Nine Ways to Rein in Holiday Spending

We are officially in the season of spending. Between gift giving, holiday travel, and hosting family meals, the expenses at this time of the year add up. 

We tend to be extra busy throughout the holidays, so it’s easy to not take the time to make sure we are saving money where we can. Here are some ways you can take control of your spending instead of your spending taking control of you and your money.

  • Do a complete financial forecast. Set a budget for expenses such as: gifts, travel, parties, holiday wardrobe, shipping packages and even postage stamps for cards. Once you have that list, price everything out and total it up. If you are over the amount you can afford, see where you can cut back. Usually the amount you spend on gifts is a good place to start. Having this knowledge and plan set in place before the spending season gets underway is the first step to saving money.
  • Save your receipts for price adjustments. If you make a purchase and that item goes down in price within a certain period (usually 10-14 days), larger stores will usually refund the difference between what you paid and the new sale price, if you ask. I have saved thousands of dollars doing this over my lifetime. Most stores just need you to bring in the receipt to get your refund. This is an especially good tip for this time of the year when prices keep going down as we get closer to Christmas.
  • Use coupons to save online. You should always look for a coupon code before you make any online purchase. There are thousands of codes you can find on everything from clothes to travel. It takes a minute to check and the savings can be well worth it.
  • If you are buying an item that qualifies for a rebate, make sure you get an extra copy of the receipt and save any necessary papers. This will be helpful whether the item is for you or for someone else.
  • If you are buying anything electronic, find out if the store is selling any “open boxed” items. These are items that were either floor samples or a return, so they are usually drastically marked down in price. Just make sure they offer a warranty and a return policy if there is a problem.
  • Book your holiday travel now. Waiting until the last minute for holiday travel can mean two things: higher prices and less of a selection. Traveling on the actual holiday can reduce your airfare. This works particularly well if you are traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast. An 8 a.m. flight will get you there in time for lunch.
  • For wardrobes, look to resale shops. You can find the best deals on party dresses and outfits for the entire family. I am a big fan of resale and consignment shops. The secret to saving: shop now before the best deals are gone!
  • If you are going to be shipping packages, the earlier you send the more you will save. If you wait until days before you need the packages to arrive, you will end up paying rush delivery fees.
  • Remember the holidays are about family, friends and time together. Don’t get caught up in the financial stresses that often take away from enjoying the holiday season.

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show” and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her money saving tips and ways to give back on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at

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Environmentally smart ways to show gratitude during holidays

If you have plenty of food this Thanksgiving, you may want to express gratitude by avoiding food waste and sharing with those less fortunate. Unfortunately, sharing prepared food is not easy.

Food Share, a nonprofit food bank serving Ventura County, is unable to accept prepared food. 

“Food safety is our number one concern, and finding a local food pantry with the staff, refrigeration and other capabilities needed to handle prepared food may be difficult,” said Monica White, president and CEO of the nonprofit food bank.

Food Share specializes in packaged food and produce, feeding about 140,000 people a month. To help the hungry during the holidays it holds an annual CAN-tree Drive in which donors assemble canned food in the form of Christmas trees, each with hundreds of decorative cans.

This year’s drive, scheduled for Dec. 9-12, is at Figueroa Plaza in downtown Ventura. For details, see, or email the event organizer. Jennifer Caldwell, at [email protected].

Rather than trying to share your Thanksgiving leftovers, you can avoid waste by sending food home with guests.

“Just beware of time and temperatures,” warns Graciela Garcia, who manages food inspections for the Ventura County Environmental Health Division. U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines say turkey should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours and no more than one hour if the temperature is above 90 F. 

Simply donating money to a hunger relief organization is often more practical. In addition to Food Share, local food-based charities include Food Forward, Spirit of Santa Paula, and Ventura County Rescue Mission.

Another environmentally smart way to express gratitude is to donate warm clothing to people in need. Ventura County Supervisors Matt LaVere and Carmen Ramirez recently organized a drive to collect warm clothing from employees at the county government center through December 17.

The clothing will go to the county’s Homeless One Stop program, which holds west county events that provide food, medical and employment assistance. To coordinate with the program for a donation drive at your workplace, contact Yolanda Huerta or James Boyd at 805-652-6694.

The Rotary Club of Ventura has drop-off sites countywide for donating winter clothes through its popular Coats for Kids program. The Crowne Plaza in Ventura cleans the donations, thanks to Danny Quintana, the hotel manager and a Rotarian.

