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Tips and Ideas to Get Ready for Your Road Trip

road trip ideas

Update: This post was included in the Best of Money Carnival over at Sustainable Personal Finance!

Summer is quickly approaching and for some couples and families it’s vacation season. Flying to your destination may not be feasible, but that doesn’t mean that a long and hectic road trip is on your agenda. Driving may be a great way to enjoy your vacation – as long as you’re prepared.

Deciding on the Destination

First up is deciding on where to go for your next road trip. If you’re not quite sure of where you want to go or you’re looking for things to do, here are some wonderful sites:

I love trying out different cities and seeing what they have to offer. This fall we’re planning on going to Chicago, so I’m using some of these sites to get some places to check out.

Preparing Your Car for Your Road Trip

The last thing you want to worry about is your car breaking down and costing you an arm and a leg to repair. We prefer renting a car for our longer trips, but if that’s not your plan then make sure you’re ready.

  • Make sure your fluids are taken care of. Double check your motor fluid levels, windshield wiper fluid, transmission, and your engine coolant.
  • Check to see if your tires are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can increase tire wear, increase your chances of being in an accident, and increase your gasoline costs.
  • Prepare for emergencies. If you haven’t already, make sure your emergency kit is ready and it’s packed in your trunk. To make it easier to prepare for road problems, there are some pre-made emergency car kits to get you started.

Planning for Stops

If you plan it correctly, driving to your destination can be a wonderful adventure in itself.

  • If you need it, get your maps ready. Having a GPS is handy, but I still like having a physical map in my hand. We’re driven through locations where we lost signal and it’s frustrating. If you have a kids it’s a great way for them to get familiar with an area and to learn to read maps.
  • Find the right spots to grab a bite. Don’t just stop at a fast food chain. Discover new spots by using sites like RoadFood. It’ll break up the long drive and you may discover a new favorite meal.

Keeping Your Gas Costs Down

There are ways you can keep your gasoline expenses lower this summer.

  • Be consistent with your driving speed. Don’t have a lead foot when driving. Stop and go driving decreases your fuel efficiency. Try to maintain your speed when you’re driving on the highway. Try to use cruise control when it you can to help you be steady with speed.
  • Keep your car light. Less weight means better mileage, so remove any junk in your trunk. Having a heavy load can take its toll as you drive around town.
  • Take advantage of your smartphone. Check apps like GasBuddy and AAA TripTik Mobile can help you find the best gas prices locally. I remember one gas station was ridiculously higher than another station less than a mile away. since it was closer to the exit, most people stopped at the pricier station which was a rip-off.

These tips have saved us some money at the gas pump. I hope they can help you too.

Thoughts on Road Trips

I’m hoping we can a weekend trip or two in before the baby arrives. I love the beach and the weather has been gorgeous lately. How many of you go on road trips for your getaways? What are some tips that you have for those traveling? If you’re  parent, do you have tips on keeping everyone sane?

Photo Credit: kevindooley

Keeping the Pocket Change

spare change

It’s such a beautiful weekend! It looks like we’ll be in the high 80s all this week. While the plants may not like the heat as much, it’s nice feel a bit of summer coming in.

As I was organizing stuff around the house the week, I found some spare change. I placed it in my coin jar in my room. I’m hoping to fill it up and deposit into my savings for an anniversary gift later this year. My husband also has a change jar that he uses – it’s just something we both picked up from our families.

How many of you collect your pocket change for later use? How do you use your spare change around the house?

Personal Finance Carnivals

Deals and News of the Week

There are some great contests going on this week:

Personal Finance Posts to Catch Up On

If you have some free time this weekend and want some tips and information for your finances, be sure to read some of these wonderful posts.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. I also recommend checking out my blogroll to pick up some great personal finance blogs to follow. Please also let me know what are some of your favorite blogs that you enjoy reading on a regular basis.

Have a wonderful weekend with your family!

Photo Credit: epSos.de

Take Advantage of Health Care Tax Breaks

doctor's office health insurance

Health insurance premiums have increased every year recently for us as our insurance carrier tries to keep up with escalating costs. Price Waterhouse has already estimated an 8.5% increase in costs next year. It may be impossible to escape this increase but there are ways to leverage health care expenses to cut your taxes.

Flexible Spending Accounts

Flexible spending accounts (FSA) are IRS-approved vehicles that allows employees to set aside tax-exempt income for qualified medical expenses. A person elects the amount to be withheld from their pay throughout the year up to a maximum of $2,500. The good news is that the entire amount is available the first of the year.

It is important to make sure that your planned spending is for covered expenses. To avoid end of the year rush spending, I recommend estimating on the conservative side for your withholding.

FSA funds must be used within the designated time frame or you lose the use of the remaining funds. If your employer allows a grace period into the first quarter of the following year, you have the opportunity to combine funds from two years for expensive procedures or medical goods such as laser eye surgery or hearing aids.

Over the Counter Medications

As of 2010, over the counter (OTC) medications are no longer qualified uses for flexible spending account money. But there’s a loophole. If you get a prescription for a medication that can be brought over the counter, it is covered. Go ahead and ask your health care provider for a prescription for any regular OTC drug you use including pain relievers and allergy medication.

Health Savings Accounts

People with a high deductible health insurance policy can contribute to a health savings account (HSA). For 2010 and 2011, the maximum contribution for a single person is $3,050 and a family is $6,150. Anyone age 55 or older can add an additional $1,000. You can withdraw funds as needed, but they must be for qualified health expenses or there is a penalty fee.

