Summer spending: Plan, set budget for more fun, less debt

 For CreditCards.com/Published May 16, 2016

By Karen Haywood Queen

 

Summer means lounging by the pool, enjoying a vacation getaway and, for kids, the fun of being out of school. But then there are the bills to pay: pool memberships, vacation costs, wedding gifts and camps or day care for kids. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself racking up credit card debt to pay for all those expenses.

Ideally, you’ve saved all year to be ready for summer. If not, check out these tips on how to better position yourself for next summer and find last-minute savings now.

Pool memberships
Joining a pool, whether it’s a country club or a private pool, can sink your budget if you’re not prepared. “Pool memberships can be quite expensive,” says Dara Duguay, executive director of Credit Builders Alliance, who lives in Washington, D.C.

If you have all year to plan, see if your favorite pool will let you spread out the cost over 12 months. If not, make your own plan by setting aside money in a special pool account.

As for this summer, if a private pool membership isn’t in your budget, consider a free or a less expensive city or county pool. “For us, the other alternative is the public pools, which are free for district residents,” Duguay says. “They are super crowded. You usually have to sit on the cement because all the chairs are broken. There definitely are trade-offs – but it’s free.”

Day care and camps
For parents of school-age kids who can’t be left alone, summer means scrambling to find reliable, safe, affordable day care or camps. Plan ahead for next year by seeing if you can get discounts by signing up and paying well in advance.

If you’re looking for good day care or camps for this summer, there are alternatives to pricy summer camps and nannies. “There’s a brand new YMCA right down the street from me,” Duguay says. “I enrolled my 7-year-old daughter for a couple of weeks at a fraction of what I would pay for a baby sitter.”

Vacation travelMany churches also offer summer kids’ programs for free or low cost during the mornings or evenings or even all day.

Still need to choose a vacation destination? If you have a travel rewards credit card and have accumulated a fair amount of points or frequent flier miles, you may want to narrow down your choices by seeing choosing a destination that maximizes your frequent flier miles.

Whether you’re paying with cash or points, consider off-season locations such as the Caribbean islands that are popular in the winter, but hurricane-prone in the summer, says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit reporting agency Experian. To hedge your risk, check to see if you have travel insurance through a credit card that covers weather-related trip delays or cancellations.

Also check for what other kinds travel-related perks and safeguards your credit cards may offer.

If your destination is high-end, compare the price of checking a bag on the plane with the cost of buying liquid toiletries and other items at your luxury destination, Ingram says. “If it costs you $25 to check a bag versus purchasing what is going to go in that bag that would cost you four times that much at your destination, then check that bag and fill it with stuff you buy at home.”

Holiday rental homes
When booking a vacation rental home, you may be able to get a discount by booking next year’s stay as you leave this year. Even if you don’t get a discount, paying part of the rental fee early spreads out the cost.

But if you haven’t booked this year’s beach house yet, you can save money by paying attention to school schedules, says Leah Ingram, author of “Suddenly Frugal.” For example, if your kids get out of school at the end of May, book a rental in an area where school remains in session until mid-June, Ingram says. If your children don’t start back to school until after Labor Day, consider traveling in late August to a state where the school year begins in August.

You may even be able to redeem credit card rewards for vacation home rentals through services such as Airbnb, though the industry has been slow to offer easy rewards programs.

Vacation meals and souvenirs
Many families want to take a vacation from cooking too, Ingram acknowledges. But if you book accommodations with a kitchen, you can save money by eating breakfast at home before heading out for the day and packing a picnic lunch, she says.

When looking for souvenirs, skip the stores on the boardwalk or any place that spells shop “shoppe.” Instead, check out the local Walgreens or other national chain, Ingram says. “They’re likely to have the same touristy tchotchkes at a lower price,” she says.

Staycations
If your vacation destination is money-saving home sweet home, check Groupon and similar sites for discounts on amusement parks and other local attractions, Griffin says. Don’t overlook free concerts and other events in your area.

