Vacation Planning Tips

Spring is here and vacation season is quickly approaching . The costs of vacations can sometimes seem overwhelming, but if you start saving now you will have enough money to pay cash and not go into debt to fund your vacation. The tips listed below can help you reach the goal of paying cash.

Tip #1: Plan your vacation early so that you have time to set aside money. If you know that you typically take a summer vacation in July, start saving as soon after Christmas as possible. This will give you more time to fund the vacation envelope or savings account.

Tip #2: Always ask for a discount and search online for discount codes and vacation deals. The worst someone can say is “No” when you ask. My husband almost always gets a discount just by being nice and asking them to help us out. Here’s the way I look at it. If a hotel has a room that is available, it isn’t making them any money if it is empty so it is in their best interest to book it even if it is less than the regular rate. Something is better than nothing.

Tip #3: Carry breakfast and snack items with you or purchase them once you arrive. We all know that the cost of meals can be expensive and it is a good option to cut down on these costs as much as possible. I usually carry breakfast bars or granola bars for breakfast and a case of water. Many hotels now have Keurig or coffee makers in the room and you can also make tea if you prefer. It is also a good idea to share meals when dining out as portion sizes are so large now and are more than a normal serving size. We now drink water with our meal that saves around $8-10 per meal just on sodas or tea.  You can even make lemonade by asking for lemons with your water and using sugar or sweetener.

Tip #4: Find attractions that are free or are just a minimal cost.   There are usually tourist attractions that don’t cost anything that can be just as enjoyable as those attractions that cost $50 or more. My family has certain vacations we go on annually. We take the costs of buying season passes then calculate how many days it would take cover the costs of the season passes. Generally, it only takes 2 or 3 days and we normally will spend 10 -12 days per year so it is certainly best for us to purchase season passes. A perk of season passes is they normally offer discounts at stores and hotels at the location. We have bought season passes at #SeaWorld, #UniversalStudiosFlorida, #BigKahaunasDestinFlorida, #BirminghamZoo, etc. If you enjoy going to zoos, you can purchase memberships that give you discounts or admission to other zoos in the United States.

Tip #5: Make the trip more about the time that is spent together rather than the actual activities and destinations. Some of the greatest family vacation times can be spent enjoying each other’s company. Plan time during the trip for simple relaxation. Pack a few board games or card games that can be played in the evenings instead of always planning an expensive meal with little quality time together.   I assure you that your children really want more of your time, not more or your money.

Make each vacation a memorable experience and a bonding time for your family. Some day in the not so distant future your children will have families of their own and you will remember those great times you spent together when your children were still at home with you. Build those relationships now so they will last a lifetime!

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Planning your finances in your 40s

Yesterday was tax day and I hope you came out unscathed. Now it’s time to once again focus on your finances. If you are in your 40s, there are a few strategies you can use to help in planning your finances. Chances are that you either have children in college or will have children in college within a short time frame. You are probably also beginning to seriously consider retirement though it may be quite a while in front of you. You might also be caring or planning to care for aging parents. It all can be quite overwhelming at first glance, but you can alleviate part of the stress by planning ahead.

The first thing I suggest you do is consider how much you need to be putting aside for retirement in order to at least retire by age 67. This will allow you 20 or more years for your investment to grow into a nest sum for retirement. Check with your employer and financial planner to see what you need to do to ramp up the retirement account. Max out your annual contribution, if possible.

The next suggestion is to make sure you have a cash cushion on hand in case of emergencies. Typically, you should try to maintain three to six months of reserves on hand just in case something drastic was to occur. Better to be prepared in this case. Around my house, things seem to go wrong all at once. For example, the roof leaked, we had termite damage, the washer needed replacing, three of our cars needed new tires, etc. I think you get my point. When you least expect it, it usually happens.

Another suggestion is to make all efforts to reduce your debt and even pay it completely off. Once you do, stay out of debt and pay cash whenever possible! When you make it over that hurdle, you certainly don’t want to go back! Set up the plan for paying the lowest balance debt off first and work you way up until all debt has been paid off. It is a wonderful feeling!

If you company offers a flexible savings account and you typically have medical expenses, try to use the plan to help cover the costs of the expenses so you don’t have to go into debt to cover them. These accounts are also tax advantaged in that you do not have to pay taxes on the amount you contribute. However, there are limits to the amounts you can contribute and to the items that you can pay for with the funds. Some plans allow you to carryover any amount remaining in the account. Check with your employer today to see if you they offer this type of account.

Finally, if your children have not reached college age, make a plan to save diligently to pay for their college education. I speak from experience when I say the cost of post-secondary education can be quite expensive. Do your research and have you children apply for as many scholarships as they are qualified for to help reduce the cost. Even small scholarships can add up to large savings.

