Cheap Thrills: 5 Ways to Save Money at Amusement Parks

Discounted tickets, packed lunches and three other tips for enjoying your next amusement park trip on a budget.

It’s 90+ degrees outside. Your children are on summer vacation, desperate for distractions. The days are long. It may seem like the perfect time to fill those hours with a visit to an amusement park. Think about it: Catching your heart in your throat on extreme roller coasters, cooling off on splash-fest water rides, chatting up your children’s favorite cartoon characters and even visiting with exotic animals before washing it all down with treats like hot dogs and ice cream. Sounds pretty ideal.

Not so ideal? The stress that can come with the often high price tag associated with amusement park fun. But how do you save money at amusement parks? It just takes proper planning and a strategy for how to manage your time within the park.

Before you pack up for your next amusement park adventure, consider these five tips for saving money at amusement parks:

1. Search for discounts on tickets

According to the Los Angeles Times, the price of theme park tickets has risen faster since the Great Recession than the cost of other entertainment options. Without advanced planning, tickets can be especially pricey.

“Buying tickets to an amusement park at the gate is almost always a guaranteed way to overspend,” says Eric Anthony, managing editor for personal finance blog Houston On The Cheap, focused on entertainment in the area.

With more than 400 amusement parks and attractions in the U.S. vying for your money, you are likely to find enticing ticket deals. If you look beyond the front gate.

“Most local grocery stores offer tickets to theme parks in the area at a discounted rate,” Anthony says. “You can also search online for coupon codes and other deals on tickets.” Checking to see if you have any membership perks that might get you discounted tickets to a specific venue is another tip for saving money at amusement parks.

Searching for online coupons and discount codes for tickets is one of the ways to save money at amusement parks.

If you plan to be a frequent park visitor, season or annual passes can be an economical option, says Jeff Proctor, owner of personal finance blog DollarSprout. Many such passes come with discounts and special promotions.

Another way to save money at amusement parks is to be flexible with your dates and buy tickets for slower days or off-peak periods, like the middle of the week or during the fall season.

“If you’re willing to go on off-peak periods, you can save a bundle,” Proctor says. Bonus: Booking an off-peak trip could also mean fewer crowds and an easier time hitting all of your favorite attractions. Buying your tickets well in advance of your trip is also a common way to save money at amusement parks.

2. Stay at a vacation rental

If you’re planning to turn your amusement park visit into a longer getaway, the biggest advantage of staying at an on-site property is convenience. You can hop on a shuttle bus or even walk to the park. But if how to save money at amusement parks is the focus of your trip, you might want to consider alternate accommodations such as off-site hotels, vacation rentals or the home of a friend or relative.

Finding a vacation rental off-site is a way to save money at amusement parks.

Anthony finds that a vacation rental near an amusement park is like a home away from home for his family and one of the easiest ways to save money at amusement parks. He says there’s more space to relax and unwind, cook in a fully-equipped kitchen and avoid noisy crowds when his family wants some downtime.

If you’re worried that staying farther away from the park’s venue to travel on a budget could hike up your transportation costs, look into ride sharing services or public transit as a tip for saving money at amusement parks.

3. Pack a lunch

If you’re looking for ways to save money at amusement parks, know that food can take a big bite out of your budget if you buy at park restaurants and concession stands.

“I find you end up spending a lot of money on food when you’re not prepared,” Anthony says. “You didn’t pack your lunch, the kids are crying, so you end up going to some restaurant and dropping a hundred bucks.”

According to USA Today, the cost of various dining plans at major theme parks can be as high as $40 for children and $117 for adults per day. Before you embark on your trip, find out how to save money at amusement parks by going online and checking out the policy for bringing outside food, beverages and coolers into a particular venue. Many allow small snacks and meals that do not require heating, and if picnic areas are available, you can comfortably enjoy your own grub on park grounds.

“Just packing simple lunches for your family could easily save you $50 to $100 during one visit,” Anthony says.

Proctor also recommends packing an insulated cooler full of goodies and leaving it in your car as a money-saving tip for families. “When you get hungry, simply go out to your car for a short break,” he says. “Most amusement parks allow same-day re-entry, so this isn’t a problem at all.”

