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Is a cottage a good investment?

Posted by on Jun 26, 2014 in Mortgages, Travel | 5 comments

Summer has begun and many Canadians are flocking north to cottage country, to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. For many Canadians, owning a cottage is a dream. There’s something about having a place to call your own. A place that your children can grow up in and build memories. And we did as well – although, my parents never purchased a cottage.

When we were young, they would rent the same wonderful cottage every year, about an hour north of us and minutes from the beach. It neighboured two other cottages, side-by-side, which my uncles had rented as well. They were pretty sizeable cottages, but we come from a pretty sizeable family and we all shared living quarters with one other. All in all, including us kids, there were about 20 of us. Many of my closest cousins were there. And some of my fondest memories were there: playing soccer in the grassy fields, swimming in the neighbourhood pool, hiking adventures and days at the beach, and catching frogs and skipping stones. We made fun and memories out of pretty much nothing.

So I completely get it and I completely get generations of cottage owners wanting to pass it down. But although the idea of it sounds lovely, my wife seems to think that because I don’t want to ‘own’ a cottage, that I’m not really a cottage person and that’s not really the case. I also like to travel and explore new places, experience different cultures and not necessarily be tied to one place. Aside from being tied to one place and not being able to afford one right now, there’s also countless other financial reasons why I don’t think it makes sense for us.

What’s it worth to you?

Unless you want to drive for a while, it’s not uncommon to see little cottages within an hour drive of us, selling for upwards of $200,000. In fact, it’s fairly common to see some going for upwards of $300,000. And unless you plan on that being your primary residence, it’s pretty pricey, especially considering the short seasons we have here. At most, I think most provinces get about two months of great summer weather – two months! July and August really are the prime cottage months with temperatures where I am, hovering around the high 20’s, with anywhere from 5-10 days above 30ºC (86ºF) and water’s generally much cooler. Yes, there are the avid cottagers that go year-round, and some who work from their cottage, but I would say those are few and far between. Saying, if you owned one, that you’d go more often and actually doing it are two different things.

But here’s where financially the thought of a cottage, just doesn’t make sense to me. I can rent a cottage for the price of about $1000/week, $2,000/week for one that sleeps about 8 people or 2 families, which essentially brings me back down to $1,000. So my thought is, would I rather spend $300,000 on a cottage, or take three-hundred $1,000 vacations? Let’s say it’s a beautiful $2,000/week cottage, $300,000 can still buy me 150 one-week vacations, 75 two-week vacations – or another way of looking at it – 75 years worth of $2,000 vacations, twice a year.

Look, even if you were to spend $10,000 to take your family on a nice big trip once a year, you would still be able to do that for the next 30 years. And that doesn’t include a pinch of maintenance costs, which can be really expensive. Decks and docks, replacing old plumbing/septic tanks, just to name a few. And it also doesn’t include the mortgage carrying costs. For most buying into the cottage market, it’s usually their second home. And after interest costs and all is said and done, that $300,000 cottage is closer to a $400,000–$500,000 cottage.

On the bright side

Now, I’m not saying cottages are bad investments. Some things hold sentimental value. And in some markets, you may be able to find a cozy little cottage for $50,000. Or maybe you live in an area where you get longer periods of sunny weather. And if you’re comfortable sharing that family cottage, there’s also the ability to turn that cottage into a rental property, in which, even a couple of months a year can help cover your annual maintenance costs and help to pay down some of your mortgage. Which depending on the area, could turn out to be a great investment, provided you can afford the upkeep costs.

Now this cottage example could be a metaphor for so many other things. Whether it’s a cottage or any other long-term investment/purchase that you’re thinking of, put aside your beverage and Muskoka chair, stop romanticizing for a second, and ask yourself if it’s worth owning. Are there other options? Or how can you get the best value out of your investment?

Dream of owning a cottage? Own a cottage (*gulp*)? Is a cottage a good investment? What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below.

