Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ellie Kay, Featured Expert: Front Page USA Today Story

I'm in Chicago last week, eating at "Bubba Gump Shrimp" in a business meeting. The waiter comes to our table with important issues--trivia questions:
  1. Name the two rock and roll artists that Forrest meets
  2. Name the three Presidents that he met.
  3. Name his three best friends (one female, two males)

So far, I've gotten all the questions right and I'm feeling pretty good about life and then my assistant for the trip (Bethany Grace) gets a call from a USA Today reporter. He's doing a feature cover story on ways Americans are cutting back on "luxury items." I take the call outside the restaurant (did I mention Chicago was a chilly 5 degrees?) and tried to get out of the "Forrest" frame of mind and into the "Financial Expert" mode.

He said: "So do you think that the American public is headed for a recession."

I said: "Life is a like box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get."

He said: "Um...people are cutting back on things like Starbucks and Evian water, do you think that's smart?"

I said: "My mama always said...stupid is as stupid does."

He said: "That's fascinating, do you have any thoughts on the perceived peer pressure among people who are saving and those who are not?"

I said: "I just had 19 Dr. Peppers, I have to go...."

After about 30 minutes of this, the poor guy had to either end the interview or end his life. I guess he's still alive and I must have managed to say something worthwhile as the piece ran with my incredibly Forrest-like wisdom included. For the full article, go to .

As a result of that story breaking today, my offices were contacted by CBS radio and I did a slightly better interview for them than my Bubba Gump shrimp interview. You'll hear that airing throughout the day as well.

Just remember one more thing, if you follow the tips in this blog, you'll be able to get where you're going. You can have your savings and some of your luxury items too--if you cut back the smart way. Just step in my shoes and I'll take you there because "Mama says they was magic shoes, they could take me anywhere."

And that's all I have to say about that.

Ellie Kay

"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentines Day

Valentines Day.
Bob gave me a sweet card and a Lladro figurine of a "Bride and Groom Couple" which was beautiful. The male was in a top hat, the female had delicate flowers in her hair. And did I mention they were dogs? Yes. Very cute, it made me howl with laughter when I opened it up, especially since, at that very moment, our dogs were jumping on me and wrestling. fun. fun.

Philip mailed me the sweetest card and signed it "I love my mama." Bob gave Bethany flowers, a CD and a card and Philip gave her the most wonderful "Sisterfriend Valentine" card, too. I gave the little guys chocolate and a $15 Starbucks gift card. Bethany gave Bob Sees candy.

The little boys did the "Oh, crud! I forgot about mama" routine and then Joshua announced,"Uh, when you can go out to eat, Papa and I are going to take you." While Jonathan said, "And even BEFORE you gave me this card, I was going to say that I would take you out for a Frap for Valentines." Yeah, right. I told them that this last minute, oh-crud-I-forgot-so-I'll-just-think-quick-and-make-something-up-and-hope-she-won't-notice routine was NOT going to cut it. One day, I told them, when they had wives, they were going to have to have some forethought and at LEAST fill out a card that says, "This card entitles you to a free dinner" or something other than what they did. They smiled sheepishly, hugged me and thanked me for the gifts.

Then there's Daniel. He had the biggest Valentines Day in the family--a day early. Yes, my baby boy got engaged last night! It was really sweet, he asked everyone's permission ahead of time (Bob and I, her mom, her dad). Then he took her to their favorite place, the Botanical Gardens in FTW, and at sunset, he walked her over to a fence, got down on one knee and proposed. He said he was nervous and didn't say what he really wanted to say and he kind of fumbled, but he made it through. She started crying and couldn't stop. The ring he got her was diamonds and emeralds (her birth stone) and one she picked out. It is beautiful--simple and elegant.

Then they went to eat at the Cheesecake Factory and he gave her my book, The New Bride Guide that I had autographed to her already. On the way home from the restaurant they called me and were punch drunk in love. He was gloating at how suave and clever he was and she was just crying for joy. He's the one who called and he said, "Well, guess who has been engaged for the last couple of hours?" I guessed correctly. Then I asked to speak to her and let HER tell me how he proposed. She started crying again just retelling the story. I welcomed her to the family, told her she would be a great asset and that we loved her already. I told her that I knew she'd take good care of my baby boy and while he would officially be "hers" now, he will ALWAYS be my baby boy.

When Daniel got back on the phone, he said, "Well, mama, your baby boy did it right!" He was oh, so smug and oh, so happy and just plain drunk on love. But before he hung up he said, "But I'll always love my mama!"