Having your own reusable water bottle is another way to save money at amusement parks. Not only will this help you conserve money as you refill at water fountains throughout the park, but it will also keep you hydrated while you’re on the go.

If packing your own meals doesn’t sound appealing or you’re a frugal foodie wanting to check out amusement park cuisine, order food a la carte as a tip for saving money at amusement parks. Skip fancy beverages and stick with water to avoid extra costs.

4. Save on souvenirs

Some people have a sentimental attachment to a particular theme park and insist on buying souvenirs, children may spot something during a visit they simply cannot live without and others may want a keepsake to remember a fun family vacation. But if you want to learn how to save money at amusement parks, you may need to stay clear of on-site gift shops.

Anthony says you can find less expensive souvenirs at local retail locations outside of the park or shop online from the comfort of your own home. T-shirts inspired by amusement parks can even be found at drugstore chains and discount retailers. Souvenir cups, a way to save money at amusement parks and still bring home a theme park memory, can typically be purchased at dining locations throughout a venue and can often save you money with free refills.

Anthony suggests you take a pass on souvenir photos shot while you’re enjoying the rides and have a friend or family member capture the moment instead. You also have the option of photographing your child posing with a favorite theme park character as a way to have fun without spending money instead of using a park’s official photographer for a fee.

If you're looking for tips for saving money at amusement parks, don't spring for pricey souvenirs.

5. Bring the essentials

Whether you’re staying for a few hours or a few days, one of the most important tips for saving money at amusement parks is planning ahead and bringing what you might need to make your experience more comfortable.

“One of the easiest ways to blow money at an amusement park is on essentials like a camera, sunscreen or a cap,” Anthony says.

If you’re focused on how to save money at amusement parks, pack your own sunscreen and consider bringing a portable umbrella and ponchos if the forecast calls for rain. Carry a water-resistant case or plastic bag with a zip-top closure to protect your phone or camera from rain and splashes on a water ride.

Since a blister or headache can ruin the day, make sure you carry a few basic first aid supplies such as bandages, blister patches and pain relievers.

Enjoy amusement parks on a budget

Before you head off for a whirlwind trip of roller coaster rides and carnival-style games, be sure to review these tips for saving money at amusement parks to ensure that your visit is as cost-effective as it is fun. Then you’ll be able to walk through the front gate with confidence that you can enjoy all that the park has to offer and keep your budget on track.


How to Throw a Baby Shower On a Budget

With some creativity and help from friends, it’s easy to plan a baby shower on a budget that’s right for you.

If you’re at a stage in life when many of your friends are having children, or if you’re about to become a grandparent several times over, you could find yourself thrust into planning more than one baby shower. These soirees can get pricey if you don’t keep budget in mind from the moment you accept the role as host.

Fortunately, most baby showers are not expected to look like the over-the-top celebrity events that dominate news headlines. But you’ll still need to handle food, decorations and party favors, as well as finding a location to hold the event.

It is possible to plan a baby shower on a budget while still creating a beautiful and memorable event for the parents-to-be and their loved ones.

Here are four tips for budget baby showers that will be sure to impress your guests:

1. Set clear expectations

Latoya Scott shares money-saving tips on her personal finance blog Life and a Budget. She’s thrown four baby showers, two she volunteered for and two she was asked to plan. She’s never spent more than $200 on a baby shower.

If you're wondering how to throw a baby shower on a budget, start by talking with the mom-to-be.

Her number one tip before you begin to plan a baby shower on a budget is to set clear expectations with everyone involved.

“Most of the time, I’ve volunteered to host the shower because I love doing them,” she says. “In those cases, I ask a lot of questions about things they like and let them know upfront that I consider it to be fun trying to incorporate as many of their wishes and likes on a budget.”

When it came to the showers she was asked to plan, she wasn’t shy about telling the mothers-to-be that she needed to check her budget first to make sure she could afford to throw the parties. She returned to both with her $200 price point and asked if that was okay.