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Save money when travelling with children

Posted by on Mar 6, 2014 in Travel | 10 comments

If this year’s cold winter has provided any benefit, it’s that it’s made me think more about how I want to spend the spring and summer. While we all dream of the warmer sun vacations of years past, for many of us parents, travelling with children is a much different experience.

While I have yet to muster up the courage to pack my kids on an airplane for 8 hours (along with all the ‘baby and toddler equipment’), we have had our fair share of family road trips. Although, my wife has me convinced that 2015 will be the year.

Plan to spend less (by planning more)

Road or sky, the only thing more expensive than travelling with kids, is travelling with kids spontaneously or without doing a bit of planning. So do yourself and your wallet a favour and plan ahead.

With March break just around the corner, here are a few of the things you can do to save money when travelling with children and make the best of your family vacation.

Budgeting your travels. Ok, I know I said fun, but vacation costs can add up quickly, and can quickly get out of hand. As with any budget, I like to keep mine simple. I look at what the maximum is that I can reasonably afford. It’s also a good idea to budget in a comfortable 10-15% buffer, to cover any unexpected travel expenses. So, if $5,000 is your max budget, try working with a budget of $4,500. Once you have your number, you can make decisions about where you want to go, how you’re getting there, your length of stay and the amount of spending money you want to bring.

Then, searching the web, do an approximate cost estimate of what your ideal trip will cost. Be sure to include in your budget, what you expect to pay for your duration in:

  • Pre-trip buys (bathing suits and towels, sun care products, games, etc.)
  • Transportation costs (car rentals, fuel, cab rides, bus fares, parking fees, travel insurance, etc.)
  • Accommodation (hotels, cottages, or forego these costs by going camping)
  • Food & Drink (meals, dining out, wine, etc.)
  • Souvenirs (gifts and takeaways) and
  • Extra Spending Money (for excursions, admission fees and other additional entertainment costs you can think of)

If you’re over what you can reasonably afford, but you still have your heart set on a particular destination, you can decide to decrease your length of stay, number of day excursions you plan on taking, or how you’ll be getting there. Keep it pretty flexible, but stick to your overall number.

If you’re looking for some destination ideas, be sure to check out Reader’s Digest list of 40 Affordable Destinations for a Family Vacation. Once you have your destination details sorted out, it’s time to look more in depth and find other ways to save money. I can think of at least two reasons you want to do this:

  1.  To spend less on the trip and have more money set aside for other things (maybe even another vacation); or
  2.  To use the extra savings for extra spending money on your trip.

You decide.

Save money on your stay by using price comparison sites. Sometimes there can be huge discrepancies between prices from one hotel booking site to another, often even on the same exact hotel and room. That’s where hotel metasearch services like trivago and Kayak come in. These websites compare the prices of many hotel and hotel booking websites (such as Hotels.com or Expedia) to bring you the lowest prices on one site. Think of these like the Google search of hotel searches. While they help you find the best hotel, when you finally decide to book, all your hotel bookings are still done directly with the hotel or hotel-booking site.

Check what the reviews are saying. Before I go on any type of trip, I usually scour user reviews of hotels from sites like TripAdvisor. They can really tell you a lot about a place and save you money. You’ll often find the most expensive hotels don’t always translate into the highest rated.

Forget about the minibar, but don’t forget about parking. Concessions at the minibar are sometimes triple the cost of what you could buy within a 5-minute walk of the hotel. Or just plan ahead and pack your and your kids own snacks ahead of time. Also, parking fees are not normally included in the final hotel price either, so keep that in mind if you need parking and always weigh that against the final cost of the hotel.

Be flexible with when you book. If you can book mid-week, you’ll usually get a better rate. Also better rates are offered for longer stays.

Take advantage of your travel rewards. Whether through credit card rewards, other loyalty reward programs or through the hotel’s own reward program, look for ways to minimize or eliminate the costs on your trip. Hotels.com for example, gives you 1 night free, when you book 10 nights with them. Use your rewards and always search for promo codes before you book.

For a list of other ways to save on your stay, check out my earlier post: Check-out these hotel savings.

