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Tips & Trips
Scroll down this page to see money-saving info galore,
including some great day trips to consider!
MAKE YOUR WEB BROWSING PRIVATE! Tired of your every move being tracked online? Tired of seeing ads for the last website you visited? DuckDuckGo is a FREE internet search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers' privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. Read more about it or download (it can be added as an extension to Chrome) at: https://duckduckgo.com
LAKE GUNTERSVILLE (ALABAMA) STATE PARK SPECIAL: Sunday-Wednesday for $120.00 package includes1 night's accommodations in a Double Queen Bluff Side Lodge Room, or Thursday-Saturday for $150.00. Either package includes complementary meal tickets for two to enjoy breakfast in the Pinecrest Dining Room. (The Cathedral Caverns package is $30 more and includes tickets for the cave tour. There's also a golf package available.)
For more information, availability, and reservations contact us at (256) 505-6621.
A WHOLE MONTH OF CAMPING at HALF-PRICE! SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PARKS is offering a winter camping special valid at 5 of their parks: Croft, Devil’s Fork, Lake Hartwell, Oconee, and Table Rock. Offer valid Dec. 1, 2022-Feb. 28, 2023. See the reservation phone numbers for each individual park and more info about each at: https://southcarolinaparks.com/deals/winter-wonderland-30-day-camping-special. No idea why there’s a separate deal called the Snowbird Special, but it’s a 30-day half-price camping deal too, covering 4 more parks, including Myrtle Beach. See that info here: https://southcarolinaparks.com/deals/snowbird-30-day-camping-special
Calling all CAMPERS & RV-ERS! INDIANA STATE PARKS is offering a LATE FALL/WINTER BOGO deal – pay for one night’s stay between November 27, 2022 & March 2, 2023 and your 2nd night is FREE. (Dec. 25-Jan. 3 are excluded). There are 5 parks offering this deal. See them all at: https://www.in.gov/dnr/state-parks/inns/specials-and-events/
Calling all CAMPERS & RV-ERS! LOUISIANA STATE PARKS offers a 50% discount off campsite stays for customers age 62 and older. Be prepared to show your ID to verify age at check-in. This deal is not available for tent campers. Offer expires 12/31/2022. Find the perfect park for your getaway at: https://www.lastateparks.com/state-parks-historic-sites .
WANT TO KNOW WHAT’S COMING IN YOUR MAILBOX TODAY? The USPS has a FREE service called INFORMED DELIVERY that emails you actually images of the pieces of mail that are going to be in your mailbox and any packages that will be arriving. Know what to expect by registering for this service. Just click the blue link above. There's also a mobile app available.
TURN ANY FLAT SCREEN TV INTO ASMART TV for $25. Yep. If you have WIFI in your home, for $25 you can turn your OLD TV into a SMART TV with a ROKU or AMAZON FIRE STICK. Easy to hook up - I connected mine with no help - & loaded with FREE entertainment (plus plenty of paid options you can ignore).
WATCH FREE TV & MOVIES GALORE. Just register, sign in & enjoy! Works on most smart devices, including phones, tablets & computers: www.TubiTV.com.
MORE FREE TV & MOVIES. Check out www.Pluto.TV. You can watch live or on demand programming, plus it’s loaded with music stations, including oldies stuff. It’s FREE & works on most smart devices, including phones, tablets & computers, as well as your TV (if you have a smart TV or you’ve bought a Roku or Amazon Fire Stick and connected it to your TV). Register, sign in & enjoy!
WORK FROM HOME? Are there any legitimate work-from-home jobs out there? Yes, but unfortunately, statistics show that there are about 60 scams for every one real job opportunity. Consumer advocate Clark Howard has long been a trusted name in money talk and he’s posted a great list of real at-home jobs.
And always remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it's a scam.
WORKING TOWARD BEING DEBT-FREE. Because I’ve been dollar-stretching for years, Larry and I are debt-free. No house payment. No car payment. No debt, period. Owing money can become a lifelong lifestyle unless you choose to change your spending habits and maybe even your current lifestyle.
