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elephantToday’s top story: It’s time to stop ignoring your finances. Also in the news: The best ways to invest in real estate, how to get help for financially assisting your parents, and how you can get rewarded for saving money.

How to Stop Ignoring Your Finances
You can’t keep ignoring the elephant in the room.

The Best Way to Invest in Real Estate
You don’t have to flip houses in order to profit from real estate.

3 Ways to Get Help for Financially Aiding Your Parents
Help is available during difficult times.

Goal-Based Accounts Reward You for Saving Money
Get rewarded for reaching your goal.

How Your Friends Threaten Your Finances
You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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The castle at Disneyland Paris.

The castle at Disneyland Paris.

We decided to visit Disney’s European theme park just a few days before we were scheduled to leave France. We aren’t diehard Disney fans, but we had annual passes when our daughter was younger and thought it might be fun to see how the park outside Paris compared with the ones in Anaheim and Orlando.

Bottom line: We had a great time with one notable exception.

Getting to Disneyland Paris is dead easy: we just took a train from the city, the RER “A” line, one branch of which stops right outside the park. We got theme park admission tickets online in advance to avoid the line at the gate.

Using FastPass and a little strategy, we never waited more than about 10 minutes to board a ride. Our perception was that the park wasn’t nearly as crowded as American versions (which may explain why you can find discounted tickets, which aren’t common in the U.S.).

I also made lunch reservations at a restaurant with table service (the Blue Lagoon) two days in advance, and we had a great experience there. I tried to make a dinner reservation as well at Walt’s, but the earliest slot available was 9:30 p.m. We hadn’t become THAT Parisien, so we decided we’d use one of the “food on the go” places that dot the park. And that was our big mistake.

Similar restaurants at the U.S. parks typically have a line leading up to the cashier, where you order, and then a short wait until you pick up your food at the counter behind the cashier. It’s usually an efficient way to feed people, as the lines move quickly.

Not at Disneyland Paris. I spent more than 30 minutes standing in line, with wailing kids and increasingly impatient parents, and I was just two people away from the cashier virtually the whole time. She kept running back and forth to the counter as people complained about their messed-up orders. And this was at a place that had only three options for a main course: a Barvarian hot dog, chicken and a cheeseburger.

A lot’s been written about the lack of a “service culture” in France. I’d never found it a problem before then, because treating people with respect and politeness usually brings good results. But my experience at a theme park did make me miss good old fashioned American efficiency.

Still, a Disneyland Paris visit is well worth the short trip. Here’s some advice to make the most of it:

Plan at least a little in advance. It’s not that hard to find and buy discounted tickets. If nothing else, buy tickets online from the Disneyland Paris site and bring them with you to avoid the lines at the gate.

Make reservations at a table service restaurant or buffet. These are the most expensive options, but they’re also a great way to build a break into your day. You have to call in advance, and the earlier you call the more options you’ll have for venue and time.

Learn the FastPass system. The most popular rides allow you to reserve a time slot in advance. You may have to zigzag through the park to hit all the best rides, but we were able to ride everything we wanted in one day. Some rides run out of FastPasses early, so ask an employee’s advice about which ones to get first.

Bring snacks and water bottles. As with all theme parks, snack prices are especially inflated. You can refill your water bottle at one of the drinking fountains.

One day is fine. Some people advise planning a three or four day visit, or at least one day per park (there are two, Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios). Attractions at the second park are so slim, though, that we didn’t really regret missing it. If you have smaller kids who easily tire, you might want to break up your visit into a couple of days. But we found a one-day visit worked out just fine.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Friday’s need-to-know money news

Aug 01, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Social Security is in better shape than originally though. Also in the news: how to reduce your monthly expenses by having a “bill haggle day”, personal finance tips for recent college grads, and why you may want to wait before upgrading your cell phone.

4 Reasons Not to Panic About Social Security’s Future
Things aren’t as bad as we thought!

Have a “Bill Haggle Day” to Reduce Your Monthly Expenses
It may take multiple phone calls but it’s worth it.

4 Personal Finance Tips For Recent College Graduates
Don’t let your loans intimidate you.

Do the math before upgrading your cellphone
It could be worth waiting a bit to get the latest gadget.

