10 Smart & Easy Money-Saving Secrets
At Budget Travel, we devote a lot of time to helping travelers get the most out of their financial resources. That can mean finding bargains in notoriously expensive destinations like Paris, introducing our audience to surprisingly affordable luxury experiences such as Palm Springs, or just showing them how to wring every last second of pleasure out of their vacation without breaking the bank.
I recently spoke with Jesse Mecham, CEO and founder of the personal finance site You Need a Budget (YNAB), who, as the name of his brand suggests, is a kindred spirit who has devoted a lot of his time to a mission similar to ours: showing everyone how to take control of their financial resources and getting the most out of them.
When you add Budget Travel’s know-how to YNAB’s solid financial advice and online- and app-driven financial trackers, the sum is 10 start-today tips to help you save for your next big trip.
VISUALIZE YOUR VACATION
Before we get into hardcore money-saving tips and financial tracking tools, we need to start with something a little less tangible, but critical to the process: creative visualization. Really! You’re already familiar with the notion of creative visualization when it comes to travel. Many trips begin with vacation inspiration from one of Budget Travel's features or slideshows. For Mecham, visualization is more than just dreaming. “The biggest paradigm shift in saving and spending smarter is to really get into the why behind your vacation,” he says. “Think back to a vacation that you absolutely loved. What was it about that vacation that made it great? Was it the specific location, the company, the relaxed pace? Was it time spent with your family unplugged from work?” Let that visualization inspire you not only to plan your next vacation, but to devote yourself to saving for it in the most responsible manner possible.
GIVE EVERY DOLLAR A JOB
The concept I like best about Mecham's You Need a Budget program is its No. 1 rule: Give each dollar a “job.” That is a way of focusing on what money you actually have on hand (not future paychecks, windfalls, or hoped-for raises or bonuses) and making sure you understand what each dollar (literally down to zero) is going to do for you (its “job”). That means, of course, understanding exactly what you need to spend on essentials like your home, food, utilities, and car before you can assign any dollars to travel. This may at first sound limiting, but it is actually the opposite: Giving each dollar a job frees you to start putting aside what you need for travel. Should you choose to use YNAB’s online- and app-driven financial tracking services (they offer a free trial), the notion of assigning jobs to dollars becomes very tangible and habitual, and it’s fun to see your savings go up.
“My biggest budgeting challenge before developing You Need a Budget was dealing with an irregular income,” Mecham says. “But YNAB teaches you to budget only the money you have on hand, so it becomes much more manageable. And now I prepare for large, less frequent expenses (like vacations!) by spreading them out as monthly costs, saving a lot of stress.”
UNDERSTAND YOUR EXPENSES
Mecham actually calls this “embracing” your expenses. After you assign each dollar its job for essentials, it’s time to break down larger, less frequent expenses like holidays, insurance, birthdays, and, yes, travel) so you can treat them as regular monthly expenses. Instead of “saving for a rainy day,” you are accurately predicting how much you’ll spend on your annual vacation (for many, that tends to amount to about one week’s salary, though avid travelers often budget much more). Broken down into very simple math, if your dream trip to Yellowstone is going to cost $1,200, you can easily “embrace” the notion of putting aside $100 per month for a year. It’s really an extension of “give each dollar a job” and allows you to pinpoint what you need for that trip you visualized and make it a regularly monthly "expense" instead of one big annual bill.
Budget Travelers already know that sometimes you’ve got to take life as it comes, right? Challenges are opportunities, sudden changes of plans can lead you to wonderful new discoveries. When budgeting for travel, “roll with the punches” is a mantra that Mecham recommends when you go over budget. The process of budgeting is focused on establishing priorities. When you need to spend more on, say, groceries, that means your priorities have changed (usually temporarily) and you need to adjust. When saving for vacation, that may mean a fluctuation in currency (which can mean more or less money to spend overseas) or a new restaurant you simply must try. Mecham emphasizes that changing priorities are nothing to feel guilty about: Go with it.