Preparing for your trip (it’s all in the details)

It’s always exciting when you finally hit the submit button and confirmed your booking. But ah, you have kids now. The fun has just begun. Gone are the times when you could just throw a couple of outfits together and off you went. But a little preparation can go a long way.

Get to know your city. Take advantage of all the city has to offer and find out about free or inexpensive events and activities in your destination city. Look for any family-friendly festivals and/or events that will be happening in around the city and around the time you plan to be there. Most may even be free. Just keep in mind, that if it is a popular event, hotels will fill up quickly, and may be more costly. So it’s best to plan ahead to get the best prices.

Look for city freebies. Before you visit, look for things that the cities already normally offer up for free. Some city museums, for example, may be free on Tuesdays, within a certain time or some places may offer free admission to children under a certain age. I know that in Washington, D.C., for example, there’s free public access for all and to all their Smithsonian museums, every day of the year.

Bring stuff for the kids to do in the car. Trust me. You’ll thank me, when your 8-hour road trip has suddenly turned into a 15-hour one. Do everyone a favour and plan things for your kid(s) to do throughout the car ride. This site has some amazing ideas to get you started.

And bring plenty of snacks! – For your stay and in the car. Feed the meter, or so to speak. It makes everyone happy and also helps minimize the number of stops – so you’re not throwing away money at anyone or anything that will entertain or feed your bored, noisy toddler. I’m not saying to not spend any money on the road, but spend it wisely. Spend your money when it’s going to give you memories and add to the holiday.

Get to know your hotel. Some hotels may offer amenities, activities, or special perks for the family that are not always listed on their website. When my eldest was only 3 months old, before our road trip, we called ahead explaining that we were bringing an infant and inquired if they offered any playpens or cribs for her. And they did. So it saved us from having to pack one more bulky thing and they also rewarded us with a free room upgrade, so we’d be more comfortable, during our stay. It always pays to call ahead and ask. Also, once you arrive to check in at the hotel, take 5 minutes to speak to the hotel concierge. They’re usually very helpful and may be able to direct you with suggestions for dining out options for the kids, and family-friendly activities in and around the city.

Take a leisurely stroll around town. You might not want to be ping ponging from exhibit to exhibit, museum to museum, every day of your trip. So it’s also a good idea to look at what the area you’re going to, offers in terms of public beaches, parks, markets, walking/hiking tours, swimming pools, skating rinks, and other free recreational activities. Pick up a guide and pack a picnic to save your money and energy.

But most of all, plan to have fun

After all your planning and preparing, put down all the lists and take a deep breath. It’s time to have fun! Recharge, relax and make your trip a memorable one for you and the whole family.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Disclosure: While some links in this post may be sponsored material, the words and content are my own. I only share information on thriftydad.ca that helps my readers save money and make the best out of their income.

Check-out these hotel savings

Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Saving, Travel | 4 comments

After a busy week and being away on a little family road trip for a few days, I missed last week’s post. And let’s face it, not everyone knows someone somewhere, who can put you up in their home for a few free nights. And hotels can be quite expensive. So, in the spirit of my travels, and because it’s still fresh in my mind, here’s a handful of ways to save you on your hotel stays.

From your own room service

Always shop and book online. There’s a lot reputable sites that make it easy and convenient to book your hotel online, such as Hotels.comBooking.com, or travelocity.ca to name a few. And you want to book online, because you want a record of what you booked and not leave that in the hands of some person on the phone. Take it from me, who years ago on our wedding night, was told when I got there, that the room I booked was no longer available. The front desk seeing us all decked out in wedding gown and tux, did do their best to find us a great room. But as it turned out, the man I originally called at the Marriott, mistakenly had us booked for the Thursday night – the day we booked, instead of Saturday night – our actual wedding night. Of course, I didn’t find all this out until I received my credit card bill, only to find I was charged for two nights. And when I called the hotel, the hotel manager insisted I had to pay for the two nights, because as she put it “the front desk never makes a mistake”. I think I know when my wedding day is! We eventually got the second charge dropped, but it took a few weeks of going back and forth.

