7 Ways to Save $2,000 for Your Summer Vacation

The best vacations are debt-free. Here’s how to save for one.

Sometimes, you need a real vacation. Not just a weekend camping at the lake or a road trip to Grandma’s cabin – a real getaway. It can be hard to justify a spendy trip when you have to save for retirement or pay off student loans, but with a nip here and a tuck there, you can remake your budget without too much pain. And at the end, with the worries of home far away, you’ll be glad you did.

Make a budget.

Sit down with everyone who’s going on the trip and figure out everyone’s priorities. Take into account transportation, lodging and food, of course – but don’t stop there. Familiarize everyone with your destination’s main attractions. You don’t want to get all the way there before you find out those aquarium tickets are $75 at the door and it’s the only reason Aunt Sally wanted to go.

Use your tax refund to start a savings account.

Most American families get more than $1,000 back from the federal government every year. Instead of blowing that money, start a separate account devoted to vacation savings. You’ll have fun watching it grow while you get excited for your trip.

Change your direct deposit.

Yeah, it can be a pain, but take the time to fill out a new direct deposit form with your employer. Socking away $50 to $100 from every paycheck into your new vacation savings account will add up fast.

Side note: If your tax refund was huge, you might be able to offset the effect of saving more by just altering your withholding. A giant refund means you’ve been giving the government an interest-free loan.

Make up for that extra savings.

The idea of a vacation fund is that you don’t have to loot it for funds. So you’ll have to make some sacrifices. You might consider a monthlong spending freeze, where you don’t spend on anything except necessities like food and gas. Get tips on weathering a freeze here.

Meal planning is another good way to save. If you look at how much you spend on food every month, you might be shocked. So eliminate those takeout lunches and pizza deliveries for a while. Dust off your cookbooks, examine your pantry, and make a plan every week before grocery shopping. You’ll save a ton, and you might even look better in your swimsuit when it’s time to hit the beach.

Get everyone involved with earning and saving.

If you’re taking kids or teens on your jaunt, tell them their souvenir and shopping budget for the trip is their responsibility. They can mow the lawn, babysit, organize the garage – all the stuff they got paid for before, only now that cash goes into the vacation fund.

Don’t underestimate how much money you could earn by having a garage sale or putting outgrown toys and furniture up for sale online, either. You’ll just be freeing up more space for vacation memories.

Use the right credit card.

If you’re flying to your dream destination, consider a credit card with a rewards program that pays off in airline miles. Use the card to buy gas and grocerrosan-harmens-18418.jpgies, then pay it off every month while the miles rack up. Just make sure you can use those miles when you actually want to – and that the affiliated carriers go where you want to go.

Book in advance.

This vacation is happening, right? So book it. You’ll get better deals on airfare, hotels and tickets to big attractions like museums. Sometimes, getting early passes to theme parks lets you cruise past long lines like a VIP. And forgetting to pre-book tickets to some in-demand attractions means you just won’t get to go.

Your wedding can be beautiful on a smaller budget

Planning a wedding can be equal parts maddening and intoxicating. The possibilities are endless – and gorgeous, when you start looking at décor and dresses and flowers …

It’s easy to see how things can get out of hand. But it’s just not a good idea to go deep into debt for one weekend’s worth of celebration. After those initial conversations about who’s going to pay and how much, you can set a budget and start figuring out what’s truly important to you and what your guests will really remember.

Just a few areas where you might encounter sticker shock (and how to prevent it):

The venue: Can you believe that some places charge up to $30,000 to get married there? That’s a down payment on a house. Or a car. Or two cars.eric-alves-145943.jpg

There’s no rule that says you have to get married in a church and have your reception in an event hall. Think outside the box a little. Make a list of places that have significance for you as a couple.

People get hitched on the porches of family homes, in parks and at lakes, in underground caves, at wildlife refuges and theme parks, in museum sculpture gardens, on covered bridges, at railway depots and botanical gardens. Just make sure you get a permit to keep your nontraditional venue legal.

