Author Archives: femmefrugality

Saving Money at Disney World

Disney World castle lit up in icicle lights at night. Bluish purple words beneath the image read: "Disney World Savings Tips femmefrugality.com"

The capstone on our Florida trip was Disney World. We had gone not all that long ago, and I had politely put in a complaint about accessibility issues at the park. They offered me free tickets to compensate us for our troubles, so we tried again a few months ago.

Things were mostly better this time. Far from perfect; policies at the park still do not give adequate access to the disabled. But I appreciated that they tried and that we only ran into one gnarly park employee this time around.

Aside from having an overall better experience, I did learn a couple things I wanted to tack on to last year’s Disney savings tips.

Balloons are exchangeable.

 

I spent an embarrassing amount of money on a balloon for one of the littles. I mean, it was pretty awesome. A balloon inside of another balloon–both of which have yet to pop.

The quality might be the reason why the balloon lady let me in on a little secret: you can totally exchange your balloon. If it pops or flies away, just bring your receipt and any balloon remains to the nearest person selling balloons to get a replacement.

Now, let’s say you bought your balloon at Magic Kingdom. The balloon floated away on your way to the car, but you’re not going to Magic Kingdom the next day. You’re going to Disney Hollywood Studios.

Doesn’t matter. Take your receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios and they’ll get a replacement with no hassle.

Yes, I was tempted to take my receipt to the balloon seller at Hollywood Studios to score a second awesome balloon dishonestly.

No, I did not follow through.

Eat before you go to the park.


Last time we went to Disney World, we tried to wake up early and get there as soon as the parks opened. It was May. It was muggy. Everyone got moody.

So this time, we left a little later in the morning, grabbing a leisurely brunch on the way there. One day we did pancakes in the timeshare (which was once again kindly given to us as a gift by a family member), another we hit up a diner, etc.

In turn, we grabbed one meal, generally at a quick-serve place, while we were at the park and stayed out past bedtime.

If we judge by happiness levels, this was a much better plan. Although another contributing factor may have been the time of year.

I mean, was I happy to pay $60-$70 for quick-serve food? No. But if I’m honest, the quality of food there was higher than what we would have gotten at the fast food joint I would have stopped on the way home out of sheer exhaustion. The price wasn’t ideal, but…

Budget-wise, it was a major win over last year. We ate far fewer meals at the park total, and I cut the character meals altogether. We had already done that once, and the hack I found to meet characters for free for sure at a scheduled time was employed heavily this time around. Calling it a hack might seem like a bit much, but after you’ve spent money on the character meals, it feels like one heck of a hack.

So we didn’t have to stress about meal plans, It also meant we weren’t rushing around to make our reservations because we didn’t have any. So. much. less. stress.

And so much less money.

Ordering professional photos.

Around the different parks, you’ll see opportunities to get your picture taken. Sometimes it’s with mascots, sometimes it’s just at a scenic park. We noticed a bunch of these especially in Animal Kingdom.

I don’t have the best camera on my phone and I’m not the best photographer, so this time I made sure to purposefully take advantage. I tried to bunch together all our professional picture taking at two parks so I could pay to buy the photos from the Disney app for each day. By only doing two days, I was able to save money over paying the “whole trip” price.

Unfortunately I did that last time. There were just too many great memories and pictures. But I did learn the bunching method from that experience.

Do you have Disney World savings tips?

What are your favorite Disney savings hacks? Leave them in the comments!

 

Disney on Ice: Mickey’s Search Party Comes to #Pittsburgh

Logo with Mickey Mouse ice skating reads: "Presented by Feld Entertainment Disney on Ice." Green, glowing lettering reads "Pittsburgh February 28-March 3, 2019" Character Maui from DIsney's movie Moana is standing on the ice holding his hook, mist floating up from the surface over an illuminated green spea on a balck background.

This past weekend, I took the kids to see Monster Jam Triple Threat. I initially wanted to go primarily to watch the enjoyment on my kids’ faces, but once we were there…

It was pretty impressive. You got to vote for who you think should win each segment by ranking each truck’s performance with your smart phone. It was really easy and the kids got a huge kick out of it.

