Jun
29
2012

Four Easy Ways to Save on Your Next Vacation

Don’t spend your vacation worrying about the credit card

Four Easy Ways to Save on Your Next Vacation

Your idea of what a great vacations costs likely has a lot to do with how you vacationed as a child. There were no trips to Disney World or Disney Land in my childhood (though I now know it can be done on a tight budget!). Instead, summers were spent in a rundown cabin where the menu was limited to hot dogs and generic-brand potato chips. Of course, I thought it was heaven.

It was only after becoming an adult that I realized that many families assume their annual vacation will cost as much as a used car.

TD Canada Trust commissioned a poll asking Calgarians what was their ideal vacation style. The survey found that Calgarians prefer all-inclusive vacations, where everything is taken care of and all they have to do is relax (29%). The next most popular types of vacations are adventure trips with lots of excursions (20%), road trips (15%) and cruises (10%). One in five (21%) say it doesn’t matter where they go as long as they get a good deal.

Tips for More Affordable Vacations

 Have a family meeting to hear about everyone’s dream vacation—you might find the kids have been pining for a family camping trip instead of the week long resort extravaganza you had originally planned or thought they wanted.

 Consider travelling on the shoulder of a season and/or taking the kids out of school for a few days—travelling for a week in high season on school break is a sure way to spend hundreds or thousands more at the same resort or hotel.

 Sell-offs are a great way to get a hard-to-beat deal on a trip somewhere, but you have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat. Before kids, we’d book a week off work but not the trip—then two to three weeks before our week off, we’d book the trip on a sell-off website at a significantly reduced cost. You may not get the exact resort you wanted, but the savings are considerable, and can make any compromise more than worthwhile.

 If you collect rewards program points, see if you can cash them in for a vacation or part of a vacation. You may also get a discount on services such as car rentals just for being a cardholder. For the most flexibility, see if you can redeem your miles for gift cards to a travel agency that offers sell off vacation packages—you have near total flexibility if they honour the gift cards as if they were cash.

Once you know what you want to do for your vacation, start saving now. Estimate how much it will cost and set a plan for how you’re going to save the money based on how long you have to save up. Set up a vacation fund and use the “out of sight, out of mind” strategy—the power of automatic transfers from your pay.

Like this post? You might like Take Your Family to Las Vegas or Friends in High Places.

Jun
21
2012

Make Your Own Baby Food

Is it worth the effort?

Make Your Own Baby Food

Last December, there was a recall floating around in social media that Gerber baby food was recalled, as there was glass found in their jars of banana. The recall was a hoax based on a tiny truth. In July 2011, Nestlé recalled one batch of baby food made and sold only in France because a consumer reported finding glass in a jar of Nestlé P’tit Pot Recette Banana.

The announcement didn't pertain to any products manufactured or sold outside of France, and the investigation determined that the defective jar was an isolated incident.

But it got me thinking about jarred baby food.

If you’ve checked out the jars of baby food in the supermarket, you may question why you’re paying $0.50 for $0.05 worth of carrots.  Or maybe you got a whiff of a jar of baby peas and wondered how companies could make peas and water smell so unappetizing.  If so, you may be considering testing your culinary skills by making your own baby food.  It might seem daunting, but making your own baby food is quick, cost-effective, and rewarding.

Preparing baby food takes very little time, effort, and money.  All you need is a blender or food processor, a steamer basket, and a few ice cube trays.  Pick up a few vegetables and fruits—broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peas, sweet potatoes, apples, mango—anything except citrus fruits will do.  Clean and peel the food, steam it in separate batches, and then puree it in a blender or food processor until it is smooth.  Add water, if necessary, for a smoother consistency.  Spoon the purees into ice cube trays, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze.  Once frozen, dump the cubes into labelled freezer bags—they’ll keep for up to three months.  In less than two hours, you can make enough food for baby for a month.  A small manually-operated food mill can be useful for small portions, or for using at restaurants, especially when travelling.

To prepare food from frozen, remove the required cubes and thaw them overnight in a small container in the fridge. Initially baby may only eat half a cube or less, but will soon move up to a cube or two or more of different foods.

