Friday, November 28, 2014

25 Tips to save big money on your next vacation.

Everyone loves going on vacation, but with the average cost for a family around $4,580, it’s hard not to stress about the price tag. However, with some frugal planning there are ways to save hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on your next trip, leaving you relaxed enough to fully enjoy it.
Here are 25 tips that will help you save big money on your next vacation:

1. Many tours, museums, and even restaurants offer discounts for students, teachers, AAA, military, and AARP members, so bring your identification cards and always ask!

2. Stay at a hotel that offers free breakfast. Eating a good meal in the morning will get you ready for a day of sightseeing and save you money on one meal a day.  When you search for hotels on sites like,, or, you’ll be able to see which establishments offer complimentary breakfast. However, sometimes they just roll out coffee and cereal and call it breakfast, so drop them an email to ask how elaborate the meal will be.

3. The majority of air travelers want to fly on a Friday or Sunday, so you’ll find the best deals for flights if you fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. Flights at the crack of dawn, at dinnertime, or red-eye flights are cheapest. Airlines release their new weekly fares on Mondays, so on Tuesday by 3 pm competitors have released their deals, making it the ideal time to search for tickets online. Studies show that the cheapest time to book is 49 days before your departure, or 81 days ahead of time for international flights.

4. Before you book your airline tickets find out if they charge for checked bags. Some airlines allow the first bag for free, like Southwest, while others charge up to $75 or $100 for overweight or international baggage fees. Bring an empty carry-on that you can fill with souvenirs so you won’t get hit with an excess baggage fee on the way back.

5. If your vacation destination is within a few states, consider traveling by train. It’s a great way to see the country, less expensive than flying and Amtrak has modern, comfortable sleeper cars.

6. Searching on travel aggregate sites like,, and are common place these days, but also utilize reverse searches. If you are flexible with which days you can travel, a lot of cheaper airfares may open up for you. There are several travel search engines that will allow you to search by destination without putting in a hard date.
Flexible searches based on dates, locations, and connections.
You can see the top 50 fares for different destinations.
Search where you can go anywhere in the world based on a certain budget, continent, or even what activities once you get there.

Also remember that Southwest and Allegient airlines don’t show up on any Internet travel sites, so double check with them directly.

7. Souvenirs, nick nacks, and t-shirts are all wildly overpriced in touristy areas, so take a quick photo of what you like and buy it later via the Internet.

8. Rethink the rental car. A lot of tourists have the attitude where they love renting a car and navigating the city or country they’re in. I’m not one of those – I prefer to sit back and let someone else deal with traffic while I observe, take photos, and watch, but it’s up to you. But people frequently rent a car and then hardly use it.  Walk, utilize your free hotel shuttle, or take public transportation to save money

9. If you do get a rental car, don’t double up on insurance. Rental agencies love selling you additional insurance, but it’s usually unnecessary. Check your homeowners and auto policy ahead of time to see if they cover rental cars. Some credit cards even offer automatic insurance if you pay with their card.

10. Whenever you show up at the airport, hotel, or rental car agency, ask for a free or low cost upgrade. The worst they can say is “no,” but you might be surprised what they can offer!

11. Book a hotel room with a small refrigerator and stockpile water, fruit, and snacks. This will help you to save on impulse purchases at tourist sites, restaurants, or from the expensive minibar.

Speaking of the minibar, if you do eat a $10 candy bar or drink a $14 beer in a moment of weakness, hit the local general store and buy the same items and replace them before you’re charged.

12. When vacationing outside of the U.S., always negotiate prices when buying something on the street or in a shop. Often times you can end up at 60% the first quoted price, but we often forget negotiating is an accepted and encouraged part of many cultures. Just don’t be rude about it and remember that most people abroad make a very humble living.

13. Everything is more expensive by the beach, so remember that the exact same quality meal or hotel can usually be found for 30-50% less a few blocks inland.

14. Exchanging money at the bank will get you the most accurate exchange rate and fewer fees than at your hotel. Never exchange money on the street!

15. If you aren’t going to spend a lot of time in your hotel room, booking a 2 or 3-star hotel will save you a lot of money. makes it easy to see pictures and read reviews so you can get a clean, comfortable room for less than 5-star prices!

16. If you’re bringing the kids on vacation, consider getting a suite, bigger room with two double beds, or have the hotel bring up a foldout cot so everyone can stay together. The savings will be worth it!

