Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Grounded Pilot and A Flying Wife





Being married to “The World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot” has its ups and downs, and one of the things I discovered about my man is: His feet are restless while on the ground.

He flew fighters for a decade before I met him and eventually accumulated 4500 flight hours in seven different jets. There’s one phone call that a pilot’s wife always waits for, but hopes will never happen. I got that call two years ago when I was in NYC on business and at a Broadway show. The five minutes it took to check my voicemail during intermission forever changed our lives:

Bob had been in an accident and broken his back.

He punctured his lung, broke four vertebrae and four ribs on a gas and go in Abilene. He had just flown his last sortie: a fluke accident that happened during a routine delivery of a jet.

Bob did recover his health and is able to maintain a pilot’s license, but his back will not sustain an ejection seat aircraft. While he enjoys “flying” the Global Hawk as a civilian contractor and Cessnas as a pilot, but he always gets a sad look in his eye when a fighter flies by. I didn’t understand the depth of his loss until something amazing happened to me.

I got to fly in a fighter.

After bringing the “Heroes at Home” message to military families in 7 countries, at 100 venues, and traveling 300,000 miles to do this, with 500,000 military families reading my work and 1,000,000 military families having seen my presentations and work…the Air Force rewarded me with an incentive ride.


Bob and Joshua were also invited to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, home of the 4th Fighter Wing and the world’s most lethal tactical fighter: the F-15E Strike Eagle. They flew the simulator, but I was to fly the real deal.

I went to the flight surgeon, egress training and physiology. At the 333rd FS Lancers squadron, we were met by LTC “Rosie” O’Donnell, who took us to briefing that was led by Captain Ryan “Goat” Roper, he told me to think about the mission and how we would fly over Kitty Hawk at 1000 feet and view it from the back seat of an F-15E. His Weapons Systems Officer, Captain Sriram “Fuze” Krishnan, told me to drink a bottle of water after I asked my pilot if I could take off my air mask so I wouldn’t get sick.


Then the big man himself, Colonel Pat “Moon” Doherty, the 4th Fighter Wing Commander, could have been “Cool Hand Luke” because his demeanor was both calming and compelling. He said he knew I’d be fine and I believed him. But when we got ready to step to the jet I noticed something that surprised me about Moon. In fact, I noticed it in all the air crew for our two ship sortie—there was an excited gleam in their eyes. It was as if they were little boys but instead of being excited about playing baseball, their collective countenance said, “we get to go fly jets today!” It was the same look I’d seen on Bob’s face when I watched him launch out into the wild blue yonder.


I put on my g-suit and harness, grabbed my helmet and air mask, tucked in those pesky air sickness bags into my flight suit and we were ready. Excitement overtook me as I realized I was truly going to do this thing—I was going to fly in a no kidding, real world, operational fighter with the second best fighter pilot in the world (Bob always has to be the first).


We signed out the jet, stepped to the hanger, met the amazing maintenance crew, pre-flighted the aircraft, strapped on 30 tons of sheer power, and taxied down the runway. At the end of the runway, while we waited for clearance to takeoff, Bob and Joshua met us in a truck and took a gazillion pictures. There was a wistful look on the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot’s face. He never would have dreamed that his wife would fly in the one fighter he had always wanted to pilot, but never did.


Moon and I were cleared for takeoff and we watched Goat and Fuze roar down the runway and head into a vertical climb. Then it was our turn, no going back now! As we blasted down the runway, the afterburner screaming, we took off on the wildest ride I’ll ever had this side of eternity. We pulled about 5 g’s in a straight vertical climb and then a sharp turn out to sea. The one hour car drive to the coastline took 8 minutes. It gave a whole new meaning to the bumper sticker that says, “If I were in my F-15E, I’d be there by now.”


Fuze snapped photos of us airborne as we rose above the clouds. Moon asked what I wanted to do as he didn’t want to push me. But I was game for low levels, aileron rolls and what I call the loop-de-loop. I battled airsickness by doing every I’d been trained to do to avoid it—and Moon was right, I was fine.


We flew a formation approach (ten feet from the other airplane), then flew back out in the traffic pattern for a couple more approaches. After 1.7 hours of flight time, we could say, “The Eagle has landed.” I was beyond euphoric to have flown in this premier jet with a big time pilot and not get sick. We taxied back to a cheering crowd and when Bob learned that I held down that wonderful breakfast that Dee Dee Doherty made us earlier in the day, he gave me the highest praise that could ever come from a fighter pilot when he declared in all seriousness, “Beloved, I am as proud of you today as I was every day that you gave birth.”

****************
I learned some things on the hot tarmac on that humid North Carolina day. For one thing, we have the finest group of military professionals in the world. Each team member I met that day was very secure in their place on the team and performed their duties with pride and professionalism.


I learned that big boys still act like little boys when they get to do what they love.
I also learned why Bob loved his work for 30 years and how hard it was for him to have his feet on the ground.

But most importantly, I learned that as much as my man suffered from clipped wings, his love for his wife and excitement over her living out a bucket list dream was greater than any thing else.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to College -- Debt Free (Part 1)



When Bethany was four years old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”
“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!” Her chubby arms held my neck tight.
“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.
She sat up straight, “I don’t?”
Wiping away her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”
I figured out later that all the drama was because Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. She thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her sad.
Fast forward the better part of two decades and she’s now a rising senior at Moody in Chicago, majoring in media communications. She’s not crying when she goes back to school, although we miss her. The good news is that she, along with all our other kids, are graduating debt-free! We don’t have any student loans and we didn’t have to refinance our house. Here are a few quick tips to pay for college. For more info, email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “College Crunch File.”


1. Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the University of Texas (Arlington) over the scholarship he got to Syracuse and TCU because he would still have 60K in student loan debt after the scholarships ran out. He graduated with honors and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice.

2. Save Big on Books by Renting – The average student pays more than $600 for course materials – the largest expense after tuition and room and board. I’ve recently partnered with Follett and found that by renting textbooks through their Rent-A-Text program, students can cut costs by 50 percent or more. CafeScribe’s digital textbooks are another great way to save, and both options are available to purchase at more than 800 Follett bookstore locations and online through efollett.com. Students at non-Follett schools can also purchase their digital textbooks on CafeScribe.com. I ordered Joshua’s textbooks this week and saved 52%!!

3. Make Scholarships a Part-Time Job – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Go to www.collegeboard.com or www.salliemae.com to find scholarships that might be a fit for you.

4. Create a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by loading funds on a campus card to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)


Friday, August 5, 2011

Kiss Off those Group Buying Deals!



We recently had the kids back in town and one of the pix included this group shot with my four sons. They love their mama! They also love some of the good deals I buy them from sites like Seize the Deal, Local Living, Living Social,the ever popular Groupon and new group buying deals from OTA (Online travel agents) such as travelzoo. There's paintball for $35 a person, Broadway shows for $20 each, a four course meal & Flamenco show at El Cid for $22/person, and even a massage therapy session for $22/hour. Ok, that was last item was for me (and so was the Flamenco deal, if we're being really honest--OLE!).

But what is the use of spending money to save money if you do not or cannot redeem those coupons? Maybe the boys didn't come home for college break, you chickened out of the skydiving gig, or you had a really busy schedule and couldn't fit in a trip to the Beverly Hilton for that four course meal including champagne? In some ways you may be taking a leap of faith when you purchase some of these group buying deals.

The latest research shows that 20% of these daily deal vouchers go unused. But your loss may be another person's gain. Especially when there are companies set up where you can unload unused vouchers. Consumers can now sell their unwanted deals at sites such a CoupRecoup, Yuupon or Lifesta. Whether you want to unload a vacation you cannot take or a helicopter tour your wife won't let you go on, you can do it at these sites. There's even one place, DealChicken, that will give you a full refund up until the deal's expiration date.