There was this one part where the trucks were doing stunts on just two wheels. Favorite part. For sure. I went into this knowing three monster trucks in total: Grave Digger, El Toro Loco and Zombie. If I came out learning nothing else, it was the name of another truck to my lexicon: Soldier Fortune.

Next Up: Disney on Ice presents Mickey’s Search Party

Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Disney's Toy Story link arms and pose on ice skates in the dark with backlit hay bales behind them.

Because of my work, we get to go to live performances for free pretty regularly. Some organizations I’ll work with on a repeat basis, and some I won’t, depending on how their cost:value ratio stacks up for you guys.

Feld Entertainment is one of those companies I end up working with again and again. They put together great events like Monster Jam, on top of past Disney on Ice performances we’ve attended.

The ticket prices are affordable, and the entertainment value is tip-top. Which is why I’m super excited that Disney on Ice is coming through town again! This time, they’re showing Mickey’s Search Party, which sounds pretty fun:

Join Mickey Mouse and his friends at Disney On Ice presents Mickey’s Search Party, a brand-new adventure filled with world-class skating, high-flying acrobatics and unexpected stunts! Help them follow Captain Hook’s treasure map and look for clues in the search for Tinker Bell in immersive, fantastic worlds. Explore the colorful spirit realm of Coco in Miguel’s Disney On Ice debut, sail away with Moana as she bravely saves her island, see Belle in the sky above you as the enchanted chandelier comes to life, and sing-along with Elsa in the icy world of Frozen.

Make memories with your whole family during Aladdin, Toy Story and The Little Mermaid as the search party becomes an all-out magical celebration on the ice, in the air, and all around!

Also, it looks pretty fun:

Why I Love Disney on Ice

When I was growing up, I thought Disney on Ice was so expensive. Prohibitively so.

So when I went to my first Disney on Ice with Feld Entertainment, I was shocked when I saw the ticket prices. For example, this Mickey’s Search Party, which is showing eight times at PPG Paints Arena from February 28 to March 3, 2019, has tickets starting at $15.

Yet the performance still has me feeling like the tickets are pricey. It’s the like the non-alcoholic, kiddie version of champagne lifestyle on a beer budget. And I love it.

Valentine’s DNA

Modern woman split-screened with a photograph of her ancestory featured on a field of red hearts. "What will you discover?" "Start here" "ancestrydna" "femmefrugality.com"

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’ve been wanting to do a new, holiday-centric piece. I wasn’t exactly sure where to take it this year, though. I wasn’t feeling incredibly sappy, so I instead went incredibly nerdy.

I started thinking of all the DNA we all carry in each one of our cells. How that DNA contains a history of countless couples mating in some way. And how the end result of all of that history and all of those lives is you.

And that in and of itself is pretty amazing, whether you have another set of DNA cuddling next to you on the couch or not.

If you don’t feel like waiting until the end to see how this pertains to money, Ancestry is having a super sale on AncestryDNA for Valentine’s Day. I usually only write  about the sales on this product for Black Friday as that’s the biggest one they have all year, but this one is dramatic enough that it’s worth shouting from the rooftops.

You have a lot of ancestors. And they might not have been human.

If you trace back just 30 generations, or about 1,000 years back, you have over 1 trillion direct ancestors. Homo sapiens are 200k-300k years old. I don’t know how to pronounce the number of ancestors you could potentially have, friend.

Except you don’t have as many ancestors as basic math would imply. Humans have inbred over their history, and not everyone has had kids. There are significant bottlenecks in the DNA story of each one of us.

Our ancestors were mostly human. Some but not all people will have some Neanderthals and Denisovans in their direct line, too, though.

Eve is real. Kind of.

Mitochodrial DNA is passed on from your mother’s side. Always. What that means is if we all trace back far enough in our mitochondrial DNA, we should be able to find our initial mothers.

Except that we all have one mitochondrial mother, aptly named Eve. Eve wasn’t the only female around at her time, but her mitochondrial DNA was the only one to survive. That doesn’t mean you’re not related to another contemporary of Eve’s on your father’s side, say, or even your mother’s side through her father.

But it does mean that the mother-to-child mitochondrial DNA chain was broken for all of her contemporary females, but not Eve. We all call the same common anscestor, “Mom,” though she was not necessarily the very first human mother.

Valentine’s Day isn’t the biggest DNA fest.

