Friday, July 30, 2010

Back to School Savings Tips

Back to School Savings Tips

I've been on KLOVE lately sharing these tips

Loving The “Two For One” – (Financial Literacy and Back to School Budgets) – Why not teach your teen two things at once such as financial literacy by using a back to school budget? Set a spending amount on a prepaid card or their own supplemental card (I added cards on my American Express account) and coach them on what their limits are for the shopping season. Whether the budget is $50 for your teen to buy school supplies or $500 for your college student to buy dorm room essentials, you can monitor how they are spending and coach them on the best ways to use their budgeted money.

Layer the Savings – In today’s economy it is no longer enough to just save by buying something on sale—today, you have to layer the savings. For the store, this means buying items on sale when you also have a coupon. Go to to see what is on sale in your neighborhood and the matching coupon.
For online shopping, look for sale items where you can also use a coupon or coupon code to save on the price, shipping and more. Go to or to find the right code. It requires a little research, but it can also translate into hundreds of dollars of savings for your back to school season.

Loss Leaders – When shopping for back to school, take advantage of the loss leaders that retailers are offering. You may get that name brand shoe for 50% off and they are hoping you’ll do the rest of your shopping at their store as well. If you take advantage of all the different stores’ loss leaders by shopping at places that honor competitor’s ads, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll save gas and time.

Little from Big – When planning for kids school lunches this coming fall, buy lunch staples in larger sizes to save by buying in bulk, then repackage them into smaller sizes. For example, take that 5 pound bag of mini carrots and put them in snack sized plastic bags for a healthy and affordable option for lunch at a 30% savings over buying the smaller pre-packaged sizes

Logistical Savings – When our kids went out of state to college and we had to buy items for their dorm rooms, we chose online retailers who also had physical stores in the town where they went to school. These vendors had site to store options where they would send the products to one of their local stores and not charge a shipping fee. This option allowed us to shop at our leisure online, incorporate all the savings factors we could, and have the convenience of our kids going to their local store to pick up the items we ordered. For example, Walmart's site to store program offers free shipping to the local store for pickup.

Limited Spending Plan – One technique we’ve used for all our children, whether they are in elementary school or college is to make saving money a family affair. We give the kids a spending plan, telling them how much money we will give them for their back to school budget. The fun comes in when we tell them that they get to keep what they do not spend. So if we’ve budgeted $75 for tennis shoes and they find them on sale for $35, then they get to pocket the extra $40. It’s amazing how our kids can distinguish between “needs” and “wants” when it comes to this added motivation of learning ways to spend less and save more. This fresh idea not only saves our family money, but it has trained all our children in money matters, making them more adept as young adults.

Lengthen The Shopping Season – One of the reasons families overspend for back to school items is because they are locked into the idea that they need all the school supplies, clothes and gadgets the first week of school. In reality, the majority of these items will be on sales or clearance, especially clothing, within the first month after school starts. So consider letting your child start the year with just enough clothing to get a good start and f inish out their wardrobe as key items go on clearance. The same can apply to backpacks, lunch boxes and sporting equipment. As long as they have a prepaid card or a supplemental card with their limit, you’ll find yourself right on track and get more for less.

Leverage High Tech Savings – One thing that I’ve learned as a mother of seven is that I only have a limited amount of time to teach my kids the things that matter most in life. By making back to school shopping a family effort, I’ve been able to train our kids in money matters in fun ways that incorporate their strengths. For example, I let our teenagers shop in a different part of the mall, encouraging them to do their online research by comparing store prices with other deals on their smart phones. For example, they see a scientific calculator in the electronics store for their algebra class, they can search to see if it’s the best price. Then they text me the numbers and I give them approval to buy it, which empowers them to contribute to our family’s economic well being while allowing them to learn financial literacy as well.

Long run Lessons – Every year, I’ve used back to school shopping as a key opportunity for my kids to learn financial literacy lessons. By setting them up with a budget through the use of a PASS or SUPP card, I’ve been able to teach them how to spend wisely and then helped them start to develop a good credit score when they are 18. They key is that I get tomonitor and track their spending so they can’t fail. The result is that my children have great scores at young ages. In fact, my 22 year old son, had a 750 credit score when he graduated, good enough to prequalify for a townhouse mortgage!

Look for Scholarships -- Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free-lunch money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. has over 1.9 million scholarships to research valued at 16 billion dollars! You child, for example, could write a 500 word essay on skateboarding or other areas of interest—there are thousands of scholarships that go unused every year because kids don’t apply for them. Don’t forget to have students apply to local civic organizations and community scholarships as well—the high school counselor should have a list of these scholarships.

