Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Grounded Pilot and A Flying Wife

Being married to “The World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot” has its ups and downs, and one of the things I discovered about my man is: His feet are restless while on the ground.

He flew fighters for a decade before I met him and eventually accumulated 4500 flight hours in seven different jets. There’s one phone call that a pilot’s wife always waits for, but hopes will never happen. I got that call two years ago when I was in NYC on business and at a Broadway show. The five minutes it took to check my voicemail during intermission forever changed our lives:

Bob had been in an accident and broken his back.

He punctured his lung, broke four vertebrae and four ribs on a gas and go in Abilene. He had just flown his last sortie: a fluke accident that happened during a routine delivery of a jet.

Bob did recover his health and is able to maintain a pilot’s license, but his back will not sustain an ejection seat aircraft. While he enjoys “flying” the Global Hawk as a civilian contractor and Cessnas as a pilot, but he always gets a sad look in his eye when a fighter flies by. I didn’t understand the depth of his loss until something amazing happened to me.

I got to fly in a fighter.

After bringing the “Heroes at Home” message to military families in 7 countries, at 100 venues, and traveling 300,000 miles to do this, with 500,000 military families reading my work and 1,000,000 military families having seen my presentations and work…the Air Force rewarded me with an incentive ride.

Bob and Joshua were also invited to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, home of the 4th Fighter Wing and the world’s most lethal tactical fighter: the F-15E Strike Eagle. They flew the simulator, but I was to fly the real deal.

I went to the flight surgeon, egress training and physiology. At the 333rd FS Lancers squadron, we were met by LTC “Rosie” O’Donnell, who took us to briefing that was led by Captain Ryan “Goat” Roper, he told me to think about the mission and how we would fly over Kitty Hawk at 1000 feet and view it from the back seat of an F-15E. His Weapons Systems Officer, Captain Sriram “Fuze” Krishnan, told me to drink a bottle of water after I asked my pilot if I could take off my air mask so I wouldn’t get sick.

Then the big man himself, Colonel Pat “Moon” Doherty, the 4th Fighter Wing Commander, could have been “Cool Hand Luke” because his demeanor was both calming and compelling. He said he knew I’d be fine and I believed him. But when we got ready to step to the jet I noticed something that surprised me about Moon. In fact, I noticed it in all the air crew for our two ship sortie—there was an excited gleam in their eyes. It was as if they were little boys but instead of being excited about playing baseball, their collective countenance said, “we get to go fly jets today!” It was the same look I’d seen on Bob’s face when I watched him launch out into the wild blue yonder.

I put on my g-suit and harness, grabbed my helmet and air mask, tucked in those pesky air sickness bags into my flight suit and we were ready. Excitement overtook me as I realized I was truly going to do this thing—I was going to fly in a no kidding, real world, operational fighter with the second best fighter pilot in the world (Bob always has to be the first).

We signed out the jet, stepped to the hanger, met the amazing maintenance crew, pre-flighted the aircraft, strapped on 30 tons of sheer power, and taxied down the runway. At the end of the runway, while we waited for clearance to takeoff, Bob and Joshua met us in a truck and took a gazillion pictures. There was a wistful look on the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot’s face. He never would have dreamed that his wife would fly in the one fighter he had always wanted to pilot, but never did.

Moon and I were cleared for takeoff and we watched Goat and Fuze roar down the runway and head into a vertical climb. Then it was our turn, no going back now! As we blasted down the runway, the afterburner screaming, we took off on the wildest ride I’ll ever had this side of eternity. We pulled about 5 g’s in a straight vertical climb and then a sharp turn out to sea. The one hour car drive to the coastline took 8 minutes. It gave a whole new meaning to the bumper sticker that says, “If I were in my F-15E, I’d be there by now.”

Fuze snapped photos of us airborne as we rose above the clouds. Moon asked what I wanted to do as he didn’t want to push me. But I was game for low levels, aileron rolls and what I call the loop-de-loop. I battled airsickness by doing every I’d been trained to do to avoid it—and Moon was right, I was fine.

We flew a formation approach (ten feet from the other airplane), then flew back out in the traffic pattern for a couple more approaches. After 1.7 hours of flight time, we could say, “The Eagle has landed.” I was beyond euphoric to have flown in this premier jet with a big time pilot and not get sick. We taxied back to a cheering crowd and when Bob learned that I held down that wonderful breakfast that Dee Dee Doherty made us earlier in the day, he gave me the highest praise that could ever come from a fighter pilot when he declared in all seriousness, “Beloved, I am as proud of you today as I was every day that you gave birth.”

