Whether you’re heading on a once-in-a-lifetime island adventure, budget backpacking in a foreign country, or just heading on a road trip with your squad, doing some financial prep ahead of time can save you major cash on your trip. While you know how to compare fares, travel during less busy days (FYI, according to Expedia, book your trip on a Sunday, and fly out on a Thursday or Friday to find the best deals) and cost compare hotels, these 7 save cash travel tips will help keep you from coming home broke as a joke.
1 – Make the Most of Your Miles
Unless you’re traveling a bunch for work, it doesn’t make sense to get a credit card that’s only exclusive to one airline. The best travel cards are the ones where miles can transfer easily between carriers. Take a look at the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card; points transfer across different carriers and hotel chains. Bonus:
2 – Be Smart About ATMs
Using a foreign ATM can lead to costly fees, and can make you vulnerable to identity theft. First, bring along a debit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees; frequent travelers recommend that you use a card??which reimburses ATM fees world wide*. Second, only use your debit card at an open bank, not an ATM on a street corner, so someone can help if the exchange goes awry. (There’s nothing worse than watching your debit card be eaten by a foreign ATM on a national holiday in Italy, when all banks are closed. I speak from experience — it can and does happen, and it’s awful.) Finally, take out the equivalent of $100 or $200, depending on where you’re staying, and only use the cash at a place that won’t take plastic.
Not only does using a credit card protect your cash, but since you’re also spending a lot of money in a short amount of time, it’s an easy way to rack up rewards?points for your next trip.
4 – Go Budget
European carriers like Iceland Air, Air Berlin, and Norwegian Air don’t always appear on major travel comparison websites, but can offer lower-cost fares. Look into these airlines to see if one runs in your area.
5 – Hit Up a Hostel
No, really! More than just a place for college-age backpackers to hang out, hostels have been going high-end, complete with private rooms, on-site bars, and pools. They’re still less luxe (and less pricey) than a hotel, but it’s not like you have to hang out in a bunk. HostelWorld is a great place to comparison shop.
Before your trip, follow must-see attractions on social media, where often special deals are announced. Also, excited to stay at a certain hotel? Tweet your anticipation. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes, social media account managers recognize your loyalty and will throw some perks your way.
*All ATM withdrawal fees will be waived for your Aspiration Summit Account. In addition, your account will automatically be reimbursed for all ATM fees charged by other institutions while using an Aspiration Debit Card linked to your account at any ATM displaying the Mastercard?, Interlink?, Cirrus?, or Maestro? logos. The reimbursement will be credited to the account the same day the ATM fee is debited from the account. Please note, there is a foreign transaction fee of one percent that is not waived, which will be included in the amount charged to your account.
I hate budgeting. It forces me to look at my money, realize that I don?t have any, and then limit my spending. (Post-grad life is a blast so far.) But for all of the complaining I do about it off the page, budgeting is one of the most important financial management things I do.
Why should you create a budget?
Running out of money is a lot worse than sitting down and planning out your spending. It lets you figure out how much your lifestyle costs and how much it would cost to change it. Budgets keep you organized and making one doesn?t have to be a headache. It?s as easy as asking yourself three questions:
How much money do you make?
How much money do you get to keep?
How much money can you spend on stuff you want?
How much money do you make?
This is a pretty easy question to start out with. You probably get a paycheck or maybe you?re still getting some help from home (I sure am, no judgement here). It?s an important starting point because it sets up the boundaries of your budget. It also determines how much you pay in taxes. Since a chunk of your money will go to paying taxes, you need to know how much money you make after taxes.
Don?t make the mistake of thinking you get to spend $50,000 because you made $50,000. Get a rough idea of the percentage of your gross income you will owe the government, start socking it away and don’t touch it. You might even consider opening a special savings account to dump this tax money into. This way, you aren’t caught with your pants down when March rolls around.
Don?t make the mistake of thinking you get to spend $50,000 because you made $50,000.
How much money do you get to keep?
Now that you?ve paid your taxes, you know what your disposable income is. However, there are other things you have to spend money on too. You probably also want to do things like eat food and live in a house, so you?ll have to pay for those, too. Figure out what you absolutely have to pay for after taxes:? rent, utilities, insurance, food, transportation, student loan payments, etc.
