Posts Tagged ‘Guest Posts’

Reader Transformation: Focus on Health

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Renee Ross before and after

I am so excited to introduce you to my friend, Renée Ross from Cutie Booty Cakes. Renée and I have been friends for many years and I have had the joy of watching her weight loss transformation unfold. I am so excited to share with you her story because it is so beautiful, just like her, and shows you how empowering it can be to transform your body & life. 

I started my weight loss journey the week of Thanksgiving 2009. Believe it or not, despite Thanksgiving dinner, dining out and even enjoying a wine spritzer,  I lost 8 pounds that week.  That loss motivated me to continue to work on improving my health and by July 2010, I reached my goal of losing 52 pounds.

I’ll be the first to tell you it wasn’t easy, it took hard work and determination for me to meet my goal. I have been maintaining my weight loss for the last 4.5 years and it has been even more challenging to maintain the loss. I keep my eye on the prize of staying healthy, not just for myself but so that I am here for my son. He has watched my transformation that began when he was just two years old and views healthy living, exercise and making good food choices as a way of life.

For me and I think for most people who want to lose the weight, the first thing to tackle is your mental and emotional state of being. In my case, eating provided me with a level of comfort and helped me deal with the depression that encompassed me as a new mother trying to survive in a failing marriage. At the time, all of my friends lived in my computer and although I had a community, nothing beats getting together with people in real life. As my weight loss journey progressed, I found myself returning to my usual gregarious self, venturing out more often with friends and started to become healthy both mentally and physically again.

Transformations are difficult. As much as I wanted it to, my marriage did not survive my return to my true self. However, my life has been forever changed and taken directions that I could not have foreseen. With a renewed sense of self that developed not simply because of weight loss but as a result of healthy living, I have become a successful professional blogger and an active mother. I’ve run 14 half-marathons, a full marathon and am currently training for my second Ragnar relay.

Being healthy is a choice a make on a daily basis. It continues to be a journey but one I am more than happy to embark upon because the gift of good health is the best thing that anyone can ask for and as long as I am able to, I plan on staying healthy!



MomAdvice On the Move: Family Reunions, Vacation Planning,Outdoor Parties, & BlogHer Food

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Photo Credit: Simple Tess

Craving some afternoon reading today? MomAdvice is on the move and I am sharing on a few other sites this week some fun seasonal advice for the summer season!

This week on Goodwill Tips, I am sharing all about the great finds you can grab at your local Goodwill store before heading off on your next vacation. Certainly, thrift store shopping might not come to mind when buying items for your next vacation, but if there is anything I have learned when it comes to saving money, Goodwill is my first stop when I need to do a little shopping for a trip. Swing on over to Goodwill Tips for a list of great items to stock up on for your next vacation.

Over at Kenmore, you will find me dishing about ways I save on outdoor entertaining. Creating an elegant spread on a budget can be challenging, so I’m offering a few tips for making the most of your entertaining budget in the summer months. I am also sharing a fun recipe that can be made in your slow cooker for the big day so you can enjoy time with your friends instead of hovered over a stove all evening.  Get the scoop over at Kenmore on genius ideas for making entertaining easier for your family.

Are you planning a family reunion this year? Be sure to visit my article on Snackpicks to streamline the process of entertaining such a large group.  This article will have you covered from creative invites, to easy recipes, to games that the whole family can do together. Planning a great family reunion does take effort, but it will create a lifetime of memories that your family will long remember. Visit my article for just a few tips to help you plan a successful and memorable family reunion.

I am also on the move, literally,  as I head to Atlanta tomorrow for BlogHer Food. I am so grateful to Walmart for sponsoring my ticket, travel, and accommodations for this conference.  This will be my first BlogHer Food and I am very excited to learn how I can make the Recipe section of our site better for our readers and learn more about food photography, vlogging, and writing. Thank you again to Walmart for making this trip possible for me so I can make this site a better resource.

MomAdvice Is On the Move

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

You may not know it, but May is National Grilling Month! With grilling season in full swing,  I am excited to be sharing a few great tips for getting your grill on through my spokesperson position with Kenmore. This week , I am sharing a fun new recipe to try out on the old barbecue, quick tips for grilling success, and even a little advice on how to keep your grill looking shiny and new. Head on over to visit my tips for summer grilling success this year.

