Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to have healthy finances. Also in the news: Credit cards to pack for your road trip, learning about a Solo 401(k), and ten ridiculously easy ways to save $300 a month.

Want Healthy Finances? Start Here
Getting your finances in shape.

Credit Card Perks to Pack for Your Road Trip
Getting the biggest bang for your buck.

What Is a Solo 401(k)?
A retirement plan for the self-employed.

10 ridiculously easy ways to save $300 a month
You can do it!

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Staples becomes the latest employer to start paying student loans. Also in the news: Places with the highest and lowest credit scores, why you can’t always bring your cell phone to a new carrier, and the pros and cons of paying for travel over time.

Staples Jumps on Hot Employer Trend: Paying Student Loans
Better than a discount on office supplies.

Places With the Highest and Lowest Credit Scores
Where does your area rank?

Why You Can’t Always Bring Your Phone to a New Carrier
Deciphering the maze of rules.

Should You Pay for Travel Over Time?
Is the immediate gratification worth the expense?

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

money-vacation-saveToday’s top story: How leaving a 401(k) behind after a job change could cost you. Also in the news: A debt avalanche, the five best store credit cards, and money-saving tips for your next family vacation.

Leaving 401(k) Behind After Job Change Could Be Costly
You CAN take it with you.

What Is a Debt Avalanche?
Yesterday’s debt snowball just got a lot bigger.

The 5 best store credit cards
Who has the best perks?

3 money-saving tips for your next family trip
Leaving more money for souvenirs!

Monday’s need-to-know money news

interest-rates-300x225Today’s top story: What you need to know about a potential interest rate hike. Also in the news: An education tax credit that could save you $2500, how to save money on your next vacation, and how to calculate how much you’ll lose by cashing out an old 401(k).

Rates Are About to Rise: Here’s What You Need to Know
Be prepared.

Could an educational tax credit save you $2,500 this year?
Let’s find out.

5 ways to save money on your next vacation
Alternatives to coming home broke.

This Calculator Shows How Much You’ll Lose by Cashing Out an Old 401(k)
Should you cash out?

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Chip card

inside-passportToday’s top story: How being behind on your taxes could affect your travel plans. Also in the news: How to determine who you can claim as a dependent, financial steps to take when you’re on your own, and how to avoid costly credit card traps.

Haven’t Paid Your Taxes? You May Need to Cancel Your Travel Plans
Your passport could be in jeopardy.

This IRS Tool Tells You If You Can Claim a Dependent
Finding your tax breaks.

7 Financial Steps to Take Once You’re on Your Own
It’s a whole new world out there.

How to Avoid 5 Costly Credit Card Traps
Don’t fall in.

Saving money aboard a Disney cruise

Mom Dad Daughter beachIn a previous post, I covered ways you can save money when booking your Disney cruise. Here are a few more ideas for saving money while aboard.

Keep it simple. A friend who took the western Caribbean cruise booked an excursion at every port—and regretted it. Excursion costs tend to be high, particularly if you book with the cruise line, and they often aren’t necessary to have a great time. We booked just one real excursion, a day-long snorkel trip, that we found using TripAdvisor. We also bought the “extreme getaway” package for Castaway Cay (a “stingray adventure” and rental of snorkel equipment, bikes and floats) which turned out to be extreme overkill. I was the only one to ride a bike, and nobody took advantage of the floats. The stingray encounter was cool, though, and Disney’s snorkel garden is not to be missed.

Another option at most ports is to simply wander off the boat and try to arrange an excursion, but our experience is that the best providers are often booked up by the time the ship arrives.

Don’t save at another’s expense. Disney adds $12 per person per day to cover tips for the people who clean your stateroom, serve your meals and keep the ship looking tidy. That added up to $336 for our party of four. You can add to this tip amount—we did—plus you’ll also need tip money for:

  • porters who help you with your bags at the port,
  • your guides on excursions and
  • the waiters who bring room service and who serve you at the adult-only restaurants.

Don’t like to tip? There’s a simple solution: don’t cruise. There are plenty of do-it-yourself vacations where you can reduce or eliminate tipping. When you cruise, though, tips are part of the package and an essential supplement to the low wages most cruise workers earn.

Beware the budget busters. Unlike most other cruise lines, Disney doesn’t charge extra for sodas at meals—but it does charge for alcohol, and that can add up fast. Visits to the spa can add several hundreds of dollars to your bill, as can professional photography and Disney souvenirs.

