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In the classic Christmas movie National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation, Clark Griswold’s mother-in-law nags Clark for spending so much on Christmas lights calling them a “…a silly waste of resources…” I have embedded the scene below in case you would like a refresher. This got me wondering, just how much did Clark spend on all those Christmas lights anyway? What about LED Chistmas lights, would those have saved Clark money? If you are a fan of Clark Griswold and pointless math like I am then lets figure it out together.
Clark used 250 strands with 100 bulbs per strand, similar to these best selling Christmas lights on Amazon for $9.38 per strand. Buying 250 of those suckers would have run Clark $2,345. Ouch, that is a lot.
The movie shows the electric meter spinning wildly when the house is finally light up, but in reality it’s not nearly that bad. In this article on clarkhoward.com last Christmas, I figured a strand of lights would run a heavy user about $1.11 per strand for the whole Christmas season. That isn’t as bad as the movie depicts, but that is still going to run old Mr. Griswold $277.50 in extra electricity bills for the Christmas season.
So it costs Clark Griswold $2,622.50 in the first year to have his Christmas lights. A silly waste of resources? Well…. maybe. But maybe it is worth it for the joy it brings his neighborhood.
What if Clark has used LEDs
Clark using high efficiency LED Christmas lights would have kept him from blacking out the rest of the neighborhood, but would it have saved him money? This set of solar powered 100 LED Christmas lights will cost you $10.99 per strand on Amazon, but the electricity is free since they are solar powered.
250 strands at $10.99 per strand will cost a total of $2,747.50. That is $125 more than the plain old incandescent lights.
That’s just the first year, what about the long run
One of the great things about LED bulbs is how long they last compared to old fashioned bulbs. How long do regular Christmas lights last? Three years maybe?
LED bulb manufacturers claim their bulbs will last almost forever, but that’s overly optimistic in my opinion. Lets assume with the wear and tear of taking those lights up and down every year they last 9 years.
If those assumptions are true, Clark would have saved a ton of money over those 9 years with the LED bulbs. Replacing incandescent lights 3 times over a 9 year period would have cost Clark a whopping $7,035! The electricity costs would have really added up too. The power bill would have been $2,498 over those nine years. That is a total cost of $9,533 over nine years, or an average of $1,060 per year. When you put it those terms, Christmas lights don’t seem like such a silly waste of resources after all.
The LED bulbs on the other hand, would have been practically a steal. Those 250 strands of LEDs would have stayed at $2,748 in expense over the 9 years, and those solar panels would have kept the power bill at 0. That means the average cost of LED Christmas lights amortized over a nine year period is a fairly reasonable $307/year. Over the course of 9 years Clark would have saved a total of $6,785.
Wow! The next time my Christmas light bulbs start to go bad, I will be going with LEDs.
Now, to get everybody in the Christmas spirit, let’s enjoy Clark’s light show.
I have looked forward to taking my kids to the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World ever since they were born, but because it is such an expensive trip I didn’t get around to it until my oldest child was 9. One of my oldest friends was getting married in Orlando, so since I was going to be in the area anyway, I took that as my opportunity to take my wife, 2 kids, and mother to Disney World.
To start with we talked about all the things we wanted to do. We had seven days to fill with fun and these were the things we picked out:
1. Visit all 4 of the main theme parks at Disney World
2. Visit Universal Studio’s theme park.
3. Visit Sea World and swim with the dolphins.
4. Spend a day at the beach.
When I looked at all the ticket prices, I noticed something interesting. Disney World tickets are sold in packages by the number of days you want to spend there. A one day ticket is expensive at more than $100 for an adult. What is interesting though is the incremental price for each additional day is much lower. That is to say that the price per day goes down significantly for each extra day you are there.
That meant that going to Disney for 6 days was much cheaper than going to Disney for 4, Universal Studios for 1 and Sea World for 1. We decided to go to Disney for six days, plus go to the beach for a day. We missed out on the other parks this way, but we will be back some day, and will see the other parks then.
Now that I knew what we were going to do, I wanted to see if I could save a bit more by finding a way to save on those 6 day Disney World tickets. I searched the web for days, and the lowest price I could find was from www.mousesavers.com . They made it a real hassle to buy the tickets. First, you had to sign up for their newsletter, then you had to wait until they emailed the newsletter to you next month. Once you go the newsletter, it contained a link where you could find their discount tickets. The savings were pretty small, so I came up with another option.
I have a Target Red Card, which gives me a 5% discount at all Target stores. Target sells Disney gift cards in their stores, so you can buy $1457 worth of Disney gift cards for $1,384, a savings of $73. Because this $73 discount was more than I could save buying my tickets through mousesavers, I used the gift card trick.