The jackets, sweaters and sweatshirts are distributed by the Boys & Girls Clubs, Project Understanding, Casa Pacifica, the Union Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, The Hope Center Project, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, local police departments and local churches.

Coats for Kids is neither just for coats nor just for kids. All sizes are accepted.

“Sometimes, entire families that would otherwise be cold in the winter receive warm clothing,” said Kristin Taylor, a travel agent and member of the Ventura Downtown Rotary, which coordinates the program.

However, donations from children are among the most important.

“When kids donate, even just something they have outgrown, it helps them realize the importance of giving,” Taylor said. Kids learn “there are people in our community who don’t have as much as you.”

For drop-off locations see

Some locations are available only Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, others year round. The three most popular drop-off sites are the two Trader Joes in Ventura and Green Thumb Nursery in Ventura.

David Goldstein is an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency. He can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected]

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10 Best Ways to See New Mexico’s Annual Balloon Fiesta

From skipping traffic to enjoying breakfast with a view, these tried-and-tested tips will help you make the most of your experience at Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta.

“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon,” says Winnie-the-Pooh. He’s not wrong. No matter culture, creed, or religion, the uplifting (excuse the pun) symbolism surrounding balloons is universal. Letting go. Achieving your dreams. Hope. Rising above it all. Celebration. Freedom. Levity. Joy.

Now, imagine all that positive association multiplied by 1000 when you witness a sea of giant hot air balloons ascending into the sky. Get your Kleenex out, folks; the experience is that powerful. It’s no wonder nearly a million people from around the world flock to New Mexico’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta every October.

Over nine days, nearly 600 hot air and gas-filled balloons are launched by pilots from six countries. “Mass ascensions don’t happen anywhere in the world but here. Ascension and the Special Shape Rodeo are the two events you must see,” explains Scott Appelman, owner of Rainbow Ryders, the largest balloon ride company in the country. In addition, there’s lots of family fun at the Balloon Fiesta Park with booths and concession stands. To maximize your experience, we’re sharing 10 insider secrets for finessing this incredible festival.

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Planning a Wintertime Trip? 4 Ways to Save

Many people like to take vacations during the summer, when the weather is warm and school’s not in session. But wintertime travel can be rewarding in its own right, too. If you’re gearing up to take a trip this winter, here are a few ways to spend less in the process.

1. Avoid the holidays

Traveling during the holidays often means paying a premium for flights, hotels, and rental cars. Of course, if the purpose of your winter vacation is to see family for the holidays, then this tip won’t apply to you. But if you’re taking a trip to go skiing or visit a theme park, booking your plans outside of late November and late December could save you a bundle.

Along these lines, aim to avoid holiday weekends during the winter, like Presidents’ Day weekend. Many people try to capitalize on those free days off, and that uptick in demand tends to send travel costs soaring.

2. Book your flights in the middle of the week

It’s more common for people to travel on a Friday or Monday than on a Tuesday or Wednesday. If your travel schedule is flexible, you could save yourself money by booking both your flights and your hotel rooms at the right time.

3. Consider a private vacation home over a hotel

One of the biggest expenses you might encounter in the course of your travels is food. Restaurant meals can be very expensive, especially if there are multiple people in your party. And that’s just one reason it pays to book a private vacation rental instead of staying at a hotel.

When you stay at a private home, it’ll almost always come with a functional kitchen that will allow you to prepare your own meals. And if you do decide to go out for the occasional dinner (it is vacation, after all), you’ll have a full fridge to store your leftovers for a bonus meal the next day. Plus, booking a private home could result in more space and a more comfortable stay.

4. Use the right credit cards

Being strategic about the credit card you use for your travels could save you money and help you snag extra rewards or cash back. Say you’re planning to book a flight to your destination. If you have a travel rewards credit card that offers you free checked bags, you can reap some instant savings. Plus, some travel cards offer generous rewards for hotel stays, so it pays to see what perks your cards come with.

In fact, you may even want to consider applying for a new credit card before booking your trip. This especially makes sense if there’s a card with a generous sign-up bonus you can easily snag based on the spending requirements.

If you’re planning a trip this winter, you might as well keep your costs as low as possible. These tips could shave a chunk of money off of your next vacation — and afford you the option to book another trip soon after.

