Archive by Author

You & Me This Morning Segment

11 Dec

I had the pleasure of visiting the Windy City earlier this week and offered some money-saving tips for the holidays during WCIU-TV’s You & Me This Morning. I also had the opportunity to meet Joe Minoso, who plays Joe Cruz on NBC’s Chicago Fire. Bonus!

Your Money: Shopping Secrets for Target Fans

19 Nov

In my latest segment on Good Day Colorado, I talk shopping secrets for Target shoppers with Kirk Yuhnke. I kind of blew his mind. And I must say: best. screenshot. ever.

Paradise Has a Price: The Fun

14 Nov

I know, I know: it’s about time. Part three to my “Paradise Has a Price” series has been a long-time coming. If you’re just tuning in, check out Part 1 and Part 2 for the full experience.

Boats at sunrise. Photo by me.

Boats at sunrise. Photo by me.

 

Everywhere you turn, there are booths and tents and storefronts dedicated to selling you tourist packages. Activities range from ziplining to helicopter tours to deep-sea fishing excursions. Each come with a price, of course, as well as persuasive messaging reminding you that your time in paradise is short-lived. If YOLO were an island in the Pacific, it would look like Kauai.

My practical husband and I weren’t swayed by all the opportunities to experience this island via tour guide. We left Kauai feeling fairly accomplished, having seen and experienced most of what we intended, and even a few things we didn’t. Here’s my not-so-quick guide to saving money and still having fun on Kauai:

Prepare to drive. When we first started planning our trip, we contemplated not getting a rental car. I’m so glad we decided to get one, because otherwise it would have been difficult to explore the island on our own terms. Kauai is relatively small, but each side has its own charm and it’s fun to explore each area. Hanalei Bay offers lush jungle and insane ocean views, while Princeville gives you a glimpse of the high-end perks enjoyed by those with more money than you. Poipu is populated with resorts, rocky shores and tourist shops, while the area surrounding Waimea Canyon is far more open and agricultural than the rest of the island. Getting a vehicle with good gas mileage is key!

Instead of hiring a chopper tour, walk the trail. Helicopter tours offer an unparalleled vantage point from which to see the Napali Coast and other picturesque areas of the island. If it’s in your budget and something you want to do, by all means, go for it! At $250 to $350 per person, it was most certainly not in our budget. So, we opted to hike the Napali Coast instead and experience the scenery from our own two (four?) feet. Aerial views of the water and mountains are great, but you can’t take a dip in the cool-water streams or smell the ever-present guava and passion fruit littering the trails from the confines of a chopper cabin. Just saying.

Napali Coast Overlook. Photo by me.

Napali Coast Overlook. Photo by me.

 

DIY. We passed countless tour buses as we explored the area in Scooter McGoo, and sometimes I wondered how they navigated the narrow roads and tight corners. While you miss out on the history and other educational opportunities associated with tour buses and guides, you are tethered to a schedule. A bus tour for Waimea Canyon, for example, would run about $100 each and last 11 hours. While you’re sure to see all the highlights of the area, this tour does not include food and, in my opinion, lasts far too long. Again, if that’s you scene, no judging, but for us, we like to go when we want, stay for as long (or as briefly) as we like, and leave when we’re ready for something different.

Wing it. We discovered Queen Anne’s bath, the perfect early-morning destination to watch the turtles get batted around by powerful waves and look on as brave tourists and fearless locals splash about in the choppy waters. We also found a tasty taco stand in a local shopping area in Kilauea; a quiet beach area visited by locals (and not overrun by tourists); and a few homes for sale. Looking at the selling price and layout of homes on Kauai was oddly entertaining. One place was composed of 10 acres of macadamia nut trees and featured three properties: a mansion with panoramic views of the ocean and cliffs; a cottage on the opposite side of the property for visitors; and a workshop/studio space. For the bargain price of $12 million, it could be ours.

Queen Anne's Bath. Photo by me.