I learned some things on the hot tarmac on that humid North Carolina day. For one thing, we have the finest group of military professionals in the world. Each team member I met that day was very secure in their place on the team and performed their duties with pride and professionalism.

I learned that big boys still act like little boys when they get to do what they love.
I also learned why Bob loved his work for 30 years and how hard it was for him to have his feet on the ground.

But most importantly, I learned that as much as my man suffered from clipped wings, his love for his wife and excitement over her living out a bucket list dream was greater than any thing else.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to College -- Debt Free (Part 1)

When Bethany was four years old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”
“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!” Her chubby arms held my neck tight.
“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.
She sat up straight, “I don’t?”
Wiping away her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”
I figured out later that all the drama was because Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. She thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her sad.
Fast forward the better part of two decades and she’s now a rising senior at Moody in Chicago, majoring in media communications. She’s not crying when she goes back to school, although we miss her. The good news is that she, along with all our other kids, are graduating debt-free! We don’t have any student loans and we didn’t have to refinance our house. Here are a few quick tips to pay for college. For more info, email and ask for the “College Crunch File.”

1. Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the University of Texas (Arlington) over the scholarship he got to Syracuse and TCU because he would still have 60K in student loan debt after the scholarships ran out. He graduated with honors and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice.

2. Save Big on Books by Renting – The average student pays more than $600 for course materials – the largest expense after tuition and room and board. I’ve recently partnered with Follett and found that by renting textbooks through their Rent-A-Text program, students can cut costs by 50 percent or more. CafeScribe’s digital textbooks are another great way to save, and both options are available to purchase at more than 800 Follett bookstore locations and online through Students at non-Follett schools can also purchase their digital textbooks on I ordered Joshua’s textbooks this week and saved 52%!!

3. Make Scholarships a Part-Time Job – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Go to or to find scholarships that might be a fit for you.

4. Create a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by loading funds on a campus card to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kiss Off those Group Buying Deals!

We recently had the kids back in town and one of the pix included this group shot with my four sons. They love their mama! They also love some of the good deals I buy them from sites like Seize the Deal, Local Living, Living Social,the ever popular Groupon and new group buying deals from OTA (Online travel agents) such as travelzoo. There's paintball for $35 a person, Broadway shows for $20 each, a four course meal & Flamenco show at El Cid for $22/person, and even a massage therapy session for $22/hour. Ok, that was last item was for me (and so was the Flamenco deal, if we're being really honest--OLE!).

But what is the use of spending money to save money if you do not or cannot redeem those coupons? Maybe the boys didn't come home for college break, you chickened out of the skydiving gig, or you had a really busy schedule and couldn't fit in a trip to the Beverly Hilton for that four course meal including champagne? In some ways you may be taking a leap of faith when you purchase some of these group buying deals.

The latest research shows that 20% of these daily deal vouchers go unused. But your loss may be another person's gain. Especially when there are companies set up where you can unload unused vouchers. Consumers can now sell their unwanted deals at sites such a CoupRecoup, Yuupon or Lifesta. Whether you want to unload a vacation you cannot take or a helicopter tour your wife won't let you go on, you can do it at these sites. There's even one place, DealChicken, that will give you a full refund up until the deal's expiration date.

For every deal you buy, there's a guy out there who wish he would have bought it, but passed. Lifesta will charge you 99 cents plus 8% on deals they sell and they provide refunds for phony deals. DealsGoRound has been in business the longest and is suppose to be the only deal reselling site you can use on your smartphone. Plus, they help you track the deals to remind you if it's going to run out.

