Wednesday, September 4, 2013

So Long, Farewell....

It's been a long time coming, but I am finally pulling the plug.

This is the end of Mrs Nespy's World.

Over the last week I have been pulling affiliation links, contacting PR firms and cleaning out the blog.  After almost 6 years of blogging, I have to now admit that this blog has run its course.

Life changes and although this blog evolved - twice - it is really just time for me to hang my hat and say farewell.

I have pared it down from over 1400 posts to just 330.  I left those posts up that were informational, those that still receive traffic because people are looking for information (and they come here for it, which still surprises me), and those that I thought people could use.  The rest - they are gone.

I've loved every moment of it (at least until a few months ago when the quality and quantity of posts really starting deteriorating around here), but it is time to go.

I'm still following so many of you and I've made some really good online friends, so I do thank you all for the love (both real and comment) and support you've given over the years.

Until we meet again...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How Was School Today? How I Got My Kids to Talk to Me.

My son is currently finishing up first grade while my daughter is in the last few days of 3K at the same school.  Each day I picked them up I would ask the same questions:  How was school today?  What did you do?  These questions always resulted in the same answers from both of them:  Fine. I don't know/nothing.

So I decided to change it up a little and ask them to tell me three things about their day.  It always resulted in the same answers, "I got a _____ in conduct," "I ate ____ for lunch,"  and "I worked on _____."  That third one was the only one that was news to me because they always brought home a sheet telling me about their daily conduct, and I packed their lunches.

So this was a good start, but not really the deep, meaningful conversation filled with delight and variety that I was looking for.

Time to change it up again.

So now I ask them each the following question:  Tell me a way today that you 1.) worked, 2.) played, and 3.) helped.

This finally gets me the answers I am looking for!  These are things I want to hear about their day and the answers usually give me enough information that I can delve further in with questions about details.  And if I start getting the same answers day after day, I ask for a different answer ("you've told me that three days in a row now; please give me another example").

It works great with my son and my daughter is picking up on it, although her definition of "helping" is not usually what I'm looking for ("I helped my friends by coming to look at something when they called me.").

What about you?  Do you have this same problem with your kids?  Have you found a solution that works for your family? 

Posted as part of Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.  Check out the other great tips from other great blogs!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Packing Tips for Disney World

I know you know how to pack a suitcase. I do want to tell you how to make your trip to Disney (and a lot of other places as well) a lot easier.

Thanks to Pinterest, I discovered an amazing packing tip. I was directed over to this blog post and thought that packing outfits in a single bag was BRILLIANT for my daughter's clothes!  She loves to pick out her own clothes and I knew we could end up battling over not wearing skirts on a cold day or wanting to wear her favorite shirt that she wore yesterday already.  So I packed up outfits in gallon sized zip lock bags. Entire outfits: shirt, pants, socks, underwear, and hair accessories all in one baggie.  Then she got to pick her clothes - she just got to pick an entire baggie at a time. And packing a change of clothes to take to the parks (just in case) was easy, as I just grabbed an entire bag and dropped it into the backpack we were carrying into the parks.

Pack something like a make up bag full of items to taken into the park.  Include sunscreen, lip balm, band aids, antibiotic ointment (yes you can get this in the park at a first aid station, but this is easy enough), a Tide pen (or similar), hand sanitizer, headache and/or allergy meds, antacids, and motion sickness meds.  If you wear contacts like I do, you can also pack your glasses and your contact case with contact solution in it in case your eyes get tired and dry from your contacts.  Also pack wet wipes.

Pack 1-1/2 outfits per small child per day.  This will ensure that you have enough clothes (I hope) for the duration of any accidents or mishaps.

Only pack comfortable and durable shoes for the parks. Do not go in new shoes. Do not go in shoes that EVER rub your feet. Flip flops make your feet work to hold them on and hurt after walking all day in them. Wear sneakers. You will be walking miles. Literally.

Pack all phone chargers, camera chargers, and laptop chargers.

Take a laptop and dump all photos at the end of each day. That way there is no chance you'll run out of room on your memory card before taking another priceless photo of your family.

