Saturday, September 29, 2007

Castles and Tires in Germany

We finished our tour with a big bang--a tire blow out, that is! NEW TIP: When you rent a car in Europe, purchase the "tire insurance." They won't tell you about it, but you really need it. We had a defective tire on the rental and were glad it didn't blow while going 130 on the Autobahn, but we didn't realize that you have to purchase tire insurance separately!

That didn't stop our last two days in Europe, though! After our three hour delay, we headed down to Bavaria and Wendy took us on a great new adventure---driving through the Black Forest at night on winding mountain roads, trying to find our hotel right by Neuschwanstein! She made it through to our wonderful hotel, which was about 200 feet from the castle and was the caretakers "cottage."

We saved money by buying the "Royal Pass" and seeing both Newschwanstein (the castle that the Disney one is patterned after) as well as Hohenschwangau, his parents castle where he grew up. One of the things we learned about the "dream King" was that he was capable of creating incredible beauty, but not capable of doing it on a budget. By the time he died, he had bankrupted his family's fortune (but not the nation's). Ironically, tourist travel to his many castles (the tourist trade) provide the primary income to Bavaria today!
This concludes our European tour and we will be ready for life in the states once again!
Danke for reading,
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Trier, The Oldest City in Germany!

We had a fantastic time in Aviano with the military there and had the chance to do some more AFN radio and television as well. They filmed a segment that will have worldwide distribution on the AFN network and the people there were the best!

We went back to Germany and spoke in Spangdahlem with the tour. We actually gave 7 presentations that day and my kids were not surprised to find out that I did NOT lost my voice (hey! I resemble that remark!). The people we've met on this trip have been amazing, we are so proud of our military and their families in Europe.

After our tour at Spang, we went just outside of the base (about 30 minutes) on the AUTBAHN (Wendy was cruising at 130) and visited the oldest city in Europe, Trier. It was founded in or before 16BC. The Roman Empire subdued the Treveri in the 1st Century and left their mark in structures like the Porta Nigra (that I'm standing in front of). It was amazing to experience!

We had some German coffee and Pastries and are on our way to the last part of the tour--Bavaria.

Ellie Kay

"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

Venice---Not Vienna!

Wow, this has been such a whirlwind trip! We have 12 hour scheduled workdays (that's the way we like it) and 12 hour fun days (gotta get in all that sightseeing). I kept getting distracted on the way to Italy and kept saying we were going to "Vienna" rather than "Venice." Poor Wendy had to correct me as I was checking into the flight it Italy or I would have ended up in Vienna!

When we went to Vienna, we were told that the value of the Euro had gone down even more, but we had a budget and believed we could get by on that for this part of the trip as well. The key, I think, to finding values in any touristy area is to "get lost" in the heart of the city and explore the shops that are not as well known. We found as much as 50% off on the same items by doing this.

One of the things we knew we wanted to do was to ride a Gondola and on our first trip around the city we had a large Gondola driver with gray hair and an obvious love for pasta (i.e. a beer belly) shout out to us $12 each! We passed, hoping to find an "appropriate" gondola driver. You know, one who looked like the male lead in "Under a Tuscan Sun." When we got lost in the center of the city, we were not only rewarded with great values in stores, we were also rewarded with a more than appropriate gondola driver. When we turned a corner and saw the gorgeous gondola and the driver, he said, "80 Euro" (about $120 for both or $96 MORE dollars than the other option.) Well, as smitten as we might have been with the prospect of having "The Top Ten" of Gondola drivers, we were not so taken that we were going to pay too much for the right. We negotiated down to a much more reasonable sum and were off on the adventure. As we passed the beautiful buildings on the main canal, our driver pointed out sights and sang Venetian songs. Toward the end of the ride, we passed another gondola and I heard Wendy say "Look Ellie, there's the $12 gondola driver." Yes, there WAS a bit of a difference!