“Out of those two showers, one person agreed and the other person actually found someone who was willing to help me, and I didn’t mind at all,” she says.

2. Ask for help

Scott’s second piece of advice for those strategizing on how to throw a baby shower on a budget: Enlist your friends. That could mean setting up a co-hosting arrangement or assigning your friends different tasks.

“While I may handle the food, another friend may be completely responsible for games,” Scott says. “Another friend may handle gifts, and sometimes another will handle decor.”

Enlist the help of friends when you're trying to plan a baby shower on a budget.

Scott also suggests giving everyone involved a spending cap to ensure that you plan a baby shower on a budget. How she handles the spending cap depends on the group of friends involved, she says. Some friends use their money to cover their contribution, while others hand Scott cash to cover their share of logistics and let her plan away.

The exception is often food, since it’s usually more expensive than other ingredients to hosting a baby shower. In that case, Scott either has everyone pitch in for the cost of food or assigns the food to two different people instead of just one.

As for a location, Scott gets creative to plan a baby shower on a budget.

“I’ve been able to host showers at places for free because someone I knew lived in an apartment complex and I asked if they could use the apartment clubhouse,” she says.

She suggests local parks and recreation centers could also help plan a baby shower on a budget. Meeting rooms can often be rented for a flat fee or a three- to four-hour window, Scott says. If a few friends pitch in to cover that cost, that brings your personal expenses down.

3. Get creative with decor

Rather than buying disposable shower decorations, think long term for a tip for budget baby showers. That’s what Colleen Coughlin recommends. She is a clothing designer and founder of The Full Edit, a professional styling and organization company.

Coughlin recently planned a baby shower on a budget for a close friend and spent a whopping $0 on decorations. She made some of the decorations herself with materials she gathered from her clients. For example, she cut the letters for “BABY” out of a discarded silver sun protector for a car. Coughlin has also reused items from baby showers she has attended when she was determining how to throw a baby shower on a budget.

“I went to a baby shower shortly before organizing one where they were going to throw away all the decorations,” she says. “Since I knew I would be throwing a shower myself, I asked if I could take the decorations.”

One of Coughlin’s top tips for budget baby showers is to consider decorations that are gender neutral and can be reused, like those featuring orange, yellow and white. Coughlin suggests making a bunting banner out of bed sheets or old pillow cases you no longer use, then pinning or taping the bunting to the wall to decorate your hosting space.

4. Look around your house for party favors

When it comes to how to throw a baby shower on a budget, Coughlin could easily take home a gold medal. In addition to spending nothing on decorations for the baby shower she hosted, Coughlin also spent $0 on party favors for guests.

“You’d be surprised how many shower gifts are in your house already,” she says. “I gave away beauty products, plants and a Coach purse from a ‘The Full Edit’ client that I already had laying around. They loved it!”

For a party favor tip for budget baby showers, Coughlin points out that if you order makeup from certain companies, you may already have a collection of beauty samples you can use as party favors. If you happen to attend industry events for work, you may be able to use samples from swag bags as party favors. Coughlin is also not opposed to re-gifting items you don’t want to help plan a baby shower on a budget (exhibit A: that candle your distant cousin gave you for Christmas).

Plan a baby shower on a budget

As you can see from these tips for budget baby showers, with some creative thinking and a little help from friends, you and your loved ones can celebrate the miracle of life without going broke.


Best Tips to Help You Find the Best Tax Filing Service

Filing your own taxes no longer has to be a pain thanks to modern technology and programs that use accurate and automated systems. If you have a low tax liability, you don’t want to spend hundreds just on filing. Here’s how to find the best tax filing services. 

When the deadline for tax returns comes around each year, you’ll want to be well prepared to click send on your files and consider another tax year done and dusted.

Tax filing services can be a big help in walking you through the process and making the whole affair a lot easier. But where refunds are concerned, you want to keep the costs to a minimum and be sure that you can trust the service you invest in.

We are here to advise you on how to find the cheapest tax filing service that gets the job done.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Tax Filing Service 

Ease of Use

When it comes to the head-scratching confusion of taxes, the most crucial aspect to consider is ease of use.

