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We’re Going to Disney World!

July 30, 2009 · Filed Under Random · 2 Comments 

No, I didn’t just win the Super Bowl (though it was a good year for the pro teams I root for as both my football and hockey favs won their respective championships) but we are planning our first trip as a family to Disney World this fall.  Honestly, I’m not sure who is more excited about it – my wife and I or the kids!

Now, one entity that is not quite as ecstatic about the trip is our bank account (he’s greedy).  Disney vacations are expensive!  But we have our vacation fund setup with money from bonuses and such and we transfer more in each month so we have enough saved up to do the trip without going into debt.  Besides, as I’ve said before, life needs to be lived.  You need to have some fun every now and again.  That’s not an excuse to spend extravagantly and recklessly, rather, that’s a challenge to be diligent about responsibly providing these opportunities for building memories with your family while also providing for your family.

And how is this post related to personal finances?

Well, like I said, Disney vacations are expensive.  At the same time, Disney World is just a fun place to be.  I was there about a year ago on business.  Though I didn’t go into any parks, I did go to Downtown Disney a couple times and it has a really great vibe there.  So, you want to do a fun vacation but you don’t want to go into debt to do it…I hope, in this post and probably a few more, to help out with some tips and tricks and things I’ve learned so you can create an awesome and affordable vacation.

Don’t get overwhelmed

It is unbelievable how many resources there are out there surrounding trips to Disney.  I’m not an expert at this, but here are some tips I’ve picked up from others and some suggestions for you if you are also considering or actively planning a trip to Disney.  BTW, we are going to Disney World in Florida, so all of this information is geared towards that park.

1. Start on-line for planning and money-saving tips

Disney has a fully featured site (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/) with a wealth of information on everything Disney World.  I have also found some other  independent sites that are even more useful for learning about the parks, the resorts, and discounts for everything.  The two that I have been frequently lately are MouseSavers.com and AllEars.net.  These free sites have an unbelievable amount of information and somehow always seem to be up-to-date with the latest news and discount opportunities.  Mouse Savers also offers a monthly email newsletter and intermittent “hot deals” emails to help you be aware of the latest discounts.  If you are thinking of doing a Disney vacation I would recommend visiting Disney’s site to get excited and then starting at these other two sites to get into the details.

2. Consider when you will go

The biggest factor on the overall cost of your vacation is when you choose to go.  Going during the value season will be much, much (much) less expensive than going around Christmas time.  Click on any of the resorts listed on this page to see the room rate differences at the various times of the year: http://www.mousesavers.com/roomrates2009.html

3. Check out the current deals

Due to the sluggish economy, Disney has had some really good deals lately.  For the past few years, they have been offering free dining packages during the late summer (that’s what we signed up for). Very recently they released a similar offer for later in the fall.  The best place to check this out is the Disney site itself.  From the home page, click on the dog-ear on the upper-right of the splash page to see the latest deals.  From there you can click the “Get Started” button to price out an example vacation.  Of course, taking advantage of one of the Disney packages requires you to stay at a Disney property which is typically the most expensive way to do the vacation.  See #4…

4. Consider where you will stay

Staying at a Disney resort provides the most convenience for you and also some great “theming” as each resort has a different look and feel.  Of course, it is probably the most expensive way to stay though there is quite a range of prices available at the various Disney resorts.  Staying off of the Disney property can provide for a much less expensive vacation.  Check out this list of things to consider when making this decision: http://allears.net/acc/onoff.htm

5. Consider getting professional help

You might feel like you need professional help after spending mucho dinero to walk around in the hot Florida summer all day stalking a dude dressed up as a mouse, but that’s not the kind of help I’m talking about here.  We decided to book our vacation through a travel agent (that’s what I mean by professional help).  It did not cost us anything extra (or less than what I could have found on the Disney site) but now I have a resource who is much more knowledgeable than I as we prepare for a great vacation.  We chose Small World Vacations as they specialize in Disney vacations.  They were recommended by the Mouse Savers site and our agent, Caylie, has been very helpful in giving us information and making reservations, etc.

