Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twelve Summer Savings Tips

School is out for Summer! So it's time to post my top twelve summer savings tips that can help you get through the summer with your savings and your sanity intact:

1. Use Cash, Save 20% – Use cash for three main problem areas: food, entertainment and gas. Put the budgeted money in three separate envelopes. When you go grocery shopping, go to your cash envelope and do the same when your family wants to go to a movie. The constant visual cash reminder can save as much as 20% in each area. And you avoid going further into debt by not using credit cards.

2. Book It – offers a coupon book that is available for 150 metro markets and usually costs between $25 and $45 but is on sale for only $10! Preview the coupon booklet for your area (or an area where you will vacation) to see if the coupons are ones you will use. An added benefit: you’ll not only save on eating out, but you can also save on movie theaters, theme parks, dry cleaning, and at local shops. Average advertised total book savings—$17,000. To redeem only 25 percent is an annual savings of $4,250.

3. For Movie Fanatics – Check with your local theater for special discount days or about reward programs for frequent visitors, some of which may also offer discounts on food and even free future tickets. Some theaters offer “Summer Movies” that are designed for kids and can cost as little as $1. Be aware that you can often purchase the matinee ticket at discounted prices. Sometimes the difference in a full price and matinee price is only ten minutes (the 5:55 PM showing is cheaper than the 6:05 showing). Some theater chains have special purchases of multiple tickets (usually packages of 50) that can be redeemed over a specific period of time—but make sure you will actually use these in time in order to maximize the value of your investment. Your employer, credit union, credit card provider, alumni association or even your union may also offer movie discount values.

4. New and Improved Staycations – Replicate a "taking a vacation" feeling without going far by exploring your town or region like you never have before. Check out the “newcomers package” at your local chamber of commerce or visit your regional parks and recreation website to discover programs available for families. At, search your area for fun tours for seeing how things are made. Many historic homes and governmental buildings, such as state capital buildings, also offer free tours. You might be surprised at all the fun things to do right in your backyard. And speaking of your backyard, why not stage a family campout? Your family gets to sleep in tents, tell scary stories and make s'mores (over a propane grill).

5. Eat New for Less – If you want to try a new restaurant but not pay full price, go to, a site that issues coupons and gift certificates for over 6,000 eateries around the country. Our family picks a spot and pays $10 for a $25 gift certificate—we save over 50 percent in the process. The average restaurant bill for a family of four is $86. Our family saves $43 x 52 weeks = $2,236. Also watch for summer sales on this site, we recently bought $25 gift certificates for only $2 for a couple of local eateries.

6. Plant a Vegetable Garden or Try Community Gardening – Stake out a piece of the backyard or fill window boxes, barrels and tubs, urns or even pots and hanging basket with seedlings and starter plants for a vegetable and/or herb garden. Aside from the food bill savings, harvesting the bounty with your children will provide months of good taste and good cheer. Some neighborhoods offer community gardening where you pay $5 for your plot and get to know your neighbors while gardening. If you don’t have access to community gardening, but know a friend or colleague that loves to garden, offer to help with the cost of plants and seeds and care products in exchange for going shopping in their garden.

7. Big to Little Bag – Whether you’re wheeling around town or on a 300 mile road trip, avoid fast food joints and pricey convenience store traps by buying healthy snacks in larger quantities and then packing them in reusable containers and keeping them in your car. Any time you divide menu items from a larger quantity to a lunch bag size, you save BIG! For example, buying a two pound bag of mini-carrots and dividing them into snack size plastic bags, I’ve saved 40% over the prepackaged, smaller baggies of carrots. Do this for chips, cookies, nuts, fruit snacks, raisins, grapes, sweet snap peas, celery, cherries, and anything else your family enjoys!

8. Get Everyone Their Own Bottle – The same advice above applies to drinks. Instead of pulling over to buy expensive bottles of water, soda or juice, everyone in your family should have their own colorful, reusable plastic bottle filled with their favorite refreshment. Toss them in a cooler and take them along wherever you go and lap up the savings while being good to the environment.

9. Breakfast for Dinner – Being creative is the key to cost savings and along that line you can have a "breakfast for dinner" night. My kids love it when my husband makes waffles on Sunday and we freeze the extras for a breakfast night--it saves time AND money.

10. Don’t Get Zapped – Electricity is a big expense in the summer, and some states are offering a special discount for those who are willing to restrict their use during certain times of the day. It can be as simple as raising an air conditioning setting during the day and running your swimming pool pump at night. Our family has a band on our air conditioning unit that saves us $150 per month, & we’ve stayed cool with temps as high as 115 outside! Check with your power company for details.