The last thing you want is to fidget with software that’s difficult to understand while scraping together all your receipts and salary slips. 

Turbotax wins the race when it comes to ease of use. You may also want to make sure that your filing service includes the forms necessary for your type of work. You may, for example, be paying extra to fill out self-employment forms or gain access to the docs for homeowners.

Your filing service might not include this in their free or lower price packages. TaxAct provides some of the cheapest filings for these more specialized forms.

Good News: Lots of Tax Filing Services are Available for Free!

Here’s the thing – to file your taxes, you often don’t have to spend a dime. 

Most market-leading tax software offers a robust free version. This should be enough to handle your tax filing if you’re a standard W2 employee. As mentioned above, some more specific forms may require the paid version of this software.

If your tax situation is relatively straightforward and you earn less than $66,000, you are also entitled to file your taxes free through the IRS Tax alliance.

If you’re not sure what software to invest in, the easiest thing to do is to try the different services for free and pick whatever is easiest to use.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Save on Filing Your Taxes

Cheapest Tax Filing: A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Since 2017, tax cuts have nearly doubled. These days, you can deduct up to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples. This has made filing tax returns a lot easier as it is often unnecessary to itemize each expense.

Nonetheless, it’s essential to keep your files in order and have a stable account of your salaries, paid taxes, and overtime pay. To keep your paperwork in order, software like ThePayStubs online generator can help you record your income.

Don’t forget, handing in your tax return might not be free in your state. In fact, it can cost up to $40. 

Here’s how to find the best tax filing services. Click To Tweet

Ready to File Your Taxes?

Taxes are hardly fun, but if you’re blessed with a simple tax situation, you should be able to file your taxes cheaply if not, for free.

If you have a few more things to account for, you might have to invest some time in the cheapest tax filing service. 

But rest assured that the small upfront savings you might make by using free software don’t always guarantee the best refunds when mistakes creep in.

Make use of the free versions of software to dip your feet into the water. See what suits you best and what your situation requires.

If you want more money-saving tips and helpful reviews, stay updated here.


How to Turn a Finished Attic Into a Nice Living Space

A home’s attic may just be the most overlooked space of the house. Often used simply for storage, this space has the potential of turning into a sleek living space, hobby room, home office or even a guest bedroom, if given a good amount of tender love and care.

Most people don’t consider using their attic space due to the absence of finished walls and proper lighting. But with the right knowledge and some fairly small additions, you can convert your attic into an elegant getaway that not only adds value to your property but that can also be used as a place to relax and unwind.  

Wondering what it takes? We thought we’d give you a hand by looking at some of the most crucial elements you need to consider if you’re thinking about turning your attic into a living space.

Turning your attic into a livable area

Now, while there are quite a few elements involved when converting an attic, taking them one step at a time — maybe even spacing out the work and giving yourself lots of time to get it done — will make the whole process seem less daunting. Here are some of the major improvements you need to account for:

Wire your attic for electricity

While this isn’t an extensive project, you will need to hire a professional to help you out and get this one out of the way. Whether or not your attic is already wired, you’ll need to hire an electrician to check your wiring and make sure it’s up to par; and if it’s not, they’ll have to wire it altogether. Either way, get this one out of the way well before you start working on the walls or floors, otherwise you might find yourself in a position to ruin your freshly redone walls to set up wiring.

Strengthen the attic’s floors

If you plan on adding furniture to the space, especially larger pieces like a bed or an armoire, you’ll have to account for the extra weight and strengthen the floors. This is another aspect you might want to contract out to a professional, given that you need to make sure both your floors and your home’s foundation and framing can handle the extra weight.

Insulate the attic

Since all the walls (along with the roof) are exposed to the outside, your attic is likely the hottest and coldest room of the house, depending on the season. That’s why you’ll want to take extra steps to insulate it properly, and depending on the area you’re in and how cold/hot it gets, fix the space up with PTACs (package terminal air conditioners) to maintain the right temperature. You might also want to consider adding drywall or add extra wood or shiplap to the exterior walls.

