Friday, February 5, 2016

Winter Weekend Getaways On A Limited Budget

Question: We’d love to get away for a fun weekend, but don’t want to dip into savings. Can you give me some ideas for a low-cost, weekend getaway during the winter?


There are many ways to escape the winter doldrums without breaking the bank. You don’t have to take an expensive ski trip or visit a tropical island paradise to receive the intended benefits-namely getting away for some rest and relaxation so you can return revitalized and ready to face winter again. Here are some tips and creative ideas for planning an inexpensive trip that won’t leave you in the red:

Stay close to home
Sometimes all you need is a slight change of scenery or break from the routine to feel refreshed and revitalized. Is there a cute bed and breakfast the next town over that you’ve been meaning to try? A nearby local attraction? If you’ll be driving instead of flying, you’ll have more money in your budget for lodging and dinner. If you can, reserve a room with a fireplace or spa, since there’s little that beats staring into a crackling fire with a glass of wine or relaxing in a bubbling hot tub. Find a bed and breakfast offering specials near you at bnbfinder.com.

Avoid popular destinations
Save yourself some time: Don’t even bother thinking about Maui or Cancun. Winter is also peak season for ski destinations such as Aspen, Park City and Jackson Hole. If you want to hit the slopes or bask on sun-drenched beaches at the most popular resorts this time of year, you’ll be paying top dollar. If your goal is a ski getaway, why not try out a resort that’s close to home? Or if your heart is set on a tropical beach, try out one of the up-and-coming areas where prices are still low. Chances are, you’ll have just as much fun. In addition to saving money, you’ll escape the crowds.

Visit a national park
National parks are one of America’s most treasured resources. Together, the U.S.’s 400 national parks draw 275 million visitors per year. Summer is peak season in most of them. A visit during winter would let you enjoy nature without crowds of tourists. If you’ve already been to the national parks in your area, try taking a road trip to one in the next state over. There’s a reason these areas have been preserved-they contain some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the country. Many parks don’t charge admission, and those that do will usually offer three-day passes. You can often find interesting accommodations within the park boundaries, but better deals can usually be found at motels in surrounding towns.

Do your Internet research
The Internet is definitely your best friend for finding the best travel deals. Make it a point to bookmark budget travel pages and sign up for their email alerts. Receiving alerts on great deals can fill up your in-box, but you can always set up a special folder for travel planning. Alerts can save you hours of online research, and if you’re lucky, one will pop into your inbox at exactly the right time. Many travel websites, including Budget Travel, the Travel Channel and Kiplinger, have put together lists of the best sites for finding good travel deals. There are new websites popping up all the time to help find the best deals on airfare,car rentals,hotels,bus and train travel and even all-inclusive packages. It’s just a matter of deciding which ones are your favorites.

Use your air miles
If you’ve been saving up frequent-flier miles through an airline rewards program, now might be the time to use them. Often, these programs have expiration dates, so if you don’t use them, you may lose them. And with airfare for your getaway taken care of, that only leaves food and lodging to worry about.

Take advantage of coupons
Tons of amazing travel deals can be found through online coupon sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial and Travelzoo. And besides saving you money, they can take you on an adventure. Many merchants who are offering deals through these sites are just getting established or are up-and-coming. They may not have a premier location or a big advertising budget, but since they’re seeking new business, they’ll most certainly appreciate it when you show up. Signing up for multiple online-coupon sites can easily overwhelm your email inbox. Luckily, there are now several aggregators, including DailyDibs, that can compile deals from online coupon sites and send you a daily report.

Use Airbnb
Although the hotel industry is not a fan of Airbnb, travelers certainly are. Not only can you save substantially on lodging, but you can stay in a place with all the comforts of home, including kitchens where you can save even more by cooking your own meals. The site offers 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries, so it’s likely there are available accommodations in the vacation destination you’ve chosen. Reviews of hosts provide a measure of security. Choose wisely however: Airbnb properties range from rooms in someone’s home to short-term luxurious vacation rentals. The plus: most are in desirable neighborhoods and contain all the comforts of home.

Take couch surfing to a new level
You can’t get much cheaper than free! Operating on the same principles as Airbnb, couchsurfing.com lets you send out queries to people who might be interested in hosting you in their home for free. Popular among Millennials looking to travel and meet new friends, couchsurfing lets you experience a locale on a local level. Often your hosts will not only put you up for the night and feed you in the morning, but also take you sightseeing and introduce you to their friends. The idea is that if you’re part of this network, you’ll reciprocate by hosting travelers in your home sometime, too.

Try house-swapping
Know some friends in another city who may want to escape for a little while, too? Arrange for a house swap. With accommodations taken care of, all you’ll need to worry about is the cost of travel. If you’re flying, you should be able to find a good deal by using one of the plentiful cheap airfare finders. If you don’t have friends interested in switching abodes, you can look for places on sites such as HomeExchange.com and LoveHomeSwap.