Another option was to buy Disney tickets through the AAA auto club. This wasn’t much of a discount, but if you bought tickets through them you got access to “diamond parking”. As it turns out, it didn’t appear to me that “diamond parking” was any better than normal parking, so I wouldn’t bother buying through AAA unless you can find a significant discount there.
I mentioned earlier that our original plan was to stay at a hotel right on the Disney World, property, but that turned out to be very expensive. The cheapest option was to stay at a campsite for about $80 per night, but that wasn’t for us. We wanted accommodations that were a little more comfortable since we were going to be staying for a full week. The least expensive hotel option on Disney World property was about $100/ night. Oddly, Disney doesn’t make it very easy for families of five to visit. Almost all of their hotel rooms only fit families of 4, and all of those were much more expensive than $100/ night. That meant we would have to spend $200/ night on hotels, which would be $1400 for seven nights. Ouch! It was time to look for another option.
My favorite website for finding a place to stay is Airbnb.com . Instead of looking for normal hotels, it is a website for bed and breakfasts, vacation homes for rent, and even sometimes people who just rent out single bedrooms in their homes for a little extra cash. On Airbnb.com, I was able to find a 3 bedroom vacation home with a pool that was only about 10 minutes away from Walt Disney World for about $70/ night. That saved me $130/ night for a total of $910 for the week.
Besides the money, renting a house turned out to be a great idea for other reasons. It allowed us to save money on food (more on that later), having a 3 bedroom was much more comfortable than having 5 people in 2 hotel rooms as I am sure you can understand, and the kids loved having a private swimming pool. I will suggest that when looking for a place to stay, you be as close to Disney World as you possibly can if you have young children. My kids needed an afternoon nap every day since they were playing so hard and staying up so late, so leaving the park, driving a long way to your hotel, then driving a long way back after nap time is over would eat up a lot of time each day. (more on nap time later)
Meals at theme parks are not a great deal. Because they have a captive audience, they can charge high prices. The average cost of a basic meal was around $10, and even somebody who is fluent in the Art of Being Cheap will have a hard time finding meals for less than $5/ person. For people who stay at Walt Disney World hotels, a dining plan is available that is a much better deal than buying all your food individually, but we have discussed before how staying at a Walt Disney World hotel wasn’t for me. So $5/ meal X 3 meals per day X 6 days X 5 people = $450.
This is where it was nice to have a full kitchen back at the rental house. We would get up early, have some breakfast and get to the park before it opened. The parks were the least busy early in the morning and we were able to ride the most popular rides before long lines had a chance to form. We would have some lunch at the park, but by about 2-3 pm, we were all pretty tired. Besides being tired, Central Florida gets pretty hot in the middle of the afternoon, and this is the time of the day when the parks are the most crowded. Tired, hot, and standing in long lines is not my idea of a good time so we would go back to our vacation home for a few hours every afternoon. We would grab a quick nap then fix dinner and eat at home before heading back to the park completely refreshed for an evening full of fun. When we first got to Orlando we went to the grocery store and got enough food for 2 meals a day for 7 days, which came out to about $100. $100 in groceries + 1 meal per day at the park at $5/ meal X 6 days X 5 people comes out to $250, a savings of $200 with the added benefit of a nap thrown in. In addition, I used a Disney gift card from Target on the meals I bought at Walt Disney World (not the groceries) and $50 worth of souvenirs I bought at the park. That 5% discount on $300 was another $15 in savings.
Bonus Tips- Skip the lines at Disney World
This won’t save you money, but if you believe that time is money then I cannot recommend strongly enough that you use touringplans.com . A 1 year subscription costs $12, but it is the best $12 you will spend on your trip to Disney World.
When I think of when my parents took me to Disney World when I was a kid I remember how much fun I had, but I also remember waiting in long lines for hours and hours. My kids won’t remember those long waits, because they never had to wait more than 20 minutes for even the most popular rides. When you sign up for touringplans.com , they make a schedule for you by having you select all the rides you want to go on at a park. The site then uses a fancy computer algorithm to calculate what rides you should go on in what order based on estimates of how busy all the rides will be at all times of the day. It also schedules when you should get fast passes to come back later and when you should wait in line. I would also recommend getting the free touringplans.com app for your smart phone, which uses actual current wait time information to adjust your schedule throughout the day.
The downside of a touring plan is that young children don’t really understand how complex computer algorithms work, so my kids would complain when I wouldn’t let them stop at every fun activity they came across and just explained that they could come back to it that evening. After a while, I got tired of the complaining, so I let them see what it was like to wait in a long line in the Florida heat for a ride. That convinced them that Daddy’s schedule wasn’t so bad after all.