For every deal you buy, there's a guy out there who wish he would have bought it, but passed. Lifesta will charge you 99 cents plus 8% on deals they sell and they provide refunds for phony deals. DealsGoRound has been in business the longest and is suppose to be the only deal reselling site you can use on your smartphone. Plus, they help you track the deals to remind you if it's going to run out.

So if you want to kiss off on one of your group deals, you can. But remember that you can never kiss off the fact that you love your mama!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Top Tips To Titanic Savings on Cruises




There he was, my retired military man in full uniform, with pants that could still zip and pockets that didn’t bulge at the seams! I was so proud of him as I stood proudly at his side, waiting for formal night aboard the cruise ship to start. As we chatted by the closed doors to the waiting room, Bob checked the new watch I gave him when his Stealth F-117 fighter jet was retired earlier in the month. Two warriors, a man and his jet, were now a part of history—but he still looked great in his uniform.
“Excuse me” a woman in a black jet beaded dress said to Bob, “Can you tell me how long it will be before the dining room doors open.”
Bob checked his watch, “About 3 more minutes, ma’am.”
She glided back to join her party but scarcely had she left before a older gentleman in a black tux tapped his shoulder,
“Captain,” he began, “my friends and I were discussing the average speed of a ship this size and wanted to know if you could tell us how fast your ship cruises.”
Suddenly, Bob and I both realized that some of these people thought he was the ship’s captain! The rest of the night, I enjoyed watching the attention that my retired fighter pilot got as passengers asked him various questions about the ship!
Cruising can be affordable and a great experience experience. So how you find the cheap cruises and what are savvy and simple ways to keep the costs down?

Here are some Top Tips for Titanic Saving:

Cruise the Sites - The first step is to find the best price on a cruise by going to get competitive bids on CruiseCompete.com or CruiseNow.com. If you are worried that the prices will go up or down, go to Cayole.com which predicts rates based on seven months of data. Plus, try to look for packages that include the gratuity in the cost and other benefits like an online credit voucher, gift certificates to restaurant.com or free room upgrades.

Pre-Cruise Hotels – If you have to fly in the night before your cruise, then book a hotel ahead of time and look for a non-refundable purchase where you can save 40% or more on a room. For example, Priceline.com. For more info, go to BidOnTravel.com

On Board Extras – This can include some of the tips below (drinks, spas, etc) but can also include jewelry “deals”, art auctions, premium dining options or photography classes

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. Be prepared to say “no” even if you’re told your hair will fall out if you don’t buy their product!

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.

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. 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.

Digital Pix - One of my fave nights is formal night with Bob in his dashing Air Force Mess Dress uniform that he spent 25 years earning. 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.

Digital Detox – Plan to go through this on your cruise. While newer ships have Wi-Fi, you’ll pay anywhere from .35 to $1.25 a minute to connect. Roaming cellphone charges take a major bite, too. So just abstain and concentrate on your family, friends and fun on the cruise.

Rank and Research Shore Excursions - You could easily double or triple the bottom line cruise total by spending money on shore excursions. Before you sail, go to the cruise website and print out the shore excursions options. Or do this as soon as you get onboard. To get the best value rank the top three for: things you want to do, the amount of time included on the excursion and the cost involved.

Book Your Own Excursions
– Just because the cruise line offers the excursion doesn’t mean you’re getting a discount. In some cases, you are pay a premium for the cruise line to get their commission! Go to PortPromotions.com, ShoreTrips.com and Viator.com . If you are in a US port, try websites such as TravelZoo.com’s local deals, Dealery.com or Yipit.com, which aggregate city specific deals available through Groupon, Living Social and the like.

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. 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.

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). Sign up for free classes (salsa, line dancing, pilates, yoga, etc) and try your hand at karaoke.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gold Hits $1600/oz - What are some "safe" investments?



I was on Fox News - Your World with Neil Cavuto -- this week discussing the fact that gold hit $1600 an ounce. I want to give a big shout out to Larry Shover, the author of Trading Options in Turbulent Markets who (literally) wrote the book on how to invest during economic turmoil.

First of all, remember that "safe investing" is an oxymoron. When you invest seriously (for more than 1% on a bank CD), then you are going to face some kind of risk. But there are some areas to invest that present less risk than others. So with that disclaimer, let's look at where to put your money in a turbulent economy.

1. Stock Market (S/P 500 stocks): It's important to acknowledge that there have been and will likely be strong corporate profits. The stock market is very attractively priced - especially given the good profits and strong balance sheets of the top-tier US stocks. Could the stock market go lower? Of course, yet the "cheapness" in the stock market is a reflection of: Sovereign debt, US issues, concern of slowdown in emerging economies. It would appear a lot of this negative stuff is already priced into the market. Any top-tier (dividend paying) issue is a good long-term bet.

2. CTA: Invest in a "Commodities Trading Advisor" most of which take advantage of the various/sundry trends in the market whether they be up or down. CTA's tend to perform very,very well in economic uncertainty - especially in very toxic markets like 2008. Every portfolio should take advantage of a CTA fund that captures trends in: FX, oil, grains, indexes, bonds, et al. Warning: CTA's can be very volatile yet, history has proven that even with the volatility they tend to be less risky.

3. Gold:
According to my friend, Larry Shover, "Gold is the Casual driver of global liquidity" and,I agree. If you believe that money is to remain cheap than gold makes sense. However, if you feel there will be a spike in inflation or reverse monetary policies I wouldn't own gold with a ten foot pole. Also, golds most recent run-up to 1600 has had more to do with contagion fear than fundamentals. I wouldn't be suprised to see it back at around 1550 in the near-term.

4. Asian Tiger Exposure: Invest in either a mutual fund or ETF that has genuine exposure to the asian tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan). These are countries that are booming - without all the fetters of taxation and regulation. In fact, most of them have been described as replicating the US back in the early 20th century! Cheaper labor, low taxation, growing middle class = success!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Writers Corner - Can You Handle an SMT?





So you're a writer. Then you get a book published and now you're an author. Now it's time to try your hand at media and you begin to do "phoners" or radio interviews on the phone. Next, you have a nice break and get to do some regional and even national television. Eventually, you'll progress to the point where you'll hit out of the nearest large city via Satellite and do an interview for a major cable or network station. Then, if you're among the top 10% of authors, at some point, you may be ready to try an SMT or a RMT.

A Satellite Media Tour or Radio Media Tour is where an author is interviewed in back-to-back shows for anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. It usually starts at 6:00 AM Eastern Time, which is 3:00 AM Pacific Time (my time). This means I'll wake up at 1:30 in the morning, go to the studio, go through makeup, then rehearse the interviews, then hit the first show live at 3:00 AM. The challenge is to stay alert and high energy for the next six hours through sometimes as many as 35 interviews. You won't see your interviewers, but they will be in your ear as the the morning news teams from Boston to Los Angeles. You'll hear them ask questions while you look straight into the camera and sometimes they'll stick to the question list, but at other times they'll throw you a curve ball. You will have 3 minutes for the entire interview in which you will need to deliver your points and then it's off the air with a 2 to 3 minute break and on to the next show. Forget about going to the bathroom, that's a luxury that isn't built into the schedule!

Who sponsors SMTS? Sometimes, if your publisher has a boat load of money, they'll give you media training and sponsor a book tour SMT. But those are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Most of the time there is a corporate sponsor, who will handle the bookings, pay the expense of the SMT and handle all the details. Your job is to give a good interview based on the predetermined focus of the SMT. It becomes a win/win for the author and the corporate sponsor. You get to promote your book and the sponsor gets to say "this interview brought to you by...."

SMTs are a strange breed, but I find them to be loads of fun because I like a good challenge. They're like a media marathon and at the end, you get to go back to the hotel and go to sleep. Since most SMTs are done out of NYC, you might also wake up in time to hit a Broadway show.

It's an adventure, but one that is worth it!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Letters From Home




Dr. Dobson said that a good parent will eventually work themselves out of a job & we are quickly approaching that "jobless" state! We launched child #6 (out of 7) in the Kay Clan as Bob, Philip and I dropped of Jonathan at the United States Air Force Academy. It's in lovely Colorado Springs and Philip, our newly minted 2 Lt in the Marine Corps was on hand for the honor of seeing his hairless little brother off.

