Tips for Planning a Fabulous Family Vacation on a Budget

family travel

Here are some fun tips for family travel (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

The kids are settled in to school but the craziness that can be the holiday season hasn’t yet started which means this is the perfect time to start planning next year’s family vacation. You might be thinking that October is a little early to start making plans for next spring or summer, but for families who need to travel on a budget, planning well in advance is one of the most important things you can do.

Planning your next family vacation now makes it possible for you to shop around and look for the best deal. You are likely to find discounts and special pricing offered at everywhere from hotels to theme parks as those businesses look to lock in visitors. Starting now also lets you decide the optimal time to take a vacation in your chosen location before you have to submit your vacation requests at the start of the New Year. This means you can pick the time that has the best value for the money rather than going whichever weeks you requested off last January.

Here are some other tips for planning the best possible family vacation on a budget.

Consider a Cruise

As more and more cruise lines have started catering to families, the deals for family excursions have never been better. While you might look at the price tag and swallow hard, cruises are actually a really great value for your dollar. Before you decide you can’t afford that 5 day cruise to the sandy beaches of Mexico and back, consider this. How much will you spend on hotels, food, entertainment, travel, activities, etc if you take a more traditional family vacation? When you consider all the small costs of that kind of vacation you may find that cruising actually costs you less in the long run.

Take a Road Trip

If cruising isn’t your thing, consider taking a good old-fashioned family road trip. While the costs for this kind of trip can add up fast, there are some things you can do to decrease how much you spend without diminishing your family’s fun. First, camp out instead of staying in hotels. Many campgrounds still only charge $20 or $30 a night which is significantly less than you will pay for even a cheap roadside motel.   Second, don’t eat every meal out. If you are camping, bring a camp stove. You can easily make coffee, hot chocolate, oatmeal, and even eggs and bacon at your campsite before you head out for the day and a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly can cut way down on your food costs. Third, find free or low cost attractions. There are so many interesting and entertaining things to do across the country and many of them cost little to no money. Seek out these attractions and you will have a fantastic time without breaking the bank.

Set a Souvenir Strategy

No matter where you go, take some time before you leave to talk about how you are going to handle souvenirs. Whether each person has a souvenir budget or you only choose ‘family’ type souvenirs like Christmas ornaments from different destinations, making this decision ahead of time will cut down on the kind of impulse buying that can break your vacation budget.

If you are looking for meals you can make for the road, be sure to check out some of these ideas to Fix Ahead Food for Your Summer Road Trip. For a list of recipes using your favorite Arizona grown foods, check out the recipe section on Fill Your Plate!

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Don’t Miss the Willcox Fall Wine Festival, October 18/19

Willcox Wine Festival

photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com

The Willcox Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture announces the 5th annual Willcox Fall Wine Festival on October 18th and 19th, 2014.
Rated by Fodor’s Travel as one of the top 10 wine festivals in North America, the festival is a weekend-long celebration, featuring Arizona wines from the Willcox region; growing 74% of Arizona’s wine grape production and source of the most highly rated Arizona wines by Wine Spectator, with 45 wines rated 88-90 over the past 5 years.
 
The festival is held in Railroad Park located on Railroad Avenue in historic downtown Willcox, an hour’s drive east of Tucson on I-10, halfway between Phoenix and El Paso. The event will include great food, live music, local vendors, wine and vineyard workshops, and a wine tasting area that will feature 17 Willcox Arizona farm wineries. The event is scheduled, rain or shine, for Saturday and Sunday, 11AM-5PM.
 
Attendance and parking at the Festival are FREE and open to the public. Wine tasting will be $15 for patrons over 21 and will include six tasting coupons and a commemorative Willcox Wine Country glass. Additional tasting tickets are available for purchase along with bottles of wine from the individual wineries.
The Arizona farm wineries featured this Fall: Arizona Stronghold, Golden Rule Vineyards, Carlson Creek Vineyard, Coronado Vineyards, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, Kief-Joshua, Page Springs Cellars, Pillsbury Wine Co, Sand-Reckoner, Zarpara Vineyard, Passion Cellars, Cellar 433, Bodega Pierce, Flying Leap Vineyards, Aridus Wine Co, Dos Cabezas Wineworks and Caduceus Cellars.
 