Queen Anne’s Bath. Photo by me.

 

Splurge selectively. One excursion I wish we would have done was a kayaking trip to the base of a waterfall. Our friends did it and paid $80 (not including tip) for both of them. They set out early in the morning before other tours started crowding the river, and they were the first ones to the final destination. Our friends said the tour guide was very informative and laid back, and they got a good workout in before splashing about in the water to cool down.

Balance relaxation with exploration. Overplanning during a vacation can make you feel exhausted by the time you get on the plane. Putting off plan-making until the last few days of your trip can also cause you to do way too much (and spend too much) toward the end of your trip, having languished a few days in the beginning. Strike a balance between the two: your first day should be spent lounging at the beach and getting your bearings. The next day can allow for more formal exploration, making notes of sites you want to visit and learning about the excursions you should take.

Enjoy free pool time. A week into our trip, a couple from our party got engaged and then married on the island. They booked a room at the Grand Hyatt in Poipu and invited us all to join them in the afternoon for cocktails and pool time. There was some concern that we’d be kicked out of the lagoon-style pool because we weren’t staying with the hotel, but we learned later the pool is open to the public. While the cocktails weren’t cheap ($14 for a specialty mai tai – ouch), the pool and ambience offered a wonderful alternative to ocean swimming.

Waimea Canyon. Photo by me.

Waimea Canyon. Photo by me.

 

Think outside the tourist box. My friend and I were excited for oceanside yoga, via Kauai Yoga on the Beach. Sadly, my blistered feet forced me to cancel, plus the impromptu wedding required the attendance of my friend. At $20 a pop, this experience isn’t exactly frugal, especially since I likely could have led myself through a yoga practice for absolutely free. However, I’m a big fan of the studio scene, and the investment seemed worth it to me since it would allow me to be led through a series of delicious asanas while enjoying a sunrise view. Sun salutation indeed!

Enjoy the in-between. This lesson from yoga definitely rings true on a destination-oriented vacation. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our final destination that we fail to recognize the beauty of the journey and transition. For example, the tree canopy along a short stretch of road between Lihue and Poipu was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and caught us completely by surprise. The rich green mountains and cinnamon-hued soil never ceased to impress us, and the ocean, well, it’s pretty spectacular.

And so ends my epic three-part series surrounding our big adventure on Kauai!

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

Happy Halloween, dear readers! As I mentioned in my previous post, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and to be honest, I went a little nuts this year on the costume and decor front. Luckily, I didn’t spend much and had a lot of fun in the process. Here’s a glimpse of my efforts:

halloween

Chalkboard Art
I found this design on Pinterest and instantly fell in love. I actually did a whole Macbeth theme with the bottles I used for my props during this segment about saving money on Halloween, so this sign fit perfectly!

Halloween Entrance
Again, Pinterest inspired my entrance composed of floating witch hats. I found two at Michaels for 70-percent off, paying less than $1 for each. I found the remaining three at Target for $2 each, which isn’t as much of a bargain but at this point during the shopping trip, I was willing to overlook it. We had visited Party City where I nearly purchased a $4 hat, so the Target find is a win in my book! The enormous pumpkins were grown by my husband and were the hit of the evening with kids and parents alike.

Treat Table
These TV props make for the perfect accompaniment to my candy bowl display. I also used my trust black cat candle that I’ve had since junior high school and a couple pumpkins my husband grew in our garden. I also received the fabulous green heirloom pumpkin from my friend who harvested thousands of them for sale this year.