SPEND MONEY YOU’VE ALREADY EARNED
This may sound obvious. After all, who spends money they haven’t earned yet? Actually, we all do sometimes, and it’s a problem. It can mean allocating expenses to a paycheck that’s two weeks or even a month away. At worst, it can mean borrowing money at interest. Mecham advises that by giving every dollar a job, you will work toward spending only money that you earned at least 30 days ago. It’s easy to understand, and it’s attainable. And the best part is that it breaks the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle that so many people fall into. Translation? More dollars to allocate to your priorities, including that trip you visualized in step one.
SPEND ON THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY
Now, about that trip you visualized? After adopting the habits recommended above, go back to your visualization and focus on some of the specifics: If you’re picturing Paris, are you a museum lover? A foodie? Is there a dream scenario (champagne at the Eiffel Tower?) that is a priority for you? We’ve found that it’s easier to save and to identify and eliminate money-wasting habits when you identify what you’d rather spend that money on. “If you can zero in on what exactly it is that makes a vacation great for you,” says Mecham, “you'll naturally spend money on things that maximize those attributes. This drives up the value where you do choose to spend money, and it obviously lowers the cost of things you decide aren't really that important to you.”
Broadly speaking, most of us set three kinds of financial goals: Time-bound savings (like for that dream trip next summer), general savings without a time frame (such as an emergency fund you just want to grow over time), and allocating a specific amount to a specific purpose on a regular basis (such as monthly groceries). Identifying which of your goals fall into which of these categories helps make your priorities clear and your progress satisfyingly real. For travelers, of course, the time-bound goal is often the most relevant and the most effective way to save: “I want to spend $5,000 on vacation in Morocco in 10 months” is specific and ambitious, and that deadline means it’s a priority for you. If one month you’re able to put aside, say, $1,000, that takes the pressure off other months a little. If one month you fall behind, an online- or app-driven tool such as You Need a Budget can alert you so you’re encouraged to get back on track.
GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR VACATION SPENDING
I had to ask Mecham what his favorite travel experience was (I ask everybody!), and his answer illuminates a great principle of money-saving travel techniques: “My favorite travel experience was when I took my wife and kids to Germany for an entire month. The best part of the vacation was when we stayed in this tiny little town at the foot of the Swiss Alps and just relaxed. I was able to focus entirely on the family, we cooked great German food right there in the home we were renting and, believe it or not, we even spent a good portion of the day working on a puzzle of Neuschwanstein (the "Cinderella Castle"). It was just such a change of scenery and pace that it sticks out to our family as one of our favorite travel experiences.” Notice what Mecham didn’t do: There’s no mention of a pricey hotel or fancy restaurants. For him and his family, spending time together in a rented home and cooking for themselves was a priority. (If that priority doesn’t float your boat, no worries. The important thing is that you identify what you really want to spend your money on and make that your focus.)
DON’T CHARGE YOUR TRIP!
Budget Travel is a like a broken record on this point, but it always bears repeating: If you wouldn’t ask a friend or family member to lend you $5,000 for a dream trip, don’t borrow it from a stranger at interest! While we’re all for the judicious use of credit cards for travel (racking up rewards points, getting great currency exchange rates, free checked bags, etc.), we must caution every traveler against charging a trip you can’t afford and then paying way more for it over time. In fact, that’s basically the polar opposite of giving each dollar a job.
USE AN APP
When I got my first full-time job out of college and started managing my meager income, I must admit I did it mostly in my head. I knew what my priorities were (food, travel) and my expenses were shockingly low (rent). But grownups shouldn’t carry imaginary spreadsheets in their heads. Just about every financial advisor I’ve spoken with recommends a personal finance tool. These days, that often takes the form of an app that allows you to carry real-time spreadsheets in your pocket. If you’re keen on adopting You Need a Budget’s money-saving principles, a free trial of their app is a risk-free way to start. You can track your spending, analyze it, hook it up to your bank account if you like, and see how it helps you prioritize your travel habit. And be sure to let us know how your new money-saving travel plan works.
