New Lone Tree Park

As a parent in Southwest Denver, I know that it can be tons of fun to take your kids to new playgrounds. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find them since they tend to be tucked away in neighborhoods where you wouldn’t normally drive by and see them.

Centennial Ridge Park

South Suburban Parks and Recreation recently completed a new playground in Centennial Ridge Park. The park has a brand new basketball court, and new playground equipment. According to SSPR, the playground also has a hop scotch (big whoop) and also a foursquare court.

Although both hopscotch and foursquare aren’t that hard to come by, new paint and uncracked pavement is always fun.

The district says that they will be adding picnic tables and a shad pavilion next spring. The park is just west of the Lone Tree Tennis Center on Lincoln Ave. The official address is 10022 Lone Tree Parkway, Lone Tree, Co, 80124.

The playground is one of the smaller structures the district puts in, but it has 3 slides on the big structure, a nice toddler structure, and a tiny playhouse as well as a small swing set. There is also a water fountain, and trails nearby.

All in all, if you need a new playground to stimulate your kiddos, this is a fun one with plenty of sunshine and not crowds… at least not yet.

You can find information on new parks and playgrounds that South Suburban Recreation District is working on at the website. It’s kind of fun to follow along, even if what they really need is a new tennis bubble so that the only one they have isn’t booked out months in advance with tennis classes that are impossible to get into unless you treat registration like concert tickets.

Happy parenting, enjoy the parks.

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Denver Attraction Memberships Are Worth It

Here in Denver, we are fortunate to have many cultural institutions, a lot of which cater to kids at least in part. It’s not particularly cheap to run a zoo, or an art museum, and frankly they get plenty of business one way or another, so tickets to these places aren’t cheap.

If you look hard enough, you can find a Denver zoo coupon or discounted art museum admission here or there. In Denver, several organizations have Free Days as part of their association with the Denver Scientific Cultural and Facilities District, known as SCFD.

Another option for a more reasonably priced way to enjoy local attractions is a membership.

At first glance, a membership often just seems like a different way to donate money to an organization, and in some ways that is true. However, if you look closer, the benefits of a membership are often greater than the price.

membership deals cost

This was especially true when my kids were younger. Before they started going to school and preschool, we would often go to the Denver Zoo at least once a week. We’d go to the art museum regularly as well.

One of the most recent favorites, especially for the youngest is the Colorado History Museum. Being members and getting free admission was a no brainer. As they got older, however, we started to wonder if it was worth it. I mean, we only go to the zoo a few times each year now.

Membership Cost and Benefits

As it turns out, most places have a family membership. A family membership gives free admission to both parents and all the kids of the family. Sometimes, the kids may be limited to 4 or something. The more kids you have, the better that admission deal is obviously. But for a family with just two kids like ours, the math still really works out.

Consider the Denver Zoo Family Membership which costs $155. In addition to free admission, you also get 20 percent off the gift shop (they have some good T-shirts, and we also ended up buying some Christmas gifts there as well.) We also get 10 percent off food and rides on the train and carousel. But getting $155 out of those discounts would be tough.

On the other hand, regular admission tickets cost $15 each for adults and $10 each for children (age 3-11). That works out to $50 per visit. If we go just three times during the year, we break even on our membership. Considering we go at least once to Denver Zoo Lights, and once for trick-or-treating at Halloween, odds are fairly good we’ll make it there once or twice just because. The end result? We’d be dumb to not be members.

And, it’s not just non-profit organizations either.

The local amusement park Elitch Gardens offers season passes as well. On the one hand this sounds really dumb for my family. It’s only open during the summer, and we only go a few times. But tickets to get into Elitch’s are expensive, and the season pass offers free parking which is also expensive. We break even on just TWO visits.

When it comes to local attractions, always be sure to check out the cost of membership, especially family memberships. The pricing will always seem high at first, but if you add it up, chances are that it is a good deal, especially if you do take advantage of parking or concessions.

For things that you only visit once per year because of distance, then the math won’t add up as well. Just get your single admission tickets and try and bring in your food to keep costs down.

Otherwise, never pass up a chance for an in-depth day of fun with your family at your local cultural attractions.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park Family Trip

Thinking about taking your family on a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park? I’ve only got one thing to say to you… Do it!

Is Great Sand Dunes National Park Good for Families With Kids?

I know how it is. You took your kids to see some of the greatest attractions in the world including U.S. National Parks. Some of them they really appreciated, others not so much. One of the big issues is that often National Parks can be pretty stuffy and delicate.

Yellowstone National Park is a wonder to behold, but you can’t step off of the paths near the geysers, and some of the pretty colored lakes will actually dissolve your flesh in acid! Plus the traffic can be awful.

Check out the reviews of Digit.