So if you want to kiss off on one of your group deals, you can. But remember that you can never kiss off the fact that you love your mama!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Top Tips To Titanic Savings on Cruises

There he was, my retired military man in full uniform, with pants that could still zip and pockets that didn’t bulge at the seams! I was so proud of him as I stood proudly at his side, waiting for formal night aboard the cruise ship to start. As we chatted by the closed doors to the waiting room, Bob checked the new watch I gave him when his Stealth F-117 fighter jet was retired earlier in the month. Two warriors, a man and his jet, were now a part of history—but he still looked great in his uniform.
“Excuse me” a woman in a black jet beaded dress said to Bob, “Can you tell me how long it will be before the dining room doors open.”
Bob checked his watch, “About 3 more minutes, ma’am.”
She glided back to join her party but scarcely had she left before a older gentleman in a black tux tapped his shoulder,
“Captain,” he began, “my friends and I were discussing the average speed of a ship this size and wanted to know if you could tell us how fast your ship cruises.”
Suddenly, Bob and I both realized that some of these people thought he was the ship’s captain! The rest of the night, I enjoyed watching the attention that my retired fighter pilot got as passengers asked him various questions about the ship!
Cruising can be affordable and a great experience experience. So how you find the cheap cruises and what are savvy and simple ways to keep the costs down?

Here are some Top Tips for Titanic Saving:

Cruise the Sites - The first step is to find the best price on a cruise by going to get competitive bids on or If you are worried that the prices will go up or down, go to which predicts rates based on seven months of data. Plus, try to look for packages that include the gratuity in the cost and other benefits like an online credit voucher, gift certificates to or free room upgrades.

Pre-Cruise Hotels – If you have to fly in the night before your cruise, then book a hotel ahead of time and look for a non-refundable purchase where you can save 40% or more on a room. For example, For more info, go to

On Board Extras – This can include some of the tips below (drinks, spas, etc) but can also include jewelry “deals”, art auctions, premium dining options or photography classes

Spa Tips - Be prepared to say "no" when you go to the spa on that $99 special (or the equivalent) because they make most of their money on the products they try to sell you. It's pretty amazing, the staff starts to "sell" while they're massaging your shoulders or finishing up your beautiful hair, and while you are relaxed and vulnerable. Be prepared to say “no” even if you’re told your hair will fall out if you don’t buy their product!

Pass on the Soda Pass - The first day you may be offered a "soda pass" that gives you all the pop you can drink for one low price. Au Contraire! You want to drink lots of water, not soda on this cruise to get your money's worth. Water keeps you healthy from all the salt in the rich food.

Pack Two Water Bottles - Each person should pack two bottles of water (we stick them in shoes in our luggage) to save big bucks. You cannot bring in cases of water, or six packs of soda--that's not allowed. But you can bring a couple of bottles to use and refill. The tap water in your room is the SAME water source used for glasses of water in the dining room.

Digital Pix - One of my fave nights is formal night with Bob in his dashing Air Force Mess Dress uniform that he spent 25 years earning. Be sure to have your new friends onboard take plenty of digital pix with your own camera--you'll save the cost of the formal photo and probably get better shots anyway.

Digital Detox – Plan to go through this on your cruise. While newer ships have Wi-Fi, you’ll pay anywhere from .35 to $1.25 a minute to connect. Roaming cellphone charges take a major bite, too. So just abstain and concentrate on your family, friends and fun on the cruise.

Rank and Research Shore Excursions - You could easily double or triple the bottom line cruise total by spending money on shore excursions. Before you sail, go to the cruise website and print out the shore excursions options. Or do this as soon as you get onboard. To get the best value rank the top three for: things you want to do, the amount of time included on the excursion and the cost involved.

Book Your Own Excursions
– Just because the cruise line offers the excursion doesn’t mean you’re getting a discount. In some cases, you are pay a premium for the cruise line to get their commission! Go to, and . If you are in a US port, try websites such as’s local deals, or, which aggregate city specific deals available through Groupon, Living Social and the like.

Excursion Extras - It's important to walk and work off some of that rich food--you'll feel better and get more for your money, time and effort. Try to walk as much as possible on excursions and avoid bus, shuttle or cab fares. Eat breakfast on board before you go to save $$ on food. Try to postpone lunch until you're back on ship, or bring an apple or banana to tide you over.

It's SHOW Business
- The entertainment on board is generally pretty good--but it's a hit and miss. Get your money's worth by going to the shows (and walk out if it stinks). Sign up for free classes (salsa, line dancing, pilates, yoga, etc) and try your hand at karaoke.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gold Hits $1600/oz - What are some "safe" investments?

I was on Fox News - Your World with Neil Cavuto -- this week discussing the fact that gold hit $1600 an ounce. I want to give a big shout out to Larry Shover, the author of Trading Options in Turbulent Markets who (literally) wrote the book on how to invest during economic turmoil.

