Monday, April 17, 2017

Rolling Over 401ks, Historical Data Comparison

In a previous post, I reviewed the fees associated with different investment firms.  Based on the fees, Vanguard is my top choice, followed by Betterment and then Fidelity.

So I wanted to see historically how well the funds I would be investing in have done.  I don't claim to know much about investing and I'm really just doing a quick look at the data for these funds. But it looks like throughout the life of the fund, over time Vanguard's fund has done the best and they have the lowest fees.  So I think my choice is made.  I'm going to rollover my 401ks into an account with Vangaurd.

Vanguard

Betterment


Fidelity 



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Orlando Vacation, A Financial Mess

If you read my previous post, Spring Break Budget, you'll know that this vacation just kept getting more and more expensive.   So my goal was to try to come in close to $500 under budget.

We did great in some areas -
  • Food Budget - We only ate at restaurants once per day.  We bought groceries at Walmart for the rest of our meals and snacks which helped to cut down a lot on our grocery budget.  I originally estimated $1,000 for food.
  • Gas - I had no idea how much we would spend on gas.  I wasn't sure if we would try to drive an hour to a beach or any other entertainment.  We ended up sticking pretty close to our hotel.  We only spent $18 on gas out of the $300 I budgeted!
  • I also had an additional $600 budgeted for Souvenirs and extra entertainment expenses.
It sounds like we did amazing and should have come in way under budget but we had quite a few additional expenses.
  1. Car Rental taxes and fees.  I booked our car rental as part of a package with our Airfare through Allegiant.  What I didn't realize was that in the fine print, it said that car rental fees and taxes were not included.  This ended up totaling an additional $66.
  2. Car Rental Jump - Someone, who will not be mentioned by name, left the keys in the rental car ignition the second night which ran down the battery.  Not only did we waste almost an hour of our morning searching for the keys throughout the hotel room and resort, we then couldn't find anyone to jump the car.  The hotel wouldn't do it for liability reasons?! So I had to call Alamo and request a jump.  Charge: $70.  (I might be able to get part of this reimbursed through our road side assistance through our car insurance company.  I just need to remember to check into it.)
  3. My hair.  I do my own hair at home and have been wanting to go lighter.  So the morning before we left, I used a lightening kit.  It turned out very, very yellow, almost orangish.  It wasn't awful, but my daughter described the color as "chicken nugget".  I left it for the week of vacation but decided on the last day I couldn't take it anymore.  So I went to a salon in Orlando and had it color corrected.  Total with tip $180!  I didn't purchase any souvenirs for myself so my hair being a color I liked was my "souvenir".
Then I made a big financial mess by trying to be proactive and forgetting about what I had done. A lot of our bills are due by the 10th of the month.  Since we were coming home from Vacation on the 4th, I thought I would be proactive and set up all the payments before leaving on vacation.  Big mistake.  I forgot I did this and repaid all of these bills once I got home from vacation and had received my monthly paycheck.  Not realizing a paid for bills twice this month until I saw them deducted from our account 1 day apart: 2 car payments, condo fees for 2 condos and the mortgage for our rental property, totaling an additional $1135. The good thing is that we have the money in our emergency fund that I can transfer over to cover all the payments this month.  Then next month I won't have to pay these bills and I can pay our emergency fund back.

Overall, even with all the extra expenses, we still had $130 left of vacation money which was put back into savings for our next trip.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Universal Orlando - 13 Tips for a better visit

We had a great time at Universal Studios over Spring Break.  They had a special where we received tickets for 2 days free when we purchased tickets for 2 days.  So we had tickets for 4 days total.


Here's some tips for making the most of Universal Studios.


1. The parks aren't very big and you could definitely see everything in 2 full days.  Although I would never have paid for 4 days, it was great to have the extra 2 days free.  I think those extra days went a long way towards us being able to enjoy our time at the parks, seeing everything we wanted to see, while still feeling like we were enjoying a relaxing vacation.

2. Half days are best - If you have the extra time/tickets, going for 4 or 5 hours in the morning or 4 or 5 hours in the evening really helps to miss out on the major mid-day crowds and mid-day heat. I thought Spring break lines would be ridiculous but by avoiding the busiest part of the day (from 12 - 4 pm), we avoided most of the crowds.  

3. Download the App but don't depend on it too much for wait times.  The Universal Studios app was nice for turn by turn directions when finding our way around the parks.  The wait times were nice to have but were almost always 10 minutes off.  We avoided anything with longer than a 30 minute wait. So if we went solely by the app, we would have skipped a lot of rides that really had a much shorter wait time than what we were told.