: Locate Discount Books - Buying your books from a used bookstore can save money, but buying them online can save even more. My son, a journalism major, bought had a book that was $150 new, $30 at a used book store and he found it for $1.50 at You can also try Campus Books or Abe Books to compare prices across the internet to find the best values. Just be sure to buy them two weeks before classes start. As soon as you get your book list, begin your search because the early bird gets the best value on books!
Happy Back to School Savings!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Family Road Trip

This week on ABC NEWS NOW, I talked about how to take a Family Road trip that won't traumatize your children! I remember my dad stuffing us kids in the back of a VW bug and traveling from TX to IN, making about 600 miles per day. Need I say more?

Here are some ideas that will make your family trip a lot more fun and affordable.

Q. First of all, let’s look at a question that many families are asking: is it cheaper to take that long family road trip, or is it more cost effective to fly?

ELLIE: It’s all in the numbers including how far you have to travel, how many family members and how many nights on the road. It’s going to be pretty easy for you to calculate the bottom line for flying versus driving. Just go to to calculate the mileage, gas, travel time and carbon footprint of anywhere in the US. You’ll also need to go to to add that expense to your total. Then, go to to find the best price on airfare. This site will compare the prices from other travel sites such as expedia, orbitz, Travelocity, cheaptickets and more. Don’t forget the rental car if you’re flying, you can research that on .

Q. One of the greatest expenses while traveling down the highway is for snacks, lunch and dinner. It can not only get pricey, but these purchases can also take a toll on health as there seems to be an emphasis on eating fast food while on the road. Do you have any ideas on other options?

ELLIE: If your children are little, the stops you make on the road are essential for them to be able to get out and stretch their legs—adults need that, too. When our kids were little, we packed a lunch for the first day on the road and stopped at roadside parks. It’s easy to plan these stops with the assistance of your GPS or your smartphone, just locate a parks along the way and plan accordingly. To save money on snacks, pack some healthy options in individual bags for each family member and include options such as carrots, grapes, cherries, pretzels or trail mix.

Q. One of the tips you share is to set realistic expectations. So how long can you realistically expect to travel in a car with a three year old?

ELLIE: I think that you shouldn’t try to conquer more than 300 miles a day with a preschooler, because they’ll arrive tired and cranky at your destination AND SO WILL YOU! You need to know your child(ren) and adjust your expectations accordingly. Are you one of those blessed families whose kids sleep as soon as you get in the car? Then you can probably handle a few more miles a day. Does any of your family members have health issues that require frequent stops, then add some extra time to your trip so you aren’t stressed. Setting realistic expectations will help you and your family have a better trip.

Q. Another challenge for families is keeping the kids occupied. Older children can use their Ipods to stay busy and everyone enjoys movies on the way. But even these options can lead to the inevitable boredom as kids start to get restless. You’re a mother of many, what do you suggest?

ELLIE: I think this is where creativity comes into play. When our kids were all school aged and we had a long trip (or a military move), I shop ahead of time for small games, books, activity puzzles, little toys and other trinkets I knew they would like. Then I’d wrap these “surprises” in gift paper and put each child’s name on it. At the top of every hour, if they were good on the road, we would give them their individual present. Sometimes, a grouchy child wouldn’t get his because he wasn’t co-operating. He’d watch his siblings playing with their gifts and it would motivate him to behave. I also think that an adult should be in charge of not only disbursing the surprises, but also handing out the individual snacks at certain times as well. You can give them out at certain mile markers that the kids can look for and it becomes an effective way of passing the time.
This is also the time to develop your own traditions. My older kids liked creating Mad Libs and played slug bug or I Spy. But our younger kids developed a game called, “Name that movie line” which became a tradition in our family. We still play it when we get together and find it creates family bonding moments and is a unique Kay Family Tradition.

Q. How do you feel about souvenirs? Do you think that saving money means you just say “no” to the t-shirts, coffee mugs, statues and commemorative books?

ELLIE: I think that souvenirs are an important part of any vacation time but it’s also important to not overspend on these category. We give our kids a budget for souvenirs and let them choose. We also encourage them to pick things that are of a better quality and yet inexpensive such as spoons, shot glasses, or magnets.

Q. What if you haven’t taken a vacation yet and don’t know if you can afford it. Do you have any creative ways to save money on a place to stay on the family road trip?