The Most Important Tip For Avoiding Investment Fraud
You’ll want to remember this one.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Sainte-Chappelle

The stained glass of Sainte-Chappelle.

One thing that’s impossible to understand, no matter how many times we visit Paris: the long lines to get into the Louvre.

It’s not that the place isn’t amazing and an absolute must see. It’s that you can skip the lines simply by buying a Paris museum pass.

Even if you’re not big on museums, you’ll want to see the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay (a grand converted train station with a wonderful collection of Impressionist art) and the lovely Rodin museum and gardens. The admission costs for those three museums equal about 28 euros and the two-day pass costs 42 euros.  You only have to hit a couple more places–such as the jewel-like Sainte-Chappelle, with its breathtaking stained glass; the Conciergerie, with Marie Antoinette’s pre-guillotine cell; the excellent, relatively new Branly, with its collection of African art; the Centre Pompidou modern art museum; the Towers of Notre Dame–to more than offset the cost. Even if you ignore those, you have to ask yourself: what’s your time on vacation worth? So little that you’re willing to spend hours queuing in the hot sun or pouring rain? C’mon, people.

With this in mind, here are three ways to have a better time in Paris without breaking your wallet:

Get the museum pass. It’s 42 euros for two days, 56 for four, 69 for six. Kids under 18 usually get free admission (although we did have to pay a small entrance fee for them at the sewer tour. Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s interesting, although alas you no longer get to ride down the sewers in a boat). Buy your pass at one of the less popular sites to save yourself a long line. The Crypt at Notre Dame is a good place (while you’re there, check out the interactive screens that let you view the cathedral’s construction and the surrounding town from various angles) or the aforementioned Branly, which is between the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides. Stores like FNAC also sell them, and you can check online for other sites.

Use public transport. The downside to Paris’ subway and bus system is that it’s so good, everybody uses it–which means it can be packed. Still, it’s a fast, cheap way to get from site to site. You’ll be using it enough that it makes sense to get a pass if you’re staying more than a couple of days. The tourist pass is easy to get but more expensive; Navigo passes (what locals use) are a little more hassle to get but make riding pretty cheap.

Dine for lunch, picnic for dinner. After several lengthy, heavy French dinners in a row, we decided our stomachs and our wallets would do better dining out at lunch and having lighter meals or picnics with cheese, meat and bread for dinner. Use TripAdvisor to find good places to eat; its reviews are far more robust than Yelp’s (meaning more places reviewed and more reviews per restaurant).

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 31, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

santa snowmanToday’s top story: Why you should start your holiday shopping immediately. Also in the news: Having the money talk before your kids head to college, ten ways to untangle your finances, and myths first time home buyers shouldn’t fall for.

Why You Should Start Your Holiday Shopping Now
It’s never too early!

Kid going to college? Have the ‘money talk’
Don’t let them fall into the bad credit trap.

10 Ways To Declutter Your Finances
You don’t want them to look like last year’s Christmas lights.

First-Time Home Buyers: Don’t Fall for these Myths
Mythbusting!

Spend More, Save More: 7 Purchases That Pay Off in the Long Run
More money upfront could mean less down the road.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 30, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: What to do when your aging parents need financial help. Also in the news: three things homebuyers should know, but don’t, how to revive your New Year’s financial resolutions, and five things to ask an investment adviser before you turn over your money.

When Aging Parents Need Financial Help
How to deal with a delicate situation.

3 Things Homebuyers Should Know, But Don’t
These are important.

9 Ways to Revive Your New Year’s Financial Resolutions
Remember those resolutions?

5 questions advisers must answer before getting your money
Don’t give them your money without these answers.

5 Things You Should Probably Pay Someone Else to Do
DIY can become costly in the long run.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Jul 29, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: six steps to building a bullet proof retirement portfolio. Also in the news: what your everyday expenses actually cost you, what you shouldn’t buy at a dollar store, and how to use Pinterest to map out your budget.

6 steps to a bulletproof retirement portfolio
How to get the ball rolling.

Take Control of Your Spending: What Everyday Expenses Actually Cost
You’ll be surprised by what you’re really spending.

5 things not to buy at dollar stores
In honor of Dollar Tree purchasing Family Dollar, find out which products aren’t worth the low price.