Use a hotel search aggregator. What the heck is an aggregator anyways? If you know the hotel you’re looking for, these sites search multiple hotel sites to find you the lowest prices. My favourite travel site is still tripadvisor.ca, which is probably the largest hotel review site of its kind, complete with pictures and detailed user rankings. I’ve never gone wrong with a hotel booking, after reading these reviews. Although your bookings are not through trip advisor, the site has added a hotel search aggregator, so when you find the hotel you want, just click on it, enter in your Check-in and Check-out date and click on Show Prices and the price comparison tool will do the rest. Even major travel sites like travelocity.ca have begun using site aggregators of their own. Just make sure you’re booking at reputable sites and keep in mind, many times, these prices don’t include taxes and are based on the standard: 2 guests, 1 room.

Making hotel costs more comfortable

Flexibility is everything. If you can book mid-week, you’ll find hotel prices quite a bit cheaper. In addition some weeks are more expensive to travel than others, so if you’re flexible, compare the current week, with the following week and week prior, to see which can save you the most. Also keep in mind, rooms are also cheaper per night the longer you stay. Are you stuck on location? Sometimes a hotel just a short walk outside the area can be had for a lot lot less.

Always look at the total cost. Before booking anything, compare all taxes, fees and all the extras. Some hotels may charge a different set of fees and especially if you plan on driving there, parking rates can differ quite a bit and should always be taken into account. Also if certain amenities are important to you, you might consider what it would cost to pay to get that amenity somewhere else. And always make sure the final costs are in your own currency. I’ve made that mistake once, but luckily called and was reimbursed the difference.

Blind booking. If you’re not really picky about room and specific location, many sites such as Priceline and Hotwire.com allow you to bid or shop for secret hotels at bargain prices. You choose from a general area of where you want to stay within that city, and select the star-rating level. But you won’t know the name or exact location of the ‘secret hotel’ until you confirm your booking. If you’re completely flexible, this method can save you a great deal. But you’ll also want to keep in mind that you can get outbid and there are other bidding restrictions (Priceline, for example, makes you wait 24 hours between bids). A friend of mine has had a lot of success with this, getting some really good 4-star hotels for almost half the listing price. But you never know where you’re going to end up staying. Most hotels don’t want to appear, as if they’re selling off their rooms at really low costs, as it would undervalue their brands, so they’re packaged and sold as ‘secret hotels’.

Keep an eye out for special offers. The easiest way to do this, is a month before your planned trip, subscribe to receive special offers via email from sites like Hotels.comBooking.com and others. You can always unsubscribe once your trip has ended, but for simply subscribing to some weekly emails, you’ll sometimes get access to time-limited discount codes and other deals that are not always available to non-subscribers. But there’s also a plethora of discount code sites available for everyone else, such as RetailMeNot. Every hotel site nowadays, has a section on their site where you can enter a promo code, so it’s always worth a shot! Also, you may be affiliated with a university alumni group or other membership discounts such as CAA that offers hotel discounts that you might not be aware of.

Reservations?

Now there are countless other ways I’m sure, to cut down on your hotel costs. You might even want to look at your free options. For example, if you have any travel rewards cards, now might be a good time to use them to pay for your hotel stay. Keep in mind though, taxes are usually extra. And if you’re planning to attend a conference, you can extend your stay and depending on the nature of the conference, you may be able to even get your company to claim it as an expense or your self-employed self may be able write it off as a business expense.

Hotels can be the most expensive part of your trip, but with a little time spent planning – budgeting, researching, you can rest easier knowing you’re getting a decent hotel without zapping your wallet. And for goodness sake, stay away from that mini-bar and hotel phone.

Have any hotel tips you’d like to share? Spill them here.

 

How to save money on airfare

Posted by on Oct 28, 2012 in Saving, Travel | 1 comment

Over 54 million Canadian and 638 million US passengers boarded flights in the past year. Is it me, or is that a lot of flying?

