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 or If you are worried that the prices will go up or down, go to 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 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, For more info, go to

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, and . If you are in a US port, try websites such as’s local deals, or, 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 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)