ELLIE: If you have friends that you like a lot and think your friendship can survive the test of a family road trip and vacation, then double up with that family and cut your bills in half. For example, the normal price of a week-long mountain cabin rental with three bedrooms in Manitou Springs, CO was $900. If each family pays $450 instead of the full price, they may be able to afford a vacation that might not have been available to them otherwise. You can go to or Suite hotels that offer extra rooms are also an option such as the ones found at or For those who love the great outdoors, sharing campsite fees or RV rentals can split the price of a camping adventure. At we found rentals across the country that ranged from $117/day to $385 per day. Depending on the owner of the RV, other charges to consider are hospitality kits, kitchen kits, and/or emergency road kits. Cleaning fees will apply if the RV is not returned in the condition in which it was rented.

Q. What about saving money on food and entertainment once you get to your destination?

ELLIE: I recommend you go to and enter the zip code of where you’ll be traveling in order to preview their entertainment books for that destination. These are currently on sale and you can find discounts on food, movie tickets, amusement parks, hotels and much more. Also go to and enter the zip code to get gift certificates for half price and while you’re there, see if they have any sales. I recently bought $25 gift certificates at that site for only $2. Plus, use your smartphone by entering the attraction’s name to see if there are any coupons or codes you can download on your phone and use on the spot.

Enjoy your Family Road Trip!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ellie Answers Your Questions About Job Scams & Homebased Businesses!

This week I was on ABC NEWS "Good Money" show, answering your questions! Be sure to email us for a FREE "Homebased Business File" and mention you heard me on "Good Money!"

Q. We are interested in starting our own home business and want to know what first steps we should take in deciding what kind of business to operate from home.
Julie and Vick from Rancho Cucomonga, CA via facebook

ELLIE: There are basically three kinds of businesses: sales, service and manufacturing. Sales can take many forms such as retail or wholesale, mail order or direct sales. They tend to offer more flexible hours but require more paperwork. Service businesses are the easiest to set up and can require the smallest initial investment. If you do something well, like painting or decorating, fixing things, cleaning houses repairing computers, etc, you can start your own service business. Finally, there is manufacturing—everything from crafts to jewelry, furniture and more. Once you decide on the kind of business, do your research online or with the help of a research librarian, subscribe to industry magazines and talk to those in that kind of business.

Q. Are there any online resources available for us to find someone who will give us free advice on our small graphics and design business.
Mike and Victoria from Syracuse, NY via online contact form

ELLIE: Yes! You can go to, which is non-profit organization designed to help small business owners with over 12,000 volunteer counselors across the country. They can hook you up with a mentor to answer your questions online or in one of their offices. Their volunteers are made of experts in 600 fields who have been successful in their own businesses and include former CEOs! If you are interested in funding your startup business you can go to or since you’re an artist you may want to find funding for your project by going to

Q: I’ve worked for the same construction company for 20 years and just got laid off. I have a dream to start my own carpentry business, but I’m not sure that I have what it takes to do it. How do I know if I can hack it or not?
Mark submitted via Online Contact Form

ELLIE: That’s a great question, Mark, and since the SBA says that 1 in 2 small businesses will fail within a year, you have every right to question your ability to succeed. I think the key lies in planning and doing your preparation work. It’s important and assess your personality and skills. You can take the Personality ID test offered at your SBA center, college, library or community center. It will help you look at yourself from a fresh perspective and asses whether your personality is best served as an owner or an employee. I also think it’s important to pursue your passion. Do you really love carpentry or has it just been a job to you? When you pursue your passion, not only does it get you up in the morning but it makes more likely to succeed!

Q. My mom sells Premier Jewelry and my best friend sells Mary Kay. Both of them are pressuring me to sign up under them in order to build their business. How do I make the decision about which homebased business to start.
Jenny Monroe from Oklahoma City, OK

ELLIE: Jenny, there’s a phrase you need to learn right away: It’s nothing personal, just business! You need to make your decision based on what is right for YOU, not based on who you love more: your mom or your friend! I’ll send you the Homebased Business file for free if you go to and in that file you’ll see 25 questions you need to ask each woman about their business including: What are the start up costs? What is the hostess plan? Does the company pay sales tax or do I have to do that myself? How many downline generations are paid? How much inventory is needed? It’s important to have all the facts available and then make your decision based on business and not on anything personal!

