We are finally back from our summer vacation trips, which we enjoyed, in part, because we had financially planned for them, having saved in order to insure that we could return with no credit card debt.

This last vacation was with friends and family in Sylvan Beach, which is on the east end of Oneida Lake, east of Syracuse. It is a wholesome and great value destination, where food, lodging and entertainment are reasonably priced. If you are a regular reader, it can’t surprise you that I am always looking for good value.

Eddie’s restaurant is a family restaurant on Main Street, which has been in operation since 1934. It does not serve alcohol, but it has wonderful food, and you will see plenty of families there who have been coming now for three generations. Try the Utica-originated chicken riggies, and seriously, the world’s best homemade pies, still being made from the great-grandmother’s original recipes. If you want alcohol and great bar food, Harpoon Eddie’s is across the street on the beach with live bands. Try the beach bread.

Then at the end of town there is the midway/amusement park that has been there since the 1930s. The whole experience, for a day or a week, is completely retro, family oriented, authentic and non-pretentious. Even what everyone else calls the Highway Department, in the village of Sylvan Beach is called the “Street Department.” By the way, the public beach is great, and because the lake is so flat, the sunsets are every bit as impressive as those in Key West.

Then you can also make the short trip to Utica for Utica greens, tomato pie at Roma’s Sausage and Deli, and upside down pizza at O’scugnizzo, which has been there since 1914.

Many people are starting to plan their 2019 vacations, looking for good airline ticket prices and packages. As we have discussed, it is important to set a budget that you can stick to, including what you will spend at your destinations on food, entertainment, souvenirs, and gifts every day. Then, start saving.

I recently received a frustrated call from a friend about a contractor. He had been recommended by a family member, had taken over $300 in order to buy materials, then had months of excuses as to why the work was not being done — personal, family-type excuses. I won’t share all of my advice, which included making it clear that a lawsuit would be commenced, even if it would cost five times as much as the amount he was given to date — “this is personal.”

I told my friend not to be too upset, because this happens all the time. After all, there are at least a half a dozen television or newspaper reports on this every year. How many snow plow contractor stories have we all heard over the last 10 years? But it made me think that it was time to do a little research. I found several helpful articles online, including one on gizmodo.com. Here are some important tips.

Before choosing a contractor, check reviews on online at sites like Angie’s List and Yelp. Ask for recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors and associates, either in person, or by putting something out in a Tweet or on Facebook. You can also check with the local Better Business Bureau for any prior complaints, and to see if there have been any judgments or liens filed against the contractor. Also, get consistent detailed bids from several contractors on the job you are looking to have done — the scope of the work, materials, timeline, etc. For example, are they the same quality windows? In addition, make sure that the contractor is licensed and insured. Finally, make sure that you feel comfortable with the contractor, its named subs (research them too), and the workers who will be in your home.

When you have chosen a contractor, make sure that you have a signed, appropriately detailed for the job, written contract. It should detail the work, a timeline, which will be different for small (driveway sealing) and big jobs (a kitchen remodel or addition), and a payment schedule. Most experts say never pay more than half in advance, and sometimes for small jobs, it may make sense to go with the contractor and buy the materials yourself. Also, make sure that a building permit has been obtained when required.

Once the work starts, monitor it against the provisions of the detailed written contract — the materials, subs, and timelines. Document any perceived problems, not changes of mind, immediately in writing, and raise them right then with the contractor, so that they can be resolved as soon as possible. If they are not, and they are in violation of the terms of the contract, you have those progress payments that can be adjusted until the problems are fixed.

Make sure that any changes or additions you may want are also in writing, with the same detail as the terms of the original contract

Secure all of your valuables — why take a chance? Also, inventory your tools, including extension cords, to make sure they don’t disappear.

Don’t make a final payment until all the work is done to your satisfaction.

These tips are not exhaustive. There are a number of sites and articles out there. Read some for more tips.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.