Weddings
Thinking about getting a new outfit to that summer wedding you were invited to? Think twice – everyone will be looking at the bride anyway. If you must have a new outfit and can’t bear to wear the same thing to more than one major event, check out Rent The Runway to rent a dress and/or Poshmark to buy or resell high-end clothing, Ingram says.

Cashing in credit card rewards for wedding gifts may also save you money.

Summer happens. Being prepared for expenses means you can pay those extra bills easily as opposed to wasting your pool time worrying or worse, getting a second job to cover extra bills.

To see original publication, go to http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/summer-spending-budget-plan-debt.php 

The Sanderling Pampers All The Senses

Hampton Roads Magazine / By Karen Haywood Queen

The Sanderling

Just driving up to the inviting cedar-shingled buildings of The Sanderling Inn on a sunny day in the off-season lowered my blood pressure. Down the hall, our room offered a loft, a bottle of Merlot for sipping, and a small kitchen just in case we tired of the dining possibilities on site.

Strolling around the grounds, I envisioned a massage in the outdoor gazebo, dipped my toe into the hot tub, and inhaled the scent of flowers. Back inside, we admired the sculptures of Grainger McKoy, Trailer McQuilken, and Gunter Granger and the National Audubon Society prints of birds. We lingered in a wood-paneled reading room where a fire burned brightly and hot tea, scones and three kinds of cookies and scones were laid out for afternoon tea. Good weather or bad, in season or out, this was a place to feel pampered.

But the beach beckoned on this unseasonably warm spring day. I grabbed a beach chair and my book and chose a spot on the nearly deserted sand. The water was calm but in the low 40s – too cold for swimming.

Spring is great, but visit again in the fall, invited Sanderling general manager Scott Brewton. Skies are still brilliant blue, the air is warm, the water is much warmer, the shops have started their sales and the tourists aren’t as thick as in the middle of the summer. But the chocolate chip, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies still await, along with the tea and scones.

“The weather is simply better in the fall,” Brewton says. “It’s that whole Indian summer thing. I personally was swimming in the ocean last October. It hasn’t cooled off yet.”

In the spring and fall, golfers enjoy lower rates and less crowded courses. The fish are still biting. Shoppers can hit the sales.

If it’s nature you want, it’s right here. Jog through the adjacent Audubon Society’s Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary. While dining in the Left Bank restaurant, gaze out the windows at the herons, foxes and deer.

“To me, the typical profile of an Outer Banks guest is one who does enjoy the outdoors,” Brewton says. “The beauty of it is, everyone who comes here comes to be one with nature. But everyone has his or her own definition of being with nature. For some, it’s swimming in the ocean. For others, it’s kayaking. For some, it’s sitting in a beach chair reading a book. You can get an outdoor massage in the gazebo. I’m somewhat amused by the constant bragging rights of hotel chains about high speed Internet. I’ve been here almost eight months and I’ve never seen it on a comment card that we need faster Internet. We have the ability for guests to plug in their laptops. But people come here to unplug. It will all be there when you get back.”

My laptop was miles away. When the sun began to dip behind the dunes, it was time to work off the scones and cookies to make room for a gourmet meal. Watching the sun set over the Currituck Sound made the treadmill miles fly by in the well-equipped fitness center. The center offers weight machines, free weights, treadmills and bikes. Swimmers can get their laps in an indoor pool, no matter the weather, then relax in the whirlpool and gaze at the sound.

Diners may want to plan their meal to watch the sun set from The Left Bank restaurant. Be aware that this is a place where one Dresses for Dinner. Jackets are available for men who don’t have them. Other less formal dining options include The Lifesaving Station Restaurant and the Swan Bar and Lounge.

At The Left Bank, we chose a three-course meal – those with heartier appetites can choose five courses. After agonizing over the many choices, I opted for a beef carpaccio with shaved pecorino toscano, petite red oak and toasted brioche with a sherry vinaigrette. My companion chose seared Hudson Valley foie gras with warm banana nut bread, caramelized bananas and a mango lime relish. We savored each taste, eyes closed in ecstasy. For the second course, the slow roasted salmon with baby leeks, warm Yukon gold potatoes, grain mustard vinaigrette and greens topped my high expectations. My friend tried the venison loin wrapped in smoked bacon with sweet potatoes, porcini mushrooms and roasted shallots. Each bite brought a smile of pleasure. To finish the meal, we chose a molten chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce – a perfect coda to a symphony of fine taste.