The president of the AOG (Association of Graduates) gave us a briefing, saw Philip in the audience and asked, "What are the best 4 years of a Naval Academy graduate's life?" We were thinking it was probably his four years at USNA, but the correct answer (according to the Air Force Academy graduate) was actually "Third grade."

During BCT (Basic Cadet Traning), it's similar to other military training scenarios in that there is NO communication other than the written letter. No phone calls, texts, email or facebook. This "cold turkey" withdrawal is tough on the military member as well as the family, but it is also similar to some deployments into the war zone or other "classified" areas. If you have a loved one who is in this kind of situation, no matter what kind of communication you are allowed, it's important to remember the following things:


  • Happy
  • Jonathan (and Bob when he was deployed) were intent on their training and in a very difficult environment. My letters to my son don't include bad news or griping or complaints. I've written about funny things that our grandson says or good news about my work. There will be plenty of time to catch him up on the not-so-good stuff later, but right now, he needs to be focused and just get through. Keeping the letters lighthearted really helps him.

  • Home-y
  • No, I don't mean that kind of homey. I mean that news about home, even though it may sound mundane is good. For example, our little puppy, Belle, was tethered in the living room (because of potty training) and I left the room for 10 minutes only to find that she had COMPLETELY chewed through the magazine rack---scattering loads of paper, cardboard and a huge MESS in the living room. When Bob was deployed, I told him about the kids nap schedules, play dates, trips to the store, etc. Bringing a bit of home to a military member also brings a sense of normalcy to his or her life. It communicates that the things we take for granted are sometimes the most precious parts of life.


  • Help
  • We let Jonathan know that we are here to help. He needed us to mail him his volleyball shoes because he was asked to help work out the intercollegiate girls Division I Volleyball team. (What a lucky guy). He knows we're here to next day air those shoes. He can't receive any other packages right now, but he knows that our church, friends and family are all praying for him. This is the biggest kind of help of all!

  • Hope
  • Philip gave his baby brother a few words of advice on how to get through BCT. He said, "take it a meal at a time." I know that advice is helping him in the middle of all the chaos. Bob (a class of 1978 graduate) told his son, "If you are good enough to get into the Academy, you are good enough to get through." In our letters, we express our confidence that he's going to do fine. We don't communicate contingencies such as "Even if you don't make it..." He knows that we are here for him. He needs to know we THINK he'll make it through.

  • Humor
  • The heroes (those who serve honorably and put service before self) need to keep a sense of humor. That's why we send funny pictures of puppy Belle's latest antics...like how she always grabs Anna's leash (our 4 year old mini schnauzer) and pulls her around the yard. But those "heroes at home" also need to keep a sense of humor. At the Air Force Academy, the AOG has this wonderful service called "web guy" where a small group of photographers take thousands of pictures of our basic cadets. We sign up for this opt in service and see Jonathan communicating to us through pictures. He knows we'll spend HOURS scouring the site, so he'll smile at the camera whenever he won't get in trouble for doing so. It's his way of saying, "I'm OK, Mama and Papa."

I just read Jonathan's third letter home today. He was talking about waking up at 4:30 AM, getting "hallway PT" where he's yelled at for 2 hours. Then miles of running, marching, formation, rucking (marching with a pack), or sandbag (30 lbs) PT. He tells us about "drowning" where you start to fall asleep while you are marching. Getting a letter from CO to CA may not be as fast form of communication such as texting, emailing, phone calls and facebook. But it is a heap better than what the generations from times past went through. Telegrams or letters were the primary source of communication about their loved ones. When a letter came from a servicemember, the whole family would come home from work or school and read it together.

As Bob and I devoured every word, I suddenly remembered a packet of keepsakes I received from my Great Grandma Laudeman's legacy. Her only son died in World War II after surviving the Bataan Death March, only to have dysentary at a prisoner of war camp. There was a letter in the pile that was smuggled out and was not in an envelope or stamped. It was marked "his last letter home." He said, "I suppose you have been looking for a letter from me for quite some time. Well, maybe you will get this. I am entirely all right and there isn't a thing for you to worry about. I am eating so much rice that my waistline is getting like Dad's. I can't write on both sides of the paper, so I will have to close. Love you, Dick." The letter arrived two months after his death.

We value and treasure letters home. We thank those military men and women, as well as their families for their full measure of devotion.

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Leaving Home 101 - Launching Money Smart Kids



My five-year-old son, Jonathan, was very mad and having a horrible, no good, very bad day. His three-year-old brother, Joshua, had taken all his favorite GI Joes and threw them in the toilet—again.
“I haffa tell ya’ mama,” He announced when he came into the kitchen where I was mixing a batch of brownies, “I’m gonna’ run away.”
Gazing at his determined face, I leaned down and met his eyes, “Well, we’re going to miss you around here, son. Let me at least pack you a lunch before you go.”
As a veteran mom of many, I knew Jonathan’s terrible, no good, very bad day would pass and that he was probably just going to his friend’s house to play. I asked his older brother, Daniel, to get on his bike and follow his younger brother to make sure he would only go as far as the Maerten’s house.
I dialed Leanne Maertens number, “Hey Leanne, is Jonathan there yet?”
I heard her doorbell ring, “Yes, I think he’s at the door now.”
“Well, he’s run away from home and I figure he’ll hang out until dinner. Let me know when he leaves.”
Fast forward a few years and Jonathan’s left home again—for good. He’s earned a $435,000 scholarship to The United States Air Force Academy. He learned that there’s a good way to leave home and a not-so-good way to leave. Here are the things parents can make sure their children know in order to leave home well.

Budget Babies
Before your child leaves make sure that you help them establish a workable budget. Go to my tools page at www.elliekay.com . The categories should include housing, transportation, clothing, food, entertainment, and (if necessary) tuition and books. Decide, up front, what they will pay for from their own work money and what you will cover. Ask them to send you a monthly budget report and review it with them. Look at this as an opportunity to coach them in right choices but beware of funding their failures by bailing them out on a regular basis. This is the time for them to learn to live on their own in a healthy way. A great resource is www.MoneyTrail.net , a free, online allowance and money management system for kids, teens and families. Kids & teens track their allowances, IOUs, cash and gift cards. They learn to make smart saving and spending decisions, too.

Bucks and Money Cards
Your college bound student will need banking accounts for checking and savings. Research banks (or savings and loans) that offer student banking programs. In our family, we like to get money cards like the American Express prepaid credit card that is safer than cash, do not require a credit check and are easily reloaded. With this money card, our college kids have the benefits of a debit or credit card without the liability or temptation to get into debt. They are convenient, safe and efficient—plus we can reload funds onto their cards either online or at our local store.
Now is also the time to educate your child on the dangers of easy credit. Direct them to order their free annual report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus to make sure no one has stolen their identity.
Help your children set up their own credit card through your own credit card company with an "additional card" where you are the gatekeeper. You can set up credit limits and turn off ATM use as well. As they charge items that you were planning on pay for (such as books, rent, food) then pay off the balance each month, they’ll build their own credit score as well. Our son, Daniel, as a senior in college built enough good credit to prequalify for a townhouse! It all started with our involved effort to help him establish and build credit wisely—without getting into debt.

Borrowing and Student Loans

Parents often ask, “How do we pay for college, should we get a HELOC or a second mortgage?” I do not believe you should leverage the equity in your home (which is part of your future retirement) in order to pay for your child’s future. HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) are also a poor choice. Instead, look at a variety of scholarships, work study programs, and other options available through the financial aid office at the school. Another financially healthy option is to have your child attend a college you can afford. Our mantra for our college bound kids is: I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.
My oldest step-daughter took a year off school between her sophomore and junior years at Columbia University in order to work to help pay for college. Some employers will help pay for college as well. Exhaust all your options and think outside the box in order to minimize college debt. If you must subsidize tuition through student loans, then make sure the loans are in your student’s name and that they do not exceed $20,000 by the time they graduate from a four year college. Email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the "College Crunch" file for dozens of great ways to get through college debt free!

