Finding the Top Travel Deals this Summer

How to Find the Best Travel Deals

After a very difficult year and my father’s passing, my mom decided that we needed some time away. So, this summer my mom, nieces, and I are going to finally take the family vacation that he always wanted to have with his grandkids. It may also be the last opportunity we have to do a longer trip since the girls are growing up and will be going off to college soon. Unfortunately, we only had a couple of weeks to figure out dates, flights, hotels, car rentals, and ticket reservations. Thankfully, I have years of experience in the travel industry and was able to secure some fantastic last-minute travel deals. This is one family vacation we are all looking forward to.

Sites with the Top Travel Deals

With only three weeks to plan, the first task was to pick the destination and figure out transportation. After some debate, we settled on flying to San Diego and spending the week driving back. With that in mind, I went online to compare rates and deals.

Full-Service Sites

I usually begin my search with travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, or Kayak to estimate the total costs. They have the most competitive rates for hotels, flights, and car rentals. And, they offer package deals to local attractions to save you even more. Another benefit is that they check service providers and locations around the world. If you are looking to find last-minute deals, it’s the perfect option for one-stop shopping.

Google Flights

Rather than pigeonhole our trip with non-refundable tickets, I wanted to book directly through the airline. So, I bypassed the first offers and looked at individual flights. Google Flights gives you a great overview and compares rates across the greatest number of domestic and international airlines. And, you can browse their pop-up calendar to search for the lowest rates by day. I was quickly able to locate the cheapest flights and best routes.

Booking.com

For hotel reservations, I rely on booking.com since it checks all accommodation types. And, it doesn’t require a deposit for the reservation unless you choose a non-refundable rate. Furthermore, you can typically cancel within 24 hours of arrival if necessary. Since I have used them so much in the past, I have also received “genius” status from my reviews and get an additional 10% off. We were able to find dirt cheap deals on express hotels along our route home.

Airbnb

For the longest stay of the trip, we used Airbnb to look at vacation rentals. I find it to be the better option when traveling in bigger groups since you get more space without a huge price tag. We found an entire house for nearly half the price of two hotel rooms for the same stay. It’s also nice to have additional amenities like a full kitchen and laundry to reduce other costs for the trip. And since it’s in a prime location, we have easy access to all the places we want to see.

Hoteltonight.com

Although I haven’t used this site much in recent years, it’s a great option for last-minute reservations. You can find some unbelievable discounts if the conditions are right. However, there are no guarantees that you will get more than a standard room or discounts at a specific hotel. But if you’re looking for the best price, you can’t beat their rates.

When to Look for Travel Deals

Another thing to keep in mind is when to look for travel deals. During my time working in the hotel industry, several travel agents informed me that airlines evaluate their prices approximately 45-54 days before departure. If the flight is filling up, rates go up. However, if there are many open seats, you can find some huge discounts. When I find a potential flight, I set price alerts to notify me of rate changes to help me score the best deal.

You should also be aware of travel seasons and when certain locations hit their peak. If you are willing to wait until the low season, hotel and airline rates drastically drop.

I also try to avoid heavy travel days such as holidays and weekends. During the busiest travel times, rates can double or even triple. From my experience, the cheapest days to travel are usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays. However, you should also check their calendar travel dates for the lowest prices.

The Best Travel Deals

So, how much did all this save me? Let’s take a look…

Transportation

We decided to fly one way to San Diego, then rent a car to drive back to see the Grand Canyon and a few other attractions along the way. I booked tickets for about $200 per person when most other airlines are charging $500+. I also found a great deal on a weekly car rental through Budget that was $400 less than the initial offers. In total, this saved about $1,600.

Accommodations

For the longest portion of the trip, we booked a vacation rental through Airbnb for only $225 a night. Not only will it give us more space, but it was also much cheaper than comparable hotel rooms which started at $150 per room, per night. And, the cheap hotels didn’t offer proximity, laundry facilities, or free breakfast. Not counting all the extras, this alone saved $375.

The remainder of the hotel nights were either booked using points or will be chosen along the way. We are also planning to stay with family for a few nights as well which will also cut down on costs.

Tickets to Attractions

You can also find ways to save money when you buy tickets to local attractions. We will have free admission to the San Diego zoo since we already bought a national zoo pass. And, we can also use our National Park Pass from last year since it is still valid. Having these passes saved us an additional $300+ on tickets.

However, you can also get discounted tickets if you buy a package, book through an online retailer, or qualify with any memberships.

Tips to Find the Right Deal for You

On a final note, here are a few tips to help you find the best travel deals.