One of my most fun jobs right now is writing for the Goodwill Tips Blog.  If you love our weekly notebook, then I have a feeling that you are really going to love this post on Breathing Life Into Thrift Store Items.  I am highlighting projects past that were featured in our notebook with some key pieces to look for when doing your thrift shopping. I am really proud of this post and always welcome any way that I can showcase what geniuses my blogging friends are!  (Photo Credit: Design Mom)

A little known fact that you may not know about me is that I went to school for food and nutrition during my college days!  That is why I was so excited to be asked to write a piece on Smart Snacking Strategies for the Snackpicks website and share a little bit about smart snacking with their readers. You will find a list of great snacks to keep on hand for this summer when doing your snack stock-ups and a few ideas for implementing smart snacking in your life. At the bottom of the site, you can sign up for coupons and sampling promotions for their products.

Taking Great Pictures: Figuring Out Your White Balance

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Hi! I’m Katie from goodLife {eats} and I’m guest posting today for Amy. I’m not a professional photographer by any means, but I use photography a lot for my blog. With each recipe I post, I include at least 1 photo. Sometimes upwards of 4 or 5. I hope I can share a few tips with you that I’ve learned a long the way that will help improve your photography skills – even if you use a Point-and-Shoot!

Not long ago I had absolutely no idea what terms like shutter speed, ISO, aperture, and white balance meant. I was stuck on “auto” and I spent a significant amount of time post processing my photos until they were to my liking. Surprisingly, (after reading my camera manual – something I should have done in the beginning – and exploring my camera’s menu) I found that I was actually able to adjust a couple of these settings on my basic point-and-shoot to further improve my photos.

I found that while I was using my point-and-shoot camera, the one of the things that made the biggest difference in my photos was moving away from “manual” white balance settings.

Are you confused yet? Are you asking any of the following questions? Read on and I’ll explain!

  • What is White Balance?
  • How do I adjust my white balance?
  • Is this complicated?

What is White Balance?

Simply stated, the colors in the photo will look correct. The image will look how you viewed it with your own eyes (our amazing brain processes and adjusts the color for us), rather than the camera’s guess at what the color temperature is. Color temperature is the comparative warmth or coolness of the white light.

Can you see the difference below? Which one looks more natural to you?

The first photo has that terrible blue cast. It doesn’t make for a very attractive photo. I’m not in love with the shoot either, so it isn’t a big loss. The second photo is a beautiful shot of my daughter. I love the twinkle in her eye and the way she’s not looking straight at the camera, but it’s all yellow. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the white balance custom set for that photo. So that is a disappointment. The third photo was taken with the white balance set to custom (see below for details on how to do that). Combination of great shoot with a cute grin in her lips and natural looking color.

When set to Auto White Balance, the camera just guesses at the color temperature. Sometimes it guesses correctly and other times it doesn’t. An incorrect white balance will leave you with an unnatural color cast, often times yellow or blue, and disappointing pictures – especially if you are photographing people or food.

A blue plate of fettuccini alfredo? Not thanks. I want to see the creamy white sauce. The same holds true for portrait photography as well. I want to capture exactly what my daughter looks like at age 2, because some day I might not be able to remember that anymore.

Is this Complicated

Setting the White Balance might feel clumsy at first. It is definitely an extra few steps that you’ll have to add in your picture taking routine, but I will tell you that it gets easier and becomes routine quickly. Especially, when you see the difference these few steps can make in your photography.

How do I set my White Balance?

Go into your camera’s menu.

Scroll through to find the white balance menu.

Scroll through the different preset options listed in white balance:

  • Auto
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Shade
  • Tungsten
  • Fluorescent (my point and shoot doesn’t have this one)
  • Custom
  • If one of those looks like it will work, based on the lighting I have available, I go ahead and select it. On my point-and-shoot I can look at the screen and see how the image will look with the selection I’ve made. On my DSLR, I have to take a test photo first.

    If I want to custom set my white balance, I select that option. And then proceed with a few more steps. The steps may vary slightly according to your camera, so I recommend looking at your user manual for instructions tailored to you, but this should give you a general idea of how simply it is.

    Take a photo of a plain white sheet of paper. The paper should fill the entire frame of the photo so that only white is showing.

      1. Take a photo of a plain white sheet of paper. The paper should fill the entire frame of the photo so that only white is showing.
      2. Select the white photo as the camera’s reference point.
      3. Begin shooting.
      4. Take a couple of test shots and check them out to see if the colors look right to you. If not, try again

      I hope that makes sense! Give it a go and if it doesn’t make sense or you have a question, let me know and I’ll answer it as best as I can! I hope to see you around at goodLife {eats}, where I share what I find good in the kitchen and in life.