The dress: There is no law stating that brides have to gather an entourage, try on white dresses and twirl around until their credit cards are maxed out.

You don’t even have to go to a bridal salon if you don’t want to. Stores like White House, Black Market carry lovely formal pieces. Look for white dresses during prom season at department stores. Online retailer BHLDN is disrupting the market by offering couture design for around a grand.

You can also stalk trunk shows and end-of-season sample sales, and comb through sites like OnceWed.com to take advantage of other brides’ rejected or lightly used dresses. If you fall in love with a dress that fits you well in a bridal salon, see if you can buy the sample.

If you do order a dress, keep alterations to a minimum by buying the right silhouette for your body type and ordering your real size. Corset-backed dresses are great for keeping alteration costs down.

The flowers: If you come up with something else to put in the middle of your tables, you could save yourself thousands. Spend your flower money on the bride bouquet, and think of something creative for the rest of the wedding party to carry, like feathered fans, beaded purses or a beautifully wrapped book that is meaningful to you.

The photography: Wedding photographers earn their money, but you have other options. Photojournalists frequently make extra money on the weekends shooting weddings, as do college students in art and photo programs. Some couples book ceremony-only packages and let their guests crowdsource the reception photography with disposable cameras.

Music: Unless you’re really committed to the chicken dance, you can save money by not hiring a DJ. A playlist of your favorite tunes and a friend with a laptop will do just as well, without entrusting the personality of your reception to a stranger.

Wedding planners who share wisdom online point to sit-down dinners, programs and favors as the most overlooked and unappreciated extras that couples waste money on. Your guests will remember your vows and remember the personal touches you bring to make your reception a great gathering, whether it’s a more toned-down family affair or a raucous party with an open bar.

Once you sit down and figure out your priorities, you’ll determine where to best spend your money – even if it’s on the honeymoon.

 

Last-minute gifts don’t have to be lame. Unless that’s the idea.

Some people are just hard to buy for. So you wait and wait, until suddenly it’s crunch time. Here are some not-so-lame gift ideas if you find yourself stuck.

Buying for someone who lives to laugh? Raise the everyday humor ante with these titles.

  • You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein. The memoir of a tomboy and a late bloomer, from one of Amy Schumer’s head writers.
  • American Housewife, by Helen Ellis. Twelve short stories of women under pressure range from the acerbic to the surreal.
  • I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro. The comedian’s personal tale of four months of tragedy has been known to cause laughter through tears.

Need something for that coworker who thinks they’re Wolfgang Puck?

  • Les Moulins Mahjoub Natural Preserved Lemons. Offer to be a taster for new recipes.
  • Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. Made with Madagascar bourbon. For intense flavor and those telltale “real vanilla” specks.
  • An apron with a measuring cheat sheet on it. Because the metric system is for people with funny accents.

Know an old guy who needs nothing? Maybe you call him your boss. Or “Dad.”

  • A wilderness fire starter. He’s not outdoorsy, you say? Doesn’t matter. Males love fire.
  • A scratch-off map of the world. He’ll be able to tell young’uns all his travel stories with a visual aid for a change.
  • Night Vision Driving Glasses. He’ll feel like a Navy SEAL when he’s going out to get milk after dark.

Passive-aggressive gifts for that woman in your life who gives out backhanded compliments, as in: “That outfit really creates the illusion of a waistline.”

  • A cellulite massager. That is all.
  • An illuminated makeup mirror. Tell her, “I think better lighting will just make all the difference.” Practice saying it with a straight face.
  • A succulent garden containing cacti. Because it’s prickly.

For the children in your life, or just people who live their lives as such.

  • Hatchimals. New for 2016, these spotted “eggs” eventually reveal magical creatures inside.
  • Kinetic Sand. Hours of fun and less messy than it sounds, too.
  • A Buddha Board. It uses water as vanishing paint, like Snapchat for doodlers.

Oh, someone fancies themselves an artist, do they?

