Jun 26 2012

Getting the most out of our zoo and park memberships


Our family has two annual passes to area attractions: Conner Prairie and the Indianapolis Zoo. The former was a Christmas gift and the latter I purchased with my birthday money.

We want to get the most out of our memberships, so we’re going to…

  • Go often! Hah! We’ve been to the zoo once already and are planning another trip today while the weather is still nice. Later in the week, ugh. Here comes summer. We’ll have free parking and THIS time, I’ll bring snacks and our own water to enjoy in the picnic area instead of paying inflated convenience prices. $3/bottle of water? Really!?
  • We’re spreading around the fun stuff so we’ll have new things to see and do on each trip. We haven’t done any of the train rides, carousel, roller coaster, or any of those extras. We haven’t seen all shows or all exhibits yet.
  • It would take like 3.5 visits of just me and the kids (Vivie would be free until her birthday in 6 months) or 2.5ish visits of all four of us to equal the price of membership (plus we’d have to pay for parking at $5 or $6 per time). Not bad. I’m hoping to go a few times per month in the summer and then a few more times in the fall when the weather cools off. We should be able to go on reasonable winter days, too, because there are several indoor exhibits and some brisk air might do us some good.

The Indy Zoo doesn’t have a reciprocal membership which is a bummer. But, we can get into the White River Gardens next door for free so that’s something. We can also get a $5 off discount on a new membership to another area museum, so we might do that later.

They do have one discounted day per month if we wanted to go then, without a membership in future years. I’m not sure if it’s crowded then, but I’d expect so.

We went to Conner Prairie for the first time as a family over the weekend. I wasn’t sure how the kids would react, but they had fun walking around and seeing the sights. We’ll go at least once more this summer, but perhaps twice and maybe a time in the fall when the weather cools a little.

Conner Prairie has a reciprocal program with the Smithsonian affiliates and also the Time Travelers which would get us free or discounted admission to other attractions. I’m not sure if local attractions are excluded or if they’re eligible, but I’m looking into it.

I love the idea of memberships because they help support these organizations and the work that they do for the public. Plus, having a membership somewhere does indeed encourage me to go more often than I otherwise would. When I shared a Carnegie Museum membership with my friend in Pittsburgh, we went to all four museums together and again separately with our families. It was an awesome deal and I’m so glad we did that. It only worked because all of our children were under 3 at the time.

There are a LOT of museum attractions here in Indianapolis and over the next decade I hope to go to all of them with my kids. I wish there was some sort of passport program where you can go to a lot of different museums just once each, but there doesn’t seem to be anything like that.

I haven’t looked over Entertainment Book (or similar) offerings to find discounted tickets yet. Locals, know of any way I can save?

How do you save on museums and attractions in your area?

May 01 2012

How to take a break from being frugal


Pinch The Penny

Feeling frugal fatigue? Getting tired of watching every penny? Feeling like you’re not really making progress?

It’s ok to take a break. Seriously. I’ve been there, and in some ways I’m there now.

Remind yourself of your financial goals.

Maybe it’s a pesky credit card debt that you want gone forever. Perhaps you need to finish your emergency fund. Or, you’re saving up for a  ____________ .

Whatever it is, remind yourself of why you’re trying to be frugal in the first place.

If you don’t have any major pressing financial goals, it can be hard to stick to a budget. If you’re already debt-free, have a decent cash cushion, and are saving enough for retirement, you might be wondering — What’s next? Why should I still try to save a buck if I don’t have to?

Well, in a word, freedom. Even if you don’t have major financial goals today, we can’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Unexpected medical expenses pop up. Things break or need repaired. And sometimes, we’re presented with an opportunity to go on a nice vacation, if only we had money available. It’s reasonable to stay the course with your financial plan. And it’s also ok to loosen up a little.

Our big financial goal right now is to max out both of our IRAs for 2012.

If you’re pinching pennies so hard that Abe Lincoln is calling, “uncle!” by necessity, it can be even more difficult to safely take a break.

Determine why you’re feeling frugal fatigue.

Are you depriving yourself of something you enjoy?

  • Maybe you love going out to restaurants on a regular basis, but have cut back.
  • Maybe you are tired of your bare-bones menu plan and are feeling uninspired in the kitchen.
  • Maybe you could use a new (and not second-hand, for once) outfit.
  • Maybe you need a little weekend getaway.
  • Maybe you’re sick of wearing shirts twice between washes, or line-drying everything.
  • Maybe your home is too cold or too hot for your liking, in the name of a lower energy bill.
  • Maybe you don’t want to reuse any more zip-lock bags.
  • Maybe you’d like to flush the toilet more often, instead of playing by the “if it’s yellow…” rule
  • Maybe you just want to go shopping, and not worry about coupons or sales

(I’ve done all of those above things in the name of being frugal, and have re-evaluated my practice of most of the above!)

Whatever it is, decide where you’re feeling too pinched.

Look at your overall budget and see if there are areas where you can cut back and not feel that pinch.

If you’re already meeting your overall financial goals, what would happen if you scaled it back a little? Say, not throw as much money into savings each month, and use it for fun stuff instead.

What would happen? Would you be in a bind, or would you have the wiggle-room needed to keep on saving something?

Sometimes, I think we’re too hard on ourselves. I think we compare our finances to someone else’s, and we feel we’re not measuring up. “If Lou-Lou only spends $xx at the supermarket for her family of 14, how come I struggle to spend $xxx for my family of  4?” and so forth.

Can you allocate your Swagbucks or MyPoints gift card earnings for something fun?

Cut back on your goal for a set, short period of time to give yourself a break.

Take a month off. Pay your bills as normal, but loosen up a little on your extra spending. To protect yourself from yourself, definitely consider going cash-only during this time so you don’t regret it later. Or, go cash-only for a certain category of spending if that’s easier.

Say you’re regularly putting $x in savings each month. Instead of saving it, spend it on whatever you want. Take a break. Feel no guilt.

The point I’m trying to make is this: Our finances aren’t determined by what we do with one or two paychecks; they’re determined by our long-term habits.

If our current budget is causing us to resent the whole process, we’re in danger of throwing it all away (or at least being really cranky for awhile). Instead, I’m proposing loosening it up for a short time to give yourself a break.

Throw laundry in the dryer! Flush that toilet! Go out to dinner! Turn on your AC!

You may get to the end of your break and notice you still are actually meeting all of your financial goals, and there’s no need to carry on with your grueling pace.

Or, you may find that yeah, you do need to be tough with the budget for awhile to get the numbers to work out. If that’s the case, then congratulate yourself for doing the hard work necessary to meet your goals.

A periodic break probably won’t hurt and it might help you stay the course for the long haul.

For more on the topic, check out the post I wrote earlier in my financial journey about no more deprivation in the name of being frugal.

Finally, to help ward off frugal fatigue on down the road, perhaps you can revamp your budgeting process. Automate as much as you can — do online bill pay for your regular bills, auto-transfer money to savings sub-accounts and retirement, and so on.

How about you? Have you ever gotten tired of being frugal? What did you do about it?

[This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance at Money Talks]

Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (8), Vivienne (6) and Amelia (3) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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