And so it begins...

Friday, February 1, 2008

The $199 Cruise - Fact or Fiction? - Part Two

If you read part one of this blog, then you're asking for part two---where I tell you how you FIND these cruises and the savvy and simple ways to keep the COSTS down. Here are my Top Ten Tips for Titanic Savings to make the $199 cruise factual and keep it from becoming fiction once you're onboard.

  1. Travelzoo - The first step is to subscribe to 's "Weekly Top Twenty" and be prepared to act fast once you get notification of the $199 cruise. We've taken advantage of their deals in order to have a sweet experience in Ireland ($1199 covered two round trip tix, 5 nights at B&Bs, and a rental car) and honey time in Hawaii ($799 covered airfare for two and 5 nights on Waikiki Beach)
  2. Relocation Cruises - If you don't want to just sit and wait for the Top Twenty, then do your own research at "$199 Cruises" and "Relocation Cruises." The latter cruises are special deals when a ship is being taken to a different port for a new assignment. For example, if the ship is relocating from the U.S. to Europe to be put into service for a Mediterranean Cruise--they take passengers for the 10 day journey and then you fly home. You will pay more that $199 and you'll usually pay a one-way ticket as well, but there are fabulous deals to be had.
  3. Just Say No - This little tip will save you an accumulation of hundreds of bucks. Closely evaluate all the "specials" offered on ship. You might as well call them "money makers" for the cruiseline. They offer art, jewelry, alcohol, and spa services as soon as you get on board. For example, you can sign up the first day for spa specials, but is it really a good deal to have a $239 stone massage for only $199? NO, it's not. Instead, I chose the $99 "Ladies Night Out" special where I got five, fifteen minute spa services (facial, massage, hair treatment, etc). Say "no" to spa extras (see below), special drinks, jewelry (it will likely be on sale for 50% the last day of the cruise), photos, etc.
  4. 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. Then they start to tell you how your hair is really in bad shape, or your muscles need a special oil, etc. They convinced me that I desperately needed $212 worth of hair treatments & body lotions or my hair would fall out and my back would stiffen up. Thank goodness I came to my sense before at the register when I saw the total in black and white. When they start this part of their job (they are required to do it), then say something like, "You know, if you don't mind, I'd like to just relax in silence a while, I need the space." They'll understand and you'll walk away the relaxing knowledge of savvy savings.
  5. 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. Plus, you might feel obligated to drink your weight in soda if you bought a pass and the end result will be an unhealthy feeling (even diet soda!). The goal isn't to leave the cruise feeling bloated and stressed, but healthy and relaxed instead!

  6. 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. On board, water sells for $2.50 to $4 per bottle and it also costs that much on shore at excursions, too. 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. Keep and refill your bottles to save a lot.

  7. Digital Pix - One of my fave nights is formal night because Bob wears his dashing Air Force Mess Dress uniform that he spent 25 years earning (and still fits in) and he upstages the Captain! The downside is that people usually ask him questions about the ship, like how fast is it going, how much time he spends on the bridge, etc. Formal night photos are a must. By all means take pix from the ship's service, you can look at them later and don't have to buy them. But 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.
  8. Rank and Research Shore Excursions - You could easily double or triple the bottom line total for your cruise by spending money on shore excursions. Before you sail, when you go to the cruise website to print your boarding pass, look at the shore excursions and print out the options. Or do this as soon as you get onboard. You and your sailing mate (spouse, friend, mom) should rank order the excursions, The first step is to pick the ones you like best for each port. Each person pick their top three for each port of call, giving a number of 3 to your top pick, two for the second best and 1 for your last choice. Give the same ranking for the excursion with the most time (i.e., a 5 hour island tour, etc) 3 for the most time, 2 for the second most, 1 for the least amount of time. Finally, rank the costs of each--3 for the least expensive, 2 for the next expensive and 1 for the most money. Add up all of these and the excursion with the biggest number is usually the best value.
  9. 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. Bring your own water bottles (see Tip # 6) and don't throw away the bottle when you're done. 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 (we order room service the night before a port of call and have all these delivered to our room). If the port is close to the town, you can even walk back on board (getting that coveted exercise) and eat lunch on board, then go back out again.
  10. 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, plenty of people do that when it's not worth your time or the entertainer is offensive). Sign up for free classes (salsa, line dancing, pilates, yoga, etc) and try your hand at karaoke. Do these with your new shipmates to multiply the fun. It's all part of the cruise experience!

Happy Cruisin'!

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