The all new Street Bistro will feature a Tucson favorite, Dante’s Fire restaurant with two separate menus. The Railroad Park Stage will feature Josh & Nicki/Cisco & the Racecars on Saturday, Hans Olson/Ronnie Glover & Trio Rio on Sunday.
 
 

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Arizona’s Market Basket Prices Down Compared to National

Food Prices Arizona

(photo credit : BigStockPhoto.com)

At a time when overall food prices across the nation have been steadily increasing, Arizona Farm Bureau has some relatively good news.  Arizona retail food prices at the supermarket are down in the third quarter of 2014, according to the latest Arizona Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey. The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 basic grocery items was $50.88, down $1.76 cents or about 3 percent less than the second quarter of 2014.

Compared to Arizona’s September 2013 survey total of $50.87, the 2014 third quarter Marketbasket survey shows that Arizona’s food prices have remained fairly steady. Comparatively, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s national survey was $54.26, up $1.06 or about 2 % higher than their survey conducted a year ago, in September 2013.

Arizona’s marketbasket did see steady increases in the last three quarters rising from the $50.87, mentioned earlier, to $52.64 in the second quarter of this year causing initial concern that the food inflation would continue. Arizona Farm Bureau is finding no key indicators as to why Arizona’s marketbasket is lower than national’s other than hosting a very competitive big-store grocery market.

“We’ve felt obviously high food prices and will continue to see ups and downs,” said Arizona Farm Bureau’s Communication Director, Julie Murphree. “We also need to consider our choices. The other day I purchased a grande pumpkin latte for more than $5 bucks. Compare that to my wise co-worker who told me she bought a package of four large, thick bone-in pork chops for $5.34 for dinner that feed four people. Her value per healthy ounce was much better than mine.”

Of the 16 items surveyed in Arizona, twelve decreased, four increased compared to the 2014 second quarter survey.

In Arizona, off-the-shelf prices for eggs showed the greatest decrease in price down 42 cents to $1.93 a dozen; bacon and boneless chicken breast down 36 cents to $4.49 a pound and $4.05 a pound respectively; flour down 34 cents to $1.89 a 5-pound bag; ground chuck down 33 cents to $3.73 a pound; shredded cheese down 22 cents to $4.46 a pound; vegetable oil down 20 cents to $2.18 a 32 ounce bottle; sliced ham down 11 cents to $4.48 a pound; white bread down 10 cents to $1.03 for the 20 ounce loaf; sirloin roast down 7 cents to $6.38 a pound; potatoes down 4 cents to $3.05 a 5-pound bag and milk down 3 cents to $2.78 a gallon.

“Remember Arizona Farm Bureau’s Fillyouplate.org has searchable recipes, many featuring recipes from our generational Arizona farm families,” said Murphree. “Eating at home as a family can help you manage your food budget better too. We’ve also made our Farmers’ Market listing on fillyourplate.org searchable.”

Salad mix showed the largest price increase up 52 cents to $2.91 a pound bag. The other items that increased in price were apples up 25 cents to $1.57 a pound; toasted oat cereal up 24 cents to $2.92 for the 8.9 oz box and orange juice up 10 cents to $3.03 a half gallon.

The year-to-year direction of the Marketbasket survey tracks with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index report for food at home.

“In the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. That figure has decreased steadily and is now just 16 percent, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s revised Food Dollar Series Department statistics,” explains John Anderson, American Farm Bureau Economist. The USDA’s new Food Dollar Series may be found online here.

Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the Arizona farmer’s share of this quarter’s $50.88 Marketbasket total would be $8.14.

