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  • Five Tips to Vacation on a Budget

    Thanks to RBS Citizens Financial Group for this informative sponsored post. You can read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    Desperate for a getaway but wondering how to pay for it? Arranging a vacation on a budget can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Create a budget for your family vacation, and start saving money each month for your next big trip. In the meantime, consider planning a cheap weekend vacation with your family, and follow these tips and budget vacation ideas.

    1. Create a budget for family vacations: Using a spreadsheet tool, outline the expenses for your trip. To do this, you’ll need to decide where and when you want to go. Don’t forget to include the costs of the following items:

    • Wardrobe: Will you need a new swimsuit or summer dress? A new ski parka?
    • Passport fees: If you’re going out of the country, be sure to get updated passports for the whole family.
    • Toiletries: Buying travel size items can get expensive. Instead, choose a bag to check, and pack enough toiletries for the family.
    • Camera: Will you need disposable underwater cameras? Don’t forget about extra batteries and a memory card for your digital camera.
    • Travel fare: Save enough for plane tickets, rental cars, buses, trains, gas or public transportation.
    • Activities: Plan out what you want to do before you go. Budget enough for these activities and the cost of any rental equipment required.

    2. Book early: If you’re going to fly, book as early as possible. If you can fly mid-week or on a red-eye, it’s typically cheaper. Get a credit card that will earn you frequent flier miles, and start racking up the savings.

    3. Travel during the off-season: One of the best ideas for a vacation on a budget is to travel during the off-season to save money on flights and accommodations. Plus, you won’t find your destination overrun by tourists. Consider Ireland in February, Jamaica in April, Las Vegas in August and Lake Tahoe in November.

    4. Take short day or weekend trips instead of extravagant vacations: You might be surprised how many scenic parks, historical sites and other places of interest are right in your backyard.

    5. Choose economic accommodations: When you’re planning a cheap vacation, consider splitting the cost of accommodations and meals with another family through a timeshare or vacation rental. Other options include home exchange, hostels or home stays, but be sure you thoroughly research these options. Finally, camping equipment may be expensive up front, but it can provide cheap vacation accommodations for several years.

    Budget for your family vacation by opening a savings account

    Take advantage of the above budget vacation ideas to save money during your trip, but remember that even planning a cheap vacation starts by opening a savings account. Look for an account that provides you with tools like automatic transfers and goal tracking to help you reach your savings goals. With the right tools in place, you’ll watch your savings grow – fast. To give your savings plan an additional boost, you may want to consider money market accounts or other high-yield savings options that can provide a greater return on your investment. Find a savings account that meets your needs, and set aside money each month so you have enough cash for your vacation expenses when the time comes.

    Tips for Managing Your Gift Box

    I’m a big advocate of keeping a “Gift Box,” which is basically a stash of items you can give as gifts so you don’t have to run out on each gift-giving occasion and pay full-price. It’s a great way to save money and reduce stress.

    Here are some tips for getting the most out of your gift box:

    If you buy a gift on discount with someone specific in mind, use a post-it to tag the gift so you’ll remember your intentions when you go through the box. You can even wrap the gift and put a gift tag on it, but I personally prefer to look at the gift one last time before wrapping it up.

    Don’t hold onto gifts for too long. They might go out of style, or be discontinued, and at some point, it’ll be embarrassing to give them as gifts.

    Don’t buy more than one or two of the same item. You don’t want to accidentally give the same gift to someone more than once! The exception to this rule would be if you see a great deal on an item you want to give to a group of people – a good example would be Amazon’s inexpensive jewelry. During the holidays, I picked up several of these crystal bracelets for less than $7 each and gave them to my son’s preschool teachers.

    When in doubt, don’t gift. If you’re not sure if you should give something, don’t. It’s better to be out a little money and time, than to be embarrassed about the gift you’re giving.

    Don’t be afraid to re-gift. If you receive something that’s just not for you, there’s nothing wrong with giving it to someone else, as long as the original giver will never know, the item is in good condition, and it’s appropriate for the new recipient.


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    Using what I have: Wedding China

    When I met my husband, he had some colorful plastic Heller plates (like the ones pictured here) that he’d inherited from his parents, and we’ve been using them for over ten years now. They’re sturdy, almost unbreakable, and the lip on the side keeps food contained – obviously, they’re perfect for kids.