Take photos (front and back) of your tickets and have them on your phone - or leave them on your camera.  Disney can help you out if they can see the bar codes and ticket info on them. Take a pic of the back of your Photo Pass card as well.

Include medicine cabinet items like aloe vera, eye drops, and some foot powder or something along the lines of Gold Bond.

Pack a poncho for each family member. If it start raining some people will leave but the park will stay open.

Pack your own glow sticks and autograph books (and pens).  They sell them in the park for far more than you'll pay offsite.  

If you possibly have room, pack your own (not umbrella) stroller. You'll want the storage that it offers and the Disney ones come with a hefty deposit.

Pack items to entertain kids while in line. Bubbles are great as well as small books or games on your phone. Try some pipe cleaners - cheap and leaves them open to using their imagination. Waiting is hard even when you're 30. Imagine your 3 again and think of the people around you in line.

If you want to do the Pressed Penny thing (seriously...our son really got into this), intentionally pack two quarters and a penny together.  You can put them together like that in rolled quarter papers or in a canister like mini M&Ms come in so you aren't always digging in your pockets for change.  If you're really into it, you can buy a penny collector book at Disney World (I saw them in Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in the Magic Kingdom, but you can probably find them elsewhere too).

Pack a water bottle. Counter service and Table Service restaurants will refill them for free.

What have I missed?  What are your packing tips?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tips to Make Disney World Fun for the Whole Family

There are tips galore all around the internet on how to make your vacation to Disney World the best ever.  Trust me - I think I perused all of them. After doing that, I picked the ones that would (hopefully) work for us and made up some just for us.  Here are those tips so that you might can use some too.

Pick the right time for you.  We used this excellent WDW planning tool to plan the "when" of our trip and nailed it. 

The Dining Plans are great on the budget. But they might not work for you. Or you might decide to stay off site, where you would not be eligible for the Dining Plan. Check out this post on our spending to find out why the Dining Plan would not have been our best bet.

Keep your eyes peeled for open lines.  For tickets and security, people (for some reason) seem to act like cattle and follow one person. Ironically, one of the busiest places on earth has open lines to get into the parks and to go through security because of this.  If you see a turnstile with a cast member at it, don't be afraid to ask.  We bypassed about 75 people this way and got to walk into Animal Kingdom as soon as the gate opened because we walked around the one single line that was formed in front of it.

Characters are fun to meet. Have a plan.  You'll notice throughout this list of tips that I am a serious planner. It's really the only way I know how to function - especially now that I have two awesome kids to monitor. You can visit Disney's website and use the interactive maps for each park to find out where each character is located and what time(s) of day they will be available on the very day you will be there.  If meeting a character is important to you, make a note of this and make sure you get there in time.  If you just happen upon characters, you'll find a real treat, but if meeting one (or more) is important to you or someone in your party, make sure you don't miss them, as they are not all available all day.

Rides are fun too. Have a plan. If you have a ride enthusiast, make sure you have a plan for those people too. Don't be afraid to split up your party if you need to. The modern miracle of mobile phones make it easy to split up and reunite again. Split up to ride things and visit characters at the same time or to run out to grab a Fast Pass for your favorite ride(s).

Get a customized map for Disney.  Did you know you can get a map customized?  Whether you want to get one before your trip highlighting all of the places you MUST visit (and therefore leaving off those you can skip) or you want to get one after your trip highlighting your trip's joy so you can frame, grab one up!

GPS your parking spot. We tested this just to see if it would work. And it did! Chip's phone lead us right back to our car. =)  If you don't want to or cannot do this with your phone, at least take a photo of the name of your row (Aladdin 53, anyone?) so you have it in case you DO forget. =)

Utilize the Fast Pass system.  There are other sites that describe this system better than I can, but just in summary - a Fast Pass is a ticket that allows you to come back later within an assigned window of time, to step right onto those rides with long lines. If you get to a busy ride early before it gets too busy, you can always get a Fast Pass to use later and then go ahead and board it now to ride immediately.  Just remember that you can only hold one Fast Pass per park ticket at a time, so use them wisely.

