In fact, we celebrated our marriage with a two-week dream honeymoon to Italy. Since then, we've traveled as often as possible together. Now that we're parents, our budget is tighter but our passion for exploring the world has remained. So, we seek out amazing experiences that enable us to make the most of every dollar we spend (while still having a little left over for our daughter's 529 savings account).
With summer nearly here, we've all got a case of wanderlust. It's time to explore somewhere new as a family! So, I reached out to the pros to find the best family-friendly destinations to visit on a dime. From laid-back beach and hiking getaways to urban adventures (both in the U.S. and abroad), here's what they suggested...
Explore the outdoors in Warren, Vermont. It's home to Sugarbush Resort, in the Green Mountains, which offers access to tons of gorgeous hiking trails. At lunchtime, head to the nearby Waitsfield Farmers’ Market, suggests Erin McCormick, founder of the blog Travel Like a Local: Vermont.
If you're still up for exploring after your meal, check out the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design. “The museum houses an intriguing collection of classic toys,” says McCormick. Another plus: You'll probably find a great deal on accommodations. “Hotels in ski destinations are typically cheaper in summer,” says Norie Quintos, editor at large for National Geographic Traveler. Stay in a condo with a kitchenette so you can cook some of your meals and save even more money. even more money.
The best way to explore New York City is on foot. Walk the streets of Chinatown, Koreatown, or Little Italy for a taste of another culture. Wander through Central Park or go canoeing in the river for a different perspective. Window shop in Soho. If it's sightseeing you're after, take public transportation to attractions such as the Empire State Building and Times Square, instead of pricey taxis; subway and bus fares are cheap and kids (under 44-inches-tall) ride for free, says Corinne McDermott, founder of Have Baby Will Travel. Explore art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; kids ages 6 to 12 can take more than a dozen different audio tours. Or, drop by the Dimenna Children's History Museum to learn about U.S. presidents, the Underground Railroad, and more. (Admission is pay-as-you-wish on Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m.) Catch Wicked or The Lion King on Broadway (Headout.com offers discounts on last-minute tickets). Check out places to stay on Airbnb for deals in the city; or, book a hotel in downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, Queens, or Jersey City, New Jersey, to cut costs without being too far away from Manhattan.
Cookbook author Sarah Waldman, who lives on the Vineyard with her family, recommends checking out the Long Point Wildlife Refuge; it has over two miles of trails, with access to public beaches and pretty picnic areas. On Monday nights in the summer, the Feather Center for the Arts offers live music.
she suggests. Waldman's fam also loves the Polly Hill Arboretum, where stone walls, meadows, and historic barns offer plenty of opportunities for kids to explore. The visitor's center provides family adventure backpacks, each containing a self-guided tour map, plant identification cards, and magnifying glasses (admission is $5 for adults and free for kids under $12). For cheap but delicious eats, stop by 7a Foods -- a “farm-to-take-out” haunt with a to-die-for asparagus melt sandwich -- and the Art Cliff Diner & Food Truck, for its mouthwatering peach-stuffed French toast. You can find inexpensive lodgings on HomeAway; for a rustic adventure, try Vineyard Haven campground.
You don't have to splurge to enjoy Disney. “Disney’s Value Resorts include airport transfers and transportation to and from the parks in the room rate,” says McDermott. “There are also nearby campgrounds.” Outside food is allowed in the parks, so you can pack your own meals and snacks for the day, rather than eating out for every meal. Kids love exploring Disney in costume, but instead of spending big bucks on one at the parks, purchase one ahead of time online and make it a fun surprise the first night of the trip. Avoid blowing your budget on souvenirs with this trick from Quintos:
You can also save money by purchasing reusable cups and mugs at Disney, especially if it's hot out and you'll be drinking a lot of water. Your environmental footprint will be lighter, too. (For more great deals, check out Click the Mouse.)
Now is a great time to explore Europe, especially if you go off the beaten path to a lesser known city.
says Quintos. Erin Bender, mom of two kids and founder of Travel with Bender, had a blast with her fam on a recent trip to Poznan, Poland (located about halfway between Warsaw and Berlin, Germany). “It’s extremely clean and tiny, with plenty of playground and areas for the kids to just be outdoors,” she says. The historic city offers excellent public transportation, and you can pick up a Poznan City Card for discounts on dining, attractions, and more. Bender recommends Porta Poznania, a museum that offers a ton of interactive exhibitions for kids, as well as a chill-out zone for breaks from the action. For more fun, there's the New Zoo, which has family packages for less than $15; and Malta Lake with gorgeous views, a jump castle, and a low-cost ropes course that bigger kids will adore.
The benefits include a variety of investment options and potential tax advantages.
Whether you've got toddlers, teenagers, or even grandchildren, one thing is certain: Paying for college seems to get more expensive every year. Given that the average annual cost (tuition, fees, and room and board) for a four-year, in-state public college is $18,943 for the 2014–2015 tuition year, and $42,419 per year for a four-year private college,1 it’s no surprise that college expenses can be overwhelming.
Footing college bills these days often takes every source of potential funding available to a parent, and there may be no better place to start than by opening and contributing to a 529 college savings plan account. Why? The restrictions are few, and the potential benefits can be significant for the account holder, including certain tax advantages, potential minimal impact on the financial aid available to the student, and control over how and when the money is spent.
Understanding the ins and outs of a 529 college savings plan may help you unlock one of the biggest bangs for your college-savings buck.
While there are several ways to save for college—such as opening a custodial account (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act [UGMA]/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act [UTMA] account), a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA), or even setting money aside in a taxable account — the potential advantages of a 529 college savings plan distinguish it from the rest.
Designed specifically to help pay for qualified costs associated with higher education, a 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged account that allows for distributions to pay for things like tuition, fees, books, supplies, and any approved equipment the student may need to study at accredited institutions. In addition, you can take distributions for room and board, as long as the beneficiary of the plan is attending the school at least part time. When 529 funds are used for these qualified purposes, there is no federal income tax on investment gains (no capital gains tax, ordinary income tax, or Medicare surtax).
Typically, a parent or grandparent opens the account and names a child or other loved one as the beneficiary. Each plan is sponsored by an individual state, often in conjunction with a financial services company that manages the plan, although you don’t have to be a resident of a particular state to invest in its plan.