  • Twistables Slick Stix: Hard to find in stores, these Crayola twist-ups are a dream combo of crayons, pastels and markers.
  • Dylusions Ink Spray: You could spray them, but most people stencil, stamp and paint to create dynamic transparencies with these waterproof acrylics.
  • Washi Tape: It’s like beauty you can unroll. Washi is an obsession on Pinterest, where crafters use it to mark up calendars, wrap presents and take scrapbooking to the next level.

When you’re last-minute shopping, Amazon Prime and other free-shipping sites can be your best friends, but don’t count out locally owned brick-and-mortar stores for inspiration and unique finds. Just make sure you go in with a list and a plan.

You also might be tempted into grabbing a few things for yourself – just admit it now – but make sure that’s built into your holiday budget, too.

 

 

7 Simple Ways to Make Your First Million

IMG_3684 (Because once you make your first million you’re bound to rejoice under a waterfall with a rainbow, right?)

If a million dollars’ worth of investments sounds unattainable, you haven’t done your research. A seven-figure portfolio is absolutely doable if you start saving early, make sane lifestyle choices and avoid some common psychological traps.

Don’t limit your thinking to making a mere million over your lifetime. Aim for $10 million. Your only way to get there is to educate yourself about investing from reliable, been-there sources. After that, make a plan and stick to it.

Start with a millionaire mindset.

Building wealth begins in the brain. There are some beliefs and behaviors that you simply must avoid – taking on consumer debt, keeping up with the Joneses, trying to take shortcuts or falling for get-rich-quick schemes. True wealth takes time and hard work.

Adopt a spendthrift lifestyle.

When millionaires are studied, they surprise researchers. They’re not living in upscale neighborhoods and driving fancy cars. They treat their income like a business: spending the least possible and investing the rest. It’s not unheard of for future millionaires to invest half of their household income.

Make money from your hobby.

If there’s something you could do all day, every day, do it. The trick is finding a way to make your passion into a profitable enterprise. You can expect to fail along the way, but getting back up to try again is what separates millionaires from middle managers. Don’t be afraid to spend hours and weekends on your “side business” – it might be your bread and butter someday.

Start saving right now.

It’s all about doing the math. Most millionaires invested in the stock market for a long time, reinvesting dividends and letting compound interest do all the work.

Find an online calculator and figure out how much you’ll need to invest each month to be a millionaire by the time you’re 60, assuming you’re earning an average 7 percent return. You might be surprised.

Keep cool and play the long game.

Impatience is the enemy of wealth. It makes people buy and sell too often, and it makes them abandon promising businesses that don’t explode into success overnight.

It takes a while for investments to start ballooning into real money, and even then, you’re going to want to leave them alone. If it were easy to run your own business, everyone would do it. So take a deep breath and realize you’ve got a long way to go.

Always be hustling for more income.

If you’re not a natural entrepreneur, consider investing in real estate. A rental property that will bring in more money than you pay to maintain it is a great investment. Do some research to figure out the up-and-coming neighborhoods in your area. The quicker you own your rental property outright, the quicker you’ll be looking at steeper profits.

Your 401(k) is your tax-free friend.

You might as well take advantage of the federal government’s wealth-building program: the 401(k) account. First, put in the maximum amount allowed by law ($18,000 a year as of 2016). Leave it in there, earning compound interest, and if your mutual funds return a 7 percent profit while you’re socking away that $18,000 a year, you’ll be a millionaire in 23 years. If you can’t afford to put away $18K a year, put away as much as possible.

Five summer vacation spots that won’t break the bank

IMG_3571.JPGSometimes, you just have to get away and take in some new scenery. Good thing America is full of destinations where you can choose how much you want to spend once you get there.

Yellowstone National Park

A road trip to one of America’s natural wonders will take you past enough landmarks to justify a vacation unto themselves: South Dakota’s Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Grand Tetons and more. Take out an almanac and plot different courses there and back for variety.

Just be sure to leave enough time in Yellowstone itself, where you could spend weeks exploring geysers, waterfalls, jewel-toned hot springs, canyons and wildflowers. Bears, bison and elk provide even more photo opportunities in the park.