Costume
I’ve been wanting to try Dia de Los Meurtos for a few years now and finally cultivated the gusto this year. I’ve never worked with face paint before so I was a little nervous the morning of, and used Pinterest as my inspiration for the design. Half way through the HOUR it took me to do this, I realized winging it was better than trying to follow a specific design. I purchased the face paint kit from the grocery store of all places, since it was available for 50-percent off ($3). The wig was gifted to me by my cousin, and the floral crown is made from a headband and silk flowers I already own. Big thank you to my mom for crafting the headpiece! She still makes the best costumes.

diningdecor

Dining Table Decor
Using another free heirloom pumpkin from my friend (called a Long Island Cheese Pumpkin – yes, please!), I re-used stems and pinecones I’ve had for years and added small pumpkins and gourds that I purchased from Walmart ($10). I also purchased half-price styrofoam gourds and a few autumn berry sprigs from JoAnn Fabrics (>$10). It took some arranging and rearranging, but I’m quite content with the finished product.

Whew! All that for one night. Oh well – I had a blast leading up to the event and didn’t spend much at all, especially considering I plan to reuse much of what I purchased this year.

How did you stay frugal this Halloween?

Your Money: Save on Halloween

15 Oct

I interrupt my “Paradise Has a Price” series with an important segment about saving money on Halloween! Halloween is likely my favorite holiday, mostly because I get to dress up as someone else AND it doesn’t cost me that much. Americans seem to share my enthusiasm for Halloween, as overall spending has increased 55 percent since 2005, and the National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend over $7 billion on costumes, candy and decor this year. So, how best to keep those costs contained while still looking like you went all out? Check out my tips (and amazing DIY skills) on Good Day Colorado with the fabulous Brooke Wagner.

Paradise Has a Price: The Food

7 Oct

The one and only tropical chick drink purchased during our trip.

The one and only tropical chick drink purchased during our trip.

The primary way we save money (and our sanity) during vacation is having our own food to make and not relying on restaurant food all day, everyday. Having a kitchen in the rental house was a big selling point for the trip since it would allow us to store and prepare our meals.

When we finally landed in Lihue, we were exhausted and looking forward to reaching our final destination. We met our party at a sports bar overlooking the ocean, hoping to get a cheap bite before heading to the house. The bite was neither tasty nor cheap, costing us over $40 for incredibly bland pub food. The view was great, but we left ready to stock up on real food for the rest of the week.

After a detour to the rental car agency to exchange our vehicle, we were led astray by Google maps, who routed us in circles trying to find the Safeway. We settled for the Big Save Markets and were immediately slapped in the face with the reality of island pricing.

Here’s a little rundown of the first few items we saw:

  • Red Bell Peppers – $6.99 per pound.
  • Orange Juice – $10 per jug.
  • Dozen Eggs (white, non-organic, not cage-free) – $6.

It was like getting sucker punched, only worsened by the fact that we were still nauseas over the exorbitant price we paid for subpar restaurant food. We spent over $30 on six staples (eggs, bacon, coffee, cream, pineapple and butter), and then bought another $30 in wine and beer because at this point, we both really needed a drink. We found our way to the rental house and vowed not to make any more purchasing decisions until after a good night’s rest.

We found the elusive Safeway the next day and tooled around the aisles in search of more palatable prices.  Overall, Safeway seemed to have better prices than Big Save, albeit not by much. We decided to load up on essentials for the week so we could avoid the experience of shopping for groceries as much as possible. I left my husband in the meat department to find healthy produce that wouldn’t cost us our flight home. Here’s what I found:

  • Tomatoes – $4.99 per pound.
  • Avocados – $1.99 each.
  • Green Bell Peppers – $2.99 per pound.

I thought BLTs would make for a simple dinner, until I found the price of bacon was $9.99, and that was for the cheap stuff. At this point, I glanced back at my husband who was standing in the same place I left him, staring at two packages of meat in disbelief. He seriously looked catatonic, and it occurred to me he might need medical attention before this shopping trip was through. Every fiber of his being seemed to fight these prices, to the point where it left him powerless to make a purchasing decision.

By this time, the store was getting busy and we both have trouble focusing in crowds. We made quick decisions on our purchases and tried unsuccessfully to do self-checkout. After much frustration, we packed up our goods and headed to the regular checkout, leaving a queue of annoyed shoppers in our wake.