Bagels and Broccoli
My daughter, Bethany, was graduating from high school and I decided to let her do our grocery shopping in order to teach her how to shop wisely when she was on her own at college. When she got the the bakery department, she exclaimed: “Wow! I can get this bag of eight bagels for less than this other bag with only six!” She was so proud (and so was I!)
Be sure your kids know how to price compare and how to read the store labels as well. Show them the “price per ounce” on the shelf so that they can recognize value. Walk them through the frozen foods section to compare the difference between buying fresh broccoli versus frozen and let them see the savings in frozen convenience foods versus fast food pizza. We also teach them to use www.couponmom.com in order to match up coupons with local sales in order to get items for pennies or for free.

Launching a child in leaving home can be costly and stressful unless you are strategic and purposeful in your planning. With the right moves, you can help your student finish well at home and start their new life with a healthy financial perspective.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Five Apps To Save Money in the Store



I don't dumpster dive, hound my friends for coupons, or store up a years' worth of toilet paper in my garage--but I did manage to save $160,000 on coupons! That's enough money to put seven kids through college or buy a modest airplane for my hubby (he votes for the airplane, I vote for college and guess whose vote counts DOUBLE?).

You don't have to clip coupons to save with all the wonderful apps that are available on your smart phone. So there's really no excuse to pay full price in the store! Here are some of my favorite apps:

Five Apps to Save Money in the Store

1. Shopper –One of the reasons people overspend at the grocery store is because they impulse buy or get things they really do not need. Making a list saves money and is easy when you use Shopper. This app lets you make several lists at a time for different stores, it calculates sales tax, allows for quantities, tracks your coupons and is secure because you need a password to open it (just in case you’re putting those Reeces on the list and your hubby never sees them.) It costs .99

2. Check and Compare 1024 -- Ever wonder how much money you are spending at the store while shopping and if you’re getting the best price? Just enter your item prices and quantities and “Checkout" will show you just how much your bill will be at the register. The “Compare” portion allows you to compare prices based on quantity and size to show the best value. You can then transfer the best value price to the checkout price field. The Budget tool can be set and keeps track of your remaining budget for one or multiple shopping trips until cleared. This app costs $2.99

3. Coupon Sherpa – This FREE app eliminates the need for a traditional coupon book by providing hundreds of in-store coupons for many merchants on your iPhone or iPod Touch. The coupons can be scanned by optical scanners right from your phone! Save money on food, clothing, shoes, restaurants, electronics, travel, jewelry, sporting goods, books and more. You can find coupons by category or store name, email coupons to friends, create your own favorites list of stores and find the store nearest you.

4. Yowza – This is another FREE app to launch on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or android phone and it instantly goes about finding deals and coupons in your geographic area. When you walk up to the cashier, just show the deal on your device and let them scan the barcode or type in the coupon code. No clipping. No stashing coupons in your wallet or purse. No need to remember which location that restaurant coupon was good for. It features city and zip code based coupon searches, notifications when your favorite store adds a coupon and you can share your savings via Twitter, Facebook, or Email.

5. Amazon Mobile -- The FREE Amazon Mobile app allows you to quickly search, shop, compare prices, read reviews, and make purchases on Amazon.com using a simple, interface. Amazon customers have full access to their existing account. It also includes "Amazon Remembers" that allows you to use the camera on your iPhone to create a visual list. The photos you take from the app are stored on both the Amazon Mobile app and Amazon’s website. If the item you want to remember is a product, Amazon Remembers will try to find a product similar to your photo for sale on the web. If they do, they’ll send you an e-mail alert and post the result along with the photo.


Happy Savings!
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Writer's Corner -- Should I Fund My Own Travel to Go on National Media?



I’m beginning an “Writer’s Corner” for my friends who are in the publishing and media field. One of the questions that authors often ask is, “Where should I put my marketing dollars?” When you have an opportunity to go on a nice, national show and you have to fund the trip yourself, how can you make sure it’s worth what I call the “Media Investment.” So if you are invited on a show, make sure that they are a class act, with a nice set, great team of professionals, excellent production quality and easy to work with ahead of time. But NEVER pay production costs and RARELY pay for play! I do have a source that has a worthwhile pay-for-placement schedule and if you email me at assistant@elliekay.com, I'll send you her contact info. The main thing this blog is looking at is: paying your own travel costs.

When it comes to the ever present question: “should I fund my travel or should I not?” A big consideration is if your publicity dollars are tight--then you might want to pass. Instead, spend those dollars on your website, social media and radio or skype ops that can be done from your home office.

That having been said, there are some ways to make the possibility of a national television appearance more viable financially, even if you have to fund travel yourself. Here are some ideas:

1) TWO FOR ONE DEAL -- Dovetail the media trip off of a nearby major market media trip. If your publisher will pay for you to do a nearby media market tour, then let them know you’ll do the secondary show on your own. This might make your publisher more likely to fund the first market for you since they will be getting a “two for one” deal out of it –two media markets for their one market investment. Or, if you are speaking at an event near the proposed television show, then dovetail the media gig off the speaking gig.

2) MULTIPLES --Pitch the producer with the idea of recording multiple interviews. If you can do the live interview that day, then record 2 to 3 more interview segments on the set after the show, then they will have these shows in the can and you will be on once a week until these segments run out. It makes your monetary investment (for the trip) more valuable. This is how I was able to be on one international show 12 times in 3 trips. I did one live show on each of these trips and 3 recorded shows. But please note: THESE MUST BE ARRANGED BEFOREHAND. Don’t expect to make the pitch about multiple shows the day before you travel and then expect to record afterwards. Pitch the idea of multiples ahead of time, before you book the show and see if they have time in their production schedule to make it work.

3) TIMELESS – If your interview is not headline driven, then try to make it timeless by avoiding mention of events in the news, holidays, days of the week or seasons. Then tell the producer that you are going to try not to “date” the interview so they can re-air it at another time in the event it fits another show in the future and they want to drop in as a segment again on another show.

4) SKYPE - Pitch the idea of a skype interview (free for you). If the angle of your story can become newsworthy (highlighting something that is in the headlines), then they might consider a skype interview. These are usually reserved for those who have been in studio at least once and proven that they can handle an interview. But if you have media clips you could show them and if you’ve done skype interviews before, then make the offer. That way you don’t incur any travel expenses at all. Furthermore, if you go in studio (following one of the tips listed), then be sure you get the producer’s card for future skype opportunities.

NEW AUTHORS - For some writers who are new to the game, a show where you have to fund your own travel would be a good option for you if: 1) you are just starting out in media & want the experience 2) you have the money to invest, and/or 3) you really need a media clip of you on an international or national show. In these cases, it could be all right to invest in going on this show. But be sure you try to get the most “bang for your buck” by following some of the ideas I listed above.

BONUS TIP: If you are recording multiple interviews (in person or via skype) for a faith based show, then try to make one of them a bit more generic (or crossover friendly). Oftentimes these clips are required by national shows like The Today Show, the Nate Berkus Show, ABC News, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, etc, when they are exploring the idea of having you on a show. These mainstream producers might come calling (or if your publicist pitches them) and they will ask for a media clip to see how you look and act on the air. If you have a clip that is more mainstream (and less evangelical), then you’re more likely to get the media booking.


Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Putting the Fun in Fundraising for Summer Mission Trips & Internships


Summer is the time for baseball, hot dogs, apple pie….and fundraising for summer mission trips and internships. Here's a pic of our daughter, Bethany, preparing for her summer internship at Trans World Radio. My hubby and I are the parents of seven, and we’ve raised money for all kinds of non-profit programs to include the National Youth Leadership Forum, Rotary Youth Commission, the Young Continentals, mission trips to Mexico, China & Thailand and an internship with Trans World Radio. Hopefully, the following ideas will help you raise the funds you need so that you or your kids can help make the world a better place.