Knowing how much money you must spend on essentials will also help you figure out how much it costs to live the way that you want to live. This lets you plan your present and your future all at once. It also gives you an inside view on any expenses that you might be able to lower or cut out altogether.
Knowing how much money you must spend on essentials will also help you figure out how much it costs to live the way that you want to live.
How much money can you spend on stuff you want?
Now that you?ve paid your taxes and bought your food, you can look at what your discretionary income. Discretionary income is money that’s fair game for spending. Whether it?s a nice dinner or a trip to Barnes and Noble (my treat to myself), this is the pool of money that will pay for it.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to spend all of it if just because you have it left over. Whatever disposable income you have leftover can be put into an emergency savings fund, used to pay off credit card debt, attack your student loan balance, or invested. This will give you even more wiggle room for future budgeting cycles.?Remember, the goal of budgeting is to make sure you don’t run out of money, today or tomorrow.
It is. But you don?t have to look at your whole year all at once. You can look at one month at a time and go week by week to understand how much you spend. If your spending is consistent, then you can just multiply one month by 12 to see what your full year will look like. For example, if you know you spend $1,600 per month, then you’ll spend around $19,200 during the year.
Breaking everything down by shorter time frames makes everything much more manageable. Once you set up a system that works for you, it just takes a bit of maintenance to keep it going. You’re much better off knowing where you stand each month than flying blind with your wallet in your hand, hoping you make it till next pay day.
You’re much better off knowing where you stand each month than flying blind with your wallet in your hand, hoping you make it till next pay day.
So how do you make the budget?
Now that you can break your money down into three categories, how do you actually create a budget? There are plenty of free apps available on the App Store or Google Play that will automatically track your spending and help you create a budget from there. Do a bit of research and pick the free app that appeals to you. Your bank probably also has some sort of tool that helps with budgeting too. My bank has an online dashboard that shows me how much I spend compared to how much a deposit into my account, so I can keep an eye on it that way.
My personal favorite tool is Microsoft Excel. Using a spreadsheet, I can see where my money comes from, where it goes, and how it can grow over time. If I make $60,000 a year instead of $50,000, my spreadsheet will tell me how much money I will have to spend. There are templates available, but if you know how to use Excel, you can prepare a bunch of different scenarios with your money. This also allows you flexibility as your financial needs change in the future.
Your Budget Can Make a Difference, Too
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference with your money.?While you’re saving and planning your money, you can also use your money to invest in companies with positive social and environmental impacts. Budgeting doesn’t have to prevent you from creating positive change with your dollars. If you can incorporate sustainable investing into your budgeting practices, you can grow your money while doing good for the planet and people.
However you decide to budget your money, you should strongly consider doing it. It will give you a clear picture of how much your lifestyle costs today, how much your desired lifestyle will cost tomorrow, and set you up for success as you continue managing your finances. Budgeting is tedious, but it?s worth it to understand how you can get the most out of your money. And if you are just stating out, like me, don’t worry about feeling like you don’t know what you are doing. We will have to budget the rest of our lives. Might as well get started now.
For a lot of us, when things get complicated and we have big decisions to make, we secretly want someone to just tell us what to do. I never liked when my parents did this when I was a kid, but now? Please do! Someone?.anyone? Help!
When it comes to career advice, sustainable living, or any other complicated situation, we want a simple, quick answer from a source we trust. Managing our money is no different. It can feel incredibly daunting to make decisions about our financial well-being, especially when making a mistake can cost us. So the answer to this dilemma?
Rules of thumb for common money woes (and when to bend them)
Rules of thumb are everywhere. They’re simple, tweetable, and make for great tidbits you can share at your next cocktail party to convince your friends you know what you’re talking about. (I’m guilty of using them myself.) But they can also be problematic: Rules of thumb, by definition, are one-size-fits-all that don’t leave much wiggle room. There will inevitably be situations when they just don’t quite fit. And there will be other situations when they are outright wrong.
Their other downside? Rules of thumb rarely directly address the real questions we have about money. Am I really ready to buy a house? Should my partner and I combine our finances? Can I afford to take a vacation? What would it mean to quit my job and go freelance? Most personal finance decisions are truly personal. It’s all about what’s right for you and your particular situation. No rule of thumb can answer that.