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Lodging in the nearby towns of Jackson Hole, Cody and West Yellowstone is available at varied pricing levels, so book as far in advance as you can. You can also take a tent and camp at one of the 2,000 sites within the park if you reserve it in time. Eating within Yellowstone can be pricey, so pack a cooler with food and drinks at a grocery store outside the park every day.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is a popular tourist destination, with lots of flights going in and out every day on discount carriers. Look for sales on individual airlines’ sites as well as popular travel booking sites to get the best deal. There is no shortage of beachfront condo-style hotels competing to fill rooms, either.

Once you get there, Myrtle Beach has a lot to offer besides the beach. The world-class Ripley’s Aquarium is the city’s biggest draw, with the Family Kingdom Amusement Park & Water Park close behind. Companies offer ziplining, kayaking, boating and diving for the active vacationer – or you can just sit on the beach and relax.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston has more history per square mile than any other city in America. Once you get there, you can discover the city’s rich Revolutionary War heritage on foot on your own or with the help of a guided walking tour. Business travel makes downtown hotels close to attractions, like the waterfront and theater district, popular during the week, with better deals on weekend nights.

One money-saving deal to consider is the Go Boston Card, which lets you skip lines and gets you into a long list of destinations at a discounted price. You can choose which kind of card you want based on the number of places you want to visit, or just custom-load one according to your plans.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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Once you’re out of spring break territory, this Florida beach city calms down into a destination for wide sandy coastlines, open-air dining and water sports like kayaking. The city’s arts district has grown up around Las Olas Boulevard, packed with galleries, boutiques and world-class dining. If you get tired of the city and beach, you can take a boat tour into the Everglades or tour a historic estate.

You can fly into Fort Lauderdale, but you can also check for cheaper flights into Miami and West Palm Beach. Once you’re there, you can take water taxis on the canals or use the city’s trolley service along the beach and downtown. Finding a beachfront hotel in your price range might not be as hard as you think, especially in summer, because of all the competition.

Austin, Texas

Austin has carved out a reputation that stands apart from the rest of Texas. The state capital is also the world’s live music capital, with a thriving cultural scene and welcoming attitude that keeps it hopping year round. Austin has a well-developed bus and light-rail system that connects downtown to the airport. You can also rent a bike and use the city’s system of lanes and trails.

Because Austin is such a popular destination – you’ll want to avoid the South by Southwest festival if you’re keeping costs down – it has a lot of available places to rent via services like Airbnb. There are also affordable rooms at hostels near 6th Street, ground zero for Austin’s late-night live music scene.

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Wherever you end up going this summer, a little research beforehand will save you money on hotels and transportation. But once you’re at your vacation spot, don’t be afraid to ask the locals their opinions on the best diners or dive bars. They’ll steer you to great, under-the-radar places you might not find in your guidebook.

Vacations are about making memories, so concentrate on finding the kind of unforgettable experiences that money just can’t buy.

What does FOMO mean for your future?

IMG_3437The thought of being trapped in your office cube while your friends go to their third happy hour of the week drives you insane.

After drooling over your sister’s tower of artisanal French toast on Instagram, you can’t even deal with your boring bowl of cereal.

Your squad rolling up to that concert without you gives you heart palpitations.

That anxious feeling of not doing enough, not experiencing enough, is called FOMO: fear of missing out.

This 21st-century social anxiety is fittingly fueled by social media, where everyone else’s carefully edited lives seem to put your own to shame. One friend is in Greece, another is already a vice president at work, and that power couple is making cake pops for the soccer tournament.

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FOMO becomes a real problem if it makes you reach for your wallet instead of putting down your phone. Its hold on investors leads to bubbles and then to crashes, like the dot-com collapse in 2000. It can even hurt your career if you’re constantly unsatisfied with your position, leading you to devalue your own work until you can find “something better.”

So what do you do about it?