The Benefits of Fundraising

I recently had a friend whose daughter wanted to do some work so that she could raise money to go to a mission trip to Mexico. After the mission trip was over, she told her mom that the fact that she had to work hard to get there (and work even harder once she got there) changed her life forever. Working to fundraise is part of the gift to the people you will be serving. It also seems to mean more, when you have to work for it (rather than mom and dad writing a check). Finally, another value of fundraising is that it’s good resume fodder for college applications and future internship work—it shows that you know how to be a servant leader when you care enough to contribute. For the donor, there is usually a tax deduction benefit if the organization is a non-profit and they provide proof of the donation (a letter or receipt).

The Bill – Can I Afford to Go?

I like to say that “if it’s God’s will, then it’s God’s bill.” But there’s a difference between faith and presumption. That’s why it’s important to crunch the numbers and take a hard look at any internship or mission trip. I.e., if it costs $5,000 to go to Austria for the summer and you start fundraising in May with no money saved and few prospects, then you probably need to try again next year. Figure out how much you will need, divide that by the amount of time you have left to raise funds, then look hard at how much you’ll have to raise each month (and week) and make an thoughtful and informed decision. For example, an August trip to inner city Los Angeles, cost is $300, you start in early June, that’s $300 ÷ 10 weeks or $30 per week you need to earn.

The Beginning – Where Do I Start?

You’re going to start with a lot of prayer and a really good fundraising letter. But before you write the letter, look at how much you already have toward the trip (in your savings) and decide on other fundraising activities. Are you going to sell chocolate from door to door in 90 degree temps and 90% humidity (like I did as a twelve year old to pay for camp)? Will you babysit, have a garage sale, wash cars, clean houses, host bake sales, get a part time job, etc? Include the following in your letter:
• Tell potential donors what the trip or internship is all about & who it will help
• Share your passion for what you’re going to do for others & why you want to do it
• List the fundraising activities that you plan to do in addition to sending the letter
• Keep the letter to one page, 12 point font, with 1.5 line spacing (easy on the eyes) and send them via snail mail—otherwise, they’ll get lot in an inbox
• Ask for funds toward the beginning of the letter—be up front about what you need
• Send them to friends, family, your Christmas card list, doctors, teachers, lawyers, co-workers, neighbors—anyone who knows you personally & may want to partner with you
• Indicate if the donation will be tax deductible
• Add a photo of the group you are helping (or of yourself) to personalize the contact
• Tell them where to send the funds (or include an Addressed Stamped Envelope)
• Send these out ASAP and keep a master list with phone numbers & email addresses


The Big Follow Up

Two weeks after you send out the letter, make contact with everyone on your list to find out if they received it. You can make follow up contacts via phone (BEST OPTION), email or facebook. Have a plan when you make the contact and develop your own script so that you won’t be nervous. Here are the things to say in the follow up:
• Mention their name early in the call
• Use positive language
• Give a one to two sentence description of your mission trip or internship
• Ask if now is a good time to talk
• Ask them if they have any questions
• Ask them if they can help out financially (don’t beat around the bush)
• Thank them for their time, even if they do not commit to a donation

Another part of follow up is to send thank you notes to every person who sends in their support. Send these within a week after receiving them. Don’t just send a thank you via email, but physically mail them a thank you card. Once the trip is over, contact your donors with a one page letter (including photos) of what you did and how it changed your life and the lives of others. Your donors will see how their money made a difference and what their partnership means. It also paves the way for them to contribute to other projects in the future.

Happy Fundraising!
You're Making the World Better
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Saving Money at the Pump This Summer!



The good news for Joshua, the youngest Kay Kid - he inherited the 'Burb!
The bad news for Joshua, he inherited the 'Burb!

With gas prices rapidly approaching $5/gallon here in sunny southern cali, he may have to park that beast, before he ever gets a chance to drive it.

But there are ways to save at the pump, if you are strategic. Here are my tips:

Plan – AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator (www.fuelcostcalculator.com) helps you plot out the most efficient route. You can also put in the year, make and model of your car and it will compute what you’ll spend on gas.
Prices – Get the app or go to sites such as www.gaspricewatch.com , www.fuelmeup.com , or www.gasbuddy.com and find the cheapest price for gas both at home and enroute. Find the app called Gas Buddy or AAA”s Trip’Tik Mobile iPhone.
Pace Your Driving - Jackrabbit starts and constant speeding up and slowing down cost precious gas mileage miles. Instead, pace yourself.
Pushing It Up! -- Will only speed up your fuel consumption. According to the Department of Energy (DOA) it takes a lot of energy for your vehicle to push the air out of the way as you speed down the road. Driving the speed limit of 65 versus 75 can save as much as 15% on fuel consumption because of the energy needed for higher speeds.
Puhleeze Give Me Some Air -- At speeds of 40 mph or greater, it costs more to leave the windows open (due to drag) than it does to run the air. In a place like Palmdale, CA where the summer temps reach 110 degrees that's good news!
Pitch the Junk! -- Take your golf clubs, soccer chairs, Salvation Army book donations and all the other JUNK out of your TRUNK. Otherwise, you're paying more to haul it.
Pressure and Maintain - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one-in-four cars have under inflated tires by 8 pounds per square inch. By getting the right amount of air in your tires and taking a few minutes to change the air filter, you can increase your gas mileage by 3.3%! A tuned engine can save an average of 4% more and detected problems, like a bad oxygen sensor can help your mileage by 40%!
Pool it -- Car pool whenever possible, and let everyone pitch in with their dough!
• Premium, Schmium -- According to AAA, only 5% of vehicles in the US require the premium gas--it does not help your vehicle for you to pay more for it. Buy the regular stuff and have no worries.
Peak no More! – Plan trips, if possible, during off peak times to avoid traffic jams.
Pay up! -- Make teens pay for gas when they aren't driving for sanctioned raod time (such as school, work, running your errands, etc). It's amazing how much less miles they will put on the car!

Happy Driving, Joshua!

Love Mama,
aka America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mother's Day and Working Mom's - What Is Your Time Worth?





When I married my husband we had five babies in seven years and moved eleven times in thirteen years. I also had two stepdaughters for a total of 7 children to support. I left a nice job as a broker to have a more rewarding career as a SAHM (stay at home mom). One of the questions that I frequently heard was: Do you work?



“What do you mean do I work?” I would think even though I politely answered, “Yes, I work very hard as a stay at home mom.” Sometimes, an unsuspecting troglodyte would go on to say something totally thoughtless such as “Well, I meant do you really work. Do you have a job?”



I would bite my tongue until it bled….



What I wanted to say was, “What do you mean do I really work? I work a heck of a lot harder that you do, mister! I’m an accountant, a contract administrator, a chauffeur, a nurse, a soccer mom, a stylist, a wife, and a chef! Plus ten other job specialties! I do all these things as a mom—I’M A CEO MOM, MISTER!”



They usually didn’t ask the same question twice.



These days, as a financial writer and speaker—and a mom, I’ve talked with scores of spouses who work outside the home because of the status of our economy and by necessity--not choice.



Each year, Salary.com issues a report on what a mom’s time is really worth. According to this site, “Based on a survey of more than 40,000 mothers, Salary.com determined that the time mothers spend performing 10 typical job functions would equate to an annual salary of $138,095 for a stay-at-home mom. Working moms ‘at-home’ salary is $85,939 in 2010; this is in addition to the salary they earn in the workplace.” That’s a lot of worth associated with this great job of motherhood!



By going to

http://swz.salary.com/momsalarywizard/htmls/mswl_momcenter.html you can log into a calculator that tells you what you would be paid on the economy for all the work you do as a SAHM or as a mom who also works outside the home and inside the home!



How effective is the mom’s work outside the home? Does it pay to work in today’s economy with rising prices and a modest hourly wage? Many military spouses who move frequently do not often have the luxury of annual pay raises at the same company. For example, let’s look at Jennifer.