Rules of thumb rarely directly address the real questions we have about money.
So should we start ignoring these catchy rules? Not quite.
Here a few examples that truly are worth paying attention to and some ideas on when you might want to bend the rules:
Spend 50% of your income on needs (housing, bills, transportation to and from work), 30% on wants (dining out, shopping), and the remaining 20% on financial priorities (paying more towards your debt, starting an emergency fund, saving for long term goals).
When to bend the rule:
This is a neat little formula but many people may find that their current budget doesn’t fit into these boxes. Maybe you’re a new grad who moved to an expensive city and earn an entry level salary. Your needs would likely eat up far more than 50% of your budget. Maybe you’re planning to take a year long sabbatical to travel around the world. You may need to devote far more than 20% of your pay to this goal in order to make it happen.
If you don’t fit into this formula – it’s okay! Find your own balance that makes the most sense for you. Don’t feel guilty about making tradeoffs either. A cheaper apartment means more room for dinners out with friends. But for someone else who values nights at home in a comfortable living space far more, a higher rent may be just fine.
3-6 Month Emergency Fund:
Save the equivalent of 3-6 months of expenses in a savings account for emergencies.
When to bend the rule:
There are plenty of people who would sleep much better at night with 9 or even 12 months worth of spending money saved in their bank account. Some of them may have experienced a layoff followed by a long job hunt, others may have very lumpy income from freelancing gigs, and then there are those that are just plain conservative.
On the other hand, there are those who are more comfortable with taking on a little risk, some who need their extra cash to pay down high interest credit card debt, and some that have other safeguards in place like disability insurance, a high earning partner, or multiple passive income streams. These people may be comfortable with a much smaller emergency fund than most.
Think about your own personal situation and how much you would need to pay for an out of the ordinary medical bill, or to cover your expenses if you lost your job. No one can assign you the perfect number that would save you from any potential financial disaster. Always leave enough of a cash cushion to cover immediate needs in an emergency and have a plan for how you would cover extra costs should they come up.
Always put down at least 20% of the purchase price when buying a home.
When to bend the rule:
Coming up with a down payment is the biggest obstacle many people face when it comes to home ownership. A down payment of 20% has been the standard, however, it is in no way required, and for many it may be unrealistic. FHA loans require a down payment of at least 3.5%, some conventional loans require only 3%, and there are a number of other housing programs that require no down payment at all.
It’s important to know that a smaller down payment often comes with extra costs like a higher interest rate on your mortgage and private mortgage insurance. You will also have less equity in your home at first. On the flip side, less of a down payment means more money available to cover closing costs, pad your emergency fund, or invest for retirement. It can also mean you move into your dream home much sooner. The moral of the story here: there is no one right way to buy a house!
Rules of thumb can be a great jumping-off point for figuring our your finances, but ultimately the way you manage your money is up to you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that’s going to work for every situation; so rather than try to conform to a rule of thumb, explore your options and decide what makes the most sense for you. Just because a simple rule won’t provide you with all the answers, don’t be intimidated to take action anyway. A dollar saved, paid towards debt, or invested is always better than nothing.
One question I often get asked is, “how much should I keep in my checking account?” Magic numbers are hard to come by when it comes to personal finance and this question is no different. If you read an article or have a professional who gives you a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s probably a good idea to get a second opinion. Personal finance is meant to be personal,?after all. So if there’s no magic number, how do you figure out what’s right for you?
What’s so bad about leaving all my cash in my checking account anyway?
Your checking account was intended to keep the cash you need to cover your day to day spending and really nothing more. The average checking account pays 0.05% in interest because there is an expectation that the funds in this account won’t be there for very long. So this means if you are stashing your extra cash in a checking account at the average interest rate, you will earn $4 on a balance of $10,000 after one year. Oof.
Not only is that return disappointing on its own, it also will not keep up with the average inflation rate in the U.S. This means that your money can actually lose some of its purchasing power because prices are going up faster than your money is growing in your checking account. So rather than losing out to inflation, it may be time to consider putting your extra cash to work for you.