      We would like to thank Katie for sharing her fantastic photography advice with our readers as we finish our last week of home renovations. We encourage you to visit Katie’s beautiful and thoughtful site and are so thankful that she was able to help us with the blog this week!

      Guest Post: Cutting Back in the Kitchen

      Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

      Today’s fabulous guest post comes from Katie at goodLife {eats} who offered to share her thrifty cooking knowledge with my readers today! Thank you, Katie!

      Like most families, our family has finally decided that the time has come for us to start cutting back. That mean fewer unnecessary purchases, buying more of just what we need and not everything we want. I was so inspired when I read about Amy’s No Spend Challenge at Something like that would take some serious working up to for me, but I think I’d like to take on the challenge at some point. Maybe for a week or two at a time before I work up to a full month.

      For me, the hardest aspect of cutting back has been cutting back in the kitchen. Part of what I enjoy so much about cooking and eating is the process of making and trying a new recipe, a new ingredient, or a new flavor combination. Nobody wants to eat boring food, but trying new recipes costs money. It can mean buying new ingredients, not just using the inexpensive basics or what I have on hand. Once in a while I spend money on a new recipe and we decide it didn’t turn out to be something we cared for.

      I’m not telling myself that I’m not allowed to try new recipes or buy new ingredients. But cutting back on just one meal a week would be a step in the right direction and can save a few dollars. Cooking at home is also less expensive. We don’t eat out a lot, but we eat out enough that we have decided that we are going to eat out less often to cut back. Just a few dollars saved from cutting back once a week and eating out less can really add up.

      Once a week I have been trying to come up with a meal based on ingredients that I’ve already got on hand – that can mean leftover ingredients from other recipes I’ve made that week or simply items that I already have in my pantry and freezer. It also means learning even more about how to use spices and flavor accents to their highest potential. It means learning even more how to create interesting flavor combinations with what I’ve got. It means figuring out ways to adapt a recipe with the ingredients I have – figuring out acceptable substitutions instead of going to the grocery store to buy a missing ingredient.

      What it doesn’t mean is eating old standbys over and over. It doesn’t mean eating boring food. It means being inventive – one night a week – with the ingredients I already have. Turning something basic into something more. And in the end, that is one of the things I love most about cooking. The being inventive and trying something new is what excites me. I’ve learned that the process doesn’t always have to cost money. I can learn to be inventive in a frugal way. I’ve learned that cutting back can be a challenge creatively, and the creative challenge is what interests me.

      This week asparagus was super on sale. I had a few leftover spears from a large bunch I’d purchased for another meal. I also had a couple of carrots leftover from the Chicken Pot Pie I made the previous weekend. Stir fry is a great way to stretch out smaller amounts of protein and vegetables. After I had the main ingredients picked out I started to think about what sort of flavor combination I wanted for the sauce – the thing that would tie it all together. This meal turned out really simple, fast, and yummy. This week I learned to appreciate that cutting back can still be fun.

      Chicken and Asparagus Stir Fry in a Honey Ginger Sauce
      a goodLife {eats} creation

      * 1 large chicken breast
      * 8-10 spears asparagus
      * 5 green onions
      * 4 carrots
      * 1 clove garlic, minced
      * 4 Tbs soy sauce
      * 1/3 cooking sherry or chicken broth (or combination)
      * 1/4 c honey
      * 1 1/8 tsp dried ginger
      * 1 Tbs cornstarch
      * 1 Tbs sesame oil
      * sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
      * 2 c uncooked jasmine rice

      Prepare the rice according to package instructions. Combine the soy sauce through the sesame oil in a medium sized container, mixing well. If the chicken is bone in and/or skin on, separate the chicken from the bone and/or skin. Cut chicken into small pieces, slicing it thin and against the grain. Having the chicken slightly frozen helps with cutting thin pieces. Stir the chicken into the sauce, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate it while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

      Wash and peel the carrots. Slice diagonally into bite sized rounds, about a 1/4 inch thick, set aside. Snap the ends off the asparagus. Cut each piece into quarters. Steam the carrots and asparagus together for 4 minutes. Remove immediately and dunk into ice water to stop the cooking process.

