Tips for traveling Southern California on a budget

As a CPA it is natural for me to analyze the best deals for exploring Southern California. My goal is to get the best experience for the best price. If I am able to effectively accomplish my goal, I may have some money left over for another adventure.

I plan on writing a variety of articles on how to travel Southern California on a budget. I want to bring my experience as well as my analytical talents to others looking for a good time while not trying to break the bank. In this article I will give some general ideas for saving money on a day trip.

Tip #1 – Pack a lunch

It may not be the sexiest travel idea for a day trip, but generally speaking, it could easily save you $20 for a family of four per meal. That equates to a minimum of $60 for a days worth of meals.

Tip #2 – Check the air pressure

Studies have shown that low tire pressure could result in the loss of a couple of miles per gallon. In theory, the harder the car has to work, the more gas it will use. It makes sense. A couple of miles a gallon isn’t much over a short distance, but it can add up over multiple, long trips.

Tip #3 – Pick a destination close to home

There are usually spots around most communities that go unvisited. If I get a comment saying that someone has visited every worthwhile location within a 25 mile radius around their house, I would have trouble believing them and would have to prove them wrong. Do a little research on Google and visit one of those locations.

Tip #4 – Look for discounts

Many locations offer a variety of discounts throughout the year. For instance, Catalina Express offers a birthday special that we took advantage of last year. Multiple business around the island offer buy-one get-one free packages. The ferry ride over was also free for the person on his birthday.

Tip #5 – Travel off season

Many businesses offer better deals during certain times of the year. Summer tends to be the most expensive with the most demand, so prices will generally be higher. I talked to one of the shopkeepers at Calico Ghost Town which is east of Barstow in the Mojave Desert. She told me that their busiest time of year is in the summer. I don’t know if you have ever been to the Mojave Desert in the summer, but it can be awfully miserable. This goes to show that people will endure even the most miserable conditions to travel during that time of year.

Tip #6 – Watch for free events

It seems that throughout the year, especially during the summer, many communities and organizations host free events. A few summers ago I was able to see the Commodores and Kansas for free in a show hosted by a neighbor city. Total cost for each show was approximately $6 (gas). I suggest each person to take some time every few months and locate a couple of local events to attend.

Now carry on my wayward sons and daughters and go experience the world around you!

Warmer weather is here!

Its early May in California and its starting to feel a bit like summer. California is well known for its temperate climate, but what makes Southern California unique is that the sudden elevation changes allow those that are here to adjust our climate.

Within a 50 mile radius of my house I can see 3 different climates with multiple micro-climates in between them. From my experience, California is a unique place. If anyone has any questions about travel activities in Southern California, feel free to email me a JoshOlney@gmail.com

American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012

I put together a presentation today about the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. I wanted to share some highlights of the changes that occurred with this new regulation. The Act was signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 2, 2013. It prevented many of the tax hikes that were scheduled to go into effect this year and retain many favorable tax breaks that were scheduled to expire. It will also increase income taxes for some high-income individuals. Further, it extends a bunch of expired and expiring tax breaks for businesses and individuals.

Top tax rate increased to 39.6% from 35% for taxpayers making:
• $450,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses
• $425,000 for heads of household
• $400,000 for single filers
• $225,000 for married taxpayers filing separately

Raised the top rate for capital gains and dividends to 20% (up from 15%) for taxpayers making:
• $450,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses
• $425,000 for heads of household
• $400,000 for single filers
• $225,000 for married taxpayers filing separately

Also note that the 2010 Health Care Reconciliation Act includes an additional 3.8% tax on net investment income for joint filers and surviving spouses making $250,000 and single filers making $200,000.

Reinstated personal exemption phaseouts for higher income taxpayers. Under the Personal Exemption Phaseout, the total amount of exemptions that can be claimed by a taxpayer subject to the limitation is reduced by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which the taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the applicable threshold (Inflation adjusted)
• Applicable thresholds (Inflation adjusted for tax years after 2013)
• $300,000 for joint filers and a surviving spouse
• $275,000 for heads of household
• $250,000 for single filers
• $150,000 for married taxpayers filing separately

Extended for five years the following items that were originally enacted as part of the American Recovery and Investment Tax Act of 2009
• American Opportunity tax credit
– Permits eligible taxpayers to claim a credit equal to 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses, and 25% of the next $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses (for a maximum tax credit of $2,500 for the first four years of post-secondary education)
• Refundable child credit
– Eased rules for qualification
• Earned income tax credit
– Various changes related to higher EITC amounts for eligible taxpayers with three or more children
– Increased in threshold phaseout amounts for singles, surviving spouses, & heads of households

Retained $5 million exemption amount for estate and gift taxes with slight rate increases
• Prevented steep increases in estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax that were slated to occur for individuals dying and gifts made after 2012 by permanently keeping the exemption level at $5,000,000 (as indexed for inflation)

Permanently increased in the top estate & gift tax rate
• Rate increased from 35% to 40%

Extended and modified depreciation provisions
• Extended and modified the 50% bonus depreciation provisions for one year for qualified property placed in service before 2014

These are some of the more relevant items from the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 which I wanted to highlight. If you have any additional comments or questions, please feel free to post a comment or contact me.

Trickle down economics

I was browsing some comments on a CNN Money.com article about the fiscal cliff and came across these comments. In my opinion they are some good common sense arguments for the existence of “trickle down” economics.

Commenter #1
“it’s been proven that trickle down theory doesn’t work.”

Commenter #2
“Proven by whom? Do you have the actual proof? BTW, when’s the last time a poor person gave you a job?”

Commenter #3
“When the rich get richer all they do is send their money overseas. They don’t open business or hire anyone new.”

Commenter #4
“If trickle down economics does not work then why did we bail out banks and the auto industry. We bailed them out because we were afraid that if they went out of business, then they would not be able to pay employees who in turn give their money to the service industry. It is because the top leaders understand that trickle down economics is the core of our economy that we bailed out those industries.”

Irvine Park Christmas Train

Its holiday season once again in Southern California and my wife was talking about visiting the Irvine Park Christmas Train again this year which gave me a great idea for a post.

We went on the Christmas Train last year.  Its a slow moving, small train that travels around the Irvine Park.  During the holiday season, the park brightens the trains path with lights and decorations.  The ride takes a break at Santa’s Village in which the kids can take a picture with Santa.  Once the pictures are finished the train returns to the station.  

The lines for the train are longer than I like but its a really nice experience for the kids. The Park also has other small attractions set up near the train station.

For more information see the Irvine Park Christmas Train

Irvine Park Christmas Train