5 Ways to Use Pinterest to Plan Your Budget
The social media time vacuum could help you save money.

5 Times Credit Card Rewards Aren’t Worth It

Categories : Liz's Blog
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power cord and us dollar, concept of expensive energy billToday’s top story: How to keep your energy costs down during summer’s hottest weeks. Also in the news: Why paying rent with a credit card could be a good thing, five signs of a financially needy friend, and lifehacks that’ll help you save money.

6 Ways to Beat the Heat Without Making Your Wallet Sweat
Staying cool and thrifty as the dog days of summer approach.

Paying rent with a credit card can make sense
Being rewarded for paying one of the essentials.

Time to Cut Them Off: 5 Signs You Have a Financially Needy Friend
Knowing when to say when.

Top 10 Mind Hacks To Help You Save More Money
Changing old habits and creating new ones.
12 personal finance moves you should make by 30
Tick-tock.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Dear Liz: I don’t know where to turn. My husband is 76. He has a federal government pension and collects Social Security but he has only a $17,000 life insurance policy. We still have a $229,000 mortgage and no savings other than my small 401(k). I am 59 and also a federal worker. Do you have any suggestions or guidance for me? Is there such a thing as an insurance policy that could pay off the mortgage if he passes before me?

Answer: Buying a life insurance policy on your husband that would pay off your mortgage isn’t necessarily impossible, but it would be expensive and might not be the best use of your funds. You can explore that option, of course, but you also should research your own retirement resources and what’s likely to remain after he’s gone.

Will your husband’s pension make payments to his survivor or will it end when he dies? How much will your own federal pension pay you when you retire? How much will Social Security pay you, and how does that compare with your survivor’s benefit (which is essentially equal to what your husband is receiving when he dies)? What are your options for maximizing those benefits?

You also need to know if your Social Security benefits could be reduced because of your public pensions. Some federal employees and employees of state or local governments receive pensions based on earnings that were not subject to Social Security taxes. When that’s the case, their benefits could be reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision or the Government Pension Offset. Most federal employees hired after 1983 are covered by Social Security, but just in case you should check out the information at http://www.ssa.gov/gpo-wep/.

Once you have an idea of your income as a widow, you can compare that with your expected expenses and see whether continuing to pay your mortgage will pose a burden. If that’s the case, you might consider downsizing now to a place you could afford to buy with cash or a much smaller mortgage. Reducing your expenses also could help you build up that 401(k), which will help provide you with a more comfortable retirement.

Establishing a relationship with a fee-only planner now will help you prepare for the future and give you someone to turn to for financial advice should you be left on your own.

Q&A: Inheritance vs Reality

Jul 28, 2014 | | Comments (3)

Dear Liz: I have really bad credit. I always have because I have never really had any money. So now I am inheriting a lot of property and some cash. Most of the property is rental properties that bring in income. There are no mortgages on them. I may want to sell one or two of them and buy a four- or five-unit apartment building so I can live in one and rent the others out. How do I do that? Unfortunately, it isn’t happening as quickly as it should since one of my siblings thinks it is all hers. So I have to go through litigation first.

Answer: Let’s start with some reality checks.

The kind of litigation you’re talking about can get expensive fast and eat into the estate’s assets. If your sister happens to be the executor, she may be able to have the estate pay for her defense. You’ll need to come up with the money to hire your own attorney to advise you, but often in these cases a settlement makes a lot more sense than a family war.

The next reality check has to do with your bad credit. Yes, it’s harder to pay your bills on a low income, but people do it. In fact, income is not even a factor in credit scoring formulas, since how much money you make doesn’t predict whether you’ll pay your debts. If you have bad credit, it’s because you borrowed money that you didn’t pay back on time, not because you “never really had any money.”

What will change if you get your hands on a substantial amount of money is that your creditors will renew their efforts to get paid. You’ll probably need some more legal advice to deal with those efforts and to avoid getting sued.

What probably won’t change, without some effort, is your poor money management skills. If you don’t improve, you’ll probably blow right through your inheritance. So you should add to your list of advisors a fee-only planner who can help you with budgeting, rebuilding your credit, investing and retirement planning. Seeking good advice and following it are the key to making money last. You can get referrals to fee-only planners from the Garrett Planning Network, http://www.garrettplanningnetwork.com. Another option is the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors at http://www.napfa.org.

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