Let's Talk About Rewards Programs
Airline rewards programs get a lot of hype and are often greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism. We'd love to hear your honest input about your rewards program habits. Take our quick poll, and look for the results here in an upcoming story at BudgetTravel.com and in our March/April tablet issue. Survey Creator
What Travelers Need to Know About the Zika Virus
With health alerts about the Zika virus popping up in travel destinations all over the world, it's normal to feel skittish about visiting the affected countries. Here's what you need to know about the Zika virus and travel: What countries have seen Zika virus outbreaks? So far, 22 areas are experiencing a Zika virus outbreak—some of them tropical vacation destinations: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, Venezuela, and Africa's Cape Verde. It is expected to spread. How severe is the Zika virus? What happens when you're infected? Traditionally, the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquito bites, has been a relatively mild disease, with symptoms including muscle aches and fever: "kind of like a bad cold, a bad flu," says Ronald St. John, M.D., MPH, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization and current co-founder of Sitata, a free health- and safety-focused trip-planning app and website. The horror stories about Zika-associated instances of microcephaly (small head size) in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome are alarming but technically rare. The current outbreak's sample size is likely a factor in the numerous reports, Dr. St. John says. "With the introduction of the virus into a new place—the Western Hemisphere—and a rapidly accumulating number of cases, once you get a large number of cases of infectious disease, some of the rare complications start to appear." If I'm traveling to one of those countries, is it cause to cancel my trip? Unless you're pregnant, no. However, do take precautions to avoid mosquito bites while you're there, says Dr. St. John. (For the sake of comparison in severity, like Zika, mosquito-transmitted dengue fever is still a risk in tropical and sub-tropical regions, as is the chikungunya virus.) If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that you "consider" postponing your trip until after delivery. There is growing scientific evidence that the first trimester is a particularly risky time to become infected with Zika, Dr. St. John says. "Pregnant women, as a minimum, should take heightened measures to avoid mosquito bites in countries where transmission is growing, and if they want to be super-cautious, OK, maybe you shouldn't travel, especially if you're in your first trimester. So that's a precautionary thing—it's not an all-out panic button at this point in time." OB/GYN Jason James, M.D., medical director at FemCare Ob-Gyn in Miami, takes a harder stance: "Pregnant women should, whenever possible, remain away from any of the countries affected," he says, and recommends that pregnant travelers take their "babymoon" in areas that are not affected. "Travel insurance might be advisable for travel to these areas in the next year or so. Compare the various policies and make sure there are no pregnancy exclusions." What precautions should I take if I decide to travel to one of the affected areas? Because the virus is spread mainly through mosquito bites, Dr. St. John recommends using a DEET-based mosquito repellent like OFF! Deep Woods ($7, drugstore.com)—safe for pregnant women—with your sunscreen, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants whenever possible. Wear a hat and keep your ankles covered. To prevent mosquito bites while sleeping, choose a hotel with air-conditioning, so that rooms' windows are shut, or if you're in a non-air-conditioned property, ensure that your room has screens, Dr. St. John says. If your accommodations are basic and have neither A/C nor screens, bring a permethrin-permeated mosquito net with you (from $35, ems.com), or stay in a place that has mosquito nets over the bed. How can I stay informed about the Zika virus as it relates to travel? At Budget Travel, we recommend keeping an eye on the travel section of the U.S. State Department's website at Travel.state.gov and relying on reputable updates on the virus from sources such as the CDC, specifically its Travelers' Health advice, and the National Institutes of Health. Another tip from Dr. St. John: “Pay attention to the World Health Organization when they issue travel advice. Because there is something called the International Health Regulations, and countries are obligated to report events that might be of public-health importance at an international level. And then WHO makes an assessment. For example, with the huge Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there was never a reason not to travel to those countries, and WHO stated that. If you were going to go there and be a health-care provider—doctor, nurse, whatnot—on an Ebola treatment center, well, yes, that’s a high risk...but if you were just going to Sierra Leone to do business or even tour, that was not a risk.”