Jennifer was an administrative assistant who needed to work outside the home to make ends meet. She made an average wage of $8.50 per hour and felt she contributed greatly to the family’s finances. She only had one child in day care, traveled a short distance to work, and paid no state income taxes. Then Jennifer attended one of my Living Rich for Less seminars and was challenged with the idea of “crunching the numbers.” She completed our “Working Mom’s Compensation” form and was shocked. The online version of this is a “one income calculator” is found at http://www.crown.org/Tools/Calculators/Work_HourlyWage.asp



The amazing fact Jennifer discovered was, by working full time--she was making $3 per week! She didn’t realize how those extra pizza nights (because she was too tired to cook), and the trips to the beauty salon (to maintain a professional hairstyle), and all those lunches (away from home) added up! She realized she needed to make some dramatic adjustments. She decided there was a better use of her energy and quit her job outside the home.



But Jennifer didn’t stop there. She implemented some money savings strategies and is making ends meet at home. She has less stress in her life and the freedom to contribute to her family’s financial needs through saving money and by launching her own homebased writing business. In her case, a penny saved was more than a penny earned.



Jennifer’s Salary – The Working Mom’s Compensation Form



Gross Income Per Week Jennifer’s Yours

($40 hrs @8.50/hr) $340 _________

Less:

Tithe or donations (10%) $34 _________

Federal Income Tax (18%) $61 _________

Social Security Tax (6.2%) $21 _________

Transportation (10 trips/8mi/@.45/mile) $36 _________

Childcare (1 child) $90 _________

Meals/coffee (@$7/day) $35 _________

Convenience foods at home $29 _________

Extra clothing (includes cleaning) $12 _________

Beauty Shop $14 _________

Other (‘I owe it to me’ items) $5 _________

Total Expenses $333 _________

Net Usable $3



Time Spent:

On the job 40 hours __________

Lunch 5 hours __________

Travel/Commute 5 hours __________

Total hours away from home 50 hours __________



Once you come up with a figure, ask the big question. Is my time, energy and effort worth ______ dollars a week? You’ll be surprised at how painless it is to cut back and save your family a significant amount of money. It’s not magic, it requires work and dedication. After all, not all compensation is measured in dollars and cents.

On the other hand, you might discover that it is worth it and that’s still a great choice—one that works for you and your family!



Whether you are a SAHM or a mom who works outside the home—you’re work is priceless in terms of all you do for your family and for others. You deserve a Happy Mother's Day! Thanks for your hard work, you’re leaving a legacy through your children that will last for decades to come.



Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Family Road Trip


When I was ten years old, I wrote a report on King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein, also known as “The Disneyland Castle.” At that time a dream to see that fabulous site was birthed in my mind. Three decades later, I was able to fulfill those travel dreams, debt free, thanks my work in helping people save money.
Your travel dreams might come true in 2011, thanks to a recovering tourist industry. Here are some trends and tips to keep in mind when planning this year’s travel.

Flyer’s Market A recent poll conducted by USA Today/Gallup Poll indicated that only 16% of respondents plan to fly more or stay more often in hotels this year than they did last year. In fact, 30% indicate they will travel less often. This means there will be better travel deals for those who do their research and take advantage of the bargains that become available.
To take advantage, start by subscribing to the top travel email alert sites and check them daily in order to begin your research. Some of the best alerts are found at travelzoo.com, kayak.com, smartertravel.com and travel-ticker.com . Be flexible with your destinations and get even more savings. If a cruise to the Mexican Riveria ends up costing ½ of what a trip to Disneyland costs, then readjust your expectations and save the mouse ears for another year. Also check out the info from last week's blog.
Then compare the alert prices with values found at the one-stop shopping site called BookingBuddy.com . At this site, you’ll find deals from 140 travel sites including Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline. When in doubt as to whether “now” is the best time to buy your flight or package, go to bing.com’s Price Predictor to see if prices are likely to rise or fall in the next week. But before you click “buy” be sure that you’ve also gone to a coupon code site called RetailMeNot.com to enter additional codes that might get you an even better deal.

Fun Eats and Tech Savvy Treats Since you’ve already signed up for the email alerts on the best deals, be on the lookout for specials in your destination’s area. For example, on travelzoo.com, I received notification that Restaurant.com was running a special where $25 gift certificates were on sale for only $2. Since they are good for twelve months, I entered zip codes for our vacation areas and bought five different $25 restaurant certificates for a total of only $10! You can also go to entertainment.com, enter the zip code of your destination and look at the coupons and values for attractions, hotels, restaurants and more. These coupon books cost around $35. There are also money smart social media sites, such as FatWallet.com, that list great bargains across the country. Other savers post their experiences on the “deals” so that you know whether it’s worth your time and effort or not. I recently found a post for a free coupon for grande lattes at Barnes and Noble where there wasn’t a limit, so I printed four coupons. Three of my kids and I enjoyed free drinks—all courtesy of the FatWallet bloggers.

Fab Phonesdeals If you have a smart phone, then you know that the online world of travel deals make instant savings more gratifying than ever. If you haven’t signed up for a social networking site such as facebook or twitter, then you could be losing money! From these sites you can discover “flash sales” for everything from air travel, theater tickets, restaurant deals and hotel sales. It’s also a great way to get insider information. Another way to use your phone is to find out which TSA gate to go through with the new On the Spot System’s iPhone app that lets users rate TSA screening checkpoints.
“Check in” to your flight at Foursqure, a free app for iPhones, BlackBerrys, Palms and Android phones. There are also apps to order room service before you arrive at the hotel (apps for Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites). These apps will save you time and we all know that time is money. To get the best value in a travel or vacation related app and to find out which ones might be free, go to the review site Appolicious.com.

Faith Tourism In the midst of a struggling global economy, one bright spot for the travel industry is the upswing in faith tourism. If you’re stationed overseas, you may be one of the more than 300 million people are traveling this year for religious and pilgrimage reasons. So if you always wanted to go to see the Western Wall in Israel, then this could be your year. Go to GoIsrael.com and click onto their specials to plan your journey. There, you’ll also find tips, such as: 1) staying at a kibbutz or guest house is cheaper than a hotel, and 2) buying a pass to all the country’s national parks save a lot over buying them individually.
So whether you’re going to Germany to see the original Disneyland castle or driving to Anaheim to see the replica—you can have the vacation of your dreams and your dream can remain debt free as well!

Savings Site Favorites
Hotels.com – Find best prices on hotels internationally and earn bonus stays
Ifly.com – terminal maps, estimates on how long security lines are, where to eat.
Flightaware.com – track flights by airline and flight number within 5 minutes of real time.
Elderhostel.org – worldwide educational travel adventures with 300 learning vacations designed for grandparents and grandkids
NPS.com – national park service website offering $10 park passes to seniors 62+
Sierraclub.org/outings - family camp programs that provide affordable camping and hiking
Astc.org. - Association of Science Technology Center with seasons passes to all participating science museums.
AMN.org– buy a reciprocal pass to multiple art museums.
Otalo.com – vacation house rental deals
Tripkick.com – detailed info on hotels and specific room info
TVtrip.com – photos of lobbies, rooms and neighborhoods
Oyster.com – pros and cons of different hotels
Voyij.com – checks best sales, promotions and package deals from departure city
Seatexpert.com – guide to the best and worst airline seats
Smartertravel.com – gives real price of airline tickets with all fees including charges for blankets, sodas, luggage and seats with more legroom.
Tripadvistor –traveler reviews on hotels, package deals, airlines and destinations
Airfarewatchdog.com – dealhounds post latest and best deals all day long.
Tripfilms.com – see traveler videos of hotels, restaurants and activities

Happy Trails to you!
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Til Debt Do Us Part -- Money Matters Before You Marry



This week is our anniversary and we are celebrating

by going away to the OC, riding segways on the beach & watching a concert called "Rain" (a Beatles Tribute). Hotel is free, segways are 1/2 price and Rain was 45% off!