Q. I’ve dabbled in writing here and there but I want to try and go into it on a more full time basis, should I try to freelance various writing projects or should I offer my writing services as a subcontractor to an existing company that need writers?
Ted from Chicago, VA via Ellie Kay’s blog

ELLIE: The answer is “yes.” It’s easier to launch a service based industry, such as what you’re essentially talking about by subcontracting work to an existing firm. Outsourcing is becoming more and more prominent as jobs are streamlined and companies downsize. It’s cheaper to hire a contractor than paying benefits to a full time employee. So hook up with your local Chamber of Commerce and plug into businesses in your community. At the same time, get The Writers Guide online or from your local library and begin to pitch articles to various periodicals by writing a good query letter and tailoring each article toward the specific needs of the publication. Ted, with how work and bit of luck you’ll find yourself doing what you love and having your dream business at the same time!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Your Questions about Organics, Vacations & Broadway Tickets!

I was on ABC NEWS Good Money again this week, answering your questions!

Q. We are trying to feed my family a healthier, organic menu, especially when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables. But it’s making us go broke because organic costs so much. Are there ways to save in this area?

Samantha and Ted from Riverside, CA via facebook

Ellie: Yes, according to the USDA organic can cost as much as 50% to 100% more than non-organic. When it comes to fresh produce, spend your “organic” dollars on those products you have higher levels of pesticide residue, even after washing—such as any kind of berries, apples, potatoes, cherries and grapes. Then you could go with non-organic for pineapples, bananas, mangos, broccoli, onions, cauliflower and corn. Or, try to buy from Farmers Markets and local farms, for a list of organic farms, go to . When it comes to other products, look for store brand organics, buy in bulk or go to to find deals in your area on organic products.

Q. My husband says it’s going to be cheaper to drive from New York to our timeshare in Florida because there are fewer flights and the price of airline tickets is going up this summer. Once we get to Florida, we don’t need a rental car as everything is within walking distance and we’re mainly spending our time at the beach. By the time we pay for one night’s hotel each way on the drive down, I think it’s going to be much cheaper to fly. My husband said he’d go with your opinion.

Al and Sharon from Oxford, NY via online contact form

ELLIE: Wow, no pressure here! It’s going to be pretty easy for you to calculate who is right. Just go to to calculate the mileage, gas, travel time and carbon footprint of anywhere in the US. You’ll also need to go to to add that expense to your total. Then, go to to find the best price on airfare. This site will compare the prices from other travel sites such as expedia, orbitz, Travelocity, cheaptickets and more. Do the math and the winner has to buy the loser an iced tea once you get there!

Q: We’re taking a big vacation to New York city later this summer and I’m really looking forward to it. We want to see some broadway shows while we are there. On one hand, I want to make sure we get tix for the nights we’re there at the shows we want to see, but on the other hand, I don’t want to pay full price. Should I buy the tix beforehand or should I take a chance and go to the Times Square half price ticket booth once I get there?

Audrey Dixson submitted via Online Contact Form

Ellie: Congrats, Audrey on an upcoming cool trip. I LOVE New York and try to go to the theater every time I’m there! If you go to the half price ticket booth, you’re going to save 50% but chances are good you’re going to “invest” about 3 hours of your time (or more) traveling to Times Square earlier in the day and waiting in line. Then, there aren’t any guarantees the show you want to see will be listed. You also have to pay cash. On the other hand, you can save 40 to 50% by buying your tickets online at or, which is where I always buy my tix. Most of the time I’m saving at least 40% (instead of the 50% I’d save at the half price tix booth). This translates into me paying $10 more per ticket. I also save three hours of my time in NYC. I figure my time is worth more than $3.33 per hour! So buy online and enjoy the show!

Q. What do you think of prepaid hotel rooms—the kind that are non-refundable? Is it worth it to “invest” in one of these ahead of time to save money? Or should I just wait until I get there and look around for the best deal?

Moriah Stephens from Allentown, PA

Ellie: I’ve purchased the prepaid rooms and it’s a good deal when: 1) rooms are going to be scarce or at a premium—such as a convention, sporting event or graduation and 2) the savings is at least 30%. To comparison shop, you can go to, and .

Q. For the last few years, we’ve always bought the entertainment book that has coupons for restaurants, sporting events, oil changes, dry cleaning and more. We pay $35 for the book and I’m not sure it’s worth it because I don’t think we’re really using it that much. Do you buy these books?

Mike from Mechanicsville, VA via Ellie Kay’s blog

Ellie: Right now, Mike, you can get the 2010 book (which expires at the end of this year) for free when you reserve a 2011 book. If you use just one of the buy one/get one free coupons for dinner at an upscale restaurant, then it has paid for itself. Most offer $12,000+ in values and if you only use 1% of that, you’ve saved $120—less the $35 price of the book for a total savings of $85. Keep the book in your car, check it religiously and save righteously!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)