17. When traveling abroad, remember to turn off the cell network on your smart phone, where international roaming charges can add up alarmingly fast. Instead, take advantage of free Wi-Fi offered at hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites, using apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and GoogleVoice to make calls, text, and browse the web.

18. Before you book airfare, hotels, theme park tickets, or even restaurant meals, check the companies’ Twitter and Facebook pages because they often post otherwise-unlisted discounts on their social media pages. Also check on their website, which lists unadvertised specials and deals. You can even call their reservations phone number and speak to an agent about getting the best deal available, but then go and book it online to avoid the $25 -$40 booking fee.

19. If you have young children bring your own stroller to amusement parks, where it could cost $15 a day to rent one.

20. Only drink water at restaurants, where a few sodas or iced teas can add $10 or more to each meal.

21. Spend one day away from the expensive attractions. You’re paying for that hotel swimming pool… use it! Spend the day at the beach, zoo, or a nearby museum.

22. Book a hotel that offers free airport pickup and drop off.
Getting to and from the airport can add up in a big way, so check to see if your hotel offers free shuttle service when you book it. But be careful – some hotels list that they have airport shuttles under the ‘amenities’ section or description, but then later try to charge you for it. You can clarify by sending an email to the hotel (along with other questions.)

23. Frequent flyer miles and points:
Always register to earn frequent flyer miles and keep track. Confirm with the booking agent and at the check-in counter to make sure they credited you your miles, and once you get home check to make sure they were registered.

Use a credit card that offers award points of frequent flyer miles. Some of them are great but only give you miles on one airline. I have a Visa Blue Sapphire card that allows me to accumulate points for all flights, hotels, rental cars, or even restaurant meals. I run all of my bills through it but pay it off every month, and the result is that I get at least two free flights every year.

24. Expand your vacation – for the same price!
Most people don’t realize that you can book multi city flights with long layovers – even up to a week. So if you flight goes New York to London to Madrid, you can ask the airline to schedule the “layover” for London for 4 days. That gives you a built in extra vacation destination for the same cost! I’ve found you probably want to call the airline to reserve this kind of flight, as it’s hard or impossible to book online.

25. After you book your flight, call back the next day, within 24 hours, to check if the fare went lower. Most airlines have a policy where you can get a refund or credit if the price goes lower within that timeframe. Also, thanks to the new Department of Transportation rules for airfare bookings, consumers can put fares on hold for up to 24 hours, cancelling or changing the ticket with no penalty.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Walk-in dreams. 50 Tips to create your perfect closet. (Part 1)

What’s the most important room in your dream house? For a lot of women – and well-dressed men – it very well could be the giant walk-in closet! But unless you have money in your bank and space in your home to build a legendary closet like Mariah Carey, anyone with the last name "Kardashian," or former Filipino presidential wife Imelda Marcos (who had more than 3,000 pairs of shoes,) you may have to get a little creative. But don’t despair, because with some planning and design foresight, you can turn any changing area – big or small – into your dream closet.

Here are 50 tips to do create your dream closet right at home:

1.  Don’t try to organize or remodel piecemeal inside the closet – take everything out and go through it all when you have plenty of time to dedicate to finishing the task.

2.  If you haven’t used something in a year, it’s outdated, or ill fitting, consider donating it to someone who will get use and enjoyment out of it.

3.  We all have that pair of jeans that’s too long or a shirt that would be our favorite if only it was a little smaller. If you’re not wearing things because of size but you truly like them, take them in to get tailored – or give them away.

4.  There are plenty of closet systems to help you get organized and maximize space. They start from inexpensive do-it-yourself options (Ikea) to mid range (Home Depot and Lowe’s best wooden products) to gorgeous custom professional designs that will make your closet your favorite room in the house.

5.  Most closets come with standard carpet on the floor. But consider installing nice hardwood floor for a classy look, and laying down a designer area rug for warmth in the winter. Hardwood is also a lot easier to clean and will make the area look bigger.

6.  Paint the walls of the closet a bright or light color to open up the space and make it look bigger. Or, you can add a touch of personality with designer print wallpaper.

7.  There’s no better way to transport your pragmatic closet to an elegant experience than by hanging a chandelier where your tired light fixture used to be. You can get one at the local thrift store, a home design store, or look for something fun and funky online.