When I married my husband, Bob, he was a young fighter pilot in the Air Force and I was a insurance/financial broker from Texas. We merged two different professions and two very different philosophies about money. Bob has a lassie faire style, a free spender who lives in the present. I am a structured person, a compulsive saver and always plan for the future. Even though it may seem that this marriage was made in any place but heaven, it has turned out quite the opposite. We’ve been happily merged and married for 24 years with seven children to show for it!

There were, however, a few things we learned after marriage that we wish we knew before the big date.



Talk, Talk, Talk,Communication is the key to dealing with money in marriage. According to a 2008 study conducted by California State University, 21% of couples fight over money daily or weekly. 10% fight monthly and 46% put on the gloves every few months. It’s no wonder that “money arguments” are cited as the number one cause for divorce in America. [[https://www.usaa.com/inet/pages/advice_merging_money]]

If couples spent as much time discussing this critical merger as they do in planning the honeymoon, they would have a great start in their new lives together. That is why it is critical for couples to get premarital counseling that specifically deals with money matters. Each partner comes to a marriage with different money management styles. Consequently, I recommend couples set aside date nights weekly to regularly talk about financial progress. Partners who discuss their views of money and work together to use their financial resources effectively may discover that they actually like the process.



Check, Check, Check, Some experts recommend running credit checks on their spouse-to-be. After all, “‘till death do us part” is the saying, and that means accepting everything about the other person, including any bad debt. On the other hand, if you don’t know how much money your fiancée owes, then the saying could be rephrased to: “‘til debt do us part.” Credit histories should be voluntarily shared among fiancées, preferably in front of a counselor. But you should never run a credit check on your future mate without their permission.

I like to say that “my love is unconditional, but my money is conditional.” It’s important to know about debt before the big date as the mingling of money could have an impact on your credit score. Initially, each score will be different, but if you are added to a spouse’s credit card or vice-versa, then that will have an impact for good or for bad. The merging of all financial resources means that in many cases---for mortgages, home improvement debt, car loans and joint accounts—his credit becomes your credit.



Usually, the bad score will more quickly impact the good score when joint credit is secured. However, it depends on how previous debt and accounts are handled. I do not recommend putting the person with good credit into the debt history of the partner with bad credit by adding her name to his accounts—this deteriorates the good payer’s FICO. But when it comes to future loans, there is a measure of unavoidable mingling. As a personal example, when we moved to CA and had to hook up electricity, with his FICO score the electric company required a $500 deposit. But by using my score we were allowed to establish service with no deposit. We put the bill in my name and in this particular case, it didn’t deteriorate my FICO and it saved us $500!



Yours, Mine and OursWhen two people merge finances, they will need to set up savings, checking and even retirement accounts. It’s important to decide if you will have joint or individual accounts.

There is no right or wrong answer on this one—it all depends upon what the couple mutually agrees to and what works for them. But it is something that should be decided ahead of time. If there are separate accounts, there needs to be full disclosure and accountability for those accounts. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of counseling many couples where one spouse racked up thousands of dollars in consumer debt and the other partner knew nothing about it until it was too late.



However, I’m a firm believer in keeping “mad money” and “surprise money” separate. After all, if Bob wants to give me a surprise trip to Paris for our anniversary—who am I to rob him of that pleasure?



A primary exception to joint accounts is any home based business account or trust funds that were established for children from a previous marriage. Those should definitely be kept separate at all times from a couple’s joint account.



Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cell Phone Savings So Simple, Even A Child Can Do It!



According to statistics provided by “Pews Study of the State of the Media”, 80% of Americans have a cell phone and 2/3 use it for something other than making calls. Nearly half of all American adults report that they get at least some local news and information on their cellphone or tablet computer. More and more families have more than one cell phone and they not longer have a home land line, opting to use their cells instead. And all of these trends are rapidly accelerating. How can you get the most value for your cell phone plan? Here are ways to save that your cell phone sales rep will not tell you.

Just Say "No" - We have to resist temptation when it comes to cell phone plans,especially when your contract obligation expires. If you do nothing for a few weeks, you'll begin to get all kinds of incentives and good deals that might be better than if you ugraded right away.

Timing is Everything There is a better time of the month to buy a plan or upgrade one and that is at the end of their accounting period when sales teams are trying to meet quotas or reach incentives. This usually occurs at the end of the month.

Don't Pay for Information -- There’s also a way to save on 411 calls, instead of getting gouged with ridiculously high fees for an information call. Just enter this free phone number in your address book: 800-FREE411 or 800-CALL411.

Rebates or FreeBates - I'm often asked if I think that phone rebates are they a deal or a dud? They are only a deal if you apply for them. Cell phone providers make money on rebates because many customers won't go through the hassle. Be sure you get all the info and apply online the same day you get the phone. That way, it won't get lost on your "to do" list.

Don't be All Wet! -- Protect your phone by securing it when you're around water (doing laundry, bathing the kids, etc) and don't even put it in the bathroom when you're taking a shower. Don't have it close to your skin when you're working out either! The results of a steamy shower or workout can be as bad as dropping it in the toilet. If you get your phone wet, then immediately dry off what you can, separate the battery and the phone, then submerge both in an air tight container of rice for 24 hours. This should absorb most of the moisture and may save your phone!

Kids Will Be Kids - So let's say, hypothetically, that you have a child who goes way over their minutes or text messages one month. You could end up paying outrageous fees for extra minutes. If the billing cycle hasn't closed yet, then call your company and upgrade to the next plan. It could save you 35 to 45 cents extra (per minute or text) for all the extra activity.

Little Known Discounts - When one of our teens, Jonathan, went in to see how much a new phone would cost, he decided to ask them if there were any extra discounts we could qualify for. We found out that my hubby's corporation, Northrup,offered a 28% discount for employees. Be sure to ask if your large company, government agency or credit union association can get you an additional discount on your already exisiting plan. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mulitgenerational Travel Bargains




When I was a little girl and dinosaurs roamed airport tarmacs, my Spanish grandmother took me back to Spain for the vacation of a lifetime. “Abuela” was a no nonsense woman, so I was on my best behavior. She asked the man sitting next to me in the airplane to put out his cigarette (yes, they used to smoke on airplanes back when).

He refused, so she took care of it.

When he went to the bathroom, leaving his ciggie on the ash tray, she leaned over, snubbed it out, then took his package of cigarettes and hid them. When he returned, he was confused for a minute and gave me a hard look. It was then he noticed the evil eye my 4’ 10” Abuela was giving him and he dropped the subject of smokes.

Ah, traveling with Abuela. Good times. Good times.

Multigenerational travel has always been popular, but thanks to a recovering tourist industry and great bargains available in a post recession economy, there has never been a better time for grandparents to hit the road with their progeny. Here are some trends and tips to keep in mind when planning this year’s travel.


Buyer’s Market


Being a part of a military family, meant that we had extended family members visit when my spouse deployed. Or, they may come to just see our part of the world. It also means that sometimes grandparents want to bond with their grandchildren and take the kids off your hands at the same time. Whether you are hosting family or getting rid of family (for a little while), you can take that multigenerational vacation for less.

To help extended family members get the best deals, start by subscribing to the top travel email alert sites and check them daily in order to begin your research. Don’t forget to check for military discounts, too! Some of the best alerts are found at travelzoo.com, kayak.com, smartertravel.com and travel-ticker.com . Be flexible with your destinations and get even more savings. If a cruise to the Mexican Riveria ends up costing ½ of what a trip to Disneyland costs, then readjust your expectations and save the mouse ears for another year.

Then compare the alert prices with values found at the one-stop shopping site called BookingBuddy.com . At this site, you’ll find deals from 140 travel sites including Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline. When in doubt as to whether “now” is the best time to book your flight or package, go to bing.com’s Price Predictor to see if prices are likely to rise or fall in the next week. But before you click “buy” be sure that you’ve also gone to RetailMeNot.com to find additional codes that might get you an even better deal.