The second day of touring, we went over to the island of Murano, where they are famous for glass. Once again, we got lost in the middle of the island and found the best shops. When we were paying for our purchases, we asked about some items on the shelf by the register. They were slightly "damaged" and we couldn't even tell what was wrong, but bought them for 75%---so cool!

I'm so glad we got to visit Vienna--um, I mean Venice!


Sunday, September 23, 2007

London for Less

After our fab time with the Heroes at Lakenheath and Mildenhall, we had two nights in London. We searched a number of websites including and we found some great hotels but with only less than 24 hours notice, the price was higher than we wanted to pay. Then we just decided to go plain vanilla--and googled "Hotels" and "Heathrow" as we needed to stay near the airport. We found a fabulous quaint hotel for only $50 pounds per night (around $100) and and saved about $75 per night off of the lowest (acceptable quality) hotel on the websites mentioned above. This hotel was where George Orwell lived and taught school before he wrote "1984" and "Animal Farm." There was a delightful woman named June (she says, 'not July') who kept giving us a hard time with her quick Cockney wit while alternately calling us "love." They served terrible coffee and wonderful tea.

We took the underground (the 'tube') and learned to "mind the gap" (the space between the train and the platform). By paying a day pass ($13.4 pounds or $25), we were able to travel to and from our hotel all the way in Heathrow and still be only five minutes from our terminal for the morning flight the next day. We took the "Original Bus Tour" which provided us rides on the open topped double decker red buses with tour service absolutely all around London and access to four different routes PLUS a free river cruise on the Thames. We found the best method was to ride a route once, seeing ALL the sites and then hopping off on the next time around at the sites you want to see. We stopped at the Tower Bridge and saw the Tower of London and the Queen's Jewels (of course).

We made sure our credit card companies knew we were touring Europe so that there would not be a block on our cards (in case someone stole the cards and had a holiday on us!). We also negotiated away any conversion fees for our credit card purchases, which made our dollars go further as well.

The end of our day in London was miserable--to be more specific--"Les Miserables." We went to the half price ticket booth in the theater district and walked around a bit to find the best "1/2 Price Booth" as there are dozens and dozens. We saw this incredibly inspiring quality production in the Queen's Theater and at the end of the film we were sobbing. We looked around at our fellow audience and the Brits were keeping a stiff upper lip about it and kind of looking at us like "you Yanks are so emotional!" But it was soooo worth it!

Even if we didn't exactly do London FREE, we did it for a lot less than the average tourist!

All in all, It was a BRILLIANT day, love!


Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Jolly Old England--On a Dime (That is Worth a Nickel)

We went from Germany to England and discovered at the airport that British Airways said we were only authorized 1 piece of checked luggage. Now you take two southern girls and put them in Europe for 2.5 weeks and try to put their stuff in one piece of luggage. Neither one of us could travel with less than 5 pairs of shoes (what am I supposed to leave at home--the leopard skin pumps?). After an hour of discussion at the ticket desk, we were authorized a second bag at NO CHARGE (it pays to ask all your options and keep asking politely until you happen upon an alternative that works for you--and for less.)
This saved us over $100. We're having to be creative in England because the British pound is worth twice the American dollar! This is the first time I don't want to lose pounds!

We landed at Heathrow and then traveled to Lakenheath and Mildenhall, having dinner with some great friends, the Sierts. Kara Siert is a special friend whose story is published in "1/2 Price Living" and she created all kinds of welcome artwork for our visit as well. I had the privilege of sharing a book table with Kara when I spoke at both bases and she was gracious enough to allow me to tell her story in front of the wonderful military audiences.

The people we meet on this trip is the best part of it all. New friends, old friends and no foes in sight (unless you count the Lamborghini that passed us on the autobahn in Germany going 150 MPH.) The audiences in England were BRILLIANT!
That's all for now!