Fast Passes DO expire. I saw tips around the internet noting that although Fast Passes indicate a window of time that you should use them, as long as you don't arrive early for your Fast Pass, you can come as late as you want. I listened to their advice and while that was obviously their experience, it was not ours.  We tried to use Fast Passes for Soarin' in Epcot as our last thing to do before leaving the park while we'd gotten the passes much earlier in the day.  Chip and Patrick were turned away because the ticket had expired. So the tip here is try to get there around the right time (but not early) or hope for a forgiving ticket taker.

Utilize the Rider Swap. I learned about this while researching for this trip and taught at least 3 families about it while at Disney World. This is obviously not something that Disney widely advertises, but they do it and it works WONDERS. The Rider Swap is for a family who has children who do want to ride larger rides with height restrictions and children who cannot or will not ride the same large rides. It works either while riding Stand By or with a Fast Pass. Basically whenever you are actually going to board the ride, you take the riders as well as the additional family members (including those who won't/can't ride) to the line like you will board and tell the cast member at the head of that line that you want to do a "Rider Swap."  They will reach into their pocket and pull out what looks like a single Fast Pass ticket and hand it to the non-riding (at that time) adult. The Rider Swap does not have a window of time on it. In other words, you can use it at any time for up to three people to board that ride via the Fast Pass.  For example, we would let Chip and Patrick ride an attraction while I was handed the Rider Swap ticket since Abigail could not ride it. Chip and Patrick would board.  Once they got off, Patrick and I could re-board, either immediately or later in the day, allowing both parents to ride and Patrick to ride twice. It was awesome!

Utilize Rider Swaps and Fast Passes together.  Like I said, you can use a Rider Swap whether you are riding stand by or via Fast Pass. And since you can only hold one Fast Pass per ticket, we would go use two tickets to get a Fast Pass at one attraction and the other two tickets to get a Fast Pass at another ride.  Then when we were ready to ride, we'd show up during the Fast Pass time, and do a Rider Swap there.  You can either then ride it immediately or come back later, since they don't expire. Then go grab your other Fast Pass time and presto - super Fast Pass/Rider Swap use.  Find what works for you and do it!

Fun for the littles too! There are some play areas you should be aware of.  Animal Kingdom has a huge play area in Dinoland USA called The Boneyard, but there are other playground type areas not on the map.  Inside the gift shop of Mission Space is a playground that will keep the little ones entertained while the riders enjoy that ride and/or Test Track. There is a playground between Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad underneath the bridge you encounter when walking towards the train station. There is also a big play area near Dumbo where you can play while you wait. This is great for when other party members are riding those two larger rides.

Bring food and drinks into the parks.  Seriously - Disney doesn't mind. We saved big money this way and we were NOT the only ones doing it. Take advantage of the savings and spend your money on souvenirs or Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwiches.

Plan your eating - especially if you have a picky eater. We have one child who is a picky eater.  I will brag on Disney for having healthy kids meals though. Their standard sides with kids' meals are not chips or fries, but rather yogurt, carrot sticks, grapes and applesauce. Good stuff. But not wanting to get caught somewhere in the park scanning each menu we came across to see if our picky eater would/could eat there, we checked out all of the dining options in each park and took in a list of those eateries that would be acceptable with a list of each food they would eat under the name of the eatery. That way, we could determine where we would be around time to eat and give the child options of food they could eat and pick our restaurant knowingly. Although it took some time to research, it was time well spent, as we did not waste time in the park looking for a particular fare - we already knew what we were getting into.

Splurge on the special things. Make sure you have a few special items. Whether it is souvenirs, a special meal or an activity - this is Disney World people and each visit should be memorable.

Try out the Agent P's World Showcase Adventure at Epcot. This is new and based on the awesome cartoon Phineas and Ferb and their lovable pet/secret agent, Perry the Platypus. Basically you are given a cell phone with GPS and a series of clues and you have to tour a designated country in Epcot to locate all of the clues. You really don't get a prize or anything, but it is free to do, takes a bit of time, helps you really explore the country, and gives the kids something to do in a part of Epcot that kids often find yawn-worthy.