First of all, remember that "safe investing" is an oxymoron. When you invest seriously (for more than 1% on a bank CD), then you are going to face some kind of risk. But there are some areas to invest that present less risk than others. So with that disclaimer, let's look at where to put your money in a turbulent economy.

1. Stock Market (S/P 500 stocks): It's important to acknowledge that there have been and will likely be strong corporate profits. The stock market is very attractively priced - especially given the good profits and strong balance sheets of the top-tier US stocks. Could the stock market go lower? Of course, yet the "cheapness" in the stock market is a reflection of: Sovereign debt, US issues, concern of slowdown in emerging economies. It would appear a lot of this negative stuff is already priced into the market. Any top-tier (dividend paying) issue is a good long-term bet.

2. CTA: Invest in a "Commodities Trading Advisor" most of which take advantage of the various/sundry trends in the market whether they be up or down. CTA's tend to perform very,very well in economic uncertainty - especially in very toxic markets like 2008. Every portfolio should take advantage of a CTA fund that captures trends in: FX, oil, grains, indexes, bonds, et al. Warning: CTA's can be very volatile yet, history has proven that even with the volatility they tend to be less risky.

3. Gold:
According to my friend, Larry Shover, "Gold is the Casual driver of global liquidity" and,I agree. If you believe that money is to remain cheap than gold makes sense. However, if you feel there will be a spike in inflation or reverse monetary policies I wouldn't own gold with a ten foot pole. Also, golds most recent run-up to 1600 has had more to do with contagion fear than fundamentals. I wouldn't be suprised to see it back at around 1550 in the near-term.

4. Asian Tiger Exposure: Invest in either a mutual fund or ETF that has genuine exposure to the asian tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan). These are countries that are booming - without all the fetters of taxation and regulation. In fact, most of them have been described as replicating the US back in the early 20th century! Cheaper labor, low taxation, growing middle class = success!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Writers Corner - Can You Handle an SMT?

So you're a writer. Then you get a book published and now you're an author. Now it's time to try your hand at media and you begin to do "phoners" or radio interviews on the phone. Next, you have a nice break and get to do some regional and even national television. Eventually, you'll progress to the point where you'll hit out of the nearest large city via Satellite and do an interview for a major cable or network station. Then, if you're among the top 10% of authors, at some point, you may be ready to try an SMT or a RMT.

A Satellite Media Tour or Radio Media Tour is where an author is interviewed in back-to-back shows for anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. It usually starts at 6:00 AM Eastern Time, which is 3:00 AM Pacific Time (my time). This means I'll wake up at 1:30 in the morning, go to the studio, go through makeup, then rehearse the interviews, then hit the first show live at 3:00 AM. The challenge is to stay alert and high energy for the next six hours through sometimes as many as 35 interviews. You won't see your interviewers, but they will be in your ear as the the morning news teams from Boston to Los Angeles. You'll hear them ask questions while you look straight into the camera and sometimes they'll stick to the question list, but at other times they'll throw you a curve ball. You will have 3 minutes for the entire interview in which you will need to deliver your points and then it's off the air with a 2 to 3 minute break and on to the next show. Forget about going to the bathroom, that's a luxury that isn't built into the schedule!

Who sponsors SMTS? Sometimes, if your publisher has a boat load of money, they'll give you media training and sponsor a book tour SMT. But those are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Most of the time there is a corporate sponsor, who will handle the bookings, pay the expense of the SMT and handle all the details. Your job is to give a good interview based on the predetermined focus of the SMT. It becomes a win/win for the author and the corporate sponsor. You get to promote your book and the sponsor gets to say "this interview brought to you by...."

SMTs are a strange breed, but I find them to be loads of fun because I like a good challenge. They're like a media marathon and at the end, you get to go back to the hotel and go to sleep. Since most SMTs are done out of NYC, you might also wake up in time to hit a Broadway show.

It's an adventure, but one that is worth it!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Letters From Home

Dr. Dobson said that a good parent will eventually work themselves out of a job & we are quickly approaching that "jobless" state! We launched child #6 (out of 7) in the Kay Clan as Bob, Philip and I dropped of Jonathan at the United States Air Force Academy. It's in lovely Colorado Springs and Philip, our newly minted 2 Lt in the Marine Corps was on hand for the honor of seeing his hairless little brother off.