The Farm Bureau Market Basket Survey is unscientific, but serves as a gauge of actual price trends across the state. Arizona’s bargain shoppers statewide should find individual items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages and certainly cheaper with discounts and in-store specials. Arizona Farm Bureau seeks to identify the best in-store price, excluding promotional coupons and special deals.

marketbasket2

2014 Market Basket Survey Results

Marketbasket graph

  1. Sort your pantry and organize to clearly know what’s available. This should be a regular effort in order to make sure you’re using everything you have, not buying unnecessary items and can determine what you really need.
  2. Create a week-long menu. From the planned menu create your shopping list based on local grocery store circulars you receive in the mail or newspaper.
  3. When planning your menu, think of ways to maximize the use of the “Stretch Your Food Dollar” menu as a springboard to create your own menu. Gather ideas for meals based on the items down in price from Arizona Farm Bureau’s “Stretch Your Dollar” menus on fillyourplate.org. Let the Farm Bureau’s menus inspire your creativity!
  4. You’ve created the list; stick to it. If you can stick to your list, you’ll curb impulse spending on items you don’t really need.
  5. Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Studies suggest you might spend 10 to 15 percent more on your food bill when you’re hungry.
  6. Don’t take the kids grocery shopping. As with an empty stomach, kids can influence your impulse shopping.
  7. Stick to the basics. While basic food items like dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables can sometimes seem expensive, you’re gaining more value per unit and certainly more health benefits. The fewer processed food items you purchase, the more you’ll save.
  8. Regularly survey the weekly grocery store circulars. This will build your knowledge of prices for products you regularly use and give you a sense of which grocery stores tend to have the lowest prices. Take advantage of weekly advertised specials, especially for nonperishable staples.
  9. Be wary of the coupon trap. Use coupons only for those items you normally buy. Don’t let coupons cost you money by buying items you don’t really need. A sale has no value to you if it means you’re spending beyond your budget. Do take advantage of “ad-matching” since lots of savings can be found here.
  10. Assess the unit price. This shopping tool lets you compare prices between brands and between sizes. Located on a shelf tag in front of the product, it provides costs in like units for the item. Generally, information is given in cost per ounce, per pound or per count.
  11. Shop the edges of the store, and if items at the ends of the aisles reflect a super deal buy. As aisle-end items are dramatically marked down, they might be a valuable substitute on your grocery list. But they’re budget busters if they become purchased food items you don’t use in your food preparation.
  12. Use grocery store club cards; also compare prices to store brands. Store club cards can generate great savings. Plus, while you might love a certain brand, also compare a popular brand to the store brand for price comparisons and possible savings.
  13. Peak season is prime time to buy fresh produce. The peak of the harvest for fresh fruits and vegetables offers you the best prices and the best quality. Take advantage of this and buy often. To always know what’s in season, go to fillyourplate.org and select the tab “Arizona Produce in Season.”
  14. When not buying fresh, consider buying frozen. Most frozen vegetables are picked fresh, immediately flash frozen, are less expensive and will keep longer.
  15. Buy in bulk, but don’t buy more than you will use. Bigger is not always better. Larger-sized packages usually cost less on a per-unit basis. But it’s not a better buy if it’s too large to use before it becomes stale or spoiled.
  16. Move in on “family pack” savings. Meat departments often have a section that offers larger-sized packages at cents-off-per-pound savings. Repackage these larger sizes into smaller quantities at home and freeze.
  17. Be flexible at the meat and produce counters. This is one area to be flexible with your list. This allows you to take advantage of unadvertised “in store” specials and switch from one item to another.
  18. Use open dating codes, especially on perishables to maximize shelf life at home. Open dating is used on perishable and semi-perishable products to let you know at a glance if the product is fresh. Most stores use a “pull date” – the last day the item is offered for sale. This still allows a few days for using at home. For stores that use a “pack date,” especially with meats, inquire how long the product will remain fresh at home.