Ellie Kay
"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Armed Forces Network Radio and Television-Germany

Today was a great day in Germany with our military members and their families. We had an amazing 15 hour day that began with a meeting with the Wing Commander and ended with a meal of Schnitzel at 10:00 PM (a typical European meal time).
In between meeting and eating we also did some greeting! We met some wonderful professionals at the AFN studio in Germany and I gave interviews on live radio and (taped) television. Pictured are Vanessa Heinzelman and Demarno Spence. We had lots of fun in the studio, especially when they played Collective Soul on the radio in between interview spots. The AFN media really worked well as I gave my "Heroes at Home" message to capacity crowds and also gave the "Half Price Living" message as well. There were many young airmen in the audiences and the looks on thier faces when I autographed free books for them was just so incredible.

Our message is one that we hope encouarges those in the audience to be proud that they are Americans and realize how very special their service in the military is in the big world scheme of life. These men and women were handed their books and I shook their hands, thanking them for their service their faces said, "I'm so proud to serve. You made me feel special and that what I do for a living really matters." They verbazlied their thoughts and thanks. The very best part of the day was when we saw that they caught the vision of their worth to us and to other Americans.

After a truly gratifying day, Wendy and I slept like babies and were on the road at 7:00 AM the next day (today) to go to England--the next leg on our tour. Tomorrow we have another 15 hour day, beginning with interviews, several presentations at two bases and then a 2.5 hour car trip to London.
I feel that so many of you are with us in spirit and I share your sentiments of gratefulness to our military members and their families as we give these presentations.

God bless you and God bless America!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

France for less than 10 Euro

We're staying in Germany, getting ready for a busy day of media and speaking on Monday. But when we realized that France was only an hour away, we decided to jump in the rental car and go to France for dinner!

We came to the cool village and got lost and found a fabulous French Cafe and Pastry Shop where we sat to rest our wayward bones while drinking Cafe Au Lait and dining on apple pastry and meringues. It was a terrible hardship for which we paid 9 Euro. Then we had an hour to kill before the restaurant was (allegedly) to open and I saw a church steeple whose bells chimed on the quarter hour. We set out to find said church and walk off the pastry and to take our minds off of the fact we were lost in France among people who must not ever learn we are Americans.

We found the quaint church and admired it greatly and then noticed a tombstone. Much to our surprise, here is what it said: Le General De Gaulle, Presidente de la Repulique! We stumbled onto the President of France's tomb outside the church. Apparently he refused a state burial and was entombed in his home town--the village we visited.
At any rate, when we got back to the restaurant we discovered that the French don't open their restaurants on Sundays in this small village. So we went back to Germany. We saved tons of money on dinner and THAT is how we did France for less than 10 Euro!

Au Revoir

Ellie Kay
Le America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We're in Germany!


We're here! After a ten hour flight from the west coast of the USA, we arrived in Frankfurt and made the gorgeous drive to Ramstein. The German countryside is stunning and there are lovely fields, and then quaint towns and then fields again.

We tried a new product called "No Jet Lag" that is all natural. It seems to help as we were able to land at 10:00 AM (1:00 AM our body clock's time) and stay up the rest of the day. And how we spent our first day of this tour was nothing short of Bazaar!

As a matter of PURE COINCIDENCE, Ramstein AFB is having their huge annual fundraising bazaar (they sold 3 million dollars worth of stuff last year). Wendy (my biz mgr) and I had to stay up, so we HAD to walk about the endless rows of 146 vendors who were there for the bazaar. It was in two hangars and a tent--so huge that we could not conquer it in one day and will be FORCED to return tomorrow.
Well, even though it's 3:40 in the afternoon on CA time, it's 12:40 PM here in Germany, so I will simply say "Gute Nacht!"
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

10/10/80 Rule

My husband, Bob and I, were taking the puppies out for our traditional four mile walk this past Sunday at 6:00 AM. We usually stop by Vons and get a Starbucks coffee at the halfway point and I buy my four copies of the Sunday paper (for the coupons, of course!). When I was paying for them, a twentysomething year old man walks up to the cashier holding an Emmy. Yes, as in the statue. He was acting nonchalant, as if everyone in California carries an Emmy to the grocery store while buying crackers and cheese whiz.
This guy was tatted out the wazoo, had spiked hair and piercings and was walking around carrying an Emmy. Apparently, he was bringing it by to show a friend of his that worked at Vons. The award belonged to his dad, who got it in 1993 for sound mixing on a television series. He said his uncle had won 8 of them and another uncle had been nominated for 2, but never won. We asked him if he was going into the family [sound mixing] biz and he said, "No, I'm going to med school." He was totally serious.