Now You Can Put a Plane Ticket on Layaway—Really!
Layaway: It's not just for retail stores anymore. Tech startup Airfordable says it has one mission: to "encourage travel" for low-income individuals and millennials with limited credit options. All users have to do is take a screenshot of the flight they want to purchase, and Airfordable will buy it for them—and hook them up with a monthly or biweekly payment plan. Put 30 percent down and make all the payments before the flight date, and the e-ticket is yours. In some cases, the company says, it has helped users find even better prices for the flights they want. Convenience, of course, comes with a price: Airfordable charges a flat 20 percent fee for every transaction, spread out over the payment plan. But there's no interest, which, for some travelers, might be a more attractive option than using a credit card. Plus, the maximum flight price that Airfordable is willing to front is $500, so the fee won't amount to more than $100. Not cheap, but a better deal than throwing down a high-interest card if you don't intend to pay it off ASAP, and an excellent option if a credit card or personal loan is out of the question. And if you don't make all the payments before your flight date? No ticket for you. The down payment is also non-refundable, but any payments made after that turn into Airfordable credit. (Space is limited, so click fast if you want in.) The ultra-specific desire to help people travel was born out of experience: When company founder Ama Marfo saw a college buddy miss out on a group trip to Ghana because she lacked the financial resources to go, she was inspired to start the company. "Memories are priceless," she says, "and global enrichment is key in becoming a well-rounded person." We at BT are all about helping people travel more, especially when cash is tight, so cheers to that!
How to Skip the Longest Lines: Disney, Vegas, and More
This article was written by Stephanie Gaskell and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. For many, the holidays are a time to do something special. But choosing to visit a popular tourist attraction means one thing—long lines. While it might seem like an occupational hazard, there are ways to skip the lines and avoid standing around with the masses. Here are some insider tips for getting VIP access. Let technology lead the way When it comes to skipping lines—there’s an app for that. In fact, there are several apps that will let you hire someone to stand in line for you. TaskRabbit is a service where you can hire people to do all kinds of tasks—including waiting in long lines (even at the DMV!). Another popular service is SameOleLineDudes, which currently only operates in New York City. But beware. Many businesses are pushing back against paid line-waiters. Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas, which is famous for its lines around the block, recently banned professional line-waiters. Related: This Is How Much Time You Waste Standing in Line at Tourist Attractions Look for a pass Let’s say you’re trying to get into a major theme park where the lines are notoriously long. Many of them offer special packages that allow you to plan your trip in advance, so you don’t arrive to find yourself standing in line. Disney World has a Fastpass program that prints out a pass telling you exactly what time to come and enjoy the attraction. This frees you up to walk around or grab a bite in the meantime. Likewise, Sea World offers a service called Quick Queue Unlimited for just $19 that allows you to skip to the front of the line. Use your connections If you’re heading to the ritzy Las Vegas night club scene, there are a couple of ways to bypass the velvet ropes and get right in. One trick is to ask your concierge to book a reservation for you. As a local, they often have connections that can help you breeze right in, especially if a nice tip is involved. Another option for skipping lines is to purchase special passes through sites like Vegas.com or Best of Vegas. Related: Forget the Wait! 9 Ways to Spend Less Time in Line at Disney World Be a VIP If you decide to forego the Elvis impersonators and head to the real thing, Graceland, the home-turned-museum of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn., allows visitors to purchase VIP tickets to skip the crowds. The King would approve. Let’s say you’re heading somewhere more subdued like The Vatican, a place where millions of visitors flock each year. You can avoid long lines here by buying a “fast-track” ticket through a travel agency, like Viator, which offers packages that let you bypass the lines at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms, and St. David’s. The lines at the Empire State Building are almost as vast as the views. Cut to the front by purchasing a VIP Main Deck Experience package that will take you right to the 86th floor observation deck with no waiting. Now that you know the secrets, get out there and enjoy the sites without waiting. And once you’re at the front of the line, look for us…we want cutsies!