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13 Ways to Travel More Responsibly

Sustainable Though it’s often conflated with eco-friendliness, sustainability goes beyond environmental protection. Besides being low-impact, a sustainable experience should provide socioeconomic benefits to the communities you visit. Committed companies will publish their efforts (like environmental initiatives and social projects) in an annual report online; destinations will share a regularly updated management plan. Transparency is key.

Regenerative For decades, being a responsible traveler meant minimizing your footprint; now it includes contributing something to a destination while you’re there. Brands increasingly offer immersive experiences to help restore or rebuild a place—primarily educational tours and volunteering opportunities focused on nature or culture, led by community leaders or conservation experts. (Think opting in to a few hours of sustainable farming and learning about native plants.)

Certified Green There are more than 150 sustainable-certification labels for travel brands, but the most reliable are internationally accredited by an independent body, like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, founded partly by the U.N. World Tourism Organization. Marks you can trust include EarthCheck, Green Destinations, Rainforest Alliance, Travelife, and EcoTourism Australia; you can often spot them on the provider’s website. —Lebawit Girma

Being certified green can signal a business’s eco cred, but it’s not all that counts.

Klaus Kremmerz

3. Don’t miss the mark

While a stamp of approval from trusted organizations is often a good indicator of a company’s green cred, its absence isn’t necessarily a red flag. The certification process can be cost-prohibitive for small businesses and community-based enterprises in low- to middle-income nations. The term can’t be applied broadly, either, especially in parts of the world where resource challenges abound. And for Indigenous communities, sustainability often isn’t a checked box; it’s a lifestyle. Ultimately, if a place isn’t certified, evaluate it through the lens of diversity and equity to make an informed decision. —L.G.

Tip well, and account for everyone who made your experience so great.

Klaus Kremmerz

4. Be generous

A rule of thumb for post-pandemic travels: Tip more, and more often, than you did before, and extend your habits to those you may not have considered. Did you eat an extraordinary meal? Consider leaving a little something extra for the kitchen staff, too. Have a restorative hotel stay? Factor in each person who made you feel so at home, including the friendly team at the door. Remember: It takes a village to execute your trip—and to keep you safe. —L.A.

5. Get a jump start

Making more thoughtful decisions about travel isn’t always straightforward, but platforms are cropping up that offer free and easy shortcuts to help us do just that. Out of Finland, the Carbon Donut app shows you how your emissions track with those of other users toward a global goal and offers short, insightful courses on topics like the climate impact of flying; meta-search tool Skyscanner, meanwhile, flags lower-emission flights on a given route with its “Greener choice” label. Travelers can be reassured when they see that a business is certified by B Corporation, a nonprofit that uses a rigorous audit to assess a company’s environmental, social, and governance metrics. (Intrepid Travel is the best-known ethical global tour operator to be accredited by them.) The Canada-based Native Land app is able to show which Indigenous territories you’re on in many parts of the world, and which languages are spoken there. There are aggregators to help cut through the greenwashing around the accommodation landscape too, including booking platforms like Regenerative Travel, Beyond Green (which recently became part of the Preferred Hotel Group), and the new Considerate Collection from Small Luxury Hotels, though hotels pay to be part of these portfolios. The truth is, we’re still holding out for a totally holistic method for weighing each choice. But until then, we can use the lighthouses we have to guide us. —Juliet Kinsman

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Ways Colleges Offer Alternatives to Study Abroad | Best Colleges

Coronavirus-related border closures, embassy shutdowns and quarantine mandates caused schools across the country to postpone and cancel study abroad programs in spring 2020.

With travel restrictions in place, colleges and universities redefined global education by offering asynchronous and synchronous virtual alternatives, allowing students to collaborate with individuals and employers throughout the world without boarding a plane.

“There are so many more options today than ever before,” says Adam Rubin, assistant vice provost and director of education abroad at the University at Buffalo—SUNY. “Students shouldn’t think of virtual programs as a negative or as a trade-off. There’s always going to be a trade-off between any two programs, but I think students should see it as a viable option. While we hope that every student at some point will have an in-person experience, I think that’s still the preferred model. These virtual programs are still really rewarding.”

What Are Examples of Study Abroad Alternatives?

After her study abroad trip to Mexico was canceled due to COVID-19, Shania Stevenson, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, looked for options. Running out of time to participate in a global experience before graduation in December 2021, she decided to pursue a virtual global internship.