    However, ever since BPA in plastic became a known health issue, I’ve been wary of plastic. And this set is old.

    So I looked around for alternatives for quite some time – I considered glass, melamine, Corelle, wood, and other materials. But they were all too expensive, raised new health concerns, or too fragile.

    For a while, I was paralyzed by indecision. What was the right thing to do?

    Finally, I decided on the easiest alternative: using what I already have, i.e., the lovely set of plain white bone china that we registered for when we got married. We were lucky enough to receive 12 complete place settings. Four are still in their boxes, so I actually have replacements if they are necessary. The kids are old enough now that I figured we’d just see what happens. If we end up with a series of broken plates, I’ll have to buy something.

    But in the meantime, I’m pleased. I’ve always loved my wedding china, and it makes me happy to use it every day. Plus, we saved quite a bit of money by not buying anything new. ^_^

    How to Save Money on Contact Lenses

    Savanna wrote in recently to ask about saving money on contact lenses, and it so happened that I was pricing Acuvue Oasys lenses at the time. So here are some tips on saving on contacts:

    • See if your doctor can get it for less. It turns out that my prescription is so strong that my insurance provider actually considers my contacts “medically necessary.” That means they cover a significantly larger portion of the cost than they would otherwise, so it’s cheapest for me to get my lenses through my eye doctor.
    • Shop around. When I was growing up, there was no question that we’d get our glasses and contact lenses through our doctor. But your doctor should give you a written prescription and you can take it anywhere to be filled. The type of lens you need should be written on the prescription, which makes it easy to order online. You’ll have to enter your doctor’s information as the prescription will be verified with them.
    • Look for coupon codes. The last two times I ordered contact lenses online, I ordered from Walgreens.com using coupon codes that had been sent to me via email that reduced the cost by 20%. There are also frequent offers for free shipping at the different sites that sell contacts.
    • Go through shopping portals. As with all online shopping, I recommend going through a shopping portal like Ebates or Mr. Rebates to get cash back. These sites also list coupon codes for discounts and free or reduced shipping.
    • Take advantage of your employer’s Flexible Spending Plan. Contact lenses and contact solution are expenses that qualify for reimbursement from tax-advantaged medical reimbursement accounts, so you can pay for them with pre-tax money if your employer offers these accounts. When calculating the amount to be deducted from your paycheck throughout the year, be sure to include these expenses.
    • Take proper care of your lenses to maximize their use. Ask your doctor about the best way to care for your contact lenses, as different types of lenses require different types of care.
    • Get free contact solution through The Drugstore Game. Contact lens solution is something I no longer pay for because it can frequently be obtained for free through The Drugstore Game. Even if you prefer a brand that is usually not free, you should be able to at least get it discounted after coupons and store rewards.

    Five tips for getting reimbursed for faulty products

    I love the internet, not least because of online contact forms. When there’s a problem with a product, I just hop online and find the manufacturer or seller’s contact form to let them know of the problem. Here are five tips to keep in mind when writing your note:

    1. Be polite. Remember that the person who will be reading your note is likely not personally responsible for the problem, no matter how aggravating, and isn’t deserving of a diatribe. I always start my notes Dear Sir or Madam, end with Sincerely, and use polite language in between.

    2. Be concise. You have to explain enough of the problem so the reader understands the cause of your dissatisfaction, but your complaint may be overlooked if you ramble.

    3. Provide product information. Sometimes the online form requires you to input the pertinent information – like an order number, product code, etc. If it doesn’t, provide those facts that seem important to prove your complaint (for example, when complaining about a packaging error, I have included the UPC code, lot number, and location of purchase). Don’t discard the product until you have heard back, since companies sometimes ask for items to be sent back (at their cost) so they can examine the defect.

    4. State your desired remedy. Whether you want a full refund, a partial refund, a free product coupon to replace the faulty product, or some other remedy, you should state that clearly in your note.

    5. Provide your contact information. In some cases, like with an online purchase, this may be unnecessary if you provide the order number because the company shouldn’t need more info to issue a refund to your credit card. But if you requested a coupon or something that needs to be sent to you, provide the appropriate information so that the company can fulfill your request.

    By following these guidelines, I save my family a few dollars per month, on average – and as we’ve discussed before, small amounts add up!

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