As your baby grows, you can begin serving him or her combination meals. But skip the elaborate baby recipes—simply puree the healthy meals you’ve made for the rest of your family.  Beef stew, chicken casserole, lasagna—a few servings from your balanced family meals can make weeks worth of meals for your older baby.

Making your own baby food will trim between $10 to $15 a month off your food budget, or more as baby consumes more. Quality and taste are also among the reasons most parents give for making their own baby food. Though baby food marketed to young babies has no added sugars and starchy fillers, the foods designed for older babies do contain these items, lowering their nutritional value.  By making your own baby food, you’ll also have greater control over what your children eat, and their taste buds can be exposed to foods the rest of the family already enjoys.  You’ll also make fewer trips to the grocery store, saving yourself the hassle of lugging home and then recycling all those little jars.

A few tips for making baby food:

Always practice safe food-handling procedures.

Scrub fruits and vegetables very well with a vegetable brush.

Soft fruits like bananas need only be mashed; hard fruits should be cooked first.

Trim excess fat off poultry and meat.

Steam the vegetables, don’t boil them.

Don’t add salt and sugar.

Did you enjoy this blog post? You might like Convenience costs When it Comes to Lunches or Lessons From a Big Cook

Jun
14
2012

Take Your Kids to Las Vegas

Taking your kids on your Vegas vacation isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Take Your Kids to Las Vegas

The first time I visited Las Vegas I remember staring at small children in strollers on the Strip awake at 10pm and thinking, “Who in their right mind would take their kids to Vegas?”

Now that I have three kids of my own, I finally understand why some people do take their kids to the city of sin. It’s tough enough to find a great babysitter at home for a Saturday night out, let alone someone willing to take your kids for three or four days straight while you jet off to party. In fact, at the rate many babysitters and nannies charge, taking your kids to Las Vegas may be cheaper than leaving them at home.

Having been to Vegas three times in as many years, I’m looking forward to taking my kids soon. We’re hoping to plan a family trip with friends who have kids around the same age as ours. The plan? Divide and conquer.

If you arrange to go with another couple also bringing their kids, you’ve got ample time to split up into various pairs to still enjoy the adult side of Vegas. Handing off childcare duties to one couple means the other couple can enjoy a romantic dinner and show by themselves. The next night, the dads can go out for their turn, and the next night the moms can head out. A trip like this is easily a girl’s or boy’s night out experience, family adventure and couples retreat all rolled into one. You can also split the kids by age or ability and go on different adventures.

Renting a car is a must. Depending on how many children are on the trip, you may find it more affordable to book two mid-sized vehicles rather than trying to swing it with one minivan. Most hotels offer free parking, and behind the Strip are plenty of cheap parking lots. I highly recommend staying slightly off the Strip and booking a suite—at the Platinum Hotel, just a block off the main drag behind Bally’s, you can rent 1,100 square foot rooms complete with full kitchens, dishwashers, and washer and dryers, all for under $189 a night. These suites are more like roomy condos, and with the full kitchen you can save money by buying groceries and eating in more often.

There are plenty of free street performers to watch while walking the Strip (and the card snapping guys don’t approach families), but if your kids wants a photo taken with a character in costume, be ready to tip. Many in-hotel attractions are great for kids, including some of the rides at Circus Circus and Shark Reef Aquarium in Mandalay Bay. There are plenty of family friendly shows as well—The Mac King Comedy Magic Show at Harrah’s Las Vegas and Nathan Burton Comedy Magic at the Flamingo are both family-friendly and affordable.

Incorporating activity into your family Vegas vacation is important to many parents and easily done. Lace up your sneakers and pack plenty of water and head to Red Rock Canyon for easy hikes that will have your kids scrambling over boulders and tracking small animals in a beautiful setting. You can also visit Boulder City and view the Hoover Dam for free and talk a walk through Boulder Canyon (watch out for ziplining tourists overhead!).

While the city’s tourism folks have shied away from marketing specifically to families in recent years, my money’s on you having a great time in Las Vegas with your kids.