Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The $199 Cruise: Fact or Fiction? - Part One

Is the $199 cruise a reality or is it a scam that will cost you four times as much? The answer is "YES" to both questions! If you know the ins and outs of the $199 deal, you can be cruisin to savings and have a fabulous time, as we did earlier this month! However, if you aren't cautious and act like a first time cruiser, then you're sunk.

You can always tell the first time cruisers because they ask certain questions. Here are the top questions that real life passengers have asked the cruise director
and his comments in red:
  • What elevation are we? Uh, it's called sea level....
  • Has this ship ever sunk before? If a ship sinks, do ya think they're really going to use it again?
  • Does the crew sleep onboard? We have helicopters that transfer the cruise to and from the ship while we're at sea--whaddayathink?
  • Is the toilet water saltwater or fresh? And why does it matter?
  • Does the ship generate its own power? Well, either that or we have the world's longest extension cord (purchased at Costco) that runs from Los Angeles to Mexico!
  • Do we have to go on shore for shore excursions? Let's see....they're called SHORE excursions, which means they're on the SHORE.

We weren't first time cruisers, so it's easy to compare this $199 venture with a previous trip we had on the same ship. Our recent trip cost $199 per person PLUS, we got a $100 ship board credit (per room). So it cost $298 for Bob and I to get onboard. For that basic price, we got our room (without a view), all the food we could eat, access to free shows and classes, use of the gym, use of the formal dining room, and access to all ports of call.

On our previous cruise, we paid $800 per person, no shipboard credit, for a total of $1600--which was a GROUP rate. (When you travel with a group, the costs are often more--not less--because you are also paying for the group meeting room and for the event planners to get their cabins free.) Sometimes, for big name cruises (like John Tesh), you are paying for the privilege of getting near the famous person with their "special" group rates.

Both of our trips were Mexican cruises, and the more expensive cruise had slightly better ports of call and a slightly larger room with a small porthole. Otherwise, we had all the same amenitiesl With the group cruise, we had required meetings and were a bit restricted in what we could do because of this. On our non-group cruise, we weren't in the room anyway, so we were content with our $298 version, it wasn't worth $1300 more! We also had unrestricted use of our time to do as we pleased and it was more relaxing.

The bottom line for us was that we did all the shore excursions we wanted (our top choices), bought souveniers, had a few spa treatments and had a fabulously fun time for a final, out-the-door total of $400 per person or $800 for both of us. Our previous cruise, as first timers doing the best we could, cost us $1500 per person or a total of $3000. Look for part two of this blog for the practical tips to Titanic savings and ways to keep those out-the-door costs down!

Happy Cruisin' !

Ellie Kay

"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

Monday, January 28, 2008

One Tip To Save Thousands Each Year!

When I was a little girl I was a big fan of Peter Pan (the Lost boy not the peanut butter) and I believed in fairies. I remember making fairy wings with my seven-year-old girlfriend, they were beautiful. We would walk up a few steps in her house's open circular stairway leading to the second floor. Then we'd jump and "fly" with our wings. Our goal was to jump from the second floor. We kept flying off "one more step" until we were halfway up and got caught by her mom. Drats! Our airborne hopes were "grounded" and we went back to playing Chinese Jump Ropes instead.

If there is one tip you can use that is almost like sprinkling fairy dust over your finances, it would be to improve your FICO (or Fair Issac Credit Score). Currently, a good FICO can make the difference between paying $900 a month in mortgage payments or $1400. It can mean a $395 car payment or a $600 payment. It can mean you pay more in car insurance with a low FICO or you lose the job or the promotion because your employer checked the scores. This list could go on and on, but a better FICO can literally save you thousands of dollars each year---and its so easy to improve your score in three simple steps:
  • Step One: Pay A Day Early Rather Than A Day Late - Late payments can cost you as much as $45 dollars in penalty fees and they are a hit on your FICO as well. Set up an automatic payment online at your credit card provider's website and you'll never be late again.

  • Step Two: Pay A Bit More Than The Minimum - By paying as little as $10 more than the minimum balance on your credit card bill, you will improve your score. This shows up on the record as "paying down" your debt and it helps a lot!

  • Step Three: Proportionality Plus - Keep the proportion on your various cards at 50% or below to improve your overall credit picture. This means that if you have a $5000 limit on a particular card, you don't want to charge more than $2500 on this card. Redistribute the debt on your existing cards to remain at 50% or less and you will truly help your FICO score.

Peter Pan had a score to settle--and you do, too! But you don't need fairy dust, you've got a good FICO to keep your finances flying high!

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

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cheaper Doesn't Mean A Better Value

When I was a beginning saver, I used to think that cheaper was always the best way to go. Then I grew up and realized that value is what really matters. For example, I could buy store brands (or other brands) of dishwashing soap that are cheaper, but they are mainly water. Whereas a bottle of Dawn has 40% more cleaning ingredients per drop than these other brands and one bottle lasts longer because of the cleaning power. It gets my dishes sweet smeeling clean. Plus, I usually have coupons for my favorite Dawn products.

The product I'm really hooked on right now is the apple scented Dawn that performs a double duty: it's a dishwashing soap and an air freshner as well. That's twice the bang for your buck and that's my idea of value!

Keeping it clean!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Great Time to Save on Groceries!

Well, he did it again! Jonathan, our second to the youngest, went to the store with me and used his own coupons to buy some protein bars, healthy snacks and drinks for his "Matheletes" competition this week. He used several "savings factors" and his bill started out at $14.30, but he only paid $2.13.

The first thing he did was to buy items on sale, the second savings factor was to use a store coupon, then he combined a manufacturer's coupons and we went to a double coupon store. That's FOUR savings factors for this fourteen year-old. If he can do it, YOU CAN,TOO!

An average family of four, eating carefully, with an annual income of $46,000 will spend $136 a week. Because the cost of food is on the rise, this average family will see a 4% increase in 2008, or an annual food cost of $7354. However, there IS a way to cut these costs dramatically, just as Jonathan did.

Another way to save involves a great new site that calls "The Google of Grocery Savings" is . They list specials from over 250 retail chains, 750 versions of flyers and approximately 25,000 weekly advertised specials. You can join for free, they offer nutritional information on 100,000 grocery products, and there's even a "coupon gallery."

As with any site I mention, please do your own research and remember to set up a "junk mail" account for registrations. You can also select whether you want to recieve additional information or not (which will help with junk mail).

If the average family I mentioned earlier only saves 30% on their grocery bill in 2008, that's over $2200 that they could use to pay down debt, go on a vacation, or pay for their kids college!

You Can Save Great in 2008!