8.  Cedar wood closet backings, drawers, and cedar floors are great and keep the moths away, but the smell can be strong and make everything in that part of the house. So consider cedar hangars or wood rods instead of the full effect.

9.  Natural light is fantastic in a closet, but often unobtainable unless you install a window. But adding a tubular skylight is a great way to brighten up the room from above. Just make sure the light is filtered so it’s not too hot or fades your clothes over time.

10.  Just like any room, closets need airflow to keep from becoming prone to mold, mildew, insects, or just plain stagnant air. Plug in a small dehumidifier with fan and put it on a timer, so it turns on automatically a couple times a day to keep the air fresh and dry.

11.  More than just one overhead fixture, install enhanced lighting. Mini directional lights, under closet LED’s, and even automatic fluorescent lights in dark drawers and shelves will illuminate everything and make your closet look twice as big.

12.  Add a fun or glamorous doorknob, and try to match it to the knobs on drawers.

13.  If you have enough space, break up the shelf spaces with framed photos, antiques, books, personal effects, and maybe even a vase with flowers.

14.  If it’s big enough, a center island is a wonderful touch in a closet.

15.  And a plush bench in the middle allows you to sit down and try on shoes. If your closet isn’t big enough, a circular padded footstool will serve the same purpose.

16.  Of course you need a great mirror in your closet. Make sure you put it in a place where the lighting is sufficient (and flattering.) To save space, many closet systems now have retractable mirrors.

17.  Why not listen to your favorite music while getting dressed in the morning? So mount a little iPod dock or music player - there’s nothing that will put you in a better mood than dancing and singing while you get ready!

18.  If you don’t have the budget for a brand new closet system, consider putting an antique china cabinet into your existing closet. You can pick one up for cheap at the local consignment store and it has plenty of shelving on display behind glass, spacious drawers, and even space beneath for boxes or baskets.

19.  Go higher with shelves. There’s no reason to stop with shelving at arm’s reach. Go all the way to the ceiling (with space for things on that top shelf of course) and keep a portable bookcase ladder in the closet.

20.  Prioritize the space vertically by placing most-used clothing at eye level, and then other things or out-of-season clothes all the way on top shelves.

21.  Drawers are great for storing sweaters, t-shirts, ties, etc., but the problem is that once they’re put away and closed, the contents are easy to forget. So install drawers with glass fronts so you can still see all of your clothes.

22.  The best way to make sure your closet isn’t overcrowded is to clean it out twice a year, putting away seasonal clothes. You can keep them in sealing plastic bins and store them in the basement, attic, or under the bed. Likewise, don’t keep your boots and winter shoes cluttering up your closet in the summer. Go through them and store in plastic bins or nice baskets.

23.  Make sure to utilize the space on the back of the closet door. Install shelving or plenty of hooks or caddies and hang items like purses, belts, ties, etc. there.

24.  Most women dream of a closet so big that each pair of their designer shoes can be displayed on their own shelf, but for now you may have to settle for other storage options. Hanging caddies with see-through plastic compartments are a great way to store shoes anywhere but keep them visible. You can also fill those compartments with ties, belts, jewelry, etc.

25.  And ladies – remember that the most efficient way to make your portion of the closet bigger is to give your husband or boyfriend less space, so kick him out into the closet in the hall or the spare bedroom. OR you can make sure his portion of the closet is well organized, too!

Subscribe to our blog or email us if you'd like to read Part 2, with 25 more tips to build your dream closet!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

25 Fun and Interesting Facts About Thanksgiving.

1. While there were many proponents of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, like George Washington, President Jefferson called the idea of a Thanksgiving Day federal proclamation, “the most ridiculous thing ever conceived.”

2. It was Abraham Lincoln who mandated Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. It was originally on the last Thursday in November, but in 1941 Congress changed it to the fourth Thursday in November.

3. Despite the narrative we see in books and school plays, the first American Thanksgiving didn’t take place in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts but in 1541, when explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his followers held a thanksgiving celebration in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas.

4. In fact, there are claims of 12 different Thanksgivings in the Americas before the pilgrims celebrated in 1621. Hawaiians celebrated the longest Thanksgiving in the world, called Makahiki, which lasted from November to February and was a time where both work and war were forbidden.

5. The Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving in 1621 took place some time between September 21 and November 1. 50 surviving pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians celebrated for three days, feasting on berries, shellfish, boiled pumpkin, and deer.