Try out Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. This was a great interactive card battling game similar to Pokemon or the like. But in this version, you have a key card, a map, and a set of instructions that leads you all over the Magic Kingdom to fight villains with a plethora of spell cards you purchase. You can do this at your own pace over a series of days if you are in the park for more than one day. Patrick thoroughly enjoyed doing this while Abigail was more interested in seeing characters. Just more proof that Disney really thinks of something for EVERYONE.

Let Disney photographers use your camera.  Sure you can do the Photo Pass system (do both!), but the same photographer who takes the PhotoPass photo will also take the same photo with your personal camera. So don't worry about HAVING to buy Disney photos, although you can if you want!

Never be afraid to ask. When we watched the opening show for the Magic Kingdom, one of the costumed characters that arrived on the train with Mickey (you should see the opening at the park at least once if you never have) was Stitch - Patrick's favorite Disney character.  However, looking at the maps and even at the interactive maps on the internet, there was no indication that you could meet Stitch anywhere in the park.  We thought it was strange to have a costumed character who did not make appearances, so we asked and sure enough - you COULD meet and greet Stitch. The cast member pointed us right where we needed to go. I felt bad for Stitch because there was no indication that you could find him anywhere in the park and so his lines were next to nothing, but we benefitted because we asked, and Patrick got to meet the only character he really cared to meet.

Label Your Children if they are small or have special needs.  Sounds crazy, right?  It's easy, write on their arms with a sharpie or use a nifty item like SafetyTats (which is what we did)Also, take a photo of them with your phone each morning.  Having it on your phone instead of your camera will allow you to text it to security or police and taking one each day will show authorities not only a recent photo of your child, but what they were wearing when they disappeared (have them take one with coats/hats/etc and one without just in case). Teach them to find someone with a Disney name tag if you get separated.

Start off with Face Characters for Little Ones. Little ones who think that these characters are all real are usually intimidated by the fur characters the first time. Mickey Mouse is 5-1/2 feet tall rather than the size of a mouse. Big active faces full of expression and far taller than them is a lot to take in.  Warm the little ones up by meeting "face" characters like Mary Poppins, Alice, the princesses, and the like. It will help them get used to seeing their heroes and they will probably see some fur characters off to the side as well, helping them get acclimated to the idea of them.

Don't be afraid to take a nap. If little ones (or even big ones) are getting fussy, feel free to go back to your room and take a nap. If you are staying on site, getting back in is easy. If you are staying off site, parking is already paid for the day (right - you don't have to pay again if you leave and re-enter or if you change parks). And having a rested little one will make your entire experience much better. Remember - it's better to have an enjoyable time in the park even if it is shorter rather than forcing fun on them and having them (and therefore, you) miserable.

Know all your options. With this era of the internet, there is pretty much nothing you cannot find out about Disney World - the Disney website being your main source of info. For instance, I was bummed when I found out the princess meals at Magic Kingdom were all booked up for all four days we would be in the area. After a bit of looking around at the website though, I found that there are princess meals in Epcot - with all of the big-name princesses (are there any other type) and as a bonus - it is the only one that includes the photo as part of your bill. Bonus!

Dine with characters early. We benefitted several ways with this tip. First of all, when we arrived for our 8:10 breakfast in Epcot (where the park does not even open until 9:00 AM), our parking was free. What? Was this normal or a fluke? I have no idea. I know when we pulled up to the green-lit parking booth entrance there was a sign on it that said, "Proceed to your destination." so we got to park for free that day! Woo hoo!  Then we were allowed into the park to go to breakfast where we took an early-morning photo of the kids in front of Spaceship Earth (you know...the big Epcot ball) without any other people in the pic!  We also got a lot of other photos while walking back to Norway without any crowds in them. Breakfast is typically less expensive than other character meals and there are no fewer characters. Lastly, we finished breakfast around 9:00 and were already in the park while others were just arriving and fighting through the ticket turnstiles. Needless to say, we were able to knock out Mission Space, Test Track and a few others pretty early.