  • Have something to look forward to. FOMO won’t strike as hard if you’re not staring down an empty calendar. So plan some volleyball games or commit to seeing the new superhero movie with friends. It’s cheaper than buying plane tickets.
  • Don’t leave money languishing in accessible accounts. If your checking account has more than a few months’ expenses in it, start saving more aggressively for emergencies and retirement. The less likely you are to spend now, the more you can enjoy later in life.
  • Don’t let yourself be bored. Pursue that hobby you’ve always put off. Use that gym membership. Keeping busy keeps envy at bay.
  • Give social media a break. Your Instagram account doesn’t define you, so realize that it’s not a complete picture of anyone else’s life, either.
  • Let it go. You’re never going to experience everything, win every award, get every promotion. Just remember: You don’t have to impress anyone but yourself. Besides, everyone you know is probably jealous of your lifestyle already. They have FOMO, too.

Pet insurance. Is it worth it?

Is pet insurance really worth it?

Veterinary care is a lot like health care for humans: Technology, medicine and lifesaving techniques are always being developed. Your pet’s doctor can offer more advanced treatment, but it comes at a cost. Faced with thousands of dollars in treatment after an accident or dire diagnosis, many pet owners are conflicted. Many people draw the line at spending $500 on vet care, forcing themselves into a difficult decision. Even fewer pet owners are willing to spend more than $1,000.

It’s not like people insurance.

Pet insurance has a higher profile lately, with an increasing number of carriers competing for owners’ dollars each year. Premiums can range from around $10 to $90 a month, with widely varying levels of coverage. If you have pet insurance, you’ll usually have to pay your vet up front, then file a claim for reimbursement. Most vet offices will help you fill out the paperwork involved.

So is it worth it?                    

Pet insurance can come in handy in urgent situations. Just like for people, emergency veterinary care is exponentially expensive. If your dog fractures its leg and needs orthopedic surgery, the bill could top $3,000. But that’s a rare situation, and pet insurance doesn’t end up saving most owners money in the long-term. The exceptions are pets that develop a rare disease that will require long-term treatment and pets with catastrophic injuries.

What if I decide to buy coverage?

Ask your veterinarian to recommend a few carriers. Vets don’t get kickbacks on this kind of advice. Compare a few different policies from different companies and read the fine print on maximum payouts and other exclusions. Including “wellness care” on top of accident and illness coverage for your pet will probably not be worth the higher premium you will pay, so consider leaving it out. Insure your pet when it’s healthy, and don’t cancel when it gets older unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences.

Check the coverage limitations.

Some plans cover wellness visits as well as emergencies; others don’t. Common but expensive ailments such as hip dysplasia are usually excluded under most plans. Some carriers completely exclude certain breeds, such as the Chinese Shar-Pei. Some breeds, like Labrador retrievers, will be covered for only one round of surgical object removal after eating, say, your shoe. Big breeds aren’t always covered for ligament repair after a common leg injury, and so forth.

Insurance isn’t your only option. Consider depositing a few hundred dollars a year into a savings account for unexpected vet bills. If your pet leads a relatively healthy life until old age, you’ll have money to spend if problems arise.

You can also save money in the long run by reducing your pet’s medical risk factors. Spaying or neutering, keeping current on vaccinations and dental cleaning, using heartworm prevention, and protecting your pet from fleas and ticks will put the odds in your favor. Feeding your dog a vet-recommended diet will also help. Even if you decide against insuring your pet, staying mindful about its everyday health can provide peace of mind.

Spending Freeze: Day 10

The long-awaited day 10 has arrived! Less than 24 hours left until you conquer the Freeze. Congratulations to all of you – truly awesome learnings, communication and effort. We’ll be posting the list of eligible participants for the drawing on Monday, and will inform the winner by Monday night.

Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy the Super Bowl (or not)! You deserve it.

Day 10 prompt: Would you do the Freeze again? What did you like/dislike about the process? What could make the Freeze better in the future?

 

 

Spending Freeze: Day 9

There is a light at the end of the tunnel and you can see it. The weekend is near. You’re probably practicing your victory dance.

However, day 10 falls on a Friday. (Day 9 prompt) How will you spend your last Friday freezing? Will it be the hardest day of all, or the easiest?