11. Flush Wisely – With bathrooms in use more with the kids home 24/7, save money with water displacement. Don’t put bricks, however, in your toilet tank to do so. They can break apart, clog pipes and cost you thousands of dollars in repairs. Instead, use a one quart plastic container that will not interfere with the toilet flapper valve and put this in the tank. It will save $150 per year per bathroom. In our house that is $450 per year!

12. Stop Doing Dishes! – Every now and then I give some advice that I really like! If you stop washing your dishes by hand and only run the dishwasher to clean your dirty dishes, you could save $1.50 per load. The reason is that it costs money to heat the water and pipes in your home, which is something that happens every time you wash a few dishes by hand.

Here's the most valuable tip of all: hug, love, kiss and squeeze those munchkins as much as you can because they grow and go too quickly!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Credit Card Reform - Ellie on Neil Cavuto Today

The Senate passed a bill for credit card reform and this populist idea may end up costing the good credit managers more as they shoulder the burden of those with poor credit problems. In the next two years, government stress tests indicate that companies will chargeoff 82 billion in bad debts and that money is coming from somewhere. Today on Neil Cavuto, here is what I suggested:

What Consumers can expect:
  • Annual Fees - 50 million of you are paying no fees but I believe you'll be charged in the future while existing annual fees are likely to rise
  • Higher APRS - beware that in many cases, using your card after the APR has been raised is the same thing as accepting the higher APR
  • Reduced limits - if your limit hasn't changed yet, it probably will and if you are not aware of the limit change, this could result in an over-the-limit fee
  • Altered Grace Period - your new due date could be sooner than you thought and the result is a hefty late fee
  • Hidden Fees - When it comes to recovering 82 billion in chargeoffs and 20 billion in lost revenue from fees, credit card companies will get creative in what they'll charge you for!

What Consumers can do about it:

  • Call in -- When you receive notification of higher APRs, lowered limits or annual fees be prepared to call the credit card company and do what you can to try to get back what they have taken away from you. Read my blog on what to say and what not to say in my tagged consumer debt label.
  • Caution - Do NOT cancel your major bank card just because they've added an annual fee--this could hurt your credit score in a significant way! If you've had the card for 5 or more years and cancel it, then your longevity is affected in your credit scoring. So be strategic in what you cancel and when.
  • Control - Make sure you are in control, in terms of knowledge, of your card's changes. If you receive any kind of notification about grace periods, credit limits or higher APRS, then read the fine print in order to understand what limitations are being placed on your card. If you don't understand the fine print, then call the company and ask them when your new due date is, what your credit limit is, what your new APR will be and if using your card constitutes acceptance of the new APR. Also ask them if there have been any other changes to your credit card agreement (this is where you may discover some hidden fees.)
  • Creativity - With the reduction of reward perks and cash back savings, it may be time to look outside your own credit card for rewards on the items you purchase. For example, at the site you sign up free and get anywhere from 1% to 25% deposited into a 529 savings plan for items purchased. Also be sure to check in the future ( a few months from now) in order to compare what other credit card companies are offering in terms of rewards and perks. There may yet be something left for those of us with good credit!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ellie on ABC News "Money Matters"

It's one of those west coast satellite interviews where I'm picked up at my hotel at 5:40 AM, in studio by 6:00 AM and on the air by
6:30. Except things don't always go as planned--especially in media.

I really enjoy being on shows like Money Matters because the hosts are out to give people news they can use, so there's good natured bantering associated with the practical tips.

I arrived at the west coast ABC bureau and they put me in a studio. As they were putting on my microphone, the audio feed box broke--something clearly beyond anyone's control. The tech (who has been doing TV stuff for 25 years) fiddled here & there and kept saying "Oh no!" and "this isn't good." Trust me, these are not words that bring comfort as you're waiting to on national television in front of a gazillion people. But this guy looked resourceful and he kept fiddling, trying one thing after another.

By now, we're 5 minutes to air. Finally, he takes a phone and a microphone, then DUCT TAPES the microphone to the top part of the phone. Then he plugs the audio feed into the phone and puts the mini earpiece into my ear. This allowed me to "hear" the producer on the phone from NY and also hear the host ask me questions! All of this you'd never know to watch the piece on Money Matters .

The result is a fun, upbeat piece on Mother's Day gifts that you can even use for Father's Day too, if you want to get a jumpstart on that holiday.

As a mom of so many, I find that Mother's Day isn't just "a" day around our house--it's a season by the time all the gifts come trickling in from all the kids. Hope YOU have a great Mom's Day, too!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)