Let’s say you eat lunch out weekdays. Nothing expensive. But in addition to that inexpensive lunch, you might also pick up a coffee en route to work or grab a snack from a vending machine. The average person is spending about $10 a day on food during their work hours. Even allowing 2 weeks for vacation, in those 50 weeks of work each year, that’s around $2,500. If two people in the same household are doing this, you’re looking at $5,000.
Become a brown bagger. Take your lunch to work. And put that $10 a day you would otherwise be spending into a savings account. $2500 or $5000 for two people could go a long way toward paying off debt; saving toward a new car or that dream vacation.
Spending even on small things can add up to big debt. A great resource to help you improve your finances is the website 360FinancialLiteracy.org. It’s free and provides all sorts of tools to help you become a smarter money manager.
FREE ALABAMA STATE PARK STAYS? If you’re retired or work a job where a month-long vacation is possible and you have your own camper or RV, you may be interested in participating in the Alabama State Parks’ VIP Program – Volunteers in the Park. Volunteers are given a free campsite and typically stay in a park for one month and earn their keep by assisting the park staff in tasks of all sorts, like campground hosting, guiding tours, providing information and more.
FREE NATIONAL PARK STAYS? There’s also a volunteer program for the National Parks & other federal programs, like the U.S. Forest Service. As with the Alabama State Parks VIP program, this is a great opportunity for anyone who’s retired or works a job that allows for some generous off-time or blocks of vacation. You can search the entire United States or by state, including Alaska and Hawaii. In Alabama alone, I found over a dozen openings, many as park hosts. Park hosts are usually provided with full service campsites, but have to have their own camper or RV. You can see all these volunteer positions at Volunteer.gov.
FREE HOMESCHOOL HELP. If you’re homeschooling or know someone who is, you’ll want to know about this website: www.Homeschool.com. Homeschool.com is the top online homeschool website and it’s loaded with information about homeschool groups, teaching aids and more, and it includes all age groups all the way up to college level.
There’s a freebies section, a free curriculum section, and even helpful podcasts.
LEARN HOW TO SOCK BACK SOME OF YOUR MONEY. A great free online resource is FeedThePig.org, which takes you to the website 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. You can learn how to better manage your money; create a plan to pay off debt; start your nest egg; work toward buying a car or home. And it’s all free.
WHY & WHEN TO FREEZE YOUR CREDIT REPORT. I've talked before about protecting your credit by opting out of pre-screened credit card offers and shredding personal information before putting any sort of papers in your trash.
If you’re not planning on applying for any credit in the future, you can freeze your existing credit information so no one is able to request it or apply for credit in your name. You’ll need to contact each of the four major credit reporting companies – Transunion, Experian, Equifax and Innovis – and complete a freeze request for each one. The steps are clearly outlined as you see on Experian’s website.
Once your account is frozen, you’ll be given a PIN number to use if you ever need to unfreeze the account.
READING HELP FOR THE VISION-IMPAIRED. If you or someone you know has a vision impairment or other health problem that affects the ability to read or hold printed material, check into the Alabama Radio Reading Service. You can listen to newspapers, magazines, books and more read to you through a special radio that’s provided as part of this free service. There’s an online application that has to be filled out by your health care provider. Or for more information, you can call (205) 934-6576.
FREE "TALKING" BOOKS. My stepmom was one of the most avid readers I know, but macular degeneration eventually made it impossible for her to see well enough to read. That's when she began listening to free talking books. The Library of Congress offers a free braille and talking book service to anyone with temporary or permanent low vision, blindness, or a physical disability that makes them unable to read or hold a book. The books and even the special player for the talking books are mailed to you for free.
There's an online application form you'll need. You can also call the Library of Congress to ask about Talking Books. That number is (888) 657-7323.