Despite the low interest rates on checking accounts, it’s still important to have some extra cash as a buffer. On average, the equivalent of two to four weeks worth of spending money in your checking account is enough to cover any surprises without overdoing it. This can help avoid overdraft fees, cover scheduled automatic payments, and maybe even pay the rent if it’s due a few days before your next paycheck hits your bank account.
In order to figure out the exact right number for you, consider your paycheck, monthly bills and your spending habits. How often do you get paid in an average month? How regular is your spending? Do you often find yourself coming up short every month? Despite the fear of sounding like a broken record here, remember your finances are personal!
If you have a steady paycheck twice a month and your bills are fairly regular, you may feel perfectly comfortable with only two weeks worth of spending in your checking account. However, if you are paid monthly, have lumpy income from freelance gigs, or have any other special circumstances, a month’s worth of spending (or even more!), might make you sleep a little better at night.
Determine your own checking account threshold based on your situation and stick to it. Anything beyond this would likely benefit you more if you put it to work somewhere other than your checking account.
So, what should I do with my extra cash?
There are a few different options for what to do with any extra cash you’ve been stashing in your checking account. First, tackle any high-interest rate debt you may be carrying (this means debt with an interest rate in the double digits). There’s no reason to hesitate to repay your credit card balance and save big on interest payments in order to keep extra cash in your checking account earning next to nothing.
Next, make sure there is enough in your savings account to cover any unexpected expenses or an emergency. Also, for the same reasons we’ve already talked about, make sure that your savings account has a reasonable interest rate (over 1%). A typical emergency fund has enough to cover three to six months of expenses.
Beyond paying down debt and building your emergency fund, figure out your next goal for your money. Perhaps this is increasing your retirement savings in a Roth IRA or opening your first brokerage account to start investing for a future home purchase.
If you are new to investing and feel a bit intimidated, you can try an online roboadvisor, like WealthSimple, Betterment or Wealthfont, who can do some of the heavy lifting for you to help you get started. We even found roboadvisors who offer sustainable investing options, so that you can grow your money and have positive impact in the world.
Although your checking account can feel like a safe haven for cash, don’t be afraid to try something new. You can still maintain a buffer in your account to avoid the anxiety of feeling like you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck. Whatever you decide to do with your excess funds, you will likely see much greater returns than your checking account interest rate can ever provide.
I used to have a list of excuses for not being able to save money. Now I know that most of them were bullshit. But it took me some time to realize this. From?what I’ve read, I?m not so different from most Americans. Something deeper is going on and we need to talk about it. There are reasons why we can?t save. They aren?t very comfortable to confront and we’re not supposed to talk about them. But check it out, we have to talk about them because it’s getting worse every year.?
The average credit card debt in America is around $8,000.
Over half of us don?t even have $1,000 bucks in the bank.
Just under half of us can?t even meet our monthly living expenses.
To be fair, there are a lot of Americans in extreme poverty and roughly 20% of Americans are on welfare. But what?s going on with the rest of us?
Ever asked your best friend these questions?
Why can?t we save and why aren?t we talking about it? When you think about it, money dictates damn near everything in our culture, but we can?t talk about it.?Don’t believe me? Try this the next time you’re hanging out with a friend over coffee or a beer, ask, ?Just curious, how much money have you saved so far? Do you have a retirement plan? What?s your salary anyway?? Nope. Wouldn?t fly, right? People aren?t supposed to ask questions like that. Money makes us uneasy. We all feel like we are going to be judged. We’ve internalized money as a measure of our worth and we won’t admit it.? ?
We can talk about our sex life, but not about our salaries.
It?s a cultural taboo. Somehow we have inherited this idea that we are only as good as the money we make. To discuss our salaries would also bring up issues of status and shame. Money is equated with power. Social power. Political power. Sexual power. We all want it. Or, at the very least, we don’t wanna feel like a loser if we don’t have it. So what happens if we are in debt, can?t seem to save money, and can’t talk about it? It becomes a secret, one we may be even partially keeping from ourselves.
What happens when we don’t talk about money.