Make time today to consider your financial situation and the options you have to make it even better. Small savings today can bring peace of mind in the future!

Apps to help you track your spending habits

Today’s electronic environment let’s us do so many things that were once difficult to do. Personal finance apps have been created that help you monitor your personal finances. One particular area is in tracking your spending habits. It can be difficult to account for your money if you don’t know exactly where it’s going, so using an app can simplify the process. The good news is that many of the apps are free but have features you can add for a fee if you find it necessary.

App #1: Level Money – The Level Money app links to your bank account and gives you a quick view of the balance in your account. It automatically updates the balances when deposits and purchases are made. It has been described as a financial GPS system showing where you now and where you want to be in the future. The app allows you to choose spending categories and gives you a summary of the amounts you have spent in those categories. The Level Money blog offers great information on personal finance topics.

https://www.levelmoney.com/tour

App #2: Mint – The Mint app by Intuit helps you create budgets and gives you a great overall picture of your finances. Mint will also send you updates on your weekly and monthly spending and the categories where you spent your money. Areas covered by the Mint app include savings, brokerage accounts, rollover accounts, IRAs, automobiles, credit cards, etc. It covers transactions dealing with insurance, credit, lending, investments, and banking.

https://www.mint.com/

App #3: mvelopes – The mvelopes app uses the envelope budgeting system so it’s basically an electronic envelope. It captures receipts in real time so it is constantly updated to provide the most up to date information from your accounts. Currently on the mvelopes website you can receive a free eBook on personal finance. The app boasts of helping you get out of debt faster. Other features included on the app are net worth tracking, 25 spending envelopes, auto envelope spending plan view, and auto transaction gathering. The free option for the mvelopes allows you to track 4 bank accounts. There are other paid options that can be selected.

https://www.mvelopes.com/

App #4: Penny – The Penny acts as your personal finance coach as listed on the website. Penny sends you text messages including charts alerting you to where your money is being spent. This app helps you avoid overdrafts and reports where your money is going to help you take control of your spending.

https://www.pennyapp.io/

These are just a few of the are many apps available to help track your spending. I would suggest using one of the free apps to help you through the process of becoming financially free. It can make a big difference in how you view your spending habits and will help you make changes for your good. If you try one of the apps listed, feel free to respond to this post with a review of the app to let us know how you liked its features.

5 Other Daily Habits That Will Make You a Millionaire

Today’s post is a continuation of last week’s 10 Daily Habits That Will Make You a Millionaire by Daniel Ally found at (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/272753). I hope that you implemented at least one of the 5 habits discussed last week. The last 5 habits are:

Habit #6: Exercising – Oh, no. Did I actually say exercising? Yes, I did. Millionaires and others are aware that exercising is a necessity in finding health and balance in one’s life. Take care of your body and your mind will be taken care of as well. Even small activities can be helpful. Instead of taking the elevator take the stairs. There are apps that can be used to track your steps. It is interesting to see how much or how little we move each day. Make a conscious effort to get up and moving even while you are at work. Simple exercises can be done at your desk.

Habit #7: Relaxing – Well, this is a tough one for many of us. I find it difficult to relax but it is a very important habit. Relaxing clears the mind and allows the body to recover from the stress of the day. If you don’t find time to relax you will find yourself becoming burnt out. It is difficult to perform at your best when you are stressed out. Realize that you cannot control everything that happens. Worrying and stressing can take a toll on you physically and mentally. Make relaxing part of your daily routine.

Habit #8: Affirming – According to the article, the average person talks to himself 12,000 times per day! I am often my own worst critic but the author makes a point to say that what we say to ourselves can affect our lives. Keep it uplifting and focus on the positive aspects, not the negative.

Habit #9: Mastering your craft – Just think of someone you know that is great at what they do. If you take a look at their life, you would probably see they dedicate many hours to becoming great. I have read about famous athletes that attribute their ability to the fact that when others had gone home they were still practicing and trying to get better. My son spends many hours each week practicing the clarinet and it certainly shows. He could simply settle for being average but he has decided that he wants to do better than average. I applaud him for his dedication to mastering his craft.

Habit #10: Masterminding – Creating the right relationships is important in life. Surround yourself with those people who can help you and you can help in return. I try to avoid those people who drag me down instead of uplifting me. There is enough negativity in the world. We all need friends and acquaintances that will support us mentally, physically, and spiritually. I have many people who have made a positive impact on me in all three areas.

Pick one or two habits to focus on at a time. Then make them part of your daily routine. Continue working daily on these habits and before you know it that will just automatically be part of your life.