HAVE YOU OPTED OUT? Did you know that all four major credit reporting companies – Transunion, Experian, Equifax and Innovis – can sell your contact information to credit card companies? While they won’t give out your personal information like date of birth and social security number, they will let these companies know you’re a good qualified candidate for their credit cards.
So if you’re receiving pre-approved credit card offers, that’s why. You can stop this by completing the opt-out form on the website: www.optoutprescreen.com, or you can call toll free at 1-888-5-OPT OUT (888–567–8688).
If you drop that credit card offer in your trash, it could very well end up in the hands of an identity thief. A smart way to help protect your personal information is to shred all your personal information before putting any sort of paperwork in your trash. Walmart has a basic home paper shredder for around $27, and that’s not a bad investment to help protect your information.
THE MONEY-SAVING OCCASIONS LIST. If you want to stay out of debt and plan for Christmas and all the year’s special occasions, the smartest way to do that is by starting an occasions list right now. You can create an electronic list on your smartphone or use a plain ol’ sheet of paper to write down the names of everyone I plan to buy a gift for this year. Out beside their names, note birthdays, anniversaries, sizes, whatever information is pertinent. And include miscellaneous bridal teas, baby teas, and graduations at the bottom of the page – for those unexpected invitations. Then as you shop all year long, look for great gifts at discounted prices.
Write a description of the item out beside the recipient’s name and here’s the important part: when you get home, write the recipient’s name on the bag and store it in a designated gift closet so you’ll know where to find it when the occasion rolls around. Keep the list with you and commit to pay cash as you go. I’ve written and talked about occasions lists for years and I’ve heard from many people who now keep one and tell me they’re spending about 75 percent less on gifts now and giving better gifts than ever before. Shopping ahead can mean great savings, but only if you can afford to pay cash.
THINNING HAIR? True confession time here. The older I get, the thinner my hair gets. And with all the products I use to spike and glue my hair in place, my scalp will be shining through if I’m not careful. I’ve found a solution that helps me and, if you’re battling thin hair, it may help you, too. It’s this little fiber product call Toppik. It comes in 9 different colors. You use the one that most closely matches your hair color, sprinkle it on the thin places like fairy dust and sort of pat it in. And presto! No more bald spot. On Toppik.com, the travel size costs $7.95 with free shipping. Sally Beauty also carries Toppik, but not a large selection of colors & they don't ship free unless you spend $25 or more. Ulta also sells Toppik, but again, the color selection isn't great. I used a travel size for months just for touch-up. Larger sizes cost a lot more, so I’d definitely try the travel size first. Salons offer a lot of other fiber products and they can be very expensive. I also found Toppik on eBay for a lot less than on any other website.
ESTATE SALES are great places to pick up all sorts of things, from clothes and jewelry to tools and furniture. But how do you find the ones around you? Check out the website www.EstateSales.net. Just type your zip code into the search blank and you’ll see the sales nearest you.
CUT YOUR TV EXPENSE! According to a recent article in USA Today, the average customer’s cable or satellite TV bill has increased 53 percent in the last ten years and now averages $101 a month. Larry and I got tired of paying to watch TV and switched to an outside antenna with remote control. We’re over 30 miles from Fox 6 and you can see how clear our signal is even if this is a low resolution photo I took with my cell phone.
INSTALL A TV ANTENNA. This is the antenna we bought and we’re receiving a total of 49 channels, including all of Fox 6’s channels like Bounce and Grit. Hooking up the antenna was easy and the remote control makes it simple to adjust the antenna if you ever need to. And for less than a $25 investment we have plenty of channels without paying for cable or satellite.
10 USES FOR NON-SLIP SHELF LINER. Dollar stores are the cheapest places to pick up these 60-inch rolls of non-slip shelf liner, and this stuff does far more than line shelves.
(1) Cut pieces to fit trays so you and your family can carry and eat off trays with cups and dishes a lot more stable.
(2) Put a piece in the seat of a high chair and babies won’t slide around so much.
(3) Put pieces under pet dishes to keep pets from pushing their dishes across the floor.