      Heat a stir fry pan or other skillet over medium-high heat with a small amount of oil. Saute the garlic for 1 minute; remove and set aside. Turn the heat up to high. Add the chicken and sauce, stirring constantly until the chicken is cooked through. Add the steamed vegetables and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the green onion and cook 1 minute more. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to garnish, if desired. Serve immediately.

      How do you cut back in the kitchen?

      Fall ’09 Fashion: Pretty & Penny-Wise Must Haves

      Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
      photo credit: texantiff23

      Guest Post by Ina S., Co-Founder of M641

      With temps dropping fast and possibly budgets, given the recent round of back-to-school shopping, what’s a frugal fashion-forward mom to do? We picked some key trends straight from the runway that will actually work in your closet and your budget. Here are a few of our fave trends for Fall!

      • Faux – You’ll see faux leather, fur and reptile this season. Pick up a military inspired faux leather jacket or faux fur vest to pair with your favorite fitting jeans or a great pair of faux suede boots.
      • Draped Fabrics – Flowing draped fabrics are a must. And with cardigans everywhere this season, try yours oversized, and wear it belted or unbelted
      • Studs and/or Sequins – You are not going for the blingy look though! Try to think chic rocker-esqe.
      • Surrealism – Bring interest into your outfit by adding texture and intrigue. Find dreamy, earthy, artistic jewelry or accessories. Think of these pieces as conversation pieces!
      • Carry All Purses – Larger purses are in, but not those enormous ones. Conversely, clutches are also very on trend this season.
      • Graphic Tees – Use these pieces as a fun element to your wardrobe for layering. Look for screen print graphics that you connect with personally.
      • Color With Color – Mix purples, reds & gray for Fall 09. Shift your thinking about gray. It’s not drab…it’s classic. This Fall use it as your main backdrop then sprinkle in color by wearing a purple scarf and red nail polish.

      Harness your inner rocker-chick while staying realistic in the overall outcome of your outfit. We love high-waisted (very slimming) leggings paired with a cool graphic tee or tank top and layered up with a swingy cardigan. Change up the look by belting the cardigan with a studded belt. The addition of cool sunglasses and a favorite “it” bag will help you achieve a trendy but functional Fall ensemble.

      When seeking out your new Fall closet additions, a big consideration of course is cost. Another is making your dollar count for something. We put this inspiration board together for you featuring emerging and indie brands. Many of the brands featured here stand for more than just the latest trends. This Fall and Winter you may enjoy investigating lesser-known labels, and along the way find gems that are an extension of your own personality.

      Whether you believe in going green, giving to a greater good or are most interested in looking good, remember to have fun and spend wisely!

      1. Classic Fleur Tee $32.00 by Brooklyn Royalty on Smashing Darling 2. Colorful Leather studded bangles, set of 5 (could break up the set to give as gifts!) $46.00 by Michelle V’s jewelry on Smashing Darling 3. Beyond Basic Black Cardigan $42.99 by on ModCloth 4. Ceramic geode pod pendant $9.00 by Tabmade (Lori Phillips) on Etsy 5. Organic Cowl Neck Dress $70.00 on SPUN 6. Juliette Tassled Tote Bag $94 by Deux Lux on Moxsie 7. Faux Fur Elise Vest $47.99 on ModCloth 8. Vegan Bourbon Street Ankle Boots $49.99 on ModCloth 9. Freedom Waist Jacket by M641

      Guest Blogging Today at, “A Soft Place To Land”

      Thursday, June 4th, 2009

      I was so excited and honored to be asked to guest blog for Kimba at, “A Soft Place to Land.” Kimba is one of my favorite blogging friends and she has been contemplating taking on a No Spend Challenge of her own. She asked me to share my thoughts on our family’s No Spend Challenge to share with her readers today.

      I am so thankful for the opportunity and I hope you can explore her beautiful blog today. It is a treasure to me!

      Guess Who is Guest Blogging for Martha Today?

      Monday, September 8th, 2008

      Well, I may have not been contacted by Martha herself, but I did get contacted by an Editor to guest blog for their Dinner Tonight blog (brought to you by Everyday Food Magazine). I was so thrilled to be asked because I don’t consider myself a foodie. I do try to share recipes though that are easy and fun for families and since we had such similar goals in mind, I knew some of my dishes would fit right in with the magazine’s theme. Please read my entry here for some new recipes for what to do with those rotisserie chickens!