You can choose to eschew these extras or budget for them in advance. For example, we set a $15-per-day limit for spending for our tween daughter and her friend that they used for popcorn (movie snacks are extra), stuffed animals and pins (trading Disney pins on board with cruise employees and other guests was a favorite activity). My husband and I also bought week-long passes to the spa, which was well worth the charge of about $100 per person. We ate at the adults-only restaurants Palo ($35 per person supplement) and Remy ($85 per person) and enjoyed them immensely.

You can use your stateroom key to charge just about anything you want to buy to your room, which is convenient and dangerous at the same time. The guest services desk will give you printouts of your bill any time you ask so that you won’t be surprised by how very much these add-ons add up by the end of your trip.

Thinking about a Disney cruise? Read this.

Mom daughter cruise worldIf your kids aren’t bugging you about taking a Disney cruise, then either you don’t have kids or they can’t talk yet. The idea that any child would be immune from Disney’s marketing might is hard to fathom.

Disney cruises are pricier than most others for good reason, as I explained this week in my Reuters column “How to get a Disney cruise for less.” Disney markets to families but aims for a luxury experience several cuts above the bargain brands. The company also uses demand pricing, so fares tend to go up over time, not down.

We took our first Disney cruise last month after (of course) extensive research and reading just about every “tips and tricks” article I could find. We scored a decent deal on our fare, but we also made a mistake or two—so I hope you can learn from those as well.

Here’s what we learned:

Go when others can’t. Most families have to book during school breaks. If you can go later or earlier, you can get lower fares. Our fare for two adults and two tweens in a stateroom with a balcony was about $6,000 for a 7-night eastern Caribbean route at the end of August, when many kids are already back at school. The Dec. 19 sailing for the same cruise costs twice that. (Actually, fares currently range from about $9,700 for an inside stateroom to about $31,000 for a one-bedroom concierge suite).

Inside is okay. While the veranda was nice, Disney’s inside cabins may be a better deal since you’ll spend far more time outside of your stateroom than in it. Inside cabins are usually the first to sell out, though, so you’ll need to plan in advance.

Check for deals. Mousesavers, an excellent tip site for all things Disney, keeps a running list of “Great Dates” that offer especially good fares.

Consider shorter cruises. The per-night cost tends to shrink when you take longer cruises. But the 3- and 4-night itineraries can give you a taste of Disney cruising for less overall. The Caribbean and Bahamas routes include a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas that’s a real highlight.

Take the bus (or a limo). Disney figured out that one of the biggest downers of cruising (and traveling in general) is dealing with the luggage. So if you book their transfer service, they’ll whisk your bags from the airport baggage claim to your stateroom while your family rides to the port on a luxury bus. The cost is $70 per person, though, so I tried to save a few bucks by renting a car. The one-way rental cost was less than $75, but picking up and dropping off the vehicle would have been a major hassle even if I hadn’t run into a massive traffic jam caused by a brawl at another rental car company. If bus travel isn’t your thing, another option to consider is a private sedan or limo. (Again, Mousesavers has recommendations.)

I have a few more tips for saving money once you’re on the ship that I’ll post later this week.

 

Monday’s need-to-know money news

air-miles-cardToday’s top story: How your medical debt impacts your FICO score. Also in the news: Signs your parents are victims of a financial scam, what you need to know when hunting for scholarships, and how to fly first class on the cheap.

The Impact of Medical Debt on FICO Scores
A new formula treats medical debt differently.

5 Signs Your Parents Are the Victims of a Financial Scam
Older adults are more susceptible to scams.

Everything You Need to Know When Hunting for Scholarships
Helping your kids on the road to college.

How to fly first class for free (or on the cheap)
Bargain your way out of coach this summer.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Tax breaks for retirement savers. Also in the news: Surprising tax complaints, how to find cheap airfare, and becoming comfortable with investing using a mock portfolio.

10 tax breaks for retirement savers
How to minimize the taxes on your savings.

The Most Surprising Tax Complaint in America
No, it’s not slow refunds.

Best Ways To Purchase Cheap Airline Tickets
More money to spend on snow globes!

Try a Mock Portfolio to Get Comfortable With Investing
Testing your market skills without the risk.

6 Tips to Plan a Fun and Cheap Super Bowl Party
How to host a big party without spending big bucks.