When we look at birth months in the US, there is a significant drop in October and November, right when you’d expect Valentine’s Day babies to be born. Instead, the most popular times to exchange DNA appear to be November and December, according to the CDC’s birth numbers. This assumes all babies will be born on their due date, which is a noteworthy asterisk.

I love this nurse midwife’s insight into the whole thing. Like she talks about Polar Vortex babies: Because when no one can or wants to leave the house, they apparently get together more. Then nine months later, she’s crazy busy at work.

Cold weather = Less crime and more babies.

There’s a sale. Learn more about your DNA for less.

This year for Valentine’s Day, Ancestry is lowering the price of their AncestryDNA kit from $99 to $59–that’s 40% off! It’s not too often that they have sales this big, but when they do, AncestryDNA is a reader favorite.

 

 

Exploring Calusa Culture at The Mound House

Blue text with brown drop shadow reading: "Learning about Calusa Culture at the Mound House   femmefrugality.com"; directly beneath text, there is a table sitting in front of a window. On the blue table top, which is labeled "Nature's Toolbox" along with some other illegible text, are several tools made out of seashells and wood.

While in Florida, I came across a sign when I was driving back from one of my many Walmart trips to my hotel on Estero Island:

Mound House
Archeological Site –>

I was intrigued. I don’t know that I have ever visited an archeological site before. Historical sites, yes. Reenactment villages, for sure. But an archeological site?

Something new and right up my alley.

When I got back to the hotel, I looked up some info and planned a visit.

Touring the Mound House

 

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The Mound House was built on top of a shell mound built by Calusa Native Americans over the course of 2,000 years. The house itself was built in the 20th century on the highest point on the island.

When they went to install a pool sometime around the 1950s, they realized how real shell mounds were. The residents found themselves digging into shells rather than earth, which had been arranged there specifically to provide high ground in the case of all-too-common regional flooding.

Today, you can go underground and see the excavation site, learning a bit about how Calusa society worked, how they recycled and how that recycling scrambles the dating of the shells when you’re going through them layer by layer.

 

 

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It was extremely interesting. We also got to try out replica weapons, including an atlatl–a mysteriously universal ancient hunting tool–along with some of the wildlife in the region including one bold heron who didn’t flinch as we walked by, less than a foot away.

After the official tour was over, we explored some of the exhibits upstairs. Here we learned about the history of the house, which was built by a local tycoon in order to inspire tourism to the island in my extremely watered-down version of history.

 

 

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The Shrouded History of the Calusa

But also the Calusa Indians, who lived in this region for millennia prior to Spanish invasions, have had their history extremely watered down, and in some cases completely eradicated. And not just in my retelling.

The tribe, whose name means ‘The Fierce Ones,’ were notorious warriors and did very well for themselves. When the Spanish came, they defended themselves heartily. But the introduction of new illnesses to the Calusa contributed in large part to their eventual extinction–at least as I understand it from the short tour I went on that one time when I was in Florida.

The little ones did get to try on replica masks, though. They got to learn about the weapons made of shells that these warriors used to assert their dominance.

 

 

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We also got to learn a bit about the religion, which ironically may have been preserved better than some other aspects of the culture with the introduction of literate Spanish missionaries. One aspect of the religion which I found particularly interesting was the idea that we have three different souls, and they all go different places (or stay) depending on their individual purpose.

We had so much fun and learned a ton. It was easily one of the best last-minute vacation experiences we’ve had as a family.

How much does The Mound House cost?

Visiting and getting the tour wasn’t the most frugal adventure ever (some of the things we did on this trip were free), but it also wasn’t crazy expensive and was worth every penny. Kids’ admission is $5 for children ages 6+, adults get in for $10 and students get in for $8 with an ID. Kids ages five and under do get in for free. Some of the tours won’t cost you more, but the most expensive one, which happens in kayaks, will run you $50/person.

Again, so worth it. Check hours and the tour schedule before you plan your trip, and you could set yourself up to see a replica carving demonstration, visit a touch tank full of the local marine life, kayak through the mangroves or learn more about archeology in a hands-on environment.

The place is magical.

Things I Wish I Had Done When I Was Younger

Such an emotional journey! It's easy to forget that today's excuses are tomorrow's regrets. I love the idea of weaving your dreams into your daily life.