      I really think that this will will be the highlight for my week! The blog will be running guest posts from people that I really admire (here are a few for you to check out) so be sure to check it out this week!

      I have to say, I felt right at home in Martha’s magazine. I just have to convince them that I shouldn’t be a guest and that I should be a full-time resident!

      How to Live More Simply & Why It is Important

      Saturday, September 6th, 2008

      I feel so thrilled to be sharing another amazing article from another amazing blogger. The Frugal Dad has been a source of inspiration to me and I am constantly in awe at all of his great advice. I could go on and on about him, but I think you should head to his site for yourself! He is a great resource for anyone who is trying to live a more frugal & simple life. This guest post was generously shared by Jason, a.k.a. “Frugal Dad.” and we both felt it would be a wonderful addition to my site! When Jason isn’t busy being a husband and father of two kids, he writes about frugal family finance topics at his blog,

      These days there are a lot of arguments being waged on the benefits of paying down debt, buying used cars, paying off mortgages early, and building savings. All of these are noble financial goals, and generally receive positive reinforcement from financial planners in the media. However, there is an element that disagrees with this logic, and they are quick to point out where the mathematics don’t support these life-simplifying steps. This post is aimed primarily at that audience, and for the rest of you, perhaps it will provide some comfort when dealing with these types.

      Excess Material Possessions + Excess Financial Worries = Stress

      Since I know how much you “financial nerds” love formulas, I’ve provided one for you to chew on. I once wrote a post about homeowners paying off their mortgage early, and it was generally well-received. However, I received a number of emails from “financial experts” out there who disagreed with the idea. They were all-too-eager to tell me about the various ways that same money could be earning more in the markets. Maybe so. But their fancy formulas didn’t account for the one variable most important to me at this stage in my life–simplicity.

      How to Live More Simply

      That stress I referred to in the equation above is the result of constant worry over reconciling balances, watching payment schedules, and fretting over the never-ending accumulation of interest, which has a way of cheapening future earnings at a rate faster than inflation. Add to this financial stress the worry of excess things and their storage, protection and maintenance, and you can easily see how too much stuff and too many accounts can lead to an ulcer. So how does one prevent such complication in their lives?

      • Learn to be content. Contentment is a powerful ally of the frugal-minded individual. When we are truly content we have very little that we desire, in terms of material possessions. This contentment keeps us away from stores, catalogs and advertisements.

      • Stop trying to impress other people. Millions of dollars are wasted each year by those trying to play up to the ideals of others. Those who incorrectly believe that material possessions are a symbol of true wealth are on a never-ending quest for something bigger and better, and more expensive. They constantly upgrade their cars, homes, jewelry and clothing in an effort to impress strangers at a red light, many whom they will never meet again, and are likely trying equally hard to impress them.

      • Rid yourself of things acquired merely for status. So you’ve made a decision to live more simply, but what about that Jaguar in the driveway and the “his and hers” Rolex in your sock drawer that are contradicting your new way of life? Get rid of them. I don’t care how you do it. Sell them, give them away as gifts, or donate them to a charity. Just get rid of them. You will be amazed how freeing the experience can be. While I’ve never had a Jag or Rolex to give away, I’ve eliminated some “extras” from my own life and feel much better for it.

      • Consolidate your lifestyle. Do you have six Roth IRA accounts with five different brokerages? Are your insurance policies scattered around three or four different carriers? While there is some benefit in diversification, by going overboard you are adding stress to your life just from the effort required to manage all the various accounts and policies. Consolidate a couple of those accounts, and move your insurance policies to the same provider (assuming you have researched the provider and are confident in their stability). As an added benefit you may find discounts waiting for having multiple policies with the same carrier.

      • Recognize the difference in stockpiling and hoarding. It is prudent to stockpile necessities, particularly when you find a good deal, or receive a discount when buying bulk quantities. However, too much of a good thing becomes problematic when you have to spend time, money and energy just to store the items. After I returned home from school to live with my grandfather we stored a bunch of our stuff for $50-$60 per month in a storage unit. After several months went by it occurred to us that we had not used anything from the storage facility. We saved $600 a year by simply getting rid of the stuff. One less bill and a lot less worry!