Grand Times With Grandkids!

Some Grandparents’ idea of a dream trip is to vacation with their grandkids and make forever memories that provide enrichment and education. If they like the great outdoors, the look at some of the summer camps that are geared toward grandparents and grandkids, you can find these at found at Elderhostel.org. You’ll also find options to include intergenerational educational trips worldwide with 300 learning vacations designed for grandparents and grandkids such as Share a Marine Science Adventure in Virginia or Age of the Dinosaurs in Southwest Utah National Parks. Be sure to also check out Grandtravel.com, you’ll find a site that focuses on domestic and international trips with grandparents and grandkids. The founder, a grandmother of ten, believes in leaving your grandchildren with “a cultural inheritance” that will last them a lifetime.

If your family members are active grandparents, then check out the Sierra Club’s intergenerational program in Lake Tahoe, go to Sierraclub.org/outings to find other family camp programs in your area that provide affordable camping and hiking. If grandparents are 62+, then visit the National Parks site at NPS.com where they pay only $10 for a parks pass. Usually, children sixteen years of age and under get in for free. While at this site, look at the list of camps and trails for the young and young at heart to conquer.

The most important aspect of any vacation is to concentrate on meaningful time with family members. Families can do this in any part of the country by taking advantage of daytrips where multigenerational members can share a historical experience together in your city. For example, Colonial Williamsburg may not offer a specific grandparent program, but they do offer family packages that would allow the city’s exploration to stay within a budget. Other fun trips include buying a season pass to a museum that offers reciprocal passes to other museums across the country. Go to Association of Science Technology Center (Astc.org) or the Art Museum Network (AMN.org) to explore these creative options.
Sometimes a new experience for a child becomes an adventure as well, so look for activities that your children have never participated in and open the doors for loads of fun. For example, a cross-country train trip is a wonderful way to try something different while seeing the country through a child’s eyes. Creating forever memories with your family is what true adventure is all about!

So whether you’re going to Spain with a Spanish Grandmother or driving to the Grand Canyon with a beloved Grandparent—you can have the vacation of your dreams and your dream can remain debt free as well!

Sites for Savings

Hotels.com – Find best prices on hotels internationally and earn bonus stays
Ifly.com – terminal maps, estimates on how long security lines are, where to eat.
Flightaware.com – track flights by airline and flight number within 5 minutes of real time.
Otalo.com – vacation house rental deals
Tripkick.com – detailed info on hotels and specific room info
TVtrip.com – photos of lobbies, rooms and neighborhoods
Oyster.com – pros and cons of different hotels
Voyij.com – checks best sales, promotions and package deals from departure city
Seatexpert.com – guide to the best and worst airline seats
Smartertravel.com – gives real price of airline tickets with all fees including charges for blankets, sodas, luggage and seats with more legroom.
Tripadvisor –traveler reviews on hotels, package deals, airlines and destinations
Airfarewatchdog.com – dealhounds post latest and best deals all day long.
Tripfilms.com – see traveler videos of hotels, restaurants and activities

Happy Travel!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Don't Get Scammed When Giving to Japan



The tragedy in Japan is one that makes us want to open our wallets and help in a practical way. But with every tragedy there arises a new crop of scamsters, out to make a profit off of someone else's sorrow. How do you give smart and make sure your dollars go to the people who need it most? Follow these tips:

Email Scams

McAfee recently reported a significant increase in the amount of spam being generated by "Japanese Earthquake Relief" scams. So NEVER respond to an email, even if you suspect it is legit. Do not link to the link provided in such an email. Instead, go directly to your browser and type in the link to investigate--even if it's a charity you recognize. Some criminals are linking to sites like the Red Cross but the link will actually take you to a false site where they skim your money and your credit card number.

Don’t Fund Overhead or Fund Raising

You don’t want your dollars going to pay fat salaries, fancy overhead, or excessive fundraising expenses. The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance offers guidance to donors on making informed giving decisions through their charity evaluations, various "tips" publications, and the quarterly “Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide.” You can access this information by calling (703) 276-0100, going to www.give.org

You can ask them to mail you the various tip guides or read them online. These guides include information on:

Charitable Giving

Police and Firefighter Organizations

Handling Unwanted Direct Mail From Charitable Organizations

Child Sponsorship Organizations

Direct Mail Sweepstakes and Charities

Contributing Used Cars to Charities

Tax Deductions for Charitable Contributions


Record Keeping

If you itemize, you’ll need all receipts for donations of $250 or more. If you give away more than $250 worth of clothing throughout the year, you should have saved all receipts for tax purposes. The money donated directly to a needy person is not deductible. It would be better to donate the amount, anonymously, to your church and have them send the donation to the family in need. Check with your tax specialist every year for your state and federal tax laws.

Starting Your Own Foundation

If you are fortunate enough to have a large gain from a stock or mutual fund that you have held for over a year, consider using it to become what is essentially your own “foundation.” For example, if you own $5,000 worth of stock that you bought years ago for only $1,000, then you can donate the stock by setting up a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund account (call 1-800-682-4438 or go to www.charitablegift.org ) By doing this, you get an immediate $5,000 tax deduction and save having to pay taxes on the $4,000 gain. In the years to come, as that $5,000 grows, you instruct the company that manages your “foundation” where to donate the proceeds. Besides Fidelity, there are also charitable gift funds available thorough Vanguard at 1-888-383-4483 or www.vanguardcharitable.org or Schwab at 1-800-746-6216 or www.schwabcharitable.org .

Kid Philanthropists

You may want to allow your children to manage a donation in a predetermined amount $25, $50, or whatever you have budgeted.) They get to research a variety of non-profit organizations and decide which one will receive their donation. Then donate the amount in your child’s name. You get the tax benefit, your child gets the thank you note—you both feel good about giving.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Identity Theft and Other Nightmares


My husband brought me the credit card bill and asked “What did you DO on your last trip to New York?” He was hurt and stunned, “This charges are to a tattoo shop, an liquor store and a series of bars. Please tell me this is some mistake!”
It was a classic case of identity theft. I may have been guilty of buying one too many lattes and pastries at Dean and Delucas in New York, but I had no new tattoos! I tried to respond to my hubby but couldn’t speak . . .
And then I woke up. Yes, I know. I’m a strange breed because my “nightmares” consist of dreams about identity theft. Unfortunately, those nightmares are other people’s reality.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, it takes 12 months, on average, for a victim of identity theft to notice the crime. So how do you keep yourself safe from the ever growing threat of identity theft? Learn to identify the latest scams:

Phishing Scams – Never give your social security number, account numbers, date of birth or other personal information via email or on the phone unless you initiated the contact. Most major internet sites and financial institutions have been targeted including Citibank, PayPal, eBay, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and America Online (AOL). These scams usually show up in your email inbox with a message from the "System Administrator" telling you to perform some urgent maintenance on your account.

Checks – When you pay your credit card by check, never put the full account number on the check, just write the last four digits. This will prevent someone in transit from harvesting your account number.

• Auction Fraud – This was the second most reported consumer fraud complaint to the FTC, totaling 51,000 auction complaints. The fraud is simple - put up a fake ad on eBay, let someone "win" the bid and send in their money, but never send out the merchandise. Make sure the seller has an established history before you click “buy.”

• Identity Theft or Credit Repair Scams -- The Federal Trade Commission has warned that some companies that claim to be identity theft prevention companies are scam artists trying to get your driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, Social Security number and credit and bank account numbers. If you are unsure about a firm, check it out with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org .

Prize Scams – If someone calls you on the telephone and offers you the chance to receive a major prize but insists on gathering personal data first, ask them to send a written application in the mail. If they refuse, then hang up.

Credit Card Applications – Consider getting a secure mailbox (key access) as many identity thieves like to take your mail directly from the box (or from the trash), fill out your credit card applications and put their address in the information box. Always shred all credit card applications and contact your credit card companies to never release this information to other companies.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)