Some money saving tips for cruises

My wife and I just returned from a 10 day Caribbean cruise. It was only our third cruise but it was the first time that we booked an inside cabin. Not only did we save money but the darken cabin made our sleep time more restful. We didn’t miss having a baloney as there were plenty of places on the ship to sit and enjoy the view. (Pack a night-light for your night-time bathroom visits)

Avoid specialty restaurants

Most cruise lines have expensive cover charges for fine dining at their Italian, seafood and steakhouses. It doesn’t make economic sense to book a package but look for deals on embarkation nights. You may get a 2 for 1 deal or a free bottle of wine if the restaurants are not busy.

Don’t automatically buy a beverage package

Most people won’t keep up the drinking pace needed to break even on these packages. These packages range in price from $8.00 per day for sodas to $55 per day for alcohol. Read the fine print, there could be some surprising restrictions such as per-meal or per-day caps and most are not transferable.

It’s often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses but what do you do if you don’t finish the bottle? Cruise ship waiters can mark the bottle with your room number and save it for another night or you can bring it back to cabin.

Go on your own on shore

Many people save money by booking independent shore excursions and sightseeing tours. It is important to have cell service at the port of call in case of problems like traffic jams or vehicle breakdowns which could cause you to miss the ship’s departure time. The main advantage to booking the cruise line’s own tours is that, ideally, the ship will stand behind its quality, and if the tour runs late, the ship will wait.

Seek spa deals by choosing your time wisely

Most of the time prices for onboard spa treatments rival what you would pay at luxury resorts on land. There are exceptional deals that could save you as much as 30% by booking your treatment on embarkation and port days. Plus sometimes, the spa will offer a discount near the end of your cruise.

Steer clear of photo galleries

Many ships employ their own onboard photographers. You can purchase official pictures of your family embarking, eating, dancing and all dressed up for formal night for $20 to $30 per 8-by-10 inch image. Ask your fellow passengers to take some pictures for you using your own camera or cell phone.

Avoid onboard internet

Internet access and Wi-Fi are the more expensive amenities at sea and prices range from 55 to 75 cents per minute. Satellite internet onboard is very slow and it could cost you as much as $7.00 just to read and respond to one email. Can’t live without internet, many ships will offer extra-minute specials if you sign up on day one. (Our cruise line offered 40 free minutes)

Laundry, pressing & dry cleaning

Cruise lines will gladly do laundry for you with prices starting at around $2.50 per item. Instead use the self-service laundry facilities which will only cost you around $5.00 per load. They usually feature an iron and ironing board in addition to washer and dryer. You could also pack a steamer to get rid of wrinkles or hang them in the bathroom when you have a shower.

Tips to enhance your dining experience

We always pick opening seating for our main dining room. It allows us the flexibility to spend more time in port, catch an onboard show or activity. We usually go for shared seating which allows for more interesting dinner conversations and the opportunity to make new friends.

In addition, you are not limited to one appetizer, entrée and desert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you choose. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrees as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. It’s a great way to try new foods you’re not sure you’ll like (escargot, anyone?).

Don’t miss the last formal night which offers some specialty dishes like Lobster or Beef Wellington. You don’t need a tuxedo or fancy evening gown to enjoy formal night. However, men do need to pack a jacket & tie and for women a skirt & blouse or cocktail dress will do just fine.

Travel bargains for Americans, thanks to a stronger U.S. dollar

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Most of the travel world is on sale for Americans right now since the U.S. dollar is enjoying one of its strongest periods in forty years. Central banks have been printing money to devalue their currencies. The U.S. Fed keeps talking about raising interest rates which could further strength the U.S. dollar. There is a 74% chance that the Fed will raise rates at their Dec 16 meeting.

First of all, don’t rule out Canada as a vacation spot. It is home to many U.S. hotel chains, retailers and fast food outlets. You can drive, fly or even take a train ride across the border. The current exchange rate gives U.S. travelers a 33% discount and could be as high as 40% by this summer. Being Canadian, I have gone whale watching and salmon fishing off Vancouver island. I have also gone horseback riding in Banff, canoeing on Lake Louise, white water rafting on Kicking Horse river and walked on a glazier in August!

 

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Canada offers Americans a wide range of vacation activities at a big discount and we even speak the same language.  (excluding same cities in Quebec where French dominates) I dare you to come to Toronto and walk on the edge!

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Two other countries that offer deep discounts and speak the same language are Australia and New Zealand. Their currencies offer a 35% to 45% discount for American travelers. Plus their time zone is opposite to North America, our winter is their summer. I am a” Lord of the Rings” fan so visiting New Zealand is on my bucket list. Plus it is one of the few places that gives our Canadian dollar a 11% travel discount.

A few other destinations to consider but safety could be an issue:

Calling all Russian Vodka fans. Moscow is a can’t miss for cold-weather travelers right now. Russia’s ruble has been tanking as its economy gets hurt by western sanctions and plunging oil prices. One dollar would get you 68 roubles, a 32% savings. I wouldn’t recommend walking around with any items containing American symbols.

South America is a bargain, especial Brazil. Pack your bikini or speedo, it’s the right time to go to Rio De Janiero or anywhere else in Brazil. Brazil’s currency, the Real, has lost almost 33% of its value against the dollar from a year ago. That means places like Rio and Sao Paulo are much cheaper to visit now. By the way, you want to go now before prices possibly soar again for the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Have you been dreaming of going to Europe? The Euro is now nearly equal with the U.S. dollar. One euro costs $1.08, compare that to two years ago when one euro was about $1.37 which works out to a 21% savings!

