Vacation

So we usually go on vacation in the Summer.

Every time we get free meals from loose change!

Let me explain – We have two change jars in the house: one for quarters and one for all other change. This gets filled up whenever we come home for the day with change in our pockets. The quarters are for laundry so those get used pretty quick and isn’t part of our free meals. The other jar though slowly fills up over the course of the year and is usually filled to the brim by the Summer.

All year we watch the jar fill up higher and higher. It almost becomes a calendar for us to tell when it’s time for vacation! The week before our trip my wife and daughter will go to the local Commerce Online bank (yeah, it says online but they have a ton of brick and mortar locations where I live) and use their coin counting machine which is free for anyone! [This is better than Coinstar since Coinstar charges 8.9% to count your change (though if you convert your change to a gift card or eCertificate the counting is free)].

Now with cash in hand we’re ready to go on vacation.

We can usually get anywhere from $60-$100 depending on the change that’s in the jar. Maybe this only covers one special dinner or maybe this covers the first few meals for us. Either way we look at the meals as being free, paid for by change that accumulated in our pockets over the year.

Of course we understand that the meals aren’t really free.

What’s important is this is another small, disciplined way for us to save some money that we get to use on vacation. What’s more is it’s fun to watch the change grow and fun for our daughter to pour the change in the counting machine (extra bonus here is that she gets to see how saving small amounts can turn into large amounts in time).

What small tricks do you use to save money? Let me know!

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