Install plumbing

If your attic conversion also involves adding a bathroom to your newly created living space, you’ll need to account for plumbing. This part might add up and bring your expenses up considerably (especially considering all the other elements you’ll have to purchase and install in your bathroom, from the toilet to vanity, fixtures etc.) so think it through before adding it to your wish list. Especially since you can’t really space them out very much, and you’ll need to buy the toilet/bathtub and all the other elements before plumbing starts — as you’ll need to connect them. Also, remember we were talking about strengthening the floors of your attic? Water adds tons of weight, so you’ll have to plan your structure reinforcement accordingly if you’re gonna move forward with the addition of a bathroom. For more info on what it entails to install a bathroom in your attic, here’s a handy guide.

Get proper lighting

If you’re going all out with your attic conversion (and have the funds to back it up), you’ll want to consider adding some nice skylights or windows. But this can ramp up your costs considerably, and make the whole process far more complicated. So instead, why not flood the place with light through some good old light fixtures? Mix things up with a combination of LED lights, overhead lighting, and tall lamps — and pick bright bulbs to get as much light in as possible.

Paint the walls and ceiling

You’re almost done with your DIY attic remodel, so now it’s time to start making it look pretty. Even if your attic has finished walls and ceilings, you’ll want to add a fresh coat of paint to make the space look brand new and inviting. To make the space appear more airy and to compensate for the lack of windows, choose bright colors for most of the walls (though an accent wall that stands at the opposite end of the entrance is always a stylish addition).

Add furniture, appliances & décor elements

The next step in setting up your attic living space is to make it practical and beautiful. This entails adding furniture, design elements, and whatever appliances you think you might need for the space. Think TVs, a mini fridge, a nice stereo system, low, sleek A/C units, whatever you find most practical depending on how you want to use the newly-created room of the house.

Maybe you want to have it ready as a guest bedroom, or a teen kid’s room, a hobby room, a much-needed home office or a place to relax and meditate in. Each potential use comes with its own individual needs, so it’s up to you to get creative from this point forward (though here are some great tips if you’re setting up a meditation room).

Last but not least…

If you’re seriously considering turning your attic into a living space, there’s one hurdle you need to get out of the way before embarking on any of the above changes: checking with your local permitting office to see whether or not you’ll need a building permit for converting your attic space. Not all cities require their residents to pull out a permit for this, but it’s better to know for sure instead of winging it. Your home insurance and later property valuation might take a hit if you don’t account for this aspect.

Keep reading

The 6 Best Hot Tubs You Can Get On Amazon — Without Breaking the Bank
8 Money-Saving Tips for Improving Your Bathroom’s Design
How To Set Up a Killer Smoking Room at Home
What Your Home Office Would Look Like If They Were Designed by David Lynch, Wes Anderson, and Other Iconic Movie Directors


Budgeting Tips for the Sandwich Generation: How to Care for Kids and Parents

If you’re part of the sandwich generation, having a money management plan is crucial.

Everyone knows that raising kids can put a serious squeeze on your budget. Beyond covering day-to-day living expenses, there are all of those extras to consider—sports, after-school activities, braces, a first car. Oh, and don’t forget about college.

Add caring for elderly parents to the mix, and balancing your financial and family obligations could become even more difficult.

“It can be an emotional and financial roller coaster, being pushed and pulled in multiple directions at the same time,” says financial life planner and author Michael F. Kay.

The “sandwich generation”—which describes people that are raising children and taking care of aging parents—is growing as Baby Boomers continue to age.

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives. Aside from a time commitment, you may also be committing part of your budget to caregiving expenses like food, medications and doctor’s appointments.

Budgeting tips for the sandwich generation include communicating with parents.

When you’re caught in the caregiving crunch, you might be wondering: How do I take care of my parents and kids without going broke?

The answer lies in how you approach budgeting and saving. These money strategies for the sandwich generation and budgeting tips for the sandwich generation can help you balance your financial and family priorities:

Communicate with parents

Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner and founder of investment advisory service POWWOW, LLC, served as caregiver for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while also managing a career and starting a family. That experience taught her two very important budgeting tips for the sandwich generation.