Call Your Credit Union
Wherever you go, make sure you alert your credit union that you will be traveling.  If they see suspicious activity or activity outside the norm for you they may flag your account, so be sure to give them a ring to let them know your itinerary.  They'll make sure to keep an eye on your accounts.

Whatever you do, make it a fun vacation. Set a budget and reward yourself for sticking to it by planning your next getaway when you get back!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What Do I Do With My Refund?


We don’t normally like to tell you how to spend your money.  Our members tend to be very good at that, often finding creative ways to turn the hours they’ve spent at the office into new ways to enjoy their lives.  More often, we tell you how to not spend your money by letting you know about our fantastic savings options that can produce dividends in varying amounts of time, or we’ll often tell you about ways to use your good credit for getting a loan that can make your life better or save you money in the long run.

At tax time, however, we thought we’d take a different direction.  If you’ve got a windfall coming from the IRS and don’t want to watch it disappear as you spend an extra $50 or $100 here or there, we’ve got some plans that can turn your refund into lifelong memories, earn you money in the long run or both, all while spending time doing what you want to do.

We’re working with a hypothetical assumption that you have around $1,000 coming, because it can be an awkward amount of money.  It’s not enough to pay off a big chunk of debt or fund the purchase of a life-changing item like a house or new car, but it’s too much to ignore.  $1,000 is a lot of money to spend, but not a lot to have.

Tackle one home improvement project

We’ve all got a list of things we’d like to do around the house.  Maybe you’d like a deck for grilling once the winter lets up, or you’d like a more welcoming front entryway to your home, or you’d like to drag the kitchen into the twenty-first century.  Talk to your spouse, your kids or whoever might enjoy what you’re planning to build.  See what they have to say and what their interest levels might be in helping you out.  Once you come up with a plan, watch some YouTube videos to make sure it’s something you can handle, and then mark your calendar.  Set times to work, and make it a family project.  By the time you’ve finished, you’ll have improved the value of your home, spent time building something tangible with your family, and you won’t have to suffer through a summer without your deck.

If you can’t think of a fun project your kids might enjoy, what about building a wood-fired outdoor pizza oven?  They’re simple enough to assemble, the kids will definitely enjoy it, and most home kitchens are ill-suited to making really good pizza.

Once that project is done, you can always go back for more.  If everyone had a great time, take a look at what’s next on your list and tackle that.  Once your ambition to improve your home outpaces your refund, come see us about a home equity loan or line of credit and we’ll help you turn your house into the home of your dreams.

Take a parents’ weekend

Getting an evening away from the kids can be difficult, and a weekend might seem impossible, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  You’re holding a refund check from the IRS and it might be enough to ship the kids off to grandma and grandpa’s house, or pay for a couple of nights at a hotel in a nearby city.  If you haven’t tried it yet, AirBNB has made it easier than ever to find a great rate on a place to stay, even at the last minute.  Guys: you get bonus points if you take her somewhere for Valentine’s Day; dinner and a show might be lame at home, but in another city it can be romantic.  When was the last time she got to wear her favorite dress or jewelry?

A parents’ weekend is a great way to invest in your future, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.  Study after study says that Americans don’t vacation as much as the rest of the world, and that those who do tend to be more productive.  Watch how much more smoothly everything goes at work when you get back.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive getaway, try New Orleans.  It’s got haunted tours, antiquing and brass bands during the day, while still offering you world-class restaurants (Commander’s Palace is a must for upscale restaurants, Mother’s Po Boys for downscale, and try the chargrilled oysters at Acme for a taste you can’t get at home that is priced right in the middle) and Bourbon Street at night.  Mardi Gras is just around the corner, but you can save a bundle by heading down afterward.  Maybe while the kids are on spring break?

Encourage a gifted child

Many families find that they’d rather splurge on the kids than on themselves.  If that’s the case, why not use your tax refund to invest in your child’s future?  Purchase an instrument, a trainer or a tutor for a child who’s shown an interest in a special activity.  The college admissions process has gotten incredibly competitive since you went through it, and the leadership and talent demonstrated through extracurriculars could mean the difference between getting into that prestigious East Coast school or having to stay home at football state university.  Beyond admissions, talents your child can demonstrate will also help him or her get scholarships, making the investment you put in today a sound one financially, as well as spiritually.

If your child hasn’t displayed any gifts or specific interests, this might be a chance to spark something.  You could try paying for a school trip, which seems to happen every other month, or even take a family trip to Europe.  If you still can’t figure out what they’d like, you could always put the money into their college fund.  We offer several savings plans, which would allow you to earn interest toward their inevitably enormous tuition bill, which many experts think will be around $250,000 by 2030.  Yikes!

All in all, there's more than one way to make that refund last longer this time around.   Why not do something that will benefit your family long term?  Let us know if there's anything we can do to help!