6. 91% of people eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

7. Americans eat 46 million turkeys every Thanksgiving and eat about 535 pounds of turkey meat.

8. The average turkey day gobbler weighs 16 lbs. On average, they are 70% white meat and 30 % dark meat (which is higher in fat.)

9. People eat 768 million pounds of cranberries every year, and 26 percent of that is on Thanksgiving.

10. Cranberries are only one of three fruits native to America. The original Native Americans didn’t eat them but used them to dye clothes and treat arrow wounds.

11. 50% of Americans put their stuffing inside their turkey.

12. A strange Presidential tradition exists in which two turkeys are “pardoned” from Thanksgiving every year, sparing them from the dinner table. This tradition started when Abraham Lincoln pardoned his son’s pet turkey and every U.S. President does the same since 1947.

13. The first Thanksgiving Day parade took place in 1920, when Gimbel’s department store in Philadelphia threw a parade with 50 people – including Santa Claus at the end. It’s now known as the IKEA Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924 and is the nation’s largest, with 3 million people watching live and 44 million viewing on TV.

14. The days around Thanksgiving are generally the busiest travel days of the year as people head home for the holiday. But interestingly enough, Thanksgiving Day is the most popular travel day, not the day before. Every year, almost 40 million Americans travel at least 50 miles to get home for turkey dinner.

15. Since the 1930’s, the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday and now signals the crazy start of the Christmas and winter holiday shopping season. It’s named Black Friday because stores and retailers hope that big day will propel their year-to-date profits out of the red and into the black (profitable.)

16. Black Friday is also the busiest day of the year for plumbers, according to Roto Rooter.

17. Ben Franklin wanted the turkey, not the eagle, to be our national bird. Franklin wrote in a letter to his daughter that the eagle had “bad moral character,” and that the turkey was a “much more respectable bird.”

18. TV dinners actually originated because of a Thanksgiving Day mishap. In 1953, someone at Swanson’s misjudged the number of frozen turkeys they needed for the holidays by 26 tons! Instead of losing the extra meat (and money) they had the bright idea to slice up the turkey, add some side dishes, repackage it as a frozen dinner in foil packaging, and start marketing it to people who wanted to eat easy meals in front of their televisions.

19. Astronauts Buzz Aldin and Neil Armstrong ate turkey during their first meal on the moon.

20. The tradition of Thanksgiving Day football games started in 1876, when Yale played rival Princeton.

21. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt switched Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November from the last Thursday to prolong the Christmas shopping season, Republicans were unnerved by the idea and refused to participate. So for a while there were two different holidays, Republican Thanksgiving on November 30 and “Franksgiving” or “Democrat Thanksgiving” on November 23.

22. Sara Hale is considered the “Mother of Thanksgiving.” She was an editor and writer who lobbied persistently for President Lincoln to name a national day of thanks as an official holiday. She thought a Thanksgiving Day would unite the country amid turmoil about social and industrial changes.

23. There is a Native American backlash against the holiday. Since 1975, Native Americans meet every year on Alcatraz Island to commemorate the survival of their tribes, called “Unthanksgiving Day.”

24. There’s really no reason turkey became the symbol of Thanksgiving and the main course. Wild turkeys were abundant at the first celebrated festival in Plymouth, but so were deer and other smaller game.

25. There are several stories about hoe turkeys got their names. One reports that when Columbus landed in the Americas, he originally thought he was in India and the wild turkeys were actually peacocks. So he named them “tuka”, which is "peacock" in the Tamil language of India, and that evolved in “turkey.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Neighbor disputes, Part 3; High grass, junk, vacant homes, and cleaning up after dogs.

Home ownership is usually one of the best experiences you can have – and a great long-term investment. But while you can choose which house to buy, you can’t choose your neighbors. Sometimes we get lucky and have wonderful neighbors we become friends with; other times we don’t strike up a friendship but maintain civility, and then…there are bad neighbors.

What can you do when your neighbor is making your life difficult? Usually with good communication, common sense, and putting egos aside, you can reach some agreement to live and let live, but in those rare cases that your neighbors are turning your home ownership dream into a nightmare, it’s good to know your rights and the local laws.

Today, we’ll cover neighbors who pave over their front yard for parking,
high grass, vacant homes, junk, big boats or RV’s, and not cleaning up after their dogs.

While civil codes differ slightly depending on your city and municipality, these are generally accepted neighbor ordinances in and around Sacramento.  