(4) Cut a piece to put under mixing bowls whenever you’re mixing anything by hand. Sure beats chasing a moving bowl across the countertop.
(5) Cut a piece to use as a jar opener. It really gives you a lot of extra grip.
(6) It works great in RV cabinets and drawers to keep dishes from sliding around, and you can put it in between stacked dishes or bowls to keep them from rattling.
(7) Glue a small piece to the inside of a hair barrette to help hold the barrette in place.
(8) Glue a strip to the backside of a ruler and cutting fabric becomes so much easier when your ruler stays in place.
(9) Use pieces or whole strips under area rugs to keep rugs in place for a lot less than the cost of regular rug pads.
(10) Crafty folks even use it to make beautiful wreaths. Click HERE to learn how.
RENT A BEACH WHEELCHAIR! No beach lover should miss out on enjoying the surf, sun, and sand even if he or she is in a wheelchair or has walking difficulties. Right here in Alabama’s own Gulf Shores, Beach Power Rentals offers specially built beach motorized beach wheelchairs, with rates starting at $60 a day. You can contact them via their website: BeachPowerRentals.com or call them at (251) 967-3729.
PALISADES PARK in ONEONTA, ALABAMA. Palisades Park has made National Geographic Travelers top 50 small parks in America. It’s a great place to picnic and hike, has historic buildings, a quilt shop, gardens, and more, plus it’s a very popular spot for rappelling. And admission is free.
ALABAMA STATE PARKS don’t do much to advertise their senior discounts, but they have them if you ask. If you’re 62 or older, there’s a 10-15 percent discount on hotels and cabins, depending on the time of year. Year-round, there’s a 15 percent discount on campsites.
DISNEY TIPS. If you have toddler to early school age children and are thinking about a trip to Disney World, I hope you’ve been planning and saving for a long, long time. But experiencing Disney can be done less expensively if you’ll consider these tips:
(1) Consider buying 1-day single park tickets or else 1-day Park Hopper tickets that allow you to visit all of the parks. Why go through the expense and exhaustion of days of Disney when you can hit the highlights in one day? You’ll have been there and done that and you’ll possibly even come out with enough money to enjoy some of the far less expensive attractions around Orlando.
Tickets are now priced according to Value, Regular, or Peak Season. Peak season begins May 27 and ends July 23. Value season begins August 22.
(2) Don’t stay inside the park. The least expensive hotel inside the park will cost around $150 a night once the taxes and other charges are added. Consider one of the hotels along International Drive where rates can be as low as under $50 a night and many of the hotels include free breakfast and free shuttles to and from the parks running almost every hour – which means not having to deal with traffic or pay the $20 a day parking fee.
(3) Don’t buy your souvenirs inside the park. Instead, order them in advance from DisneyStore.com and take them with you. When you present items like these to your kids, they’ll be just as happy and you’ll have saved a bundle.
(4) And although discounts are usually minimally, the website MouseSavers.com keeps up with any and all Disney-related discounts.
(5) If you are a member of the military, you can get discounted Disney tickets through your military base.
BARGAIN HAIR & NAILS. I was in desperate need of a haircut and my regular stylist wasn’t available, plus there aren’t a lot of salons open on Mondays and that's what day it was. I went to the Cosmetology Department of Bevill State Community College at the Sumiton campus and got a great cut for only $3. And while I was there, I decided to splurge for a manicure and a pedicure. Can you guess how much money I ended up spending? $14. $3 for the haircut; $3 for the manicure; and $8 for the pedicure. Yes, the work was done by students in training, but the work was totally overseen by their instructors and I couldn’t have been more pleased with all of it.
If you want to save a bundle on salon services, check out Bevill State’s Cosmetology Department. They accept walk-ins on Mondays and Tuesdays and it’s recommended to arrive between 8:30 and 10am to insure there’s plenty of time for you before the students leave at 2.