By the time we left the store, we were both ready to go home. Like, back to the mainland, where prices for basic tomatoes didn’t rival that of heirloom varieties that receive their nutrients exclusively from unicorn tears.

Despite these initial setbacks, we did finally find our groove when it came to buying food. I’ve created the following five-step plan to help you avoid the shock and dismay we experienced.

Step 1: Acceptance.
We struggled with this throughout our trip, but ultimately there’s nothing you can do about island pricing. The cost to ship fresh goods across the Pacific gets transferred to the consumer, and you just have to determine which high-priced items fit best in your budget.

Step 2: Co-hosting.
Each couple cooked for the entire party one night, essentially providing everyone with three free meals. My husband grilled tri-tip steak (the poor man’s ribeye) and russet potatoes, and I made a cucumber-tomato salad. In turn, we enjoyed sushi, grilled steak with kimchee and seaweed salad, and pizza on the beach from our party.

Step 3: Brown bagging.
With restaurants charging $15 to $20 for lunch entrees, we decided PB&Js would be perfect hiking and touring food. The initial cost of ingredients was hard to swallow ($15!), but we ate every last slice of bread and put significant dents in the preserves and peanut butter. Coupled with water and orange Gatorade, these on-the-go meals were 100 times more satisfying than our first lunch on the island.

Step 4: Loyalty.
We became loyal customers of Bubba’s Burgers, a fast-casual burger joint that sold delicious Kalua pork sandwiches. At $7 a pop, they weren’t exactly cheap but they were filling and highly satisfying.  We dined here three or four times during our stay.

Step 5: Sharing.
Share restaurant food as much as possible! At Bubba’s, we shared fries and a drink, and filled up our second sip for just $0.50 (compared to $2 for an additional beverage). We split an appetizer at the Mediterranean restaurant on Hanalei. We also shared the three-taco special from a food truck in Kilauea. In each instance, we both left satisfied and confident we paid as little as possible to get that way.

All in all, we spent about $350 on groceries for the week (not including booze), and around $250 on dining out (including booze). We figure you can take your typical grocery budget for the number of days you’ll be vacationing in Hawaii, and then increase it by about 30 to 40 percent. This will help temper the shock of island pricing.

Paradise Has a Price: A Series

24 Sep

“The only thing cheap on this island is us.”

This direct quote from my husband pretty much sums up our recent experience on Kauai. While the sandy beaches, tropical sunsets and fragrant air made for an overall great vacation, the high prices of everything from food to fuel to funsies was tough for two frugal people to handle. From the minute we ordered our first meal to the moment we crossed the threshold of the local grocery store, my husband and I knew we were in for a very pricey 10 days. And while it’s understandable that an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean cannot compete with mainland prices, we never really recovered from the sticker shock.

Beach at Hanalei Bay. Photo by me.

Beach at Hanalei Bay. Photo by me.

 

To help others looking to spend a future vacation on the Hawaiian islands, I’m writing a three-part series on how to save on paradise prices. My intent is to help you better budget for your trip and learn from my experiences.

Part 1: The Car — Our rental car ironically represents one of the cheaper expenditures during our trip, but one that could have cost a lot more had I bit on any of the numerous upsells thrown at me during the checkout process.

Part 2: The Food — This will be eye-opening for some and will help travelers better budget their food costs since “everything is more expensive here” is a pretty vague form of preparation.

Part 3: The Fun — I’ll offer low-cost ways to experience the highlights of the island, based on what we did and what others in our party did.

Here goes…

PARADISE HAS A PRICE: THE CAR
Scooter McGoo: A Story of Rental Car Savings

Most savvy travelers know to avoid all the upsells associated with renting a car. However, it can be hard in the moment, when a persuasive sales rep can make you feel foolish for not getting the extra insurance coverage or prepaid gas tank. As always, knowledge is power, and the following specific examples from my experience in Kauai will hopefully help you avoid any future indecision while renting a car.

