Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Planning ahead for a family vacation won’t only help prevent last-minute price gouges and booked up flights and hotels, but can also save families money.
Booking a summer or winter vacation—when children are out of school for a long stretch of time—can be difficult to think of doing months ahead. But a long lead time allows you to plan better and gives you more time to save money.
The average summer vacation for an American family of four costs $4,700, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a fair amount of money to save over a year, and even a lot more over six months.
Here are six ways families can save for a vacation, turning a big expense into smaller chunks of savings that are easier to work into a budget:
Set up a vacation fund.
If you’re already putting money each month into funds for emergencies, household maintenance, college, retirement and other regular needs and goals, then setting up one for vacations should be easy. Or it can feel like another place to put your money before you get to spend what’s left on daily necessities.
If you can afford it, a vacation fund can be an account that you contribute to each month—or annually if you get a bonus at work—and not be something you have to think about. You should still do the fun part of planning a vacation, but put the money in a separate account so you don’t spend it elsewhere.
Just as you’re automatically contributing to a retirement account at work or a college fund through transfers from your checking account, you can do the same with a vacation fund. At the very least, putting aside a few hundred dollars a month for vacations will get you halfway there when the vacation arrives.
Work a side gig for vacations only.
Income from a part-time job or freelance work can be set aside each month to pay for a vacation.
Get the whole family involved. If an 11-year-old girl can make money selling secure passwords for $2 each, chances are your children have some ideas for online businesses they or your family can start to make some extra cash.
You can drive for Lyft for a few hours a week, become a mystery shopper, sell your extra stuff on eBay, babysit, make holiday crafts, tutor or use whatever skills you have to make some money on the side.
Your family can probably find a few places to cut expenses. The cable TV bill, eating out at restaurants and going to the movies can be pared back from most budgets and replaced with cheaper activities. You might be able to save $200 or more each month by cutting expenses.
The difficult part, however, is taking that money that isn’t being spent and putting it aside for a vacation. If you don’t, then the savings can easily be spent elsewhere.
One method is to set up an automatic transfer at the end of each month from your checking account to a savings account set aside for vacations. If you move an extra $200, then be sure you already have at least that much in budget cuts planned for that month, so that the savings move without you realizing it.
If you have any extra money each month or it’s already in your budget, you can pay for most of a vacation months ahead by buying airline tickets, making hotel reservations and reserving a car.
You’ll likely get cheaper rates than if you wait until the last minute to book, and the expenses will be paid once your vacation starts.
Use credit card rewards.
If you have a credit card that offers cash back or rewards points for spending, then those points can often be used for free airline miles, hotel stays and other vacation expenses.
It’s a way to use your daily expenses on a credit card to help pay for the main costs of a vacation. However, be aware that if you’re not paying your credit card bill in full each month and are paying interest or late fees, then they can negate the rewards you’re getting.
My last tip is one that won’t save you an extraordinary amount of money, but can be a fun way to save some extra money for souvenirs or something fun: a change jar. Keep a few jars around the house to put spare change in, and chances are you’ll have close to $50 or so each year to give the kids for pocket change during a trip.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who specializes in personal finance writing. He lives in Concord with his wife and daughter, and enjoys planning and saving for vacations.
How many kids in California have never seen or touched snow before? More than a few, certainly. However, one advantage of California and the Bay Area is that a snow day is a short drive away, and families can be back into T-shirts and coastal weather by dinnertime. Northeastern California has many places where families can enjoy the white stuff without a hotel or a ski pass. Kids will love the chance to go to one of the many great destinations within a three-hour car ride where they can sled, tube, have snowball fights and make some snow angels.Starting with the closest place to play, check out Holidays on the Farm at the Dell’Osso family farm in Lathrop, near Tracy (holidaysonthefarm.com).For $20, you can go down Snow Tube Mountain as many times as you can cram into 90 minutes. There are also zip lines, ice skating (weather permitting), pony rides and a petting zoo. Open until January 2, 2017. Check the website for details.South Bay residents may want to head over to Strawberry and visit Leland Snowplay (snowplay.com).
Get some lodging and make a weekend of it. Enjoy snacks by the fire in the lodge while kids go bananas on the kiddie hill. Older kids can ride mini snowmobiles, and the bigger hills are lift served, so snow bunnies can ride and slide. Excellent weekday rates offer a great excuse for playing hooky from work and school. But don’t wait: Snowplay closes in Tahoe is of course an obvious choice, just three hours from most of the greater Bay Area. Save the heavy spending on ski parks where little ones don’t have much to do, and have some family fun on the cheap at Adventure Mountain (adventuremountaintahoe.com). They sell snow tubes and sleds, but guests can also rent: a two-person sled for $10 a day plus deposit, a tube for $25 a day plus deposit, or snowshoes and poles for $18 a day. It’s just $25 per vehicle (not per person!) for an all-day pass, so cram everyone into the SUV and enjoy. They even have snow bibs, gloves, hats and boots for sale in the lodge in case you forget something at home.