My life has been anything but traditional. Most traditional life paths look like this–at least, if we millennials had gotten the opportunity to pursue the path our parents’ generation preached would lead to success:

  1. Go to college.
  2. Get married.
  3. Start a family.

I’ve been married a couple times now, finished school nontraditionally, and had kids before I got that degree.

None of those steps happened in order. But for the most part, I haven’t bemoaned the consequences. My journey has been unique, and it’s been one with plenty of opportunities for self-actualization.

That being said, lately there have been some opportunities I’ve become aware of that I totally wish I could pursue. If I didn’t want to keep the kids in this school district. If I didn’t have this business that I’m kind of in love with running.

And so I’m putting it out there on the internet that if you’re young and have relatively few responsibilities, go. Do these things. Or the things you dream of doing. Because right now is the time. As you get older, you will have more responsibilities. Sometimes these responsibilities are restrictive.

If you’re anything like me, you feel like your responsibilities are already enough at your age. And they are. I respect you for meeting them. But believe me when I say they will get heavier as you age. Sometimes that’s a beautiful thing. But sometimes it can prevent you from applying for a job in the jungle to work with orangutans.

Things I Wish I Had Done When I Was Younger

Get a job in the jungle to work with orangutans.

A pet interest of mine lately has become primatology. I never thought this would be a huge interest for me. Animals are cool, but I never felt particularly drawn to study them.

But go watch YouTube videos about bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. It’s incredible to watch these creatures, our closest cousins, go about their lives. Experience their emotions. Use tools. Care for each other.

So much of what we consider human can be observed in these practices. This, plus access to a language both species can apparently gain fluency in, American Sign Language (ASL), has my brain spinning lately. Especially as so many of the great apes are going extinct because of habitat destruction and the bush meat trade, both of which are caused by humans.

So when I saw an open position at a research outpost my heart soared and the immediately turned sour. Would I love to go work in the jungle to study one of the gentlest of the great apes–the orangutan?

Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

But again, kids. Business. These are also things I love and want to be spending time at, and both demand attention.

Why did I not do ish like this when I was younger? I think back and can point to a million reasons why, many of them related to my lack of college education at the time. I wish I had known more about grants and scholarships back then.

Live abroad.

I have very few excuses for not doing this. When I was extremely young, I did live abroad. But I was so young I don’t remember too much about it.

When I was college-aged, I could have gotten a job at a hostel or done work online. Apparently, I could have also volunteered as an orangutan researcher in the jungles of Indonesia. In a low enough cost-of-living area, moving abroad would have been more than feasible. But none of these possibilities even crossed my mind.

Study abroad did, though. That’s one thing that stings about not doing college traditionally: I pretty much missed out on study abroad opportunities. I still dream about them now, but pursuing a semester abroad at my age has a lot more complications as far as visas, childcare, and those children’s educational needs go.

I’m not saying it will never happen. But living abroad probably isn’t in the cards in the near future here. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop dreaming, though. 😉

Invested money into index funds.

Okay, so I didn’t know what the hell index funds were when I was younger. I wouldn’t find out about those until J L Collins introduced them to me when I was slightly older but still young.

And I thought you only had enough money to invest if you were rich. And I was decidedly broke, though I did manage to get together decent emergency funds from time to time.

But had I gone to college traditionally I would have graduated at the peak of the Recession. Stocks were so cheeeeeaaaaaappppp. I would have so much more saved for retirement now, but back then I didn’t even know how to open an IRA and robo advisors didn’t exist. I could be wrong, but I feel like you generally needed more to get started back in the day (which really and truly wasn’t all that long ago.)

But I can still help the orangutans.

Just because I didn’t do some of these things when I was younger doesn’t mean I can’t transfer some of the enjoyment I would get from them into my life.

I may not be able to go back in time and invest from the age of 18, but I can regularly save for my retirement today. Future me will be grateful I started when I did rather than waiting until later. The best time to plant a tree was thirty years ago, but the second best time is now.

I may not be able to live abroad at the moment, but I can bring the joy of travel into my kids’ lives by exposing them to it early via vacations and long weekends, building it into the budget all the while.

And I may not be able to go research orangutans in the jungle, but I can still help the effort to save them by donating to the research center’s cause.

Life doesn’t necessarily get worse as you get older. Your joy just changes forms.