The lack of transparency in our conversations about money is creating a lack of transparency within ourselves. We put on a front, yet worry deep inside. We stress out when we are paying the bills one minute, but don?t blink when we drop dollars on a new shiny thing. The irony is that the shame that we feel because of a lack of money stems from the same place as the shame we feel from feelingpoor or powerless. Anyone who has had a bad day and then felt better after buying something knows what I?m talking about. This shame fuels the cycle and keeps us lying to ourselves. We have to shatter the illusion, so let’s talk about money. Let’s start with debt.
We’ve normalized debt…
Face it. America is a debtors? country. The government carries debt of around $18 trillion, and if we all went to the bank right now and tried to withdraw our money, we couldn’t because the banks lend money they don?t have. (fractional reserve banking) It?s crazy. We have normalized debt. We need a credit card to get a credit score. We need a credit score to get a student loan. We need a car loan to buy a car to go to work. And we need to take out a mortgage to ?buy? a house. And there we are, all set up to work forever to pay all of this off. This is all quite normal in our country. It is a systemic problem and it’s getting worse.
Are we all living beyond our means because we think we have to?
Our lifestyle is embedded in our culture and reinforced daily through advertising, media, television and everybody else. We upgrade our overpriced cell phone contract to get the new iPhone. This is normal. It’s normal to have a TV and pay an outrageous amount for television services. It’s normal to make room in our stretched budget for a crazy car payment. And it?s normal to have monthly subscriptions to Amazon Prime, and Netflix and all kinds of crap. And this is what we have to change. This can?t be normal anymore.
…in order to keep up with the Joneses.
The keeping up with the Joneses?mentality has been ridiculed and scoffed at for over a century in America, but we are all subject to it in very subliminal ways. You may find out?that the Joneses don’t live on your street but in your head. Listen, you are not your salary. You are not your bank account balance. You are not your credit score. You are not the clothes you wear nor the car you drive. There is absolutely no shame in changing your lifestyle. There is life beyond the latest iPhone. And you may be surprised to find, as I was, that it opens you up to an entirely new way of looking at things.
Money and life are complex.
Our relationship with money is extremely personal. Each and every person absolutely knows where their weakness with money lies. Every day in the media you can find a gazillion new articles yammering on about having a budget, having emergency savings, and saving for retirement. We all know we should do it. But we can’t. We can’t save and continue to spend our wages on the lifestyles we have set up for ourselves. These articles make the idea of changing your lifestyle sound easy. Bullshit, it isn’t at all. Talking about money causes tensions in relationships and families. If your partner can’t live without a big screen TV and his/her favorite shows, you know not to go there. It causes problems. If all your kid’s friends have the latest toy, it’s hard to say no, but what kind of a future are we handing our kids?
If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Our debt is climbing higher than our wages. We are leveraging our future for the things we think we need. But these things are not going to help us down the road. Let’s be real, these things will merely be replaced with other things adding to the problem. To break this cycle, we have to start a dialogue about money. And we have to start with ourselves. We can’t be afraid to explore our own attachments to the things that keep us in debt and ask ourselves what our lives would look like without them. This is going to bring up fear, boredom, and anxiety. But that’s ok because that is exactly what we need to explore. We need to ask ourselves “why?”
The reason we can’t save is that we keep setting ourselves up for failure. Our relationship with money is deeply ingrained in our psyche, and although we may have the best intentions by setting up extreme budgeting goals, we will fail over and over because we are not looking at the real problem. The real problem exists underneath the money. There is no quick fix for changing our relationship with money. The bridge from where you are now to where you want to go is a process, not a resolution. You have to support yourself with compassion and start small.
Start the conversation – with yourself.
Explore your own attachment to your habits. Try to cut one thing out of your life that you having been paying for. Put that money somewhere else and don’t touch it no matter what. Face the discomfort and walk through the feelings this brings up for you. If you do this, I promise you that you will begin to change in a small way. And you will feel better. You will have more self-confidence. After a while, you will get used to not having that one small thing. Move on to the next thing.
It is important to approach your personal relationship with money with compassion for yourself. You must remember thatyou are not the problem and you are not alone. Our culture is sick and suffering from a?mass delusion that has been embedded throughout our history. If you are stressing out about your debts, there is only one thing that you can do. Look at your lifestyle. Dare to be different. Be brave. Be a pioneer. If we break the silence with ourselves, perhaps we can start to break the silence with each other. We are in trouble, and we need to talk about it. Start with yourself. Start now.