Another Tahoe choice is Soda Springs (skisodasprings.com) near Donner Summit. Folks can ski here, as well as tube and snowboard. There’s even a program for parents ($10) and children ($30) to learn snow sport basics together. Helmets and equipment are included in the price. There is even a super-cool tube carousel.
Right near the Soda Springs park is Tubes R Us tubing center in Kingvale. A bit more low-tech and a bit more budget friendly, it offers groomed tubing runs with a magic carpet lift, as well as a day lodge with a snack bar and store. Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. All-day tickets for ages 6 to adult are $24; kids 5 and under are $8. Half-day session tickets are $18 for adults 13+, $15 for youth 6–12, and $8 for kids 5 and under. Parking fee $10. 53010 Donner Pass Road, Soda Springs. More info: (530) 426-3121. There’s no website, but check out Yelp for reviews.Way out east of Lodi, near Murphy, the central Sierras’ Bear Valley Cross Country & Adventure Company operates groomed sledding and tubing hills for families with children ages 3 and older. Hill access with sled rental $11 per person; with tube rental $16 per person; $2 access fee per non-sledder. You cannot bring your own equipment, unfortunately. Picnic tables, park benches and portable toilets are available. 1 Bear Valley Road, off Highway 4, Bear Valley. More info: (209) 753-2834 or bearvalleyxc.com.
There is also many an option to simply park and play. You won’t find many amenities or sometimes even restrooms, but bring a picnic and your own equipment and save a lot of money at the following snow play areas:
• Donner Summit (near Truckee off I-80)
• Blackwood Canyon (near Tahoe City off Highway 89)
• Carson Pass (off Highway 88)
• Echo Lake (off Highway 50)
• Iron Mountain (off Highway 88 near the Kirkwood ski area)
• Lake Alpine (off Highway 4)
• Meiss Meadow (off Highway 88 near Carson Pass)
• Spicer (off Highway 4)
• Taylor Creek (off Highway 89 near Fallen Leaf Lake)
• Yuba Pass (off Highway 49)
With so many destinations to play, what are you waiting for? Load up the kids in the car, pack a thermos of cocoa and get ready to get frosty. Pro tip: Bring a garbage bag to put wet clothes and boots into when you’re done, and bring some clean, dry layers to change into for the ride home. Your children will love the memories you make playing in the snow.
Haley Reen is a Bay Area-based freelance writer. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with comments.
Our Jewish community in the Bay Area is tremendously diverse in heritage, race and nationality. This selection of books portrays a wide range of families coming together to celebrate a holiday, solve a problem or share a meal. No matter your religious beliefs, you will find some of your traditions and values reflected in these stories.
Chik Chak Shabbat, by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Candlewick; $15.99; ages 3–7; 32 pp.). Goldie cooks a delicious Shabbat dinner every week, and her Asian, Italian, Indian and Latino neighbors join her. When she’s too sick to cook dinner one week, her neighbors save the day bringing food from their own cultures. A delightful celebration with food, neighbors and friends.
Here Is the World, by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal (Abrams; $18.95; ages 4–7; 48 pp.). Take a stroll through a year of Jewish holidays with this book, which combines simple rhymes with detailed pictures. A family introduces their new baby to each of the holiday traditions and tells her that the world is “spinning with joy at the wonder of you.”
Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup, by Pamela Mayer, illustrated by Deborah Melmon (Kar-Ben; $7.99; ages 5–8; 32 pp.). Like many kids, Sophie is a mix of two cultures. Her bubbe makes Jewish chicken soup with kreplach, and her nai nai makes Chinese chicken soup with wontons. She brings her grandmas together, and they discover that their soups are not really so different—and that love is the most important ingredient in both dishes.
Hannah’s Way, by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Kar-Ben; $7.95; ages 6–9; 32 pp.). Hannah is new to her school, and she’s worried that she won’t get to go to the class picnic. Because she is an Orthodox Jew, she is not allowed to ride in the car on the Sabbath. Hannah is surprised when her entire class offers to walk there with her instead, and she finally starts to feel included in her new town.