The Grand Canyon was awesome… for 10 minutes, then it’s just more rails to keep you from falling into a giant hole in the ground.

The drive up to Mount Rushmore was fine, thanks to iPads, but it doesn’t take long to see four faces carved into a rock. Thank goodness for the pool with waterslide in the nearby town.

Hope you were fortunate enough to reserve your ticket to climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty six-months in advance.

And so on.

So, what if I told you, at Great Sand Dunes National Park, your kids can run WILD? They can go anywhere. They can step on anything.

Want to dig a hole in the dunes?

Go nuts!

Stomp on the tops?

Do you.

Sled down the face of a steep sandy hill?

Boo ya!

Sand Dunes Repair

Turns out that the same winds that built the sand dunes in the first place constantly blow shaping, and reshaping the sand dunes. All the “damage” that you can do on your trip will simply be blown away during the next night or two. You never have to say:

  • Don’t touch
  • Stay on the path
  • Leave the animals alone (you can’t catch the few that are there)
  • Be careful
  • Don’t run
  • Don’t put that in your mouth… well, maybe that one.

Sand Dunes Sledding

The most fun you can have on the Sand Dunes is sledding down them. There is a catch. A regular sled, or wax paper, or cardboard, or whatever you think of, will NOT work.

Suck it up and rent a sand sled, or sandboard, in Alamosa when you grab dinner or breakfast, or whatever. No they aren’t cheap, but if you cheap out on this, you’re going to be very disappointed.

  • Oasis Store (outside park entrance) rents equipment from spring through early fall, 719-378-2222
  • Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa (35 miles from the park on US 160), open year round, 719-589-9759
  • Sand Dunes Swimming Pool near Hooper (32 miles from the park on CO 17), open year round, 719-378-2807
  • Mountain View Motor Inn in Fort Garland (32 miles from the park on US 160), open year round, 719-379-2993

Find out – do savings bonds expire?

Sand Dunes Family Tips

Your kids aren’t going to want to do it all day, so have some plans for the second half of the day based on whatever your family usually likes to do on vacation.

Go early. It can get stupid-hot out on the Sand Dunes and dragging a sled back up the hill in 100 degree heat is not fun.

sand dunes picture

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Denver

It would be a stretch to call the Sand Dunes a day trip from Denver. It’s a four-hour drive each way. You’ll really want to stay in a hotel somewhere either on the front or back end, and maybe both. We usually drive down, stay in a hotel that night, spend the next day on the dunes, stay in a hotel that night, and then head out the next day. The Sand Dunes are a great weekend trip from Denver, or if you’re doing some of the other Southwestern Colorado attractions like Mesa Verde, it can be a great add-on.

When it comes to hotels, there is only one hotel right near the national park. It’s called Great Sand Dunes Lodge. (I haven’t been in a few years, but after we go this fall I’ll post a review.) If you can’t stay there, you’ll be in a town a half-hour or more away. Be sure to pull out Google Maps before booking your stay.

The Sand Dunes makes a great fall trip thanks to lower heat, and the mosquitos all disappearing (not enough water). Later, you can go to Disneyland for Halloween.

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Current Happy Meal Toy Latest Update

Good parenting skills are key to avoiding things like temper tantrums, sulking, and most importantly of all, disappointed children which leads to disappointment for parents too. As a dad, good nutrition is important to me and my kids, primarily because I know how important getting the right foods helps kids stay healthy and grow strong.

On the other hand, having fun is very important to me too. And, as a fully grown adult who not only got an occasional McDonald’s meal when I was a kid, as well as one who ate there waaaayyyy to much in his twenties, I know that a Happy Meal here and there isn’t going to hurt my kids. When you way the fun of a trip to McDonald’s to get a Happy Meal against any nutritional detriments, fun comes out way ahead.

happy meal toy box

The catch to the whole thing is that the toy in a McDonald’s Happy Meal is an important part of the fun. Nothing puts disappointment on a little kid’s face like a crummy Happy Meal toy. That’s why I always like to know in advance what the current Happy Meal toy is.

Often the toys are tied to movies, but many of those won’t end up on the list of good movies for kids.

However, that does not necessarily mean that the current Happy Meal toy is no good.

Trick To Get Better Happy Meal Toy

If you have a younger child and the McDonald’s toy sucks when you go, there is a trick you can use to get a better Happy Meal toy free and easy.

The main Happy Meal toys are almost never “suitable” for children under 3. So, if you have a kid who is under, or even near 3-years old, just ask for the “under 3 toy”. This is a special Happy Meal toy that all McDonald’s restaurants keep on hand for parents who have young kids that don’t meet the official age requirements for the main Happy Meal toy. Don’t worry about making anyone grumpy, they have to have those toys anyway, and it is all the same to them, as long as you aren’t trying to be a weasel and get two toys out of your Happy Meal.