First, communication is key, and a money strategy for the sandwich generation is to talk with your parents about what they need in terms of care. “It should all start with a frank discussion and plan, preferably prior to any significant health crisis,” Costa says.

Second, run the numbers so you have a realistic understanding of caregiving costs, including how much parents will cover financially and what you can afford to contribute.

17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives.

– The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Involve kids in financial discussions

While you’re talking over expectations with your parents, take time to do the same with your kids. Caregiving for your parents may be part of the discussion, but these talks can also be an opportunity for you and your children to talk about your family’s bigger financial picture.

With younger kids, for example, that might involve talking about how an allowance can be earned and used. You could teach kids about money using a savings account and discuss the difference between needs and wants. These lessons can help lay a solid money foundation as they as move into their tween and teen years when discussions might become more complex.

When figuring out how to budget for the sandwich generation, try including your kids in financial decisions.

If your teen is on the verge of getting their driver’s license, for example, their expectation might be that you’ll help them buy a car or help with insurance and registration costs. Communicating about who will be contributing to these types of large expenses is a good money strategy for the sandwich generation.

The same goes for college, which can easily be one of the biggest expenses for parents and important when learning how to budget for the sandwich generation. If your budget as a caregiver can’t also accommodate full college tuition, your kids need to know that early on to help with their educational choices.

Talking over expectations—yours and theirs—can help you determine which schools are within reach financially, what scholarship or grant options may be available and whether your student is able to contribute to their education costs through work-study or a part-time job.

Consider the impact of caregiving on your income

When thinking about how to budget for the sandwich generation, consider that caring for aging parents can directly affect your earning potential if you have to cut back on the number of hours you work. The impact to your income will be more significant if you are the primary caregiver and not leveraging other care options, such as an in-home nurse, senior care facility or help from another adult child.

Costa says taking time away from work can be difficult if you’re the primary breadwinner or if your family is dual-income dependent. Losing some or all of your income, even temporarily, could make it challenging to meet your everyday expenses.

“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement.”

– Quentara Costa, certified financial planner

When you’re facing a reduced income, how to budget for the sandwich generation is really about getting clear on needs versus wants. Start with a thorough spending review.

Are there expenses you might be able to reduce or eliminate while you’re providing care? How much do you need to earn each month to maintain your family’s standard of living? Keeping your family’s needs in focus and shaping your budget around them is a money strategy for the sandwich generation that can keep you from overextending yourself financially.

“Protect your capital from poor decisions made from emotions,” financial life planner Kay says. “It’s too easy when you’re stretched beyond reason to make in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately are not in anyone’s best interest.”

Keep saving in sight

One of the most important money strategies for the sandwich generation is continuing to save for short- and long-term financial goals.

“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement,” financial planner Costa says. “While the intention to put others before ourselves is noble, you may actually be pulling the next generation backwards due to your lack of self-planning.”

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Making regular contributions to your 401(k), an individual retirement account or an IRA CD should still be a priority. Adding to your emergency savings each month—even if you have to reduce the amount you normally save to fit new caregiving expenses into your budget—can help prepare you for unexpected expenses or the occasional cash flow shortfall. Contributing to a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell ESA is a budgeting tip for the sandwich generation that can help you build a cushion for your children once they’re ready for college life.

When you are learning how to budget for the sandwich generation, don’t forget about your children’s savings goals. If there’s something specific they want to save for, help them figure out how much they need to save and a timeline for reaching their goal.

Ask for help if you need it

A big part of learning how to budget for the sandwich generation is finding resources you can leverage to help balance your family commitments. In the case of aging parents, there may be state or federal programs that can help with the cost of care.

Remember to also loop in your siblings or other family members when researching budgeting tips for the sandwich generation. If you have siblings or relatives, engage them in an open discussion about what they can contribute, financially or in terms of caregiving assistance, to your parents. Getting them involved and asking them to share some of the load can help you balance caregiving for parents while still making sure that you and your family’s financial outlook remains bright.

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