The good news is that HSAs roll over and continue to grow year after year (assuming you don’t spend it all). Additionally, your contributions are tax exempt as well as any interest accumulated and they can be used tax-free for those medical expenses. It’s win-win-win.

Seniors must stop HSA contributions once signed up for Medicare but can continue to spend their money tax-free until the account is emptied. The funds can be used for most Medicare premiums.

My family uses a FSA for non-covered medical expenses and I’m surprised how many of my co-workers don’t take advantage of this tax-free money. These tax breaks won’t totally ease the pain of escalating health care costs, but every bit helps. Do you take advantage of any of these methods of saving on taxes?

AttributionPhoto: Some rights reserved by D’Arcy Norman

Ask the Readers: Consolidating Debts?

digging out of credit card debt

I love following personal finance blogs and one of my favorites is Free Money Finance.

This week FMF shared one reader’s money question and I thought it would be interesting to share with you guys. You’ve had some great thoughts and solutions.

Here’s the situation:

I am looking to consolidate my credit card debt into one personal loan. Unfortunately my credit is not perfect.  Right now my credit score is 630 and I have loads of credit card dept.  I’ve estimate I would need a personal loan of at least $15,000.  Since I don’t own a home this loan would have to be unsecured.

I currently have a car loan which I pay monthly and student loans that I have been paying on for 4 years and I have never missed a payment.  I rent and pay utilities on time.  I have a full time job where I bring in about $50,000 a year.  So would joining a credit union boost my chances for getting a sizable personal loan as opposed to going through my current bank (PNC)?

I’m curious to see what their current rates are for their debts. I didn’t see it in the comments either, so I’ll estimate 18.9% based on Bankrate’s report.

My Two Cents on Consolidating and Paying Off Debt

Getting an unsecured loan for $15,000 seems a bit of a stretch to ask from a financial institution, whether it’s a bank or credit union. My personal experience has been that credit unions have better loan rates, but they still have to run the numbers before giving out a loan.

I would suggest being aggressive and paying off one of the credit card debts on her own with her current income. She can then decide if she wants to keep her debt reduction plan or she can shop around for a loan. An added bonus with paying down the debt is that she can may get a better loan rate if her credit score improves.

Here’s my suggestion for handling it all:

  • Run the numbers. Grab or create  a debt reduction spreadsheet and list all your creditors, the interest rates, and the total amount you owe.
  • Keep cards away. If she hasn’t already, she should not dig any further into debt. some people prefer shredding their cards, others freeze them, but I just took my cards out of my wallet.
  • Find money for your debt reduction plan. Eliminating and cutting back on unnecessary expenses that don’t really matter to you can be be redirected instead reducing debt. Use either a debt snowflake, snowball, or even an avalanche to work your way to being debt free.
  • Automate payments. You can bypass a lot of mistakes and relapses if you automate your credit card payments with online bill pay. Most banks and credit unions offer this feature for free.

Don’t get too hung up on the method. Highest interest rate method is the financially sound decision, but paying off the lowest debt amount first  is the psychologically empowering decision. Do what works for you.

I would suggest Prosper or Lending Club as options if she gets denied by the credit union. However these sites are businesses and don’t just give out loans – she’d still have to fill out an application and share her finances.

Thoughts on Consolidating Loans

I know many of you have some wonderful thoughts on reducing debt so I’d like to hear your explanations.Should she consolidate her debts or just go ahead and tackle them? Do you think she’ll get a $15,000 unsecured loan easily from a credit union?

Photo Credit: BigTallGuy

Using Mint to Spot Our Money Leaks

cash in hand

As we’re working harder to reach our savings goal, we decided to look at our spending over the last four months closely to see if we could find any money that we’ve unwisely used. The tool of choice of us? Mint.

It’s packed full of features and it’s free. Mint allows us to quickly find our money leaks and get a system in place to help us fix it.

Mint’s Trend Feature

It’s easy for us as the data from our joint account are automatically pulled and Mint organizes it for us. With a few clicks we can check month to month and we can compare them against each other. You can also drill down to get to the individual transaction. The only hard part is remember certain charges from stores like Wal-mart where you may have shopped for several items.
Mint.com - Take Control of Your Money

Our Areas of Increased Spending

So where is the extra money going?

  • Food -By far our food expenses were higher than normal. Last month it was a bit more than double what we normally spend. I haven’t been shopping with list lately as I’ve made several small trips.
  • Household Items – Getting things ready for the baby’s arrival has added to our expenses. We’re reorganizing what was in the baby’s room to different places and that means we need shelves for storage and containers to get everything in order.

I think most of this is due to lack of planning on our part. We used to do big shopping trips together, but lately I’ve done small shopping trips during the day. That has lead to more impulse buying instead of taking our time and examine prices with different stores. The price of convenience has been expensive for us.

Use Mint to manage your budget

Our Plans to Fix Our Money Leaks

We can’t just ignore problem, we’re going to tackle it. Here’s how we plan to stop the money leaks from draining our checking account.

  • Set up a monthly budget for the new baby related expenses.
  • Have Mint track the expenses and alert us if we’re close to our spending limits.

Mint allows you to simply login to your account and create or adjust a budget. I lowered a few of the categories, just so we can keep a closer eye on our spending. We have to get back on the ball and focus on our goals. Both of us have been distracted as we’re just trying to keep up with the changes.

Thoughts on Money Leaks

I’d really like to get your thoughts and feedback. How have you’ve been doing to get on top of your finances? Have you noticed any money leaks or lifestyle inflation creeps happening?Hhow frequently do you examine your budget and your goals?


Photo Credit: mynameisharsha