Know that Disney replaces souvenirs purchased during your vacation. Even if it isn't truly faulty but your fault. We allowed Patrick to build his own light sabre at Hollywood Studios. Within 10 minutes, Chip had broken it.  He quickly returned to the store they built it at, and they replaced the broken part for free. Hooray!

Don't be afraid of missing something.  Unless you have many, many days to spend at Disney, you WILL miss out on some part(s) of the parks. It's okay. It really is. I understand if this is a once-in-a-lifetime type trip that you want to do EVERYTHING, but don't stress out if everything doesn't go as planned. Remember you're on vacation. Your family wants to remember the fun, not mom pulling her hair out because you didn't make it onto the Riverboat Cruise.

Divide and conquer. Face it. Not everyone is interested in everything. It's okay. Split your adults up to take the kids to the locations that they want to see the most.  The girly girl might want to see the princesses while the rough and tumble boy might love the caves on Tom Sawyer's Island. The ride enthusiast will want to hit space mountain while the toddler wants to ride Prince Charming's Carousel over and over again. Use this tip and the one above to make EVERYONE'S dreams come true at Disney.

Be a kid. I don't care how old you are, there is no reason to be serious at Disney World. Sing along in It's a Small World, have you picture taken with your favorite character(s), buy yourself a set of mouse ears or a tiara (I promise you won't be the only adult wearing them), throw your hands up on a roller coaster, dance during the parades.  There is nothing you can do at Disney that will look silly. I promise.

How do you make the most of your trip to Disney World?  Please share! If you're looking for how to save on a Disney vacation, I wrote on that yesterday. And come back tomorrow for some special packing tips

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Some Tips for Doing Disney World on the Cheap

Our Christmas present to our two kiddos this past year was a trip to Disney World. No, we did not take them at Christmas, we just gave them framed pics stating that their present was a family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth - set for March 1-5, 2013.  I started typing this as one long post and decided to do two - one with the money info and one with the fun info. =)  Read whichever you'd like - or both if you prefer. =)

We paid for this trip in cash; although we rarely vacation as a family, this was definitely a first.  And let me add here that it was purely REFRESHING to carry cash around all day and know that when we left at the end of the week, there would be no spending regrets, no bills awaiting us at home, and nothing but fond memories to look back on.

Our family of 4 spent four days in the Walt Disney World complex of real estate for only $1500.

Yep. That's all. It included one (relatively) expensive lunch and a costly character breakfast. AND we ended up "blowing" some money in the end because we had it set aside and were allowed to spend it. And I'm about to tell you how we did it.

Before I do, let me start by saying that many of these tips are not available to everyone. Many of these tips are only available to a few, but they heavily contributed to our savings, so I will tell you how we did it. Use whatever info you can use and save where you can!

This one was easy for us. We live a mere 4 hours drive from Orlando, so we did not have to factor in plane tickets or nights in hotels along the drive. I literally worked until lunch and then we left with time to meet up with friends and see their son play baseball and have dinner with them.

And shockingly, because I have such a long commute to work (about 35 miles each way) and the fact that we were only driving one vehicle during those 4-5 days, we actually spent less on gasoline than we do in a typical week, so we actually saved money here too. Crazy!

This is one of those decisions that you have to make for yourself. Is it worth it to stay on property and pay a little more, yet have Magic Hours and easy access (no parking fees) to the parks?  Do you want to depend on your off-site hotel's shuttle?  Do you want to pay parking?  We considered several different options. At first, we were planning to stay at Shades of Green, the Disney World resort available to service members and their families. The rates there are lower than the other resorts and based on the rank of the person in the military.  For us, it would have been approximately $90/night or closer to $100/night for breakfast included. Not a bad price.

However, Chip worked in the travel and tourism industry for years and has connections. He contacted a friend who hooked us up with her special rate at an offsite hotel for $55/night. We were less than 4 miles from the gate. The hotel offered a limited continental breakfast for free and a shuttle to the park. We, however, did not want to depend on that shuttle's schedule or reliability, so we opted to pay for parking each day.  It costs $14/day.  Even with parking, we were paying less than $70/night to stay off site, so we decided to go that route.  So four nights at the hotel + 4 days of parking: $266.