This is only scratching the surface of the myriad resources available for planning a Disney vacation.  There are books, ebooks, discussion forums, many other sites, friends and family and so on and so forth.  In fact, it is quite overwhelming.

For our vacation, we have chosen to stay at one of the moderate Disney properties and are getting the free Disney dining plan as part of the our vacation package.  We have three young kids so we have decided the convenience of staying on the Disney property is what is most important to us.  As I mentioned, this is our first trip as family so if you have any tips for resources or things to do or ways to do them, please leave a comment below.

Photo Credits: AshuGarg and Savannah Grandfather

Weekly Bible Verse – Live a Productive Life

July 27, 2009 · Filed Under Weekly Bible Verse · 4 Comments 

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. Titus 3:14 (NIV)

This is a pretty straightforward verse this week – but I feel that it helps to go back to the basics every now and again.  Even in this simple verse, however, we do see a few different truths.  The overall message is to “provide for your daily necessities” which is obviously of great importance (personally, I like to eat and I like to sleep in a house). This part of the verse is linked to two other parts that make this verse interesting to me.

The author links having your daily necessities with living productive lives.  I guess you could interpret this a few different ways.  The most simplistic would be to say that you are living a productive life if you provide for your daily necessities, but I don’t really think that’s what’s being said here (seems much too “small-time”).  I believe that having your daily necessities provides a launching point to living really productive lives.  If you have the basics taken care of each day, that removes a huge burden of daily worry.  Getting all that worry and stress behind you allows you to really focus on being a productive member of society and doing a great job fulfilling all the many roles each of us has to fulfill (for me some of the roles are Christian, father, husband, son, brother, friend, employee, volunteer, etc).

I find it more intriguing and interesting how the author links “doing what is good” to providing for daily necessities.  What exactly does that mean…well, I’m not 100% sure.  Again, it could mean a number of different things.  Maybe “doing what is good” is simply working hard at your job.  Or, maybe it means focusing on the good things in life (from God’s perspective, of course) by working for God and relying on Him to provide your daily necessities.  Those two interpretations are quite different….maybe this wasn’t such a simple, straightforward verse after all!  There, now you have something (else) to ponder this week.

God bless and have a great week…

Do you have a Purpose and a Plan for your Money?

July 17, 2009 · Filed Under Finances · 1 Comment 
Photo by Odalaigh

I like to save money;  I always have.  Even as a kid I remember saving up all the money I earned for a long, long time.  I still like to save today.  And since we paid off the remainder of our student loans last year, we’ve been saving a lot of money in various accounts.

But why am I saving?

I tend to fall into the trap of just saving money for the sake of saving it (now there’s a lot worse things you could do with your money, frankly).  I feel, however, that you should really have a purpose for the money you save (and I don’t usually do a good job of this).  Remember, money is only useful when it is spent.  Amassing a huge fortune doesn’t really do you or others in this world much good if you hoard it all for yourself and die with a huge bank account balance.

The genesis for this post came as I was preparing my latest monthly net worth update.  I usually look at the overall net worth increase or decrease as a rough gauge of how we are doing financially.  While doing that the other day, Istarted to think, “that’s all well and good, but will I have enough money to buy a car the next time I need to get one?”

Different goals require different strategies

The point that I’m trying to get across is its not enough to just stash a bunch of money in a 401k or IRA or savings account or whatever.  There are many different goals for which you are saving money right now such as your next car, a home, college, vacation, retirement, starting your own business, etc.  And you will (at least you should) use a different strategy to save for each of them.  For instance, saving for next year’s vacation (a short-term goal) probably involves monthly deposits to a CD or savings account while preparing for retirement (assuming it’s a long-term goal for you) probably requires a diversified mix of stocks, mutual funds,  bonds, real estate, etc.