If you have questions, comments, or hints about taking a trip to Walt Disney World I would love to hear from you below.
I’m normally not the kind of guy that goes around saying no to $200 checks, but this week I got pretty upset at my insurance company when they tried to give me money. I refused the check and am happy I did. No, I haven’t gone crazy, and I might have saved myself a nice little amount of money. Here is the story.
The CLUE report
The reason I refused to take the money is because of a little known report called the CLUE report. A CLUE report is like a driving record for your homeowners insurance. Just like a speeding ticket on your driving record can increase your auto insurance, a red mark on your CLUE report can be bad news for your homeowner’s insurance. Trying to keep my CLUE report nice and clean is how this whole story happened.
When my tenant alerted me to some water damage in the garage of the rental home I own I went to check it out. I saw there was some damage to the roof above the garage along with the ceiling to the garage. I didn’t want to report this to my insurance company unless I really had to, so the first person I called was a contractor friend of mine.
The contractor took a look even though roofs and ceilings weren’t exactly his speciality and advised me that the damage was bad enough I should have an insurance adjuster look at it. This turned out to be bad advice, but it is exactly what I did.
I called my insurance agent and the first question I asked was whether my CLUE report would be hit, if I just had an the insurance agent have a look and give me an estimate. My agent assured me it wouldn’t count against me unless I filed a claim, so I went ahead and scheduled an appointment.
My deductible is $1,000, so the bill would have to be fairly high before it made sense to make a claim. When the insurance adjuster took a look, he estimated the damage at less than $1,000. Good news! Not very friendly to my wallet, but at least it wouldn’t damage my standing with the insurance agency. I told the adjuster to just forget about the whole thing and I would pay for everything out of my own pocket.
I called a roofing company, and sure enough they fixed everything up for quite a bit less than my $1,000 deductible. I thought I was over and done with this project, but then something scary happened.
Early this week a check for $200 showed up in my mailbox from the insurance company. I was really confused, but according to the paperwork somebody had decided the damage I had suffered was worth $1,200, so they wrote me a check for the difference between the $1,200 in damage and my $1,000 deductible.
I got angry and called my insurance company and told them I didn’t want their $200 because of the additional premiums I would have to pay after it hit my CLUE report. They assured me if I gave them the check back they would cancel the claim so there would be no harm done. I handed the check over as fast as I could.
Filing a claim on your homeowners insurance might get you a check, but will lead to bigger premiums down the road. Make sure that check is worth it. Don’t file small claims to get small checks that will be eaten up by big premium increases next year.
I like to raise my premium to $1,000 so I won’t be tempted to make a claim. If a claim will be just a little more than your deductible, it isn’t worth it. Don’t make a claim unless it will get you a big check that will amount to more than how much your premiums will rise.
Saving up Kroger fuel points to get big discounts on gas is a great way to save money, especially if you buy gift cards to get bonus points. Some people take it to the next level to squeeze every penny of savings out of that gas pump they can. Here is how you can do it to.
Getting the most for your money
I was in a friends garage a while back and noticed he had an unusual number of gas cans laying around. I asked him what all the tanks were for, and he explained the trick to me. He saves up his Kroger fuel points until he qualifies for a dollar off, then goes to fill up.
When you are getting your dollar per gallon discount Kroger lets you buy up to $35 gallons, which is quite a bit more than most people’s cars can hold. So if your car only takes 15 gallons to fill up, you are missing out on $20 in discounts.
You can probably see how my friends trick works with the gas cans now. He brings a few extra gas cans in the trunk of his car, and when his car is full, he starts filling those up. He keeps going until he has purchased the full 35 gallons and gotten the full $35 discount.
I over the last year I noticed a few other friends had large numbers of gas cans in their garages and asked them about it. Sure enough, they were pulling the same trick.
The easy way to get your full discount
This portable tank holds about 15 gallons, has wheels to make it easy to roll around, and comes with a hose and pump that make it really easy to pump the gas into your car at a later date when you need it. This is pretty convenient since those smaller gas cans we all use to fill up mowers are prone to a little spilling.
An even cheaper option
If $100 is more than you want to part with, there is still an option to make things easier on you. This hose and pump can attach to a smaller gas can you already have laying around and costs less than $40 on Amazon
Don’t let the opportunity to get your full discount go. Take advantage of the maximum number of gallons your fuel program allows you to get by filling up your car, then filling up gas cans to use up the rest of your 35 gallons.
If you find it inconvenient to deal with pouring gas from small cans into your car then you can buy a pump to make it easy to pump gas into your car.