You can also find out the latest Happy Meal toys with the McDonald’s app. And, as an added bonus, if you’ve got more than one child, the app often has coupons Happy Meals, like a Buy One Happy Meal, Get One Free coupon that is on my app for this week.

However your lunch journey ends up going, have a fun day with your kids.

May 2021 Happy Meal Toys

It looks like the May 2021 Happy Meal toys will be either Hot Wheels cards, or Shopkins Happy Places. Remember, don’t say, “boys toy” or “girls toy” when talking about the Happy Meal toy choices.

Hot Wheels are obviously cars. The Shopkins things appear to be furniture turned into cuddly animals.

Like this, but only the furniture, no humans are available as McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys in May 2021.
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How To Save Money For College On a Budget

parenting-advice-for-dads-save-for-college I spent several years as a professional financial planner. As a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) I guided clients through all areas of their full financial planning picture. That means that I had to help clients make difficult choices sometimes. For example, deciding whether to save for retirement or for helping to pay for children’s college education. (Save for retirement first. There are other options for paying for college. There are no other options for paying for retirement unless you want to try and live off of Social Security payments.)

How Much To Save For College

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that most families simply do not have enough money to save effectively for their kid’s college education. Even financially responsible parents spend most of what they make each month. The exception are those with very high incomes, who, ironically, don’t really need to save for college because they can just pay tuition out of pocket when the time comes. However, there is a way to save for college on a limited budget by making smart personal finance decisions and letting the power of compound interest and the future propel your college savings plan forward.

How Parents Should Save For College

First, let me tell you how to NOT save for college.

Do not save for college with savings bonds, Coverdell IRAs, or UTMA / UGMA accounts. And definitely, never, ever, ever, save for college using life insurance. All of these ideas are either outdated or were never a good idea. The reason your parents tell you to use a UTMA account or savings bonds or some kind of trust is, because once upon a time, that was good strategy. However, these strategies are not the best way to save for college today.

The creation of the 529 Plan and its subsequent revisions has rendered all other forms of saving for higher education obsolete. (Coverdell IRAs still have a place if you plan to pay for private HIGH SCHOOL but are not the way to go for college savings.)

The other option is using a Roth IRA to save for college. I’m working on an in-depth look at that. For now, check here for how to use a Roth IRA to save for college.

Don’t bother reading a thousand articles or books, or talking to a bunch of planners or stock brokers, just trust me on this. You want a 529 Plan or a Roth IRA.

Anything negative you have ever heard about 529 plan either applies to a sub-type of plan called a “pre-paid tuition plan” which are the ones that “failed” earlier this century or is because SOME specific 529 plans are a not particularly good.

Don’t let the fact that some 529 plans are not good options cloud the fact that 529 plans are the best way to save for college.

Free Plan To Save Money For College

Here is my free, no-strings attached, financial plan for college savings:

(OK, there is one string, a link 🙂  Freelance Financial Writer

  1. To pick the right 529 Plan find out if your state offers a tax deduction for using your home state’s plan. If so, chances are that will be your best option, unless that plan violates one of the rules below.
  2. Open a 529 Plan account for your child DIRECTLY WITH THE PLAN. That is, do not buy your 529 plan through an advisor or broker. If you do, you will pay sales charges that will reduce the amount of money you are actually saving. The sale charge for investments less than $50,000 is usually very close to FIVE PERCENT (5%) or more. That means that for every $1,000 you save, you lose $50 before you invest a nickel. Unless you pay more than 5% in state income tax, the deduction is not worth the fee.
  3. Setup and automatic monthly investment. People spend what they have. Set and automatic investment into the 529 plan for day after you get paid. That way, the money will be out of your checking account before you even look. Start with $25 or $50 if possible, more if you can make it work.
  4. Whenever you get a raise, whether cost of living increase or otherwise, increase your automatic contribution timed with your first new paycheck. You WILL adjust your spending higher. Everyone does. However, you won’t adjust to spending money that isn’t there. If you get a $200 raise and increase your contribution by $20, your spending will adjust by $180. Otherwise, it will adjust to the full $200 and you’ll be somewhere explaining how you CAN’T cut any spending and don’t know where to find the money to save.

If you follow step 4 over the next two decades, you will eventually be saving much more than you can today, but you will still be taking advantage of what you can invest now getting the maximum amount of compound interest.

As for where to invest, choose the Moderately Aggressive or Aggressive option for kids under 10. After than, start moving more and more of the funds to more conservative options. By the time your child is 16, you should have 75% or more in a FIXED investment.

Start now, and you’ll save up a lot of money for college. It won’t be enough unless you are saving a few hundred per month or have big increases later, but it will make a big dent. And paying for half of university tuition with student loans is better than paying for all of it with student loans.

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