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,, and . 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 . 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’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 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 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, 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 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 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 ( or the Art Museum Network ( 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 – Find best prices on hotels internationally and earn bonus stays – terminal maps, estimates on how long security lines are, where to eat. – track flights by airline and flight number within 5 minutes of real time. – vacation house rental deals – detailed info on hotels and specific room info – photos of lobbies, rooms and neighborhoods – pros and cons of different hotels – checks best sales, promotions and package deals from departure city – guide to the best and worst airline seats – 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 – dealhounds post latest and best deals all day long. – 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

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 ) 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 or Schwab at 1-800-746-6216 or .

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 .

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)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

Our son, Jonathan, is a senior this year and we're glad he made it this far! Last year, he had a concussion on the soccer field that could have ended quite badly. The total hospital bill for that little trip was over $18,000! According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, if you or your child broke a leg, you would incur costs in excess of $15,000. It’s no wonder that in my experience with mainstream American families, I’ve found that the greatest financial concern they have is how find affordable health insurance.

Be Healthy

The best protection against rising medical costs is still prevention. So get involved in a healthy workout program or plug into a support group to regain control of your health such as great program is First Place 4 Health ( for men and women of all ages. Using a support system that incorporates prayer, balanced eating and exercise plans, this non-profit group provides the opportunity to change your life, not only physically but spiritually and emotionally.

A healthy lifestyle can also have other advantages. Many health insurance companies offer a refund on an annual premium if the insured can prove that they have attended a health and fitness center three times a week.

Be Wealthy

There’s no need to pay more than necessary for health insurance.Compare plans and prices by going to a non-intrusive site such as It’s possible to get a relatively anonymous quote instantly without the intrusion of a salesperson calling your home or office. It’s also a good place to compare plans by remembering that you shouldn’t buy what you don’t need. For example, if you do not need maternity benefits, eliminate them from the plan you choose.

If you can consider a higher deductible, then the money saved on premiums could go into a Health Savings Account (HSA), which is basically a health insurance policy you can bank on. When an HSA-eligible policy is purchased in conjunction with an HSA account, then the Health Savings Account is funded with pre-tax dollars, and taxable income is reduced at the same time. The money in this account is used, tax-free, to fund healthcare related costs including prescriptions, insurance deductibles and over the counter medications. The money that is not used in this account is rolled over from year to year and can serve as a retirement plan.

You do not have to insure all family members on the same policy. If there’s an employee benefit in a group plan, it doesn’t mean all family members have to be covered on the same plan. An average family can save as much as $2500 a year by pulling family members out of pricey group plans and purchasing individual health insurance. The exception to this would be if the family member has a pre-existing condition (such as asthma, a heart condition, high cholesterol, etc) that might be temporarily or permanently excluded in an individual plan. In that case, it would be better to pay the higher premium in order to keep the comprehensive coverage consistent.

Be Wise

Know the difference between health insurance and discount health or medical “cards.” According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, many companies are selling so-called discount health cards to consumers seeking affordable healthcare. Usually for a monthly fee, the cards claim to save subscribers money by offering discounts on physician visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, dental work, eye care and other treatment. The CAIF says that, “Discount health cards are spreading rapidly. Many may offer valuable, money-saving benefits for people without health insurance. But these cards can also be confusing, because they are not insurance. You still must pay the medical bills yourself. These cards simply offer lower prices on services that accept these discounts.”

If you have a question about a policy or a card before you buy, go to to make sure you’re being wise in your choices.

Finally, for the 45.8 million uninsured Americans, who may feel they cannot afford health insurance, go to the non-profit arm of a previous site found at to see what services and benefits are available for your particular situation and in your state and community.

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring Cleaning - Garage Sale Success

I'm going indoor skydiving next week with a coupon that I bought from Groupon for only $35. I'll get two flights, a DVD and bragging rights. I look at life as an adventure—especially when it comes to stretching my dollars and finding creative ways to make and spend money. Sometimes we need to have the ultimate adventure—a garage sale! Paying a dime on the dollar for a product still in its original box is a not only a thrill—it’s eco friendly because no new resources are made to create that product. Not only do garage sales simplify your life by helping you de-clutter, but they also provide a way to keep more change in your pocket and teach your kids the value of a buck.
Here are my top ten tips to host a successful garage sale. If you follow them carefully, you’ll find yourself flying high—without the bungee cord!

 Collect – Throughout the month, throw stuff in a big box marked, “Garage Sale.” Not only will you relieve clutter, you’ll soon have enough diverse items to host a sale. Of course, you may have your husband keep taking things out of that box.

 Location –It’s great to buddy up with a friend whose house has a better location than yours, in order to catch the attention of drive-by traffic. Or, ask a neighbor (or two) on your block to host their own sales—you could get three times the garage sale traffic with combined sales.

 Advertise-- When you create garage sale signs for the neighborhood, use brightly colored poster board and a good contrasting color. Keep the lettering brief and legible and tape some balloons on it. Go in with your neighbors on a small ad in your local paper, it will really help bring people to your sale.

 Pricing – If you put a price your product, you are more likely to sell it. Most people don’t want to keep asking, “How much for this?” Even with the item marked, there will be some who will barter with you on the price—but that’s to be expected. Begin pricing items weeks before the sale, placing them in a “finished” pile in your garage.

 Cash – Have at least $20 in coins, 50 one-dollar bills and 6 five dollar bills. Keep your money box in a safe location and never leave it unattended. Bring each $100 earned into your house for safekeeping.

 Checks – Never take a check from someone you do not know. This isn’t just a matter of trust, it’s one of responsibility. Most people know to bring cash.

 Hold – Never hold an item without a substantial non-refundable deposit. If you hold it for free, then the customer might not return and you’ve lost your opportunity to sell that item.

Marketing – Place furniture and bikes that will draw attention by the curb where people can see them. Try marketing ideas such as “buy three books/get three free.” It’s amazing how well this works—people respond to the word “free.”

 Clean –If an item looks newer because it’s clean, you’ll be able to get as much as 50% more for it. Run sturdy plastic toys through the dishwasher, spot clean the armchair, wash and hang clothes on a hanger, and polish wood furniture—it’s worth it!

 Expand – Let your kids get in on the action by selling lemonade on hot days or coffee and donuts on cool mornings. Let the kids go to the store with you to buy cups, donuts, napkins, lemonade and sugar. Be sure they understand how to make change and how to be courteous to customers. You'll see the photo where one of my sons opened a "Cowboy Autograph" stand. Who knows? They may earn enough to fund their college education (or at least buy a new bike!)

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)