Tip 1: Avoid the rental car upsell. I reserved the economy car for $232, which amounts to a relatively inexpensive rate of $23 per day. Immediately the rep classified my reservation as “the smallest car we have,” and asked if I would be interested in a special discount rate on a convertible Mustang. Usually, the upgrade costs $70 per day more than my economy rental, but just because I’m special, that rate will be just $15 more each day. I declined. “What if I can get that down to $10 per day?” Listen, that’s nice, but there’s no way in hell the real rate is an extra $70 per day if you’re willing to part with it for 85-percent less. You have to keep this in mind when they offer you special deals on upgrades. It’s like the “compare at” prices from TJMaxx or outlet stores; the item likely never sold at the “original” price, so the difference between it and the selling price is arbitrary.

Also, the gas mileage on a Mustang convertible is terrible, especially compared to the whopping 41 MPG we achieved with our economy rental. You must always keep in mind gas mileage and expected use when considering an upgrade, as it’s typically a bigger car that isn’t as fuel efficient.

Tip 2: Deny the insurance offer. Naturally, I was pitched the Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) to protect myself against liability for damage or theft. After declining it and explaining our credit card offered this coverage already, the rep said our card’s coverage “probably didn’t cover” accidents that were not our fault. Scary, but I declined nonetheless. According to my credit card benefits, I am covered by a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), synonymous with an LDW, when I charge the full amount of the rental car to my card and decline the rental company’s coverage.

I know some travelers who prefer to pay for peace of mind than decline extra coverage for the sake of savings. Obviously this is your call, but research what your auto insurance and credit card companies will cover so you don’t end up paying for redundant protection.

Tip 3. Decline the prepaid fuel pitch. The rep stated their company’s fuel price cost 10-percent less than elsewhere on the island, making us sound foolish if we declined. She even scrunched her nose and looked at me incredulously when I said “no.” The thing is, we’d be prepaying for a full tank of gas, even if we returned the car with half a tank. The company’s terms specifically state this: “There is no credit or refund given for any fuel in the tank at the end of the rental.” Did she mention that? No. Instead, she made me feel like an idiot for not prepaying for cheaper fuel.

And PS: her suggestion that fuel averaged $4.68 on the island was bogus! We got it for $4.42, and because we’re Safeway Club members, we received two fill-ups for 10-cents less per gallon than advertised. Where’s your scrunchy face now, huh?

Tip 4: Note any issues and make a change immediately. Upon leaving dinner, we felt the rental car stutter and make grinding noises. Rather than grin and bear it, we returned to the rental car facility and requested a different vehicle. We received a Mazda 2, even smaller than the Ford Focus, but it worked just fine. It did so well, in fact, that we named him Scooter McGoo, and offered words of encouragement and gentle pats on the dashboard as he methodically made his way around narrow roads and steep inclines.

In fact, opting for the small car actually helped us squeeze into tight parking spaces and navigate the exceedingly tight and often one-way passages around the island.

Tip 5: Avoid using the air conditioner. On day three of our vacation, my husband and I took a road trip around the island just to escape the heat. We stopped at several places along the way and getting out of the car was like hitting the brick walls of Hell. The contrast of air-conditioned air to the hot, muggy atmosphere actually made our experience worse. Once we turned off the A/C and traveled windows-down style, we found ourselves far more comfortable. The flow of air and occasional trade winds helped us from overheating and allowed our bodies to adapt quicker. Bonus: we nearly doubled our fuel efficiency by avoiding the A/C.

Hopefully this detailed account helps you better understand why all the upsells associated with renting a car are, by and large, a waste of money. For even more proof, check out Forbes’ contributor Roger Dooley’s experience with a rental car agency who tried to upsell him on a vehicle they planned to give him anyway.

How do you avoid rental car upsells? Do you think some options are worth the extra cost?