      Excess Material Possessions – Ego = Simplicity

      Much has been written about wars with our own egos–I know I’ve lost my share of battles. But when I stop and think about the real reason why I want something I often find that I am simply feeding my own ego. I want others to know that I am successful. I don’t want others to think I am struggling. I fall into the “I work hard, so I deserve it” line of thinking that is a recipe for financial disaster. However, once you are aware of this condition you can begin to take steps to resist the urge to give into your egotistical desires. Try to find the same joy that you once found in things in other areas of your life. Learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and is freely available to anyone willing to look. Go for a walk in the woods, or a barefoot walk in your own backyard. Read a great book. Spend time playing with your children. Volunteer your time to a cause you believe in. Seek out some of life’s many other simple pleasures. All of these things will fill your life in ways things used to, and they can all be done for next to nothing.

      A challenge: Find one thing you’ve been holding on to because it is a status symbol, or a luxury item that you don’t really need. Give it away to a loved one, or a complete stranger, and enjoy the freedom of a simpler life.

      Frugal Family Vacations

      Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

      I know that you all are really going to enjoy this guest post from another one of my favorite bloggers! Stephanie, at Keeper of the Home, has agreed to share her traveling expertise with our readers and I think this post will really help those of you who are planning your family vacations! Be sure to visit her blog for wonderful tips for naturally inspired living for the Christian homemaker.

      If you are interested in submitting a post on frugal living, creative/crafty parenting, or organizing, you can email your entries to me at Please include a bio with a link to your site and (if you would like) a picture of yourself to include.

      If you’re a frugally minded mama like myself, and you and your family have thought of vacationing beyond the local campground, you may be wondering how to go about planning an affordable yet still fantastic family vacation.

      Here are a few things that I have learned in my experience of planning both domestic and international trips:

      General Tips

      Research, research, research!

      This cannot be stressed enough! Do not settle on any tickets or reservations until you’ve researched at least 4 or 5 options.

      Initial research should give you an idea of general flight, hotel, and car prices, as well as the attractions that you are interested in and a skeleton itinerary. Start by using online travel services such as Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline to begin to gauge prices. Use travel sites such as Lonely Planet or Fodor’s to start to get some ideas about the place you will be traveling to, as well as simply googling things like “travel arizona children” or “attractions grand canyon”.

      From here, put together an estimate of what the cost of your trip will be. If it’s coming up too high, consider what areas you can skimp in. For us, we don’t care about fancy accommodations. We would prefer to have more money to allow us the freedom to eat without stress, and do all of the activities that interest us. You may feel differently. What are the priorities for your family?

      Once you’ve worked through these steps, you can get down to business and really dig in to find the absolute best deal on each part of your trip.

      2) Booking together isn’t always cheaper

      Through the travel companies would love to be your one-stop shop by having you book your flight, hotel and car all in a neat and tidy package, you will most likely be missing out on some deals by going that route. If you do some careful comparisons of these “deals” (compared to finding each component of the trip individually), you will see that they really aren’t the deals they’re cracked up to be.

      3) Bidding for a deal

      It’s now become one of the more popular ways to try to find rock bottom deals for traveling. Sites like Priceline and Sky Auction encourage you to either bid against other would-be travelers or to “name your own price”. These sites have the potential to be very valuable to you if:

      • You’ve already done the research and know exactly what a good deal would look like
      • You’ve determined your bottom line. For example, when using Priceline you don’t get to choose your flight time, specific hotel, etc. You set your price, win it, and then find out what you’ve already bought. It’s important to consider these unknown factors, compared to the available deals that you already know are out there, and then you will have the ability to pick and choose whether bidding is worthwhile. If an extra $10 a night is worth it to you in order to know exactly which hotel you will be staying in, set your Priceline limit at $10 below what you’d like to be paying, and resolve to walk away if that bid isn’t accepted.
      • You are very aware of the fees and taxes that will be added on. Always, always check and know exactly what your total costs will be before making any decisions.

      Tips for flights

      • Children under 2 fly free, on a parent’s lap, so plan your dates accordingly if you have little ones nearing their birthday
      • If you can, keep your dates flexible. Often it is cheaper to fly on a Saturday, while the Friday may cost $15 more a ticket. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up fast if you’re buying children’s flights as well. Some travel sites have search options designed to let you search using flexible dates. A great option to use is Expedia (be sure to check the box that says “my dates are flexible”). I just did a sample search on flights from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale in August, and came up with a price range of $191 to $309, within an 11 day span- that’s a big difference!
      • Look at smaller, independent airlines as well (which are usually not included on the major travel site searches). A few examples are:

      • When you find a great deal, snag it! Good deals don’t last for long, and if you wait, you may just miss out (I know this from experience!)

