8 Activities to Plan Now for a Fun and Budget-Friendly Fall Staycation

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Is your kids’ fall break coming up? Plan ahead now to have a great time while also saving money. Over Memorial Day weekend, more Americans traveled than had in the last 12 years, and we spent more on travel, too. If your family spent a lot of money then, you might want to save this fall. Luckily, fall is the perfect time for a family staycation—a vacation where you play tourist in your hometown.

Staycations are great because you can get to know new attractions in your own town, and you don’t have to spend money on accommodations or plane tickets. If you’d like to do fun things as a family without spending a fortune, here are eight staycation ideas to try.

1. Participate in Agritourism

Many sections of the country will be in a harvesting period over fall break. For instance, in my native Indiana, fall break is a great time to pick apples and pumpkins, among other fall-harvested produce.

Check out your state’s agricultural extension to find agritourism destinations in your area. The bonus here is that you often get a fun trip rolled in with a place to eat, which is great!

2. Visit Local Museums and Zoos

Has it been a while since you’ve checked out your local museum or zoo? A staycation is the perfect time to revisit them. You might also try a different type of museum that you’ve never tried before. For instance, some art museum exhibits can be surprisingly kid-friendly.

Or, check online for completely off-the-wall small museums in your area. For instance, my neighborhood has a tiny museum dedicated to Statue of Liberty figurines! These museums can make for a fun experience, even if they are a little cheesy. 

3. Frequent Small Businesses and Restaurants

Have you neglected to check out your area’s local restaurants and small businesses? A fall staycation is a great time to try them out. Local breweries and wineries abound these days, and they often offer kid-friendly menus, as well. You could also visit an area with lots of small businesses. Give your kids a little bit of spending money, and let them go to town.

4. Go Biking or Hiking

Fall is just about the perfect time, in most places, to go biking or hiking. It’s not as hot as summer, and there may be fewer bugs. Check out some new trails and parks on your family vacation. You could even make it a point to check out two or three state parks with your kids during your fall break.

5. Go to the Library

Lots of local libraries offer additional programming during school breaks. Check out your library’s schedule to see what’s going on. Nothing special happening? No worries. Take an afternoon to stock up on books. Then, spend a cozy evening in, drinking hot chocolate and reading aloud as a family.

6. Have a Party

Hosting a party is a great way to get the whole family involved in a big project together. Get everyone to pitch in on making invitations, creating food, and cleaning and decorating your house. Then, have friends and family over for a fun, fall-themed get-together.

7. Make Christmas Gifts 

It’s not too early to start planning for the holidays. Now is a great time to put together handmade holiday gifts. You might try layered jar gifts, such as soup mixes or brownie mixes. Or try making candles, picture frames, or photo gifts. This is a great way to spend time together, while also taking care of some of your holiday planning.

8. Make a Collage 

Chances are you have a smartphone with a decent camera. Spend some time on your staycation driving or walking around your neighborhood, and set the kids loose with that built-in camera. Ask them to find beautiful things to photograph. There’s never a better time for it than fall! At the end of your vacation, print off the photos they’ve taken and create a collage of autumn memories.

If you start planning now, you can save even more money on your fall vacation. The key to saving is recognizing your spending habits. Get a handle on your spending and credit by checking your credit report for free at Credit.com.

Image: istock

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6 Money Questions to Ask Before Having a Baby

Almost nothing else in life will have as much of a financial impact, so make sure you get on the same page before baby comes.

There are plenty of times when discussing finances with our significant others is a good idea. Before moving in together or getting married, or before a big move or a new job, are all good examples.

Another important time to talk about finances is before you have a baby. Almost nothing else in life will have as much of a financial impact, so making sure you’re on the same page before baby comes is a smart move. If you’re stumped on where to start, consider asking your partner the following questions.

1. Who Will Stay Home With Baby? 

Perhaps the biggest financial conversation you’ll have with your significant other is whether one of you will stay home with baby, even if only for a limited time. According to recent statistics from Childcare Aware of America, “the cost of child care in every state rivals families’ annual expenditures on housing, transportation and the cost of tuition at a four-year, public university.” Plus, the study added, “in 38 states, the cost of infant care exceeds 10% of the state’s median income for a two-parent family.”

Childcare is expensive, but quitting to stay home with a baby means potentially losing healthcare options, access to retirement accounts and matches, paid vacation and sick days, not to mention the mental stimulation and social advantages many get from their jobs. These are all important things to discuss.

2. How Will Our Lifestyle Change? 

People make life with a baby work in many scenarios, and what you’re comfortable with will be up to you, but it should be discussed. If you’re in a one-bedroom city apartment and think you can make it work, try it. If an upgrade is in the near future, or you’d like to start putting away money to purchase a house, that’s a conversation to have.