Even if you don't have a friend with connections, consider how much you'll spend/save including parking and decide if it is worth your time and money. Totally a personal decision.

Here is another savings for military personnel. We purchased our tickets at our local base, but you can purchase them by mail or at Shades of Green with proper identification.  We got four 4-day park hoppers for $156.00 each (add tax if you order them via mail).  Please note that you CANNOT purchase these at the parks, so make sure you have them in hand when you arrive.  Also know that they will take about 10-20 minutes to validate them at the park before the first time you use them. After that, some parks require a special scan of the tickets, but they do that at the turnstiles and there is no hassle.  In fact, the cast members who take them and scan them each time thanked my husband for his service very sincerely, so it was nice.

Anyway, so we spent $624 on tickets for the four of us. Not too shabby! (FYI...Buying the same tickets at the gate would have cost us $1239.68; we saved $615.68 or almost 50%!).  Once again, this isn't a discount that everyone can take, but those who can definitely should.

We were not eligible for the meal plan option that so many people rave about since we did not stay on site, but after looking at our options, I think we ended up MUCH better anyway!  I budgeted $450 for food and we NAILED it!

Our breakfast each morning (with the exception of the character breakfast) at the hotel via the free continental breakfast. Not too shabby and definitely got the job done.

Shady spot to eat; Abigail chooses her juice box.
One meal was packed each morning before we left the hotel. Yep - you can take any food or drink inside the gates of Disney as long as it isn't alcohol or it isn't in glass containers.  So we took some groceries from our pantry and made a stop at the grocery store when we arrived and spent $57 on food items. Each day we packed up 5 PB&J sandwiches, crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, and graham cracker snacks as well as juice boxes and water bottles into two soft-sided lunch bag/coolers with ice packs. Each day we ate these sandwiches as one of our meals, leaving only one meal to be eaten in the park. And you know what - rather than feeling silly for grabbing a bench and snacking on my PB&J, I felt smarter than those around me for saving the money. =)

Abigail and her favorite princess, Ariel, at breakfast
 We did plan two (monetarily) larger meals in the parks.  The first was a character breakfast in Epcot, where we ate with the princesses at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway.  Breakfast is the cheapest character breakfast you can do. And it was delicious!  It cost us $125 (plus tip) for the four of us, but I will make two comments about this cost: 1.) it was all about the experience; Abigail's eyes lighting up with each of the princesses was worth it and 2.) they were willing to continue refilling our plates over and over again at no additional charge and they were not trying to run us out - so honestly we COULD have eaten our money's worth if our bodies could have handled it.

The second larger meal was at the Rainforest Cafe in Animal Kingdom. It is true that you can eat at a Rainforest Cafe in locations other than the Animal Kingdom; in fact, there is another at Downtown Disney. However, our kids had never seen one, so we opted to go to the largest one, located in the park, for lunch. It was a blast. And we HAD to order the $16 dessert, as we were told that we would regret NOT ordering it if we didn't.  It didn't stand a chance against us. We spent a hefty $85 on this meal (including tip) and enjoyed every bite - for me mostly because it was budgeted and I didn't have to worry about it. =)

For reference - that plate is larger than a dinner plate.

For all eating, including meals on the road, groceries to pack for the park, hot chocolate in the park for the fireworks, snacks in Epcot, and the big meals, we spent $440 on food.

We had budgeted $200 for souvenirs. I honestly thought that was overdoing it, but decided to put it there and use any money from this area if we went over our food budget.  Once we saw how well we were doing with our food budget, we decided to let our kids pick one "prize" from each park to take home.  We could have saved more money by not offering this option, but we had it set aside and let's face it - it was a great chance for them to pick out toys, which is not something we typically buy a lot of.