This week, while on a plane to Montreal for work and with the U.S. Thanksgiving on its way, I thought what better time than now to talk about saving money on airfare. Now of course, my flight was fully paid for by my employer, but what if you’re planning your own little vacation? How do you get the cheapest airline tickets? Flying is not cheap. But knowing the right time and methods to book, can save you hundreds on airfare.

But you need to be flexible. If you’re one of those, dead set on a certain airline, because of the extra leg room and the cushy seats, consider this:  would you rather spend that extra $500 on your flight, or on your vacation? To me, it’s an easy decision, especially if it’s a short flight.

So here are some things to consider when booking a flight:

Be your own travel agent

  • Search online for cheap airfare. There are a lot of reputable online travel sites out there: itravel2000.com, TravelocityOrbitz, etc. Remember, no one will look out for your best interest, better than you. Most travel sites now provide the same prices and if not, almost all have a price matching policy in place. In the end, if you’re really that concerned about the internet in this day and age, you can always call the online travel site and book it with them on the phone. And you don’t have to constantly be searching every day, either. Online airfares are usually updated weekly, across all websites, usually on the same day (Tuesday night). Although, that day is subject to change, so find out what day that is and search that day to get the best prices.
  • Sign up for free Price Alerts. Of course you should monitor your prices, but some sites make it even easier to find airline deals. itravel2000.com, for example, has a Price Alerts feature that will email you when the price drops or reaches your target price. This is different from Price Assurance / Price Drop Protection policies in that, the website will alert you of a price change, even before you book, and delivered right to your inbox.
  • Sign up to receive special offers. Airlines themselves, usually have special promo codes, available only to their email subscribers. Sign up on their site for their weekly emails when you’re in the market for a flight. Unsubscribe when you’re not, so you’re not tempted by all the hot vacation destination offers.

Timing is everything

  • Don’t wait too late and don’t book to early. No matter if you have it all planned, booking a year in advance is usually the most costly. Booking a week before is also not a good idea. As planes fill up, the prices go up. I’ve found the best time to book is usually one to two months before your flight.
  • If you can, be flexible with the day. Almost all sites now give you the ability to search for flights departing 3 days prior or following your preferred departure date. And if you’re planning some week-long vacation, try searching the weeks earlier and later to see which gives you the best bang for your buck. I’ve saved hundreds before, by switching weeks. If you’re planning a tropical vacation, tripcentral.ca has a great tool for this. Just visit their site and click on Vacation Pricing Grid. This will give you a good pricing comparison, per month or per week to find you the cheapest flights.
  • Be flexible on time. The most expensive times to book a flight are generally during regular business hours – when business flights are frequent and/or parents with children (me, included) don’t want to haul their little ones out of bed. But if you can, early morning or late evening flights can save you quite a bit. Just set the site to search by price (often, not done by default) and the system should take care of the rest.
  • Connecting flights and nearby airports. If you can handle shuffling the kids around, you can sometimes save a lot of money on airfare, just by choosing non-direct flights. Or try and see what it would cost to depart from a nearby airport. A flight from Buffalo to New York saved me over $200 vs. flying out of Toronto – and that was even including the gas and parking. But it’s not always the cheapest route. All travel sites have an option to search all airports in that city, and some even have options to search airports nearby.

Of course there are cheaper ways to travel – mainly, free. Look at using your loyalty card travel miles to book to flight. If you’re self-employed look for events in that city related to your business, and make your vacation a tax write-off. If you’re not, you can always see if there’s any events, conferences, training seminars that you can get your employer to cover.

In any case, a little planning goes a long way and you won’t have to feel so guilty when your bill arrives. But I must admit, I haven’t travelled on a plane with my daughter yet, so I imagine my perspective may change, somewhat.

Have you travelled with children? Have any airline booking tips you would like to share? Found this article useful? Share it, don’t forget to subscribe to my email list for all that’s new on Thrifty Dad and happy flying!

Image credit: Copyright 2004 FreePhotosbank.com