      Tips for Accommodations

      • First, consider the many varied options out there: Hotels, motels, camping, yurts, hostels, house swaps, B&Bs;, etc. There is so much beyond the traditional hotel, and many of the other options are much cheaper, and can even be more enjoyable! Personally, we will be staying in a private room at a hostel in Flagstaff for our upcoming Grand Canyon trip, where we will have kitchen privileges, hot breakfast included, laundry machines and more, for a mere $45 a night!
      • Do consider bidding for hotels on sites like Priceline. I just scored two nights at the Crowne Plaza in Phoenix for $50 a night! Just remember- do your research first!
      • Change it up! When we went to Europe 2 years ago, I found that different types of accommodations were cheaper in different cities. In Rome, we stayed in a very small but lovely private hotel. In Florence, we opted for a camping hostel, where the tents are permanently set up on raised concrete, and include cots and basic bedding. In Edinburgh, we stayed in a quaint Bed & Breakfast, where we had a gorgeous, clean and very large room, delicious hot breakfast (could have done without the blood pudding, though!), for the same price as a private hostel room, and half the price of the cheapest hotels. While living in Japan, we went even cheaper than a hostel and chose to take the train out to the country each night to camp (we carried our tent on the bus we took up to Kyoto).

      Tips for Rental Cars

      • Go with the smallest car that suits your needs. You’ll save on rental costs, as well as gas most likely!
      • Avoid most of the bigger name companies. They tend to be significantly more expensive, unless you come across an amazing deal.
      • Again, try your hand at bidding to “name your own price
      • Compare many sites. In my recent search for the cheapest rental car, my favorite comparison sites were Hotwire, Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and CarRentals. I looked at the individual rental company sites, and generally they weren’t cheaper than the travel sites, with the exception of a few smaller companies that were not always included in the searches. Try Fox, Advantage and Dollar.
      • If you have AAA or BCAA, or even an Entertainment book, check the types of deals and discounts that are offered for members. You may find a free upgrade on a weekly rental, or perhaps a 20% discount, etc. Just make sure you compare it to the other deals out there, as these discounts are usually for the bigger, more expensive companies.
      • Consider whether you need a car at all! Some cities have
        excellent public transit, and if you choose the location of your
        accommodations carefully, you may find that the need for a car just

      Tips for Attractions

      • Get an Entertainment book or online membership! You will find many 2 for 1 entrances to attractions, as well as 2 for 1 entrees at the local restaurants.
      • Look for a city pass. These passes are your entrance ticket to the most popular attractions in a city or area, for a discounted rate. By buying the one pass, you can go to any attraction included over the course of one week (for example- it varies from pass to pass). Some examples are the Seattle CityPass, ShowUp Now for the Phoenix area, and the Go Los Angeles Card. Visit CityPass for several other major North American cities available.

      Tips for Eating Cheaply

      • As mentioned above, the Entertainment book can help you make the best of having to eating out (or depending on your perspective, getting to eat out!) by offering 2 for 1 entrees.
      • Try finding an accommodation that includes a breakfast, or even one that allows kitchen privileges (such as a hostel, or some B&Bs;) or a motel with a kitchenette.
      • If your hotel has a mini fridge, find a local grocery store (which just adds to the experience of visiting a new place), and stock up on breakfast foods (unless included), and lunch and snack foods so that you can brown bag it as much as possible.
      • Bring a stash of easy to carry snacks that your family enjoys. To Arizona, we will be bringing fruit leather or bars, rice cakes, granola bars that are wheat free (as we are all sensitive to wheat), and a box of mineral drinks mixes to add to our water bottles.
      • Bring a water bottle for each family member, and fill them up each time you’re able to. Buy large bottles of purified water from a local grocery store to keep in your hotel room, or the trunk of your vehicle, to do refills.

      Lastly, once you are there and you have done everything you can do to make your trip as affordable as possible, just relax! Enjoy your vacation, knowing that some extra expenses will pop up unexpectedly (as they always do), and choose to cherish every minute of the trip that you have worked so hard to plan and save for!

      Despite how it may appear, Stephanie does not spend most of her time planning vacations! She is blessed to be a wife, mother to two young children, homemaker, and home schooler. In her “spare time” she maintains the blog Keeper of the Home, gardens organically, studies nutrition and natural living, and enjoys cooking up nourishing foods for her family.