As an international social justice major and Spanish minor, Stevenson sought an internship that would allow her to practice her language skills. She was matched this fall with the Casa Alitas Program, an organization that works to connect migrants with family in the U.S. under the auspices of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona.

Though the program is based domestically, Stevenson interacts with individuals and volunteers from around the world, with a large portion from Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.

“It’s not going to be the same as studying abroad but I do feel like virtual internships or any type of study abroad excursions offers you something that you still can’t obtain in a typical classroom,” Stevenson says. “I’ve been able to build these intercultural relationships and have these global communications.”

The University of Iowa also offers a variety of remote global internships for credit in partnership with five international education organizations: Cultural Experiences Abroad, Institute for the International Education of Students, School for International Training, The Education Abroad Network and University Studies Abroad Consortium. Internships are individually tailored, and a student works with the career center to update his or her resume and cover letter for the interview matching process.

Remote faculty-led programs are also available. For winter 2021, the school plans to offer two business-related programs in the Asian Pacific region and Italy, where students will learn about each country’s culture, interact with local and large businesses, and complete consulting projects virtually.

“There’s a tendency for students to want to travel once they get to a place,” says Monica Ernberger, senior study abroad adviser and program coordinator at Iowa. “So every weekend, they might be off to a different location, which is wonderful. But it isn’t necessarily culturally impactful for the place that they picked as their home base. Whereas with the virtual programming, they’ve really done a lot surrounding their chosen location in terms of those cultural aspects.”

The Texas Global Virtual Exchange initiative, for example, gives funding and administrative support to faculty members looking to incorporate the collaborative online international learning method, or COIL – created by the State University of New York – into current or new courses in collaboration with peers at universities abroad, according to Sonia Feigenbaum, senior vice provost for global engagement and chief international officer at UT Austin.

Course topics have ranged from architecture in the Galapagos to political approaches to how the pandemic was contained around the world.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Feigenbaum says. “Pedagogically, it brings a lot of diversity to both the teaching experience but also to the students’ learning experience.”

How Do Virtual and In-Person Study Abroad Compare?

Not everyone has the ability to travel due to financial constraints, immigration complications or family situations, so virtual international education provides access to students who might have been unable to participate in a traditional program. It can often be the more affordable option, as students do not have to pay for airfare, housing and other travel-related expenses, experts say.

However, both options provide opportunities for scholarships.

Another barrier to study abroad can be a lack of course flexibility. Often, students fear not being able to graduate on time. But through virtual learning, colleges and universities have the ability and flexibility to deliver online courses that might not be available in person.

Virtual study abroad can also serve as an introduction to global education and, in some cases, encourage students to pursue in-person programs.

“We don’t see (virtual programs) replacing what we do, but we do see it enhancing what we do,” says James Pellow, president and CEO of The Council on International Educational Exchange.

Participating in global exchange can prepare students for a career, as it teaches adaptability, communication, problem-solving and interpersonal skills, according to Lindsay Calvert, lead at the IIENetwork, which connects members to experts on international education by offering resources as well as conferences and seminars throughout the year.

“Now we’re seeing the rise of remote working,” she adds. “So being adaptable, skilled and experienced in an online collaborative environment is also just as helpful as the in-person collaborative environment to learn from.”

Study abroad not only provides necessary skills for the workforce, but it also may improve academic success. For example, four-year graduation rates are 18% higher for students who study abroad, according to research reported by the nonprofit NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Caroline Donovan White, senior director for education abroad services and volunteer engagement at NAFSA, encourages students to talk with a study abroad adviser to determine the best program fit for their academic and career goals.

“When I was working at a university campus myself, I found that students made those decisions about what was possible before knocking on the door or opening the door of the study abroad office,” she says. “Or they do that and decide it’s not for them because they haven’t seen a friend do it, or they don’t know much about it.”

Despite countries reopening to tourists and international students, experts predict virtual study abroad and internship alternatives will remain post-COVID.

“In terms of the future, there is going to be a lot of pent-up demand for conventional study abroad,” says Russell Ganim, associate provost and dean of international programs at Iowa. “Nonetheless, we’re living in a hybrid world. And part of that hybrid means virtual, so we’re continuing to promote virtual study abroad and virtual global internships. We are definitely getting interest, and it seems to me that that’s going to be a big part of our portfolio as we move forward.”