Services include facials; makeup; hair services from cuts to weaving, braids, color, perms, and more; plus men’s haircuts, beard, mustache, and eyebrow trims. Both Bevill’s Sumiton and Hamilton campuses offer these services. And you need to know they don’t accept debit or credit cards.
CANCER PATIENTS who’ve experienced hair loss know how expensive wigs can be and that not just any wig is safe for a cancer patient. With both these factors in mind, the American Cancer Society offers free wigs, as well as scarves and turbans. Call (800) 227-2345 to find the location nearest you.
ALWAYS CHECK FOR DISCOUNT CODES. No matter what website or real store you’re shopping, always check RetailMeNot.com for discounts codes that can save you money on merchandise and shipping. You can also download their free app.
V.A. HELP YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT. If you are a veteran or the widow of a veteran and you’re either disabled or age 65 or older, you may qualify for benefits you don’t know about. The VA provides an Aid and Assistance or Housebound benefit to those who require the aid and attendance of another person, whether that’s in your own home or in an assisted living facility.
Qualifying for this benefit depends on a number of factors, including your health condition, income, and more. But monthly benefits can range from $1,149 for a surviving spouse to $2,120 for a qualifying married veteran. And if a husband and wife are both qualifying veterans, the benefit can be as much as $2,837 a month. In some cases, there may even be benefit for nursing home care.
As I said to begin with, there are a large number of factors that determine whether or not a person qualifies, so you should begin by contacting your local VA office or going to the website on the screen. You can also call the toll-free number 800-827-1000 if you have time to sit through a zillion prompts and finally get to where you can request a call back instead of having to be on hold for ages. Click the blue words - it's a direct link to the correct web page.
Make sure you ask about the Aid and Attendance or Homebound benefit. And just so you know, it can take six months or more to get the benefit started once you file all the required paperwork and no matter how long it takes or how long you’ve been qualified without receiving any benefit, they don’t make any retroactive payments.
Another excellent website is www.VeteransAidBenefit.org. It even includes links to the forms you'll need completed.
IMPORTANT! There are dozens of companies online that claim to help deserving veterans & their widows receive VA benefits. DON'T contact any of these! You don't need their help to get your benefits & if you do use them, they will receive a percentage of every check you receive.
HOW TO FIND THRIFT STORES. I’ve discovered an easy way to find thrift stores galore whether you’re shopping around home or off on vacation. It’s the website TheThriftShopper.com. Just type in the name of the city and choose the state – or input a zip code – and you’ll see a list of nearby thrift stores. It may not show every single one, but it will give you a pretty impressive selection.
COMPLETE PRESCRIPTION EYEGLASSES for $6.95. If you're looking for the best deal ever on prescription eyeglasses, you need to check out www.ZenniOptical.com. Their prices start at $6.95 and this includes frames, single vision lenses, scratch-resistant coating, glasses case, and cleaning cloth. Shipping is around $4.95 no matter how many pairs you order - and they do sunglasses, bi- and tri-focals and any other types of glasses you can think of. Price is based on the frame and type of lenses you want. (My husband Larry is wearing his 5th pair of Zenni glasses and he's been pleased with every pair he's ordered.)
You can even upload your own photo so you can try on the different styles and see how you look. It usually takes between 10 days and 2 weeks to receive your glasses once you've placed your order. You'll need to input your prescription information. If you have questions, you can call them at (800) 211-2105, or email them or do a live chat on their website.
CHEAPEST MONTHS TO TRAVEL. And speaking of travel, what’s the cheapest way? First and foremost, know the “on” and “off” seasons for wherever you want to go. For example, whether you’re thinking of the beach or the mountains, November, January, and February are the least expensive months in either location.