3. Will We Save for Our Child’s Education? 

Not everyone can afford to save for their child’s college, and that’s fine. But if it’s something you’d like to consider, start discussing it now. Because of compound interest, the earlier you start saving for your goal, the more you’ll have for your child when they turn 18.

It’s not just whether you’ll save but how much you want to save that should be discussed. Will you save enough money to cover the full cost of tuition at a private college? How about at an Ivy League school? Whatever your thoughts, be sure to chat with your partner so you can figure out what additional monthly savings would mean for your monthly budget. (Chatting with a financial adviser about your financial picture might be smart as well. Remember, experts say not to save for your child’s education if it means having to curb your retirement savings.)

4. Do We Need a Bigger Car or a Second One? 

My husband and I managed to live together for eight years before we bought a second car. (In fact, for six of those years we had no car, since we lived in Manhattan and didn’t need one.) We realized, however, that with a baby on the way it was important for us to be able to hop in a car at a moment’s notice, so we decided to lease one. Whether to lease or buy was a big discussion, as was how much car we could afford and what safety features were most important to us, particularly in rugged Colorado.

If you and your significant other have two cars, it’s worth discussing their safety and if it might be time to upgrade now that you’ll be driving a little one around.

5. How Much Can We Budget for Baby? 

For many young families, most of the basics are supplied by loving friends and family at a baby shower. Soon, however, your child will grow, and when she does, you’ll need lots of new stuff.

Before baby arrives, sit down and have an overall budget chat so you can determine what wiggle room you have to devote to baby. Even if you don’t end up spending that cash in the first couple of months, try putting it in a special savings account labeled “For Baby” so you have a cushion to fall back on once those new expenses start piling up. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

6. Are the Proper Insurance Policies in Place?

With baby on the way, it might be a good time to start thinking about certain policies to put in place. Short-term disability, for example, is important, should one of you become unable to work for a period of time. (Be sure to check with your employer to find out your options.) Creating a will and naming guardians is important as well, and you’ll want to set up a life insurance policy for both parents.

Image: Pekic

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10 Ways to Save at Universal Studios Florida

Whether you’re a seasoned theme-park pro or it’s your first visit, you'll want to check out these 10 tips before you book anything.

For months, you and the family have been dying to take a trip to Universal Studios Florida to Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon and lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. Of course, such a family vacation doesn’t come cheap. So whether you’re a seasoned theme-park pro or it’s your family’s first visit, you’ll want to check out these 10 tips before you book anything.

Now, read on for 10 tips to save big at Universal Studios Florida.

1. Get Park-to-Park Tickets

Kimberly Anwar, owner of Magic Family Getaways in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, recommended families stay at Universal hotels and get Park-to-Park tickets instead of 1-Park tickets.

“These packages have early park admission benefits as well as other discounts, depending on the offer, and you’ll have access to the Hogwarts Express, which goes to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” she said.

2. Book in Advance

A spokesperson at Universal Orlando Resorts recommended purchasing park tickets online, which can save up to $20 off regular admission and help you avoid waiting in line. You can print your tickets at home or at one of the park entrance kiosks.

3. Stay Awhile

The spokesperson also said the longer you stay, the less expensive each day will be. For example, a one-day 1-Park ticket starts at $110, while a three-day 1-Park ticket starts at $74 per day. Similarly, a one-day Park-to-Park ticket starts at $165, while a three-day Park-to-Park ticket starts at $92 per day.

4. Visit On-Site Hotels

If you’re traveling during peak times — think summer, Christmas or Spring Break — Don Munsil, co-owner of MouseSavers.com, a guide to theme-park discounts, suggested booking one night at an on-site hotel like the Hard Rock to get free Universal Express Unlimited passes, which come with every stay.

“The key thing is that Ultimate Express will allow you to ride everything in the park easily in two full days,” he said. Just remember, “you do have to get up early to get on the Harry Potter rides, since they’re not eligible for Express.”

5. Consider Annual Passes

You may not think your visit Universal Orlando enough to justify an annual pass, especially if you’re traveling a sizable distance to get there, but Munsil said it’s worth looking into. On-site hotels often offer good rates for annual passholders, and “you can get the Power Annual Pass for a little more than a three-day ticket,” he said.

Typically, Christmas and Spring Break dates are blacked out, but there’s the option of buying the Preferred Annual Pass, which has no blackout dates and includes a 15% discount at Hard Rock Cafe and 10% off at most shops.

“If you plan to spend more than $250 on food and merchandise, which is pretty easy to do, you’ll come out ahead with this pass and not have to worry about blackout dates,” Munsil said.

6. Research Seasonal Passes

If you’re traveling during the off season, Munsil said to consider buying the Seasonal Pass, which offers some hotel discounts. Be sure to check blackout dates, as this pass carries more than the other passes.

7. Drop by CityWalk Guest Services

Money-saving package deals are available here, according to the Universal Orlando Resorts spokesperson. Spring for the Meal & Movie or Meal & Mini-Golf deal to score dinner at a CityWalk restaurant and a movie at the AMC Universal Cineplex 20 or a round of 18-hole mini-golf, all at a discount.