The stories are real. Names have been changed.
Photo credit:?Anthony Garand?
Send us your story if you?ve been duped, on the road to financial recovery, conquered your finances, or want to give feedback. email@example.com
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, the thought of saving might seem laughable. How are you supposed to start a retirement fund when the mere act of checking your bank statement gives you heart palpitations? Believe it or not, you can do it.
Here are a few ways you can start saving slowly, even if you’re at a place where it seems impossible. Some of them are simple, and some of them require a little discipline. Take it slowly, set realistic goals and work your way up. And remember, it’s never too late to start.
This is the simplest way to start saving, because you don’t have to do a thing once the transfer is set up. Every bank allows you to automatically transfer funds from checking to savings each month. Open a savings account if you don’t have one and choose an amount that works for your budget — $25 a month if funds are tight, $100 or more if you have a little financial wiggle room. The best part about it is that once it’s set up, you can forget about it and you’ll feel a little better that you have something put away.
Make it a goal to increase the amount over time. If you’re eventually able to transfer $500 a month, you’ll have $6,000 by the end of the year, and $30,000 after five years. Not bad.
If your answer to saving is, “There’s no way,” sit down and make a detailed budget. Break it into categories like: groceries, restaurants, clothes, bills, fitness, or car/transportation. The percentage of your income that goes into each category depends on your paycheck and lifestyle, but you can use the 50/20/30 rule if you’re stumped: No more than 50 percent to essentials (rent, bills), no more than 20 percent for debt, retirement, or savings, and no more than 30 percent goes to the fun stuff: gym or dinners out.
If you have a hard time sticking to budgets, take out cash from the ATM and put it into envelopes marked for each category, instead of winging it with debit and credit cards and telling yourself you’ll do the math later. If your restaurant envelope is empty by June 10 ? no more eating out until July.
Seeing your spending habits on paper (or in an envelope) has a way of kicking you into gear (or freaking you out, if you’re living beyond your means). It will help you figure out whether or not there are things you can cut out, like $50 bar tabs, $100 dinners, or $250 haircuts. Haircuts are important, but there’s definitely someone in your town who can do it just as good, for cheap.
Now that you’ve started saving, it’s time to put that extra money away. But maybe it wasn’t that easy. Maybe there are things you just really don’t want to cut out. Things you’re clinging to, even though you don’t really need them to survive. If that’s the case, you can make some trades. For example, if you’re forking over $80 or $200 a month (at least) for yoga or Pilates or kickboxing, invest in some $9 yoga and Pilates DVDs and do them at home. You can put that extra money into savings and still get your workout fix. Another easy one is expensive dinners. If you’re going out for $50 or $100 dinners two or three nights a week, trade in a few of those dinners every month and cook for your friends. It’s just as fun and way cheaper. When you’re starting slowly, every little bit counts.
It might seem tough, but if you sit down and set out some five or ten-year goals for yourself, it will make it much easier to make them a reality. If you’re just starting to save, a simple rule of thumb is to put 10 percent of your income toward retirement. So if you’re making $60,000 a year, you should put away $6,000. If loans and debt make that number impossible at first, scale it down to five or even three percent and work your way up each year.
If you have no idea what the future holds, focus your goals on the basics: retirement, housing, and paying off debt. In fact, if debt is what’s holding you back, then focus on that first. Give yourself a 10-year deadline to become debt free, whether that means putting aside five or 10 percent of your income, depending on your situation. Setting a goal will make saving slowly much less intimidating.
There are great apps and programs out there to help you organize your savings and invest small amounts at a time, like Digit?or?Acorns.
Acorns helps you put away your “spare change” from everyday purchases and takes all the intimidating details out of investing and is intended for saving slowly and incrementally. With Digit, it’s about setting aside small amounts of money over time, track your spending and set aside small amounts for you. If putting away $500 a month seems as realistic as moving to the moon, this is an app for you.
If you’re having trouble getting started, take it one day at a time. Or think of it this way: If you put away $6,000 a year ? that’s little under $17 a day– for 10 years, you’ll have $60,000 set aside.
And imagining $60,000 in your savings account can be a pretty good motivator.