There are plenty of destinations to choose from, so grab the kids and go abroad.

 

 

 

 

My 100th Post: If Money doesn’t buy Happiness, than you are spending it Wrong

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I wouldn’t have worked as a financial advisor or be writing a financial blog if I didn’t believe that most people have a happiness number.  Your happiness number will be adjusted over time based on changes in your lifestyle choices.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to recognize that happiness is a state of mind. I have to admit that after a modest level of income, there isn’t really any evidence to suggest that people’s happiness increases with their wealth.  Money is not going to turn an unhappy life into a happy one. Some people are unhappy no matter how much money they have. However, I have also seen where spending money that you don’t have can turn a happy life into an unhappy one. Whether you are loving life or hating it, I do believe that it could really depend opon how you are spending your money!

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” This insightful bit of personal financial wisdom has been credited to entertainer Sophie Tucker, comedian Joe E. Lewis, comedienne Fanny Brice, actress Mae West and many others.

Some tips on buying some happiness:

Tip 1 – Buy experiences instead of things

Who we are as individuals is the sum of our experiences not the sum of our possessions. The joy of buying something new tends to deteriorate over time but creating memories last a lifetime. Sharing those experiences with family or friends can make you even happier.

Tip 2 – Many small pleasures might be better than a few big ones

Will you be happier saving money for a big-ticket item like a luxury car or indulging in small things like going to a spa or out to dinner with friends. You may be surprised at how many small pleasures can add up to a happier lifestyle.

Tip 3 – Spend on others and not yourself

There is a lot of merit to the saying “it is better to give than receive” The holiday season is just around the corner. Isn’t seeing the reaction of family & friends opening a gift that is thoughtful and unexpected, priceless?

Tip 4 – Rent a dose of happiness

You can enjoy something without having to own it. Rent a cabin hideaway if you enjoy the great outdoors. If you love the thrill of driving a luxury sports car, rent one occasionally or sign up for a weekend racing experience.

Tip 5 – Before you buy think about all the downsides

Often people buy with rosy colored glasses, they only see the good buying points and forget all the shortcomings. For example; some people think that owning a truck and a large trailer would be a great way to see the countryside. What they don’t see is having loud neighbours at camp sites, buzzing insects, traffic jams and vehicle breakdowns. Happiness is often in the small details.

 

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During my career as a financial advisor, I helped many clients find their happiness number. For some it was buying their first home, for others it was seeing their children graduate or get married will little or no debt. In my own case, my happiness number allowed me to retire early and spend more time with family & friends.

I am very fortunate to go south every November to play golf with my buds. We started 13 years ago with a total of 8 golfers, we now have 20 and there is a waiting list to join our group. We have so much fun that one of my house mates made a surprise comment. ” I would have to be on my death bed,  for me to miss this golfing trip” (Money well spent!!!)

When you think about it, money has no real value except that it can be exchanged for goods & services that we need and want. In my humble opinion, the whole purpose of having wealth is to use it as a tool to create a life you desire, enhance the lives of people you care about and hopefully leave a legacy that you are passionate about.

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Sometimes Being Frugal May Not Be Worth It?

Friends of mine invited us to join them on a four-day bus tour to New York City. I wasn’t very keen on accepting their offer; travelling ten hours by bus from Toronto to a hotel in New Jersey and back again wasn’t very appealing. After a little arm twisting from my wife, I decided to take the plunge to go on my first ever long distance bus tour.

Some Positive Points of Touring by Bus

  • Lots of stops to stretch our legs, get some food and use restrooms
  • We watched an interesting documentary on the Statue of Liberty & Elis Island on the trip down
  • Our route was very scenic  through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and upper New York
  • Discount coupons for shopping in New York City, plus at an outlet mall on our return trip home
  • Really well-organized, lots of information on things to see, handouts on train & subway lines
  • Tour guide provided some fascinating facts at all the different stops (The Wall Street Bull isn’t on Wall St because of permit problems)

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Biggest Negative Was I needed More Time to See the NYC Sights

  • Traveling back & forth from New Jersey to Manhattan wasted 2 hours a day
  • Lots of time waiting for everyone to rejoin the group at the different stops plus getting on and off the bus
  • Spent too much time on sights that I wasn’t interested in and not enough time on other sights
  • 10 hours by bus verses 1.5 hours by plane
  • Great travelling weather but it was cloudy & raining during touring days     : (

There were too many highlights to share in one post so I will only mention two that really moved me. The first was visiting Elis Island because the ship that my mother and I took from Italy stopped there before we boarded a train from New York City to Toronto. Thousands of immigrants made the same journey under much worse conditions.

The second was the One Trade Center Memorial where the names of all the people who died during 9-11 are listed. The two reverse water fountains symbolizes tears. Memorial staff remember victims’ birthdays by placing a single white rose by their names.

Some Travel Tips for NYC

  • Admission tickets to popular sites have to be booked in advance (2 weeks or more)
  • Popular high-profile sites have airport like security checks, give yourself some extra time
  • Manhattan Streets run east-west and Avenues run north-south, impossible to get lost, or so they say
  • Trains & subway lines are relatively safe and easy to use
  • Expect carrying bags & backpacks to be checked even at low profile sites like at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Now I did save money taking this bus tour but in hindsight, there are so many things to see in New York City.  I think it would have been worth it to spend the extra to fly to New York and stay in a relatively cheap (for Manhattan) hotel. Either way, I highly recommend putting New York City on your bucket list.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian readers & followers!!!