The president of the AOG (Association of Graduates) gave us a briefing, saw Philip in the audience and asked, "What are the best 4 years of a Naval Academy graduate's life?" We were thinking it was probably his four years at USNA, but the correct answer (according to the Air Force Academy graduate) was actually "Third grade."

During BCT (Basic Cadet Traning), it's similar to other military training scenarios in that there is NO communication other than the written letter. No phone calls, texts, email or facebook. This "cold turkey" withdrawal is tough on the military member as well as the family, but it is also similar to some deployments into the war zone or other "classified" areas. If you have a loved one who is in this kind of situation, no matter what kind of communication you are allowed, it's important to remember the following things:

  • Happy
  • Jonathan (and Bob when he was deployed) were intent on their training and in a very difficult environment. My letters to my son don't include bad news or griping or complaints. I've written about funny things that our grandson says or good news about my work. There will be plenty of time to catch him up on the not-so-good stuff later, but right now, he needs to be focused and just get through. Keeping the letters lighthearted really helps him.

  • Home-y
  • No, I don't mean that kind of homey. I mean that news about home, even though it may sound mundane is good. For example, our little puppy, Belle, was tethered in the living room (because of potty training) and I left the room for 10 minutes only to find that she had COMPLETELY chewed through the magazine rack---scattering loads of paper, cardboard and a huge MESS in the living room. When Bob was deployed, I told him about the kids nap schedules, play dates, trips to the store, etc. Bringing a bit of home to a military member also brings a sense of normalcy to his or her life. It communicates that the things we take for granted are sometimes the most precious parts of life.

  • Help
  • We let Jonathan know that we are here to help. He needed us to mail him his volleyball shoes because he was asked to help work out the intercollegiate girls Division I Volleyball team. (What a lucky guy). He knows we're here to next day air those shoes. He can't receive any other packages right now, but he knows that our church, friends and family are all praying for him. This is the biggest kind of help of all!

  • Hope
  • Philip gave his baby brother a few words of advice on how to get through BCT. He said, "take it a meal at a time." I know that advice is helping him in the middle of all the chaos. Bob (a class of 1978 graduate) told his son, "If you are good enough to get into the Academy, you are good enough to get through." In our letters, we express our confidence that he's going to do fine. We don't communicate contingencies such as "Even if you don't make it..." He knows that we are here for him. He needs to know we THINK he'll make it through.

  • Humor
  • The heroes (those who serve honorably and put service before self) need to keep a sense of humor. That's why we send funny pictures of puppy Belle's latest how she always grabs Anna's leash (our 4 year old mini schnauzer) and pulls her around the yard. But those "heroes at home" also need to keep a sense of humor. At the Air Force Academy, the AOG has this wonderful service called "web guy" where a small group of photographers take thousands of pictures of our basic cadets. We sign up for this opt in service and see Jonathan communicating to us through pictures. He knows we'll spend HOURS scouring the site, so he'll smile at the camera whenever he won't get in trouble for doing so. It's his way of saying, "I'm OK, Mama and Papa."

I just read Jonathan's third letter home today. He was talking about waking up at 4:30 AM, getting "hallway PT" where he's yelled at for 2 hours. Then miles of running, marching, formation, rucking (marching with a pack), or sandbag (30 lbs) PT. He tells us about "drowning" where you start to fall asleep while you are marching. Getting a letter from CO to CA may not be as fast form of communication such as texting, emailing, phone calls and facebook. But it is a heap better than what the generations from times past went through. Telegrams or letters were the primary source of communication about their loved ones. When a letter came from a servicemember, the whole family would come home from work or school and read it together.

As Bob and I devoured every word, I suddenly remembered a packet of keepsakes I received from my Great Grandma Laudeman's legacy. Her only son died in World War II after surviving the Bataan Death March, only to have dysentary at a prisoner of war camp. There was a letter in the pile that was smuggled out and was not in an envelope or stamped. It was marked "his last letter home." He said, "I suppose you have been looking for a letter from me for quite some time. Well, maybe you will get this. I am entirely all right and there isn't a thing for you to worry about. I am eating so much rice that my waistline is getting like Dad's. I can't write on both sides of the paper, so I will have to close. Love you, Dick." The letter arrived two months after his death.

We value and treasure letters home. We thank those military men and women, as well as their families for their full measure of devotion.

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)