8. Score a Souvenir Cup

Universal Orlando Resort offers a variety of refillable souvenir cups that you can get refilled at a discount. Like popcorn? Carey Reilly of CareyReilly.com said to buy a souvenir tub of popcorn that can be refilled all over the park. She also suggested bringing your own snacks to help you save.

The Universal Orlando Resorts spokesperson recommended checking into the Universal Dining Plan, which bundles drinks, meals and snacks together at more than 100 participating locations.

9. Use Travel Rewards Cards 

For families on a budget, a great way to put their spending to use is with travel rewards cards, which offer incentives like airline miles and free hotel stays. Certain credit cards may even get you discounts around the park (which you can read more about here.)

Just be sure to track what you spend so you don’t lose your rewards to high interest, or worse, end up accruing unwanted debt. No one wants to come home to an eye-popping credit card bill. You can check out our roundup of travel rewards cards here. (Remember, these cards tend to come with high standards, including requiring a good or excellent credit score. You can see two of your credit scores on Credit.com at no charge to get an idea if you’ll be able to qualify.)

10. Hit the Cabana

Anwar recommended checking out Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay water theme park, which opened in May.

“There are private family concierge cabanas that fit up to 15 guests and include fruit and snack baskets, a small, pre-stocked refrigerator and locker and towel service,” she said. “If you share the cabana with one or two other families or go as a group, it’s worth the little extra cost.”

I went for the opening, and as water parks go, it’s pretty darn cool. There are beaches, wading pools, lazy rivers, water rides, restaurants and more, so you could feasibly stay for hours.

More of a Disney fanatic? We’ve got some tips on how you can visit Disney World for free (or close to it).

Image: Haxortech

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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5 Helpful Apps for Families on a Tight Budget

Because it's hard enough to maintain a budget for one, let alone your entire family.

It’s hard enough to keep a budget for one, let alone get your entire family on track with their finances. Fortunately, there are plenty of apps out there that can help keep you, your spouse, son, daughter and 11-year-old pug (OK, maybe not that last one) from spending beyond your family’s means.

Here are some choice apps that can help with your household budgeting.

1. Goodbudget

Platforms: iOS and Android

Essentially a digital version of the envelope system — you know, where you put money allotted for a particular spending category in one and then don’t use any dollars beyond that — this app syncs up across household devices. That way, everyone in the family can know exactly what’s left to spend on groceries, entertainment and other categories each month. The free version lets you set up 10 regular envelopes and 10 annual envelopes across two devices. A subscription service with unlimited envelopes and device syncs costs $5 a month or $45 a year.

2. You Need a Budget

Platforms: iOS and Android

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is another app that lets folks sharing finances sync their devices and work together. This app pairs with web software of the same name to help users implement the YNAB four big rules: give every dollar a job, embrace your true expenses, roll with the punches and age your money. You can try the latest version, launched in late 2015 and dubbed “The New YNAB,” for free for 34 days. After that, a subscription costs $5 a month or $50 a year.

3. Home Budget

Platforms: iOS and Android

This digital expense tracker from Anishu includes a feature called Family Sync, which — you guessed it — enables household devices to exchange income and spending information within a single, shared budget. There’s a free version (Home Budget with Sync Lite) which limits your expense and income entries, and a paid version (just plain ol’ Home Budget with Sync) that costs $5.99.

4. Wallet by BudgetBakers

Platforms: iOS and Android

This budgeting app lets your share selected accounts with family members so everyone knows what’s going on with the household budget. You can also choose to connect your bank accounts to the app to get automatic updates about their standing. Wallet has a free version with limited features and several paid subscription versions that vary in cost. Its top tier, called Master plan, allows up to 10 users, unlimited bank connections and customized financial analysis. It costs $5.49 a month or $44.30 a year.

5. EveryDollar

Platforms: iOS and Android

This budgeting app helps people apply the money management principles of budgeting guru Dave Ramsey. It syncs across devices so you can budget from your smartphone or your household desktop. There’s a free version and a Plus subscription, which lets you connect your bank accounts to the app and call for support. It costs $9.99 a month.

Balancing the Family Budget

Remember, you’ll want to read the terms and conditions of any app you’re looking to use so you know what it costs, how your data is protected and whether any information will be shared with third-parties. You can find more information for vetting mobile apps on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

And, when it comes to maintaining a household budget, it’s also important to keep track of your credit because a bad or even fair credit score can really cost you on everything from mortgage interest to your family’s cell phone plan.

If your credit isn’t in great shape, you can improve your scores by disputing errors on your credit reports, paying down high credit card balances and getting delinquent accounts back in good standing. And, as always, you can maintain good credit by paying all your bills on time, keeping debt levels low and adding a mix of new credit accounts over time. 

Image: golero

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