EVEN RENTERS NEED INSURANCE. Just because you’re not a homeowner doesn’t mean you don’t need insurance. Spending a little now could save you a fortune should a disaster strike your rental property. My nephew was one of hundreds of uninsured renters who lost nearly all their possessions during one of the 2013 tornadoes. I talked to Alyson Sabatini with Allstate Insurance in Vestavia and she told me that rental insurance was very inexpensive – in some instances as little as $10 or $20 a month for coverage of around $20,000 worth of personal property. Even if a fire started in another apartment and spread to yours, your renters insurance would cover your losses, plus it also provides liability insurance should a guest get hurt. Whatever company is already insuring your vehicles may also offer renters insurance. If not, check around and get quotes from several reputable insurance companies.
HOW TO LAND THE BEST HOTEL RATES. When it comes to finding the best deals on hotels anywhere in the world, I have a three-word phrase that can help you get the very best deal: reserve, reserve, cancel. What do I mean? Nobody wants to wait around until the last minute trying to get the best deal and then end up without a hotel to stay in. So instead, reserve the best deal you find and then continue shopping for a better deal right up until 48 hours or so before your trip. When you find a better deal, make a second reservation. Then go back and cancel the first one. Keep doing this and you’ll sometimes find a better deal for the hotel you reserved in the first place. The important thing is to be sure and record your reservation numbers and cancellation numbers.
Larry and I were in Austria a few years ago and we applied this method until we landed rooms at the gorgeous historic Hotel Schloss in Vienna for under $100 a night and that included free wifi, free parking, and free buffet breakfast on the terrace overlooking the city. Remember: reserve, reserve, cancel. This works for rental cars, too. Before trying this, though, be sure you read the cancellation policy for every site you check.
SAVE A BUNDLE WITH A FAUX TILE FLOOR. I planned to tile our concrete porch floor – until I found out the cost of floor tile. I’d planned to use a bargain tile I’d used on an indoor project, but found out that you need a far more expensive and durable tile to withstand outdoor moisture and freezing temperatures without cracking. So instead, I created my own tile floor. I used 1-inch wide painter’s tape to evenly divide the floor into squares. Then I painted the floor with latex porch and floor paint. Once the paint dried, I pulled up the tape and the unpainted areas gave it the look of tile grout.
PAINTING TIP. When you take a break from a paint project, put your roller or brush inside a plastic bag and tie it shut to keep the air out and the smell in. Place it in the fridge until you’re ready to start again. This way, you save the cleanup until you’re finished. You can do the same thing with you roller pan.
BORAX: THE SUPER CLEANER. You don’t need to invest in a lot of different cleaners to do most household cleaning. A little borax sprinkled onto a damp sponge can be used to clean greasy surfaces in your kitchen and soap scum in your bathroom; plus it’s a natural deodorizer and freshener. It’s also great for cleaning and removing stains from floor tile. In your washer, presoak stained clothes for 30 minutes in water and a half cup of borax to remove most stains like tomato sauce or even grease. You can find borax on the detergent aisle in most stores. At around $4 for a 4-pound box, it’s definitely a bargain.
EASY HOMEMADE VEGETABLE/FRUIT WASH. And here's a tip about washing fruit and vegetables. Instead of plain water or even liquid soap, use a mixture of half water and half white vinegar. Keep it in a clearly labeled spray bottle – I picked mine up at Dollar Tree. You don’t want to re-use one that could have contained harmful chemicals. Spray the fruit or vegetable. Wait a couple of minutes and rinse in plain clear water.
DOOR DISPENSER ICEMAKERS NEED TO BE CLEANED! The one in this photo is covered in black mold, but unless you stoop down and look up into the dispenser opening, your own icemaker could be as yucky as this one and you won't know it. Your dispenser opening needs to be cleaned at least every week or two; but never use harsh chemicals. Mix a solution of 1 cup white vinegar & 1 cup water in a clean spray bottle that has never contained dangerous cleaners or chemicals. Spray the area and wipe it with a clean cloth. And use a soft toothbrush or other small brush to clean the spots you can't reach with the cloth. This vinegar solution is also ideal for washing fruits & vegetables, and it’s very easy on your wallet.
Remember what I keep saying: a bargain isn’t a bargain unless you can afford to pay cash for it. Spend cash, not credit.