The importance of improving farm practices is not lost on Arizona Farm Bureau members. “To feed the majority of Americans, crop and livestock agriculture must continually become more efficient, and in many cases, larger to spread energy and labor costs across more acres to help stabilize prices at the grocery store,” said John Boelts, vegetable farmer from Yuma, Arizona. Boelts, who said the cost for just one refueling of one large tillage tractor can be more than $600, explained that labor and energy are the two largest farm operating costs that must be controlled.

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15 Fun Ways to Celebrate National 4-H Week

National 4-H Week

Here are some fun ways to celebrate National 4-H Week (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Many people think that 4-H is something that kids who want to be farmers participate in, but the 4-H movement has expanded well beyond the rural farming communities of yesterday. Today, it is the largest youth development organization in the country with more than 6 million participants. The kids who are involved in today’s 4-H Club come from urban areas, suburbs, rural areas and everywhere in between.   The week of October 3-11, 2014 is National 4-H week which provides a great opportunity to learn more about this amazing organization and to encourage everyone to get involved.

For those already involved in 4-H, this week offers an amazing opportunity to spread the word about the great work the organization is doing in your community and to inspire others to join your club. To help you get in the spirit and to reach out to others, here are 15 ways you can celebrate national 4-H week.

  1. Sign-up to participate in or assist with your local 4-H club.
  2. If there isn’t a 4-H club in your area, find out what you need to do to start one.
  3. Wear green every day in support of the 4-H movement.
  4. Invite someone from 4-H to come and speak at your church, your child’s school, or another community event to help others learn about the organization and what it offers.  If you are a member, volunteer to speak at these community events to spread the word.
  5. Host a 4-H cookie bake-a-thon and distribute the cookies to those who support your local community like police officers, fire fighters, and teachers.
  6. Throw a 4-H Family Fun day and invite the families in your community to come and learn more about your club. Plan fun activities, games, and demonstrations that show all the great things about 4-H.
  7. Host a chili cook-off where 4-H families and members of the community can show off their chili making skills while raising money for a local charity or community group.
  8. Hand out 4-H clover stickers to people you meet throughout the week and use the stickers as a way to start conversations about the great things 4-H does for its participants and its communities.
  9. Do something special for the local sponsors of your 4-H club like writing thank you notes or taking them a bouquet of green and white balloons.
  10. Encourage everyone in your club to wear a 4-H t-shirt or button everyday during the week to promote 4-H across your community.
  11. Give out shamrock plants to special donors as a thank you for their support.
  12. Hand out bags of green and white jelly beans at the community park or sports fields as a way to spread awareness of 4-H.
  13. Make 4-H clover shaped cookies and take them to your local nursing home to hand out to the residents.
  14. Leave a basket of treats in the teachers’ lounge at your school as a thank you to the teachers, custodians, and staff that support your education.
  15. Make a sign to hang in your school celebrating the 4-H Centennial that says “4-H, more than 100 years of helping teens!”
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What’s in Season in Arizona in October 2014

Arizona in season

Check out this list of in season Arizona produce and recipes to cool some delicious meals! (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

October means fall festivals, Halloween happenings, and pumpkin flavored everything!  It means you will find leafy greens like spinach and arugula next to the root veggies at the farmer’s market.   It also signifies a change in season and when the seasons change, so do the foods you can find that are raised or grown right here in Arizona. There is a wide range of locally grown produce, dairy, poultry, and meat available to fill your family’s plate whether you are shopping at the farmer’s market or right in your local grocery store. When you focus on eating locally grown, in season options you get the most nutritional value for your food dollar.

Here are some great ways to fill your plate with what’s in season in October.

Arugula

Basil

Bok Choy

 

Broccoli

 

Carrots

Corn

Dates

Figs

Green Beans

Green Onions/Scallions

Key Limes

Lettuce

Potatoes

Pumpkins

 

Radishes

 

Spinach

 

Sweet Peppers

Tomatoes

Turnips

 

Winter Squash

 

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