Paving their front yard for parking.
It’s a terrible eyesore when your neighbor rips out their front yard and lays down pavement instead, turning it into a parking lot. It definitely alters the consistency of the neighborhood, but is it legal?

In Sacramento, the total parking area in front or on the side of a residential yard is restricted to:
 1. 40% of the yard area on the front or side yard meeting the street.
 2. It’s ok to pave any area leading directly to the carport or enclosed garage;
 3. But in total, you cannot pave more than 400 square feet of your front or street-side yard.

Vacant homes.
Some times, no neighbor is worse than an unruly neighbor who is at least occupying the property next door. If a home is owned by an investor or family member but not currently occupied, it opens the door for serious issues; squatters and vagrants, fire or water damage, roaches, rodents, unkempt lawns, etc. 

While it’s not a violation of any County Code to let your home sit vacant, you still are responsible for maintaining its condition and safety. So if you see a neighbor’s vacant home and suspect illegal activity, unauthorized people breaking in, etc., contact the Sheriff’s Department and they will come make sure the home is properly secured. 

Additionally, it’s usually easy to find the owner of a home through tax records, etc. (we can help you.) Write them a letter alerting them to the problem – like the presence of roaches or rats that are coming from their property or high grass – and ask the problem be addressed immediately. Keep it nice and polite and offer to meet them at the property to talk about the issue with them. But document everything with photos and copies of letters, emails, calls to the Sheriff, etc. If it becomes a serious long-term problem that costs you time, money, jeopardizes your safety, or decreases your home’s value, you may have a case to recover damages.

High grass.
You can mow, trim, and weed until your front yard looks like Tiger Wood’s putting green, but if you neighbor lets their grass grow long and unkempt, it feels like wasted effort. So what are the rules for neighbors who neglect their lawns?

Sacramento has a specific city ordinance on front yard landscaping (including visible side yards.)  Generally, it’s a violation of this code in the grass or weeds reaches higher than 12 inches. Not only is this unsightly, but can be a serious fire hazard considering California’s draught and our long hot summers. The Code Enforcement Division issues citations to property owners who have high weeds or grass on a vacant lot or a lot with a structure. 

An interesting note – in 2007, Sacramento changed their residential landscaping ordinance to allow the growing of fruits and vegetables in a front yard, welcoming the change from water-wasting lawns to useful community and residential front-yard gardens.

Although we all enjoy the morning vista of a ripped soggy coach, a dilapidated old refrigerator, a crusty fish tank, tired, and piles of trash in our neighbor’s yard, keeping excessive refuse in your yard is against the law. It’s a violation of the zoning code to have junk and rubbish on the property. Our neighbors may try to impede our view of their junkyard masterpieces by hiding it behind a fence, under a tarp, or within a screened-in porch, but if it’s visible to the public, it still constitutes a public nuisance and can result in the case being taken to a Nuisance Hearing.

What is junk? Anything that is broken, not normally used or stored outdoors is dismantled, worn out, or being stored for conversion, recycling, or salvage is junk.

Big boats and RV’s.
If you’re a boat or RV owner, the good news is that it is legal to park your vehicle on your residential property. If you’re the neighbor of that person, the bad news is that it’s legal for them to park their boat or RV on their property. However, any vehicles need to be operational and have current registration, and it’s always illegal for someone to live in it. While a yacht or monstrous RV are eye sores, they are not illegal unless they cross your property line, threaten your safety (like being in danger of falling over or hit tree limbs,) they can’t harm the environment (like if they leak oil,) or otherwise inhibit the use and enjoyment of your property.

My suggestion is, if you have a neighbor with a boat or RV, bring them over a bottle of wine and become good friends so they’ll invite you to use them! (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.)

Cleaning up after your dog.
We love pets, but unfortunately, too many owners neglect their duty to clean up after their dogs.  But carrying a bag and a pooper scooper isn’t just good etiquette – it’s actually the law. Under Municipal Code Section 6.16.220, dog owners are required to clean up after their dogs. If a neighbor’s dog makes too many deposits on your lawn without the owner making the appropriate withdrawals, or if their own property is so inundated with waste that it becomes a health and safety hazard (or just plain disgusting,) you can contact the City's Animal Care and Control Division. Remember to take photos of the offending mutt if you want to prove it’s the neighbor’s dog making the mess.