  • Know which things you can be flexible with and which you cannot. Flexibility with dates, desired location, and staying near public transportation can net you huge savings.
  • Book directly with the service provider. Not only is it simpler to cancel and change reservations, many offer price matching with third-party sites.
  • Check for discounts. It never hurts to ask and you may qualify for one of these discounts:
    • 10% discounts with car clubs and discount buying club memberships
    • senior citizen discounts
    • employee or contractor rates
    • friends and family discount

You don’t need to be a super sleuth to find the best travel deals. But knowing where to start will give you a headstart.

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How Will You Spend Your Tax Refund?

How Will You Spend Your Tax Refund?

Many Americans like me count on their annual return and already have plans for how they will spend their tax refund. After brutal winter storms, rising inflation rates, and increasing prices the last few months, it couldn’t come at a better time. We have several large expenses on the horizon. Fortunately for my husband and me, we received a larger refund than we had anticipated this year. While I have always viewed this money as relief money to get ahead of our finances, others tell us they have other plans. Instead of paying bills, they want to use this “extra money” to splurge a little. Since we have a little more in the budget, this has led to some debate about how we should spend our tax refund this year.

How Do You Get a Tax Refund?

Every year, Americans must report their earned income by filing their federal and state tax returns. However, many people pay more than necessary. In fact, the IRS reports that nearly 75% of taxpayers overpay and receive a tax refund.

This usually happens because employers withhold more than the required amount. However, it also occurs when self-employed taxpayers overestimate their quarterly payments. Whatever the reason for overpayment, the government will reimburse the difference back to you. If the IRS owes you a refund, you can choose to have the funds issued by check or direct deposit to your bank account.

How Should You Spend Your Tax Refund?

For many full-time employees, this tax return adds up to thousands of dollars. In the past, I have always viewed this windfall as a means to gain ground toward my long-term financial goals. Sometimes I used my refund to pay bills, reduce debt, or invest in my future. While it was tempting to blow the money on large purchases, I erred on the side of caution. Instead of splurging, I used it to provide some financial breathing room.

However, we are now financially stable and have more discretionary funds with our return. Since we aren’t living on a student’s budget, would it be a terrible idea to spend some of it on things we enjoy? Or, should we be more conservative and reinvest it?

1. Invest it.

My knee-jerk reaction was to take the extra money and reinvest. Since I got into the investment game relatively late, I feel like I have several years to make up for. We already max out our annual contributions to our Roth IRA accounts. And, we also regularly add to our employer-sponsored 401ks and other brokerage accounts. We also have a healthy emergency fund and have topped off our Health Savings Account as well.

But we are always open to new opportunities. Although we have a well-rounded portfolio, my husband and I have recently discussed ways to further diversify our investments with alternatives asset classes. These conversations seem to have a way of returning to the real estate market. While in the past this was not an option, crowdsourcing platforms such as FundRise and Roofstock have made it more accessible to the average investor. And with rising demands for housing, this seems like a sound investment that offers profitable returns.

2. Put it towards home repairs and upgrades.

My husband’s response was to spend our tax refund on our home. There are several expensive maintenance issues and repairs that we have put off. For example, all the windows in the house need replacing. And, we also need a new HVAC unit. Moreover, our kitchen is long overdue for an update. But, all of these items come with a large price tag. The additional money would cover down payments and a considerable amount of the total cost. Not only would it improve the flow and functionality of our home, but it would also reduce our monthly utility bills. Any one of these projects would also increase the resale value of our home.

3. Spend it on our summer vacation.

Last but not least, we discussed using the money to pay for our summer vacation. We have both worked hard and look forward to getting away during the summer months. This year we will be driving across the country to hike state parks, visit friends, and go to a concert. Although we had budgeted to have a low-cost getaway, the extra funds would allow us to enjoy a few more indulgences along the way. Instead of relying on hotel points and basic meals, we could splurge and treat ourselves to a trip where we wouldn’t even have to think about the bottom line.

Being Practical vs. Indulging 

As with all our decisions, we sat down and compared the merits of each choice. Coming from a modest background, my first instinct is to save and plan for our future. However, after years of construction, my husband sees the value of investing in our home. Meanwhile, the idea of doing something for us is also enticing.

In the end, we decided it was best to find a compromise between being practical and splurging a little. So, half of our tax refund will go toward a new HVAC unit. We will then invest a quarter of it in a high-performing REIT. Then, the remainder will fund our summer vacation and allow us an additional excursion during our trip.

It’s hard to live in a world of extremes, so it’s best to find the middle ground. Although we will spend the majority of it responsibly, we also want to enjoy our hard-earned money. So, once we meet all our financial obligations, we will use the rest to reward ourselves and indulge a little.

So, to answer my own question…no, it isn’t terrible to treat yourself and use your refund for things you enjoy. But as with all things in life, everything should be done in moderation.

How do you plan to spend your tax refund? Share your plans in the comments below!

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5 Things to Check Before Retiring to the Suburbs in 2022

Things to Check Before Retiring to the Suburbs in 2022

If you are nearing retirement age and dream of a quiet life away from the city, here are a few things to check before retiring to the suburbs in 2022.