Set specific savings goals and track them

So in my last net worth update post, I mentioned that my net worth increased 4% this past month…but so what?  Would I be able to get new siding on my house if I wanted to?  What about remodeling our master bath?  It is very important to set goals for your savings and monitor your progress toward each goal individually.  This obviously makes it easier to track your progress, but I think it is also highly motivating as well.  Creating a goal and seeing yourself step closer and closer to that goal can be very powerful in helping you to continue down the path.

Think about it, it’s always easier to save for something like an upcoming vacation because it’s a short term and attainable thing.  Longer term and bigger goals require much more effort to stay motivated while pursuing.  Try to make your saving as tangible as possible by creating each as its own specific goal and tracking progress towards it.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it

There are a few methods you could use to accomplish this goal setting and saving.  Personally, I have a bunch of sub-accounts opened at my online savings account of choice (EmigrantDirect).  I have automatic transfers setup each month to drop money from my checking account to each individual savings account.  This works well for me (I love automation) as I accomplish the saving and it’s very easy to see my progress by viewing my account balances whenever I need to.  You could just as easily track your saving using an application like Quicken, a spreadsheet, or good ol’ paper and pencil!

Save what you need and give the rest away

In summary, save for what you need to save for (retirement, college, etc) but don’t just save for the sake of saving (that’s usually called hoarding).  If you already have more than enough for all your short and long term needs (Congrats! Do you have a blog I could read?), then think about giving a bit away to someone who needs it more than you do. How will you know if you already have enough….well, that’s why you need a plan and a purpose (weren’t you reading the post!)

Monthly Net Worth Update: July 2009

July 16, 2009 · Filed Under Net Worth · 1 Comment 
Cash + Money by Terence Chang

I am glad to report that this month marks four in a row for increased net worth.   Though unlike the past few months, this increase was not driven by stock market growth.

Our assets increased 1.3%

Last month, all of our accounts except our liquid assets increased in value.  Quite the opposite occurred this month as the lion’s share of our asset increase was driven by a 10% increase in liquid assets.  I fear a good portion of this increase was just good timing (right after payday but before paying our credit card bill).  Also unlike the previous few months, our stock market accounts were actually quite flat.  Interestingly, for the second month in a row the value of our house, as estimated by Zillow.com, has increased. Now, it increased a whopping 1%, but I’ll take it!

Our liabilities decreased 0.5%

There is absolutely nothing new to report for our liabilities as they again dropped the typical monthly rate of 0.5%. I still do not have any concrete plans to do anything interesting to try to rid myself of the mortgage early.

Our net worth increased more than 4%

For the past two months, our net worth has increased more than 6%;, though it increased again this month, the increase was less.  There are no major changes to the plan on the horizon.  Saving and investing in 401(k)s, some company stock, and some low cost index funds will continue for the foreseeable future.  I am now again within sight of our all-time net worth high point of last summer…we’ll see if this upward trend continues.

Weekly Bible Verse

July 13, 2009 · Filed Under Weekly Bible Verse · 2 Comments 

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 (NIV)

Ecclesiastes is a really interesting book to read when you want to reset your perspective on things.  You can kinda view it as a big experiment, actually.  The author (most believe it was Solomon) set out to experience everything and decide what the good things in life really were.  And the experiment worked out fairly well for him since he had virtually unlimited resources.

So, he did it all.  He indulged in all sorts of pleasures and endeavours (women, food, drink, buildings, etc).  As it says in the this week’s verse – he denied himself nothing and refused no pleasure.  And what did he determine at the end of his grand experiment?  Well, basically that everything he tried was meaningless.

Only by being obedient to God and working to glorify God does the author find any meaning to life.  In this day and age we are still searching for meaning to life and happiness and pleasure and legacy and all that.  Now most of us don’t have the resources Solomon did so we can’t really do the experiment as well as we would like to.  But I would guess that even if we could, we’d probably come to the same conclusion as he did.

Earthly pleasures and riches are fleeting and ultimately meaningless, don’t mess up your eternity fooling around in this brief time period we have here on earth.

God bless and have a great week…

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