Your Money: Save on New Tech

10 Sep

With everyone talking about the iPhone 6 launch, it got me thinking about how early adopters save on new technology. Buying older smartphones is the best way to save money on mobile, but the techies among us want the latest and greatest — and they want it now. So how can they buy the next-best-thing on a budget? I offered some ideas to Good Day Colorado’s Kirk Yuhnke this morning.

My Fashion Face-Palm

3 Sep

Photo by Emily May via Flickr

Photo by Emily May via Flickr

 

I’m going through a pretty incredible style slump right now. Over the past several weeks, I’ve cut my wardrobe in half and given away garments I once considered closet staples. My friends couldn’t be happier as they’ve been the recipients of this major overhaul. Though I’m pleased my once-loved threads are finding new affection, I find myself completely unsatisfied with my current selection.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no regrets about the items I’ve given away. In fact, the OCD Anti-Clutter Freak within is clapping furiously and rooting me on. I’m trying to breathe new life into the items that remain, but I find myself completely uninspired by my closet’s contents. In fact, two people in Starbucks told me they loved my blouse, and I felt like taking it off and letting them fight over it. Despite receiving compliments on my style from perfect strangers, I couldn’t feel more indifferent about my current wardrobe. The need to stay financially solvent is the only thing keeping me from emptying my entire closet and starting fresh.

You may think I’m finally growing up. You may assume this fledgling indifference toward fashion is making room for more substantial pursuits. You’d be wrong. In fact, you’re giving me far too much credit. The Great Closet Exodus of 2014 is simply creating a blank slate from which I can build an entirely new wardrobe.

What’s worse, I seem to have set my sights on better-quality items. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, as quality typically translates to longevity and can be a better investment in the long run. But since when have I wanted cashmere? Or designer jeans? Or anything from Banana Republic?

I also seem to have an aversion to color. I’m gravitating toward gray, camel and ivory, despite having a good complexion for teal, indigo and hot pink.

This past weekend, I stumbled upon a garment that must have heard my silent outcry to the cosmos and manifested itself just for me. It’s gray. It’s versatile. It’s Calvin Klein. It was also $59.99, a price I would normally dismiss as too expensive for a single garment. I mulled it over a bit while browsing other areas of the store with my mother-in-law, and eventually decided to buy it, assuring myself I could always return it if I decided it was a bad buy.

It’s still hanging in my closet as I type this. I’m still wondering if it’s a good purchase. My thoughts led me to the Internet, where I started searching for an image that could effectively convey its cuteness and practicality in this post, when BOOM: I find it on Amazon for $41.40. That’s nearly $20 less than what I paid at Marshall’s.

WTF cosmos?

I’ve never purchased clothing from Amazon and honestly never thought to do so (rookie alert). Ironically, my sister-in-law has been in my thoughts during this style transition, as she’s been known to try on jeans at Banana Republic and then find them on eBay for a fraction of the price. That’s smart and savvy, but requires a level of patience I simply don’t possess. For a brief moment, I thought “Nah…this Amazon offer is a better deal, but will I really order it and return the other one for the sake of savings?” “Well, YEAH,” was my ultimate response.

So…we’ll see how this plays out. Regardless of if I keep this jacket, I’ve learned a couple valuable lessons: comparison-shopping should happen with all purchases, including apparel; and just because you’re turning into a style snob doesn’t mean you have to spend like one.

Ever go through a fashion rut?

Your Money: Rising Costs for Fall

20 Aug

If it seems like everything on your shopping list is getting more expensive, you’re probably right! At the beginning of barbecue season (cruel timing), beef and pork prices were at all-time highs. Now, chicken is rising in cost as are breakfast staples like coffee and bacon. And if that’s not painful enough, chocolate now costs more now than it did earlier this year. I chat about the reasons behind these price hikes plus ways to reduce their sting with Good Day Colorado’s Kirk Yuhnke. PS: Enjoy my eyelids. You see a lot of them in this segment.