5 Things To Check Before Retiring to the Suburbs in 2022

1. Your Budget

Financial Plan

The first thing you need to check before retiring to the suburbs in 2022 is your financial plan. Have you reached your long-term goals? Have you accounted for inflation and market fluctuations? Are your assets protected? You want to make sure you are ready to stop working before you jump into retirement.

This means you’ll have to be realistic about what you can afford. You should also pay off all your debts before you retire so you don’t deplete your savings. And, you need to make sure that you will have enough income to cover your living and medical expenses. If you aren’t sure if you are ready to fully retire, discuss it with your financial planner.

Cost of Living

Since you will be living on a fixed income, you want to maintain a low cost of living. If the home you are currently in is too much of a financial burden, it may be time to downsize. Moving to a smaller home can drastically reduce your monthly expenses. However, you may also consider relocating. Retiring to the suburbs around San Francisco, New York, or Honolulu is going to require a much larger nest egg than places like Fort Wayne, IN, or Toledo, OH.

Taxes

Although federal taxes are an unavoidable fact of life, not every state collects taxes from its retired population. In fact, seven states don’t levy any taxes on personal income (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming). For those looking for the cheapest places to live, compare which states and counties have the lowest property taxes. This will give you a good indication of the general cost of living in the area.

2. Health Plan

Health Care

Maintaining your physical health is a major concern as people get older. The hard truth is that medical expenses will constitute a large part of your retirement budget. Couples retiring can expect to pay approximately $387,000 in health care costs.

Furthermore, those with chronic conditions may need to see specialists or require access to the latest medical technologies. So, you’ll need to be close to a hospital that has cutting-edge facilities if you require frequent trips to the doctor. The trade-off for these conveniences is living in more expensive urban areas. If you have a serious medical condition, this should be a consideration before moving to the suburbs in 2022.

Safety

Another health concern many people overlook is personal safety. Living on a fixed income means that cost is a primary concern. But, you shouldn’t sacrifice your safety to save money. Unfortunately, cheaper housing is usually located in more dangerous neighborhoods which could affect your well-being. Therefore, you should eliminate low-cost neighborhoods that have high crime rates. You can learn more about local crime rates from your police department or by searching crime maps of the area.

3. Proximity

Transportation

One significant disadvantage of retiring to the suburbs in 2022 is the distance and drive time it takes to get places. However, if you are perfectly happy to get out of the city, you may not need a car for daily commutes. Many suburban areas are gaining greater access to stores, restaurants, parks, and other amenities. Not only does this offer more convenience, but it also means less driving.

It encourages you to walk more which is a great way to stay active, fit, and get the most out of your neighborhood. However, you should consider proximity to public transportation if want to sell your car and plan to stay there through your retirement years. Even if you keep your car, you may lose the ability to drive someday. But, being close to public transit will allow you to stay mobile. For those moving further away from their family, it’s a good idea to look for places near the local airport.

Proximity to Family

Do you want to spend more time with your family after you retire? Or, do you want to head for the hills in search of a more peaceful life? Familial connections can be crucial as we get older. But, dysfunctional families can also create more stress. Whether you want to be nearby or as far away as possible, proximity to your family is another consideration when you retire.

4. Lifestyle

Culture

The kind of lifestyle you lead is also an important consideration. Think about what kind of social life you want to have and how you will spend your free time. Are you ready to move away from the bustling city center for the quiet life of the suburbs? Do you plan to participate and socialize at local senior centers with classes, game nights, or other events? On the other hand, if you want to take in the culture of your city, you should look for neighborhoods closer to museums, galleries, theaters, and other attractions.

Climate

While cost and location are both important factors, you shouldn’t forget about the climate. Most retirees want to live somewhere where they will be comfortable year-round. For some seniors, this means they are willing to leave places with extreme temperatures to pass their golden years in more comfort. If you are relocating, you will also want to avoid places that are prone to natural disasters.

Getting Back to Nature

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll want to find somewhere that provides easy access. Many suburbs offer great hiking and biking trails or proximity to beaches, lakes, and mountains. Moving somewhere that allows you to easily enjoy your outdoor hobbies promotes strong physical and mental health as you get older.

Rules and Regulations

Although living in a community provides many benefits and services, homeowner associations and city ordinances can create huge headaches. First, there are the fees to account for. Then, there are the local laws and regulations you must comply with. Some cities and neighborhoods have strict ordinances that require extensive paperwork for any construction projects. Make sure you understand the bylaws of where you want to live. Being at odds with the local governing body could turn your suburban paradise into a nightmare.

5. Personal Happiness

Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind before retiring to the suburbs in 2022 is your personal happiness. Think about what is most important to you and where you will be the most content spending your final years.

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