Your Summer Savings Questions: Drive or Fly? What’s SHARE? Kids & Budgets?

I recently appeared on ABC NEW NOW and answered your questions on summer travel, budgeting, SHARE for groceries and more!

Q. A friend of mine is in a part of a food co-op called SHARE and she gets $45 worth of food for $20. How do these co-ops work and do you think that they can save you money on your grocery bill?
Angie from Temple, TX via facebook

Ellie: S.H.A.R.E has been out there for quite a few years and our family even participated with this when we lived in New York. SHARE is an acronym for Self-Help and Resource Exchange – is a program where people get a break on their grocery bills by exchanging volunteer time for the opportunity to buy affordable food. For each package of food purchased, we simply ask for two (2) hours of “good deed” time, whether at SHARE, other institutions in your community, or your own neighborhood. Food packages (worth up to $45) offer meats, fresh fruits and vegetables and grocery items. The price you pay is based on what you select from the menu but you can generally save about 50%. SHARE purchases the food from growers, brokers and packaging plants and is never donated, government surplus, or salvage. Just google “SHARE” and your city to find the program in your area.

Q. We’re driving from Arizona to Louisiana for a family reunion. It’s just me and my wife, how do I tell if it’s going to be cheaper to drive or to fly this summer?
Al from Scottsdale, AZ via online contact form

ELLIE: That’s a good question, Al, because if you were going solo, it would definitely be cheaper to fly. But the way to figure the costs is to first do a mapquest to get the exact number of miles you would cover in a car. Figure your gas mileage and divide it by the total number of gallons by getting the price for gas at gaspricewatch.com. Multiply the number of gallons you’ll use by the average price per gallon and be sure to add the cost of a hotel in case you need an overnight stay. Then go to bing.com to look at the predicted costs of flights or go to bookingbuddy.com to see the average price of flights. You also need to factor in whether you’ll need rental car if you fly. Once you compare air fare versus driving, don’t forget to factor in the time off work it costs you to take the extra two days (or more) to drive.

Q: I read on your blog, Ellie, that you can purchase gift certificates at sites like restaurant.com. You said that when they run on sale, you can get a $25 restaurant certificate for $2. Are there any restrictions or stipulations we should keep in mind when purchasing these?
Steffy, Birmingham, AL submitted via facebook

Ellie: When you go to restaurant.com, you’ll see that the restrictions vary from restaurant to restaurant. But all the stipulations are listed on the website before you. Most will not add in the alcohol to the minimum purchase and almost all will add an 18% gratuity based on the price BEFORE the certificate, just to make sure the server gets their full tip. So be careful not to double tip (adding yet another 15% to 20%) when you get the bill. You usually have to buy $35 in food to use the $25 gift certificate. You have up to twelve months to use the certificate. But if you do the math and if you spend the minimum $35, adding the 18% tip, then you’re paying $42 before the gift certificate and $17 afterward. Add in the $2 you paid for the certificate and you’ve paid around $19 for a $42 tab, which is a savings of over 50%.

Q. We are newlyweds and we’re trying to pay cash or debit for groceries, gas and entertainment, but still seem to go over budget. Do you have a secret for tracking how much we’re really spending? There are two of us and we don’t always know what the other is buying and before we know it, we’re over budget.
Joshua & Emmy from Fort Bragg

Ellie: My husband, Bob and I had this same problem when we were first married as well. It can get complicated when one partner is buying groceries and the other also stops in to get some essentials on the way home from work. Even though you may not be duplicating purchases (getting two gallons of milk instead of one), you may be overspending at the store, unaware of what your partner is spending. The easy solution is to get the cash you’ve budgeted for the week and put it in an envelope marked food, gas, entertainment. When you know you’re going to need gas on the way home from work, get money from the appropriate envelope. With both partners taking cash from the same source, you’ll soon see how quickly you’re getting to your stopping point and you’ll be able to more easily track your spending.

Q. We have three children ages 6 to 10 and when we go out to eat, they want to order the most expensive thing on the menu. Sometimes our eight year old has a more expensive meal than his father, and he never finishes it! How do we keep our kids on a budget so that we can afford to eat out more often?
Samantha Evans from San Diego

Ellie: I think that it’s important to get the kids in on the process of economizing and you can do it in a fun way. First, call a family meeting and discuss the fact that when you go out to eat (or to a movie, the zoo or a theme park) that you’re going to give each child a fun budget. You’ll pay for the outing, but they have an amount they need to stick to. If they come in under budget, they get to keep the extra money. That’s what makes it fun. When we did this with our kids, it was amazing how they suddenly wanted to order water instead of soda and eat ice cream at home instead of in the restaurant.

Happy Savings!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
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