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Travel agencies find ways to navigate Covid complexities: Travel Weekly

Navigating international travel these days isn’t for the faint of heart, and to keep clients abreast of ever-changing policies, agencies are relying on a dizzying mix of digital resources, creative initiatives and staffers specifically dedicated to the cause.

Embark Beyond, for example, augmented its approach by adding a “Covid expert” to the company’s team earlier this year. The Covid expert, who transitioned into the role after most recently serving as an Embark concierge, is charged with keeping the agency updated on the latest travel protocols,while also fielding more complex Covid rules-related queries from Embark advisors. 

“As an agency or an advisor, you have to think about how you can be a step ahead and make the client’s life easy when it comes to travel, and really give people no excuses to not travel,” said Embark founder Jack Ezon. 

For travelers looking to visit or travel through multiple destinations, as well as those traveling with younger children ineligible for vaccination, having a Covid expert has proven especially valuable, added Ezon. 

“She’s been saving our advisors so much time,” he said. “In the beginning, our advisors were spending half an hour or 45 minutes trying to figure some of this stuff out, when they could be selling instead.”

Like many travel groups, Embark has also tapped Sherpa, an online platform specializing in travel identification requirements, to stay up to date on various restrictions like visa, passport, quarantine and Covid testing measures across the globe. According to Sherpa’s website, the company collects its information by aggregating data from thousands of sources, including official government websites, every day.

While Sherpa is also a go-to resource for Brownell Travel, the Birmingham, Ala.-based company has beefed up its pandemic problem-solving efforts with a special desk intended to field restriction-related questions. The travel desk email account is manned by a team of six. 

Additionally, Brownell has set up several Slack channels focused solely on Covid concerns.

“We maintain a Slack workspace for the entire community, with channels dedicated to different topics, including Covid updates and Covid resources,” said Sheri M. Selkirk, COO at Brownell Travel. “So, you have the Brownell community of about 200 people seeing your posts, and whoever can help you be more efficient and adapt to what your client needs at that time, they absolutely jump right in.”

So far, said Selkirk, Brownell’s crowdsourcing solution has yet to leave a single travel restriction query unanswered. 

“Everyone in the company is on Slack, from our president, Troy Haas, on down,” said Selkirk. “So we can cover all bases, whether it’s an operations question, a sales question or a Covid question.”

The tiered approach

Across Internova Travel Group, the strategy around travel restriction updates has been similarly multilayered, according to John Rose, chief risk and security officer for Internova’s Altour division. 

In addition to the Sherpa platform, which Internova has used since September of this year, the group has been leveraging support provided by a company called Exlog Global since August 2020. 

“Exlog is able to provide that next tier of support, and they specialize in that human component,” said Rose. 

“Let’s say you might be traveling with someone, but the person you’re traveling with is on a different passport. So, if there’s a question about that, that maybe isn’t clear to the client or the advisor, Exlog is able to work that out.”

One-on-one support from an Exlog professional is available via email or phone, with Rose estimating that Internova typically sees “several hundred” questions get answered by the Exlog system each week. 

If a Covid-related travel quandary proves too difficult or unique for Sherpa to address or Exlog to solve, the matter is then escalated to an internal team within the organization. 

The tiered approach has “really worked well,” said Rose.

“To be able to provide that level of service is a differentiator we have within Internova,” he added. “We can’t have an advisor spending eight hours searching 19 different websites and then getting conflicting information, because that’s not helpful to anyone.”

Meanwhile, as international travel continues to ramp back up, Rose predicts that being able to efficiently stay on top of travel protocol changes will be more important than ever.

“The world is opening back up, but it’s going to open with restrictions and those restrictions aren’t going to be going away anytime in the near future,” said Rose. “So, the demand for tools like Sherpa and other tiers of support is likely to grow, and it’s so important to be forward-thinking and get solutions.”

At Signature Travel Network, members are granted access to a paid enterprise account on Sherpa, which provides them the ability to create custom links that can be shared with clients, as well as integrate Sherpa’s content directly into their websites, emails and itineraries, among other channels. 

Members can also opt to create their own white label version of the Sherpa site. 

“Without question, a travel advisor’s greatest challenge today is keeping up with the continually changing border closures, visa needs, Covid protocols, et cetera,” said Jean Newman Glock, Signature’s managing director for communications and public affairs.

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The 2 big ways Americans’ travel habits changed during the pandemic

The 2 big ways Americans’ travel habits changed during the pandemic

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