Hanukkah Hop, by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Steven D’Amico (Simon & Schuster; $12.99; ages 3–8; 32 pp.). Get ready to boogie with Rachel and her family at their Hanukkah hop party. The klezmer band arrives and everyone dances until they drop. The balloons pop, the lamps tip over and the guests are so tired that they have to spend the night. Kids will love the lively rhymes and celebratory pictures.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel, by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by David Slonim (Arthur A. Levine; $17.99; ages 4–8; 32 pp.). This lively book is based on the “I Know an Old Lady” song. In this version, the old lady swallows a dreidel, oil, latkes, a menorah and more, and each time her family worries that “perhaps it’s fatal.” Each page is illustrated in the style of a different famous artwork, including Starry Night, The Scream, and American Gothic.
Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed, by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates (Candlewick; $16.99; ages 5–8; 40 pp.). Who’s ever heard of a cat writing music? Well, Moshe’s cat Ketzel pranced across the keys, composed an award-winning 21-second piece of music and pulled Moshe out of his own composing slump. This beautiful picture book is based on a true story.
Potatoes at Turtle Rock, by Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman, illustrated by Alex Steele-Morgan (Kar-Ben; $17.99; ages 5–8; 32 pp.). On a cold Hanukkah night, Annie leads her family around in the woods near their home as they use potatoes to stay warm and then to make a menorah, celebrating their own special tradition. At their last stop, they turn the potatoes into a delicious treat, make snow dreidels and say a holiday prayer.
Shanghai Sukkah, by Heidi Hyde, illustrated by Jing Tsong (Kar-Ben; $17.99; ages 5–9; 32 pp.). Can Sukkot be the same in Marcus’ new city? His family has moved to Shanghai to escape the Holocaust, and he lives in a crowded building with many other families. Marcus celebrates the Moon Festival with his new friend Liang, and then gets a big surprise on Sukkot. This book shows a positive side to a difficult time in Jewish history.
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House; $16.95; ages 4–7; 32 pp.). The latke smells coming from Bubba Brayna’s house are so enticing that a bear knocks on the door. Bubba Brayna can’t hear or see very well, and so she thinks the bear is the rabbi. When everybody arrives for Hanukkah dinner, the children discover that instead of feeding the rabbi, Bubba gave all the latkes to a bear instead!
Allyson Bogie is the librarian at Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito, CA, and loves visiting her local public library with her two young children. Allyson and her family are Jewish, and these books are approved by her Hanukkah-loving 5-year-old.
Mary Ann Scheuer is the librarian at Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books: greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.
Oaklander Lucille Lang Day announces the November release of her children’s picture book The Rainbow Zoo. With lavish illustrations by Hayward artist Gina Aoay Orosco, the book takes children on a tour of a special zoo where the animals are wild colors: like the saffron cow (possibly an acknowledgment of how India holds the cow sacred, and also uses saffron in much of its cooking?) and the indigo frogs. Let’s not even get started on the plaid hot dogs!
“To me, the diversity element is implied in the book: we needn’t have preconceptions about what color living beings ‘should’ be, and whatever color they are, they are fun, beautiful, and special,” says Day. “I hope that young readers will feel that way about both animals and people. My first children’s book, Chain Letter, also had an implicit message. The text of that book is a humorous chain letter, and the message is that superstition is silly.”
Besides an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University, Day has an M.A. in zoology from UC Berkeley: this book pretty nicely teams her two interests! “I wrote The Rainbow Zoo after a visit to the Oakland Zoo with my grandchildren,” says Day.
She was also the director of the Hall of Health, a museum in Berkeley for 17 years. “It was sponsored by Children’s Hospital, and, sadly, closed in 2009,” she adds. “Anyhow, we saw a lot of children on school field trips!”
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
Arcades are wonderful, except the quarters never last as long as you think they should. Enter the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, where you pay a flat fee upon entry and all the machines are set on “free play.” Kids 12 and under pay an astonishingly-low $10 to play all day on 100 machines. Besides the sheer joy of access to the machines, the museum stresses an educational mission: “To teach science, art and history through pinball, and to preserve and promote this important part of American culture. “ The museum is looking to expand STEAM classes and traveling exhibitions.
Check out a special event Nov. 11-13, the “Shoot the Moon: the Return of the Pacific Pinball Expo,” with a VIP event the evening of the 10th. This takes place off-site, at a storage facility at Alameda Point, at 1680 Viking St. The VIP event includes open bar and a silent auction, among other goodies. (510) 769.1349, 1510 Webster St. in Alameda. www.pacificpinball.org. Open daily except Mondays and holidays; check website for hours.
Admission: Family All Day Pass: $50 (2 Adults & 2 Kids 12 and under); Adult All Day Pass: $20; Children 12 and under: $10 (Flat Rate, good for All Day); Students, Military, and Over 65: $15 (with valid ID); Adult One Hour: $10 (No “In and Out” privileges)