Patrick chose a Perry the Platypus from Epcot ($15), a Yeti from Animal Kingdom ($14) to commemorate his riding the Expedition Everest, a custom-made light sabre from Hollywood Studios ($24), and a Stitch (his FAVORITE Disney character) plush from Magic Kingdom ($25).  Abigail chose an Agent P from Epcot ($15), a Simba from Animal Kingdom ($15), an Ariel/Aurora princess combo doll from Hollywood Studios ($32), and a Merida action figure doll from Magic Kingdom ($22). We also had to buy Abigail some mouse ears (Patrick owned some from his last trip when he was 3), which we spent $21 on, after embroidery.

Snoozing with Simba and Merida

All in all, we spent $183 on their souvenirs and I must say - it's been almost 2 full weeks and they are ALL still getting played with.  Sure, we could have saved more in this area, but we'd budgeted for it and had the cash in hand for a full four days of memories, so we spent it and enjoyed it!

Add those up, and we spent $1513 on a four-day trip to Disney World complete with exhaustion, sore feet, wind burn (it was unusually chilly when we went), laughs, smiles, characters, joy, exhilaration, and pure awe at the experience.  Since I budgeted $1534, based on known lodging and ticket cost, we will call this a massive success!

So tired - you can see Stitch, the Yeti, and Perry's beak underneath. Oh - and there's the light sabre handle in the floor.
I will be posting another one tomorrow and Thursday about Disney tips we used/learned in the process and what to pack (that you might not have thought of).  If you are planning a trip, I hope you have a blast!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Do You Tithe Your Tax Refund?

Photo credit: forwardcom
We are tithing people at our house. In other words, we give the first 10% of our paycheck to God via our church (Malachi 3:10).  And since we believe that we are to give the first 10% of our income ("firstfruits" and the "full tithe"), we tithe off of our gross income.  In other words, the first money we give is to God...and THEN we pay our taxes.

So that being said, we just got our tax refund back last week (I know, early, right?).  It was awesome.  And as I was writing out the amount of our tithe that week the question occurred to I to tithe this?  I mean, it is a blessing to get the refund in the first place.  However, since this is money I overpaid the government, haven't I already tithed the portion associated with this money?

So I did not tithe the refund.

Don't get my wrong.  I know God will bless any gifts so when in doubt, give all you can.  = ) This was just a question that crossed my mind in thinking what I was supposed to do.

What do you think?  Is this selfish to do?  Is it completely selfish of me to even ASK this question?  Where do you weigh in on this? 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Health Insurance Changes - $$ Savings!

Photo credit: forwardcom
For the last 12 years, my employer has been providing health insurance to my family.  As the job (and employer) changed and our family grew, these costs steadily grew.  But it's health insurance and we needed to have it, so it continued to be withdrawn from my check at a steady rate.  It's just one of those things you assume will always be.

Well, starting last week, Chip went on full time duty orders with his National Guard unit and will be for about 18 months at least (hopefully more after that).  So we bit the bullet and signed up for Tri-Care, the military's health insurance program.  There are various details that go with it, but basically, we dropped all of the medical insurance that I carried at work and kept the vision and dental insurance from my employer (better coverage and quite cheap).

There is no premium cost for Tri-Care.  For Chip the program is completely free - he just has to use doctors on base.  No co-pays, no deductibles, etc.  For us (the family), we pay out of pocket until we reach the $300 family deductible and then standard care is free.  Procedures and hospitalizations and whatnot are 20% out of pocket for us. The pharmacy plan is very much like we have now.  And the kids and I can still use our current doctors, as they are in the Tri-Care network. Hooray!

And without premiums, we are saving right at $400 (pre-tax) a month; I'm estimating that's about $300 extra to my check (after taxes) each month!  So what if we have to meet the $300 deductible...that's still about 11 months (after tax) savings...or somewhere between $3000 and $4000 saved after taxes.


I could seriously find something good to do with $300/month. For now it will go to debt repayment.  Then to building a sturdy savings account.  After that?  Who knows?

I noted that if for some reason the care is terrible we would go back to my insurance next January (when they have open enrollment at work), but otherwise, this is the route we're going for now.

What would you do with an extra $300/month?