After such an evening meal, many guests wouldn’t be up for the challenge of a big breakfast. We couldn’t resist the complimentary bakery basket with muffins, bagels, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed orange juice, spring water in a signature Sanderling bottle, trail mix and more – our incentive to rise and shine. Those who want something more or different can order a room service breakfast or dine in the restaurant.

More pampering awaits guests in the spa. A therapeutic massage will ease away any aches and pains still remaining. For something different, try a Scentao Massage or Sea Stone massage, both of which use warm, smooth sea stones.

I couldn’t resist those warm stones. They glided over my body or rested on my back, arms and legs while the therapist’s hands melted away more tension. Many people are so relaxed they fall asleep but stay awake if you can to savor the experience.

Afterward, a sugar scrub softened and polished my skin. A European facial cleaned and freshened my face. That combined with a replenishing, peach-colored masque took off a few years. A touch of foot reflexology – applying pressure to certain points on the feet that correspond to certain organs – relaxed me further.

Too soon, it was time to leave. I filled my Sanderling water bottle to the top and even now, just a sip brings back the memories of pampering and pleasure.

Icing on the Cake

Icing on the Cake

Better Homes and Gardens / Published 2007 / By Karen Haywood Queen

Everybody wants to turn out a masterpiece, but family time together is what counts. Wonky walls and sagging roofs are
opportunities to learn and laugh—and often lay the foundation for the fondest family memories. “It doesn’t have to be art,” says Aaron Morgan, executive pastry chef at The Grove Park Inn resort and spa in Asheville, North Carolina. “Just have some fun and let everyone express themselves. Hey, it’s gingerbread. If you make a mistake, you can eat it.”

Plan Your Attack Kids’ attention spans being what they are this time of year, gingerbread house making offers some built-in breaks. Try mixing dough, cutting out pieces, and baking the first day. Assemble the house and set aside to dry the next day. Save the best part— decorating—for last.

Color Up Your Icing Homemade royal icing, a mixture of egg whites and powdered sugar or meringue powder, is strong and works like mortar to hold your house together. Divide icing amounts into smaller portions according to how many colors you’d like to use. Use paste coloring instead of liquid so consistency won’t change.

Build The Walls Assemble your house on a tray, cutting board, or platter. Apply icing like caulk to a house end and a house side. Repeat with remaining house side and house end. Let the icing dry a couple of hours before putting the roof on. Use soup cans or coffee mugs to support the walls while icing dries. Tip: Wrap damp paper towels around the tips of your icing bags so they won’t clog during lulls.

Attach The Roof Attach eaves with icing and secure with pins. Let dry thoroughly. Remove pins.

Bring Out The Goodies “Think of candies as building materials instead of something you eat,” Morgan says. Wafers, mints, and licorice buttons are popular roofing and siding choices, as is shredded wheat. Turn pretzel sticks into rustic fences and upturned ice cream cones into snow-covered pines. “Don’t put the icing on the candy itself,” advises Anita Snyder, co-owner of The Gingerbread Factory in Leavenworth, Washington. “Put it on the house where you want to place the candy, then place the candy. It tends not to get as messy that way.”

The Kits Are OK You can buy inexpensive packaged dough mixes or pre-baked kits that let you skip right to assembly and decorating. A few sources we like:

  • gingerbreadfactory.com
  • kingarthurflour.com
  • elegantgourmet.com.

Have on Hand In addition to basic baking ingredients and cookware, here are other things you’ll want to have on hand:

  • Food coloring pastes.
  • Frosting bags (or plastic storage bags with a corner cut off).
  • Newspapers to cover tables and floors.
  • Soup cans, jars, or coffee mugs to support walls while icing dries.
  • Straight pins to hold roof in place while icing dries.