If you want to win an Emmy in finances, then I recommend my 10/10/80 Rule (TM). This is a fail safe method of managing your money that helped my husband and I get out of $40,000 worth of consumer debt, buy a house, pay cash for cars and put our kids through college debt free.
Here is how it breaks down:

First 10% - Give Away
Second 10% - Put Away (Save)
Final 80% - Spend Wisely

By giving away the first ten percent, you free up your money to be able to help other people in your community. You can put this amount into a non-profit of your choosing, but it's important to give it away. The second ten percent should be saved for your future. I recommend an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck to the savings vehicle of your choice (regular savings, 401(k), Roth IRAs, etc). The final 80% should be spent wisely (without the use of debt.) For an abundance of ways to spend your money wisely, keep an eye on this blog or look at the bookstore for resources.
With the 10/10/80 Rule (TM) you are sure to spend less than you make, and create wealth for you and your family.
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Stay in Touch with Skypes

Today was a day of mixed emotions for me and my family. We said goodbye to some very dear family members who are moving to Jerusalem permanently. They are going to do a noble work there and we know they will be happy and prosperous in their new home, but we will miss them so badly. It was hard to kiss the babies goodbye and know that the next time we see them they will have changed so very much. We cried more than a few tears and I even bought us some of the babies special shampoo so we can have it at home and remember how sweet they smell (maybe we'll bathe our puppies in the shampoo so they'll smell sweet, too!)

We do have a major consolation and that is the wonderful invention known as Skypes. By going to we set up an internet account and can "talk" to our loved ones abroad for only pennies per minute! They accept all major credit cards and you can load your account with the currency of your choice. TIP: if you accidentally load with Euro, then don't convert to U.S. Dollars in the middle of the plan. Instead, use up all your Euro, then charge the new amount in dollars. This will save you the conversion costs.

We've got a webcam and so does our family in Israel, so the babies will be able to see us to remember who we are and we can watch them as they grow and hear the new words they are saying (in both English and Hebrew). We've also got a headset, which makes the sound much more clear. Sometimes Skypes will drop a call or there may be a delay in the transfer, but for the most part it's a marvelous and cost-effective way of staying in touch.

We not only use this to keep family close, but I use it when I'm away on business in a foreign country and want to call home. I used it when I was in China this past spring and it sounded like my family was across the street! Of course, when I accidentally called them at 3:00AM, they didn't sound quite so clear. The only possible problem is that Skypes comes into your phone system as an "unidentified" caller, so you might not be able to accept calls if your phone is set up to block unknown callers. I'm going to be going to Europe this coming week and plan on blogging and skyping my way through several countries.

Until next time!

Ellie Kay
"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

Friday, September 7, 2007

You Ever Washed a Cell Phone?

Yep. I did it again. I washed a phone that was stuck in a pair of jeans! What is the point of saving money if I'm going to have to spend it on new cell phones? Well, I stumbled across something amazing--a way to save a newly laundered phone! Print this message and post in on an inside cabinet in your laundry room because acting quickly is the key to saving that $150+ phone!
1. Don't push any buttons or try to use the phone at all.
2. Remove the battery right away and gently pat the phone and battery dry with a soft towel.
3. Get some rice in a plastic container and put the phone and battery (still separated) completely submerged in the rice. The rice absorbs the moisture from the phone and battery.
4. Leave in rice for 48 hours--without disturbing it.
5. Remove from rice and try it out!

Obviously this is not a guarantee of any kind, it depends on how badly the phone was washed and how quickly you get it on rice!

Until later,

Ellie Kay
"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)