4. Make a Plan.  By using the wait times listed in the App as guide lines,  we were able to note which lines got ridiculously long.  Such as Kong, which could get up to a 120 minute wait. We made sure to hit that ride and other really popular rides first thing in the morning or at the very end of the day.  This meant we never waited longer than 30 minutes for any ride and usually our waits were 15 minutes or less.

5. Don't buy the express pass.  These are really expensive.  I almost bought them for at least 1 day but I'm glad I waited.  It definitely would have been a waste of money.

6. Best for older kids.  
Our youngest daughter is only 6 and just barely made the minimum 48 inch requirement for many of the rides.  I can't count how many times she had to be measured and almost wasn't allowed on a ride until we had them measure her again while reminding her to stand as tall as possible.  There were 1 or 2 rides at each park, mainly the big roller coasters that she wasn't tall enough to ride.

7. Parking.  It's $20 a day to park.  They try to upsell you to "Premium" parking for $30.  It isn't worth it.  We did it one day and mainly that extra $10 just allowed us to skip 1 or 2 escalators, saving a whopping 2 or 3 minutes off our walk to the parks. 

8. Walk to the Parks.  It takes about 10 - 15 minutes of walking to get from the parking garage to the front gate of either park.  Plan on walking, a lot. 

9. Park to Park Pass - I really debated on whether it was worth the additional $200 for our family to have this benefit.  It was definitely worth it.  Especially since we were there for 4 days.  The Hogwarts Express (only for people with park to park passes) was a really cool ride.  But it was also nice to jump from park to park when deciding on what restaurants to eat at and on the last day when we were re-riding all of our favorite rides one last time.

10. Restaurants- We ate at one of the full-service restaurants each day for lunch.  It was nice to get out of the heat at the hottest part of the day and take a break from the lines at the busiest part of the day. It gave us a nice air conditioned rest on comfy seats and left us feeling recharged to ride one or two more rides before leaving for the day.  And the restrooms tended to be a lot cleaner in the full-service restaurants than at the restrooms throughout the park. Plus, the cost of food at the full service restaurants wasn't much more expensive than the fast-food options.  About $7 - $10 for kids meals and averaging $12 - $15 for adult meals. Some of the restaurants were really beautiful inside, like Mythos.  We ate there twice. My husband liked his meal so much he had the same Mythos Burger 2 days in a row.
Lunch at Mythos, Universal Islands of Adventure
11. Check Open and Closing times each day - They change daily so don't forget to check. Most days open at 9 am, but closing times can vary from park to park and day to day.

12. Don't take a backpack and wait to buy souvenirs.  This was hard for me.  I am one of those people that likes to pack snacks and drinks to save money.  But there are multiple rides that do not allow you take anything with you onto the ride or in line.  They provide free lockers but the line for the lockers is worse than the line for the rides.  And the locker rooms are tiny and over crowded.  I'm glad I read about this ahead of time.  We only had to use the locker room once when the girls had bought souvenirs before we went on a ride that didn't allow anything on the ride.  It was a pain.  Took for ever to get a locker and then the computer at the lockers we used wasn't working right and no one could get there lockers open wasting another 10 minutes to get that sorted out.

13. Don't waste your money on the interactive wands in the Harry Potter Area.  My girls both wanted these.  The wands were $49.95 each!  I don't know how much the non-interactive wands were.  But once you buy souvenirs you are limited on the rides you can ride unless you want to deal with the lockers (mentioned above).  And although there are really some cool interactive activities throughout the Harry Potter worlds at both parks, when it is crowded there is a wait for each one and by the time it's your turn you've already seen the "magic" done by 5 other people first.  The girls only did 2 or 3 of these, like making lights turn on or making a water fountain spray water by flicking their wand at it.  It was just too crowded and then we left the wands at home other days so that we didn't have to deal with carrying them.  Total waste of $49.95 + tax which they paid for with their allowance and birthday savings.


Our Favorite Rides - 
  • Our oldest daughter loved the roller coasters - Hulk and Rip Riding Rocket
  • Our youngest daughter loved Mummy and Hogwarts Castle Forbidden Journey.
  • My husband liked the Simpsons ride and Transformers plus the roller coasters
My favorite will always be ET.  I loved it as a kid.  It's not as exciting as a lot of the other rides but it brings back memories.  The new Harry Potter worlds are just amazing to walk into. The buildings and scenery are beautiful, it was so exciting to see.
Daigon Alley, Universal Studios

Check out my other reviews from this Orlando vacation- Allegiant Airlines & Holiday Inn Water Park Resort.

Have you been to Universal Studios recently?  What were your favorite rides?