Q. We are trying to feed my family a healthier, organic menu, especially when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables. But it’s making us go broke because organic costs so much. Are there ways to save in this area?
–Samantha and Ted from Riverside, CA via facebook
Ellie: Yes, according to the USDA organic can cost as much as 50% to 100% more than non-organic. When it comes to fresh produce, spend your “organic” dollars on those products you have higher levels of pesticide residue, even after washing—such as any kind of berries, apples, potatoes, cherries and grapes. Then you could go with non-organic for pineapples, bananas, mangos, broccoli, onions, cauliflower and corn. Or, try to buy from Farmers Markets and local farms, for a list of organic farms, go to localharvest.org . When it comes to other products, look for store brand organics, buy in bulk or go to couponmom.com to find deals in your area on organic products.
Q. My husband says it’s going to be cheaper to drive from New York to our timeshare in Florida because there are fewer flights and the price of airline tickets is going up this summer. Once we get to Florida, we don’t need a rental car as everything is within walking distance and we’re mainly spending our time at the beach. By the time we pay for one night’s hotel each way on the drive down, I think it’s going to be much cheaper to fly. My husband said he’d go with your opinion.
–Al and Sharon from Oxford, NY via online contact form
ELLIE: Wow, no pressure here! It’s going to be pretty easy for you to calculate who is right. Just go to CostToDrive.com to calculate the mileage, gas, travel time and carbon footprint of anywhere in the US. You’ll also need to go to hotels.com to add that expense to your total. Then, go to bookingbuddy.com to find the best price on airfare. This site will compare the prices from other travel sites such as expedia, orbitz, Travelocity, cheaptickets and more. Do the math and the winner has to buy the loser an iced tea once you get there!
Q: We’re taking a big vacation to New York City later this summer and I’m really looking forward to it. We want to see some broadway shows while we are there. On one hand, I want to make sure we get tix for the nights we’re there at the shows we want to see, but on the other hand, I don’t want to pay full price. Should I buy the tix beforehand or should I take a chance and go to the Times Square half price ticket booth once I get there?
–Audrey Dixson submitted via Online Contact Form
Ellie: Congrats, Audrey on an upcoming cool trip. I LOVE New York and try to go to the theater every time I’m there! If you go to the half price ticket booth, you’re going to save 50% but chances are good you’re going to “invest” about 3 hours of your time (or more) traveling to Times Square earlier in the day and waiting in line. Then, there aren’t any guarantees the show you want to see will be listed. You also have to pay cash. On the other hand, you can save 40 to 50% by buying your tickets online at broadwaybox.com or goldstar.com, which is where I always buy my tix. Most of the time I’m saving at least 40% (instead of the 50% I’d save at the half price tix booth). This translates into me paying $10 more per ticket. I also save three hours of my time in NYC. I figure my time is worth more than $3.33 per hour! So buy online and enjoy the show!
Q. What do you think of prepaid hotel rooms—the kind that are non-refundable? Is it worth it to “invest” in one of these ahead of time to save money? Or should I just wait until I get there and look around for the best deal?
–Moriah Stephens from Allentown, PA
Ellie: I’ve purchased the prepaid rooms and it’s a good deal when: 1) rooms are going to be scarce or at a premium—such as a convention, sporting event or graduation and 2) the savings is at least 30%. To comparison shop, you can go to hotels.com, priceline.com and travelzoo.com.
Q. For the last few years, we’ve always bought the entertainment book that has coupons for restaurants, sporting events, oil changes, dry cleaning and more. We pay $35 for the book and I’m not sure it’s worth it because I don’t think we’re really using it that much. Do you buy these books?
–Mike from Mechanicsville, VA via Ellie Kay’s blog
Ellie: Right now, Mike, you can get the 2010 book (which expires at the end of this year) for free when you reserve a 2011 book. If you use just one of the buy one/get one free coupons for dinner at an upscale restaurant, then it has paid for itself. Most offer $12,000+ in values and if you only use 1% of that, you’ve saved $120—less the $35 price of the book for a total savings of $85. Keep the book in your car, check it religiously and save righteously!
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)