Month: March 2015

My Budgeting Basics

I work in the media industry and I do not make a large salary. I also do not have a trust fund – I live off of my salary alone.

Calculator and Coins

So, please believe me when I tell you that the way I’ve been able to travel multiple times each year since graduating college is through budgeting. And through this blog I hope to show you how any person can make their travel dreams a reality with a little will power and smart planning. Now let me be clear – socking away money for future travel is a dreary exercise in self-discipline when you’re living in an urban playground…or anywhere for that matter. While my coworkers and peers were clubbing in the Meatpacking district and scanning the sample sales for discounted designer duds, I was “splurging” on 40%-off jeans at Ann Taylor Loft. But don’t feel bad for me! This is not a sob story! Travel is what makes me happiest, and I have been able to do a TON of it (on average, one trip every three months since 2010 including three trips to Europe and a fourth planned this summer).

What made all of that possible was – what I believe is – a novel approach to budgeting that differs from what they teach in most textbooks (that is, if you were lucky enough to actually learn personal finance in your school).

As you may know, one of the basic accounting formulas is Revenue – Expenses = Profit

That’s GREAT for businesses whose goal is to pay their shareholders with whatever their profits net out to be. However, it’s NOT SO GREAT when you’re trying to apply that thinking to your own daily budgeting. What the heck do I do if I want to take a trip to Europe next month….not eat?!?

So I’ve changed the formula for myself and put every cost of mine into the expense category. By re-framing my budget in that way, I’ve not only been able to save 10%+ of my income every year for retirement, but I’ve also been able to say “yes” to several dream vacations!

Here is my formula: Revenue – Expenses = Break-Even

The layout that I use looks like this:

Travel expenses are prioritized as 10% of after-tax salary

Travel expenses are prioritized as 10% of after-tax salary

As you will see, I have put an aggressive sum of 10% of my salary towards both retirement savings and travel budgets. The final “expense” in my budget is my play fund (which can be considered a slush fund if you prefer). The play fund consists of ALL of my remaining dollars for the year. This money must suffice for any flexible living and entertainment costs – i.e. groceries, happy hours, Christmas gifts, wedding presents, toilet paper, toothbrushes, manicures, JCrew sales, etc. If I spend more cash one day than what my daily “play” fund allotment is, then I force myself to make up for it the next day. Plain and simple.

But simple is not always easy. It’s WAY too tempting to “kick the can down the road” and say, “well next week I’ll spend less to make up for [fill in the blank].” And next week never seems to come. That’s why it’s important to track your spending habits (monthly) and make sure you’re actually on track with your budget. Knowing where your money is actually going vs. where you thought it would go is an important exercise. This allows you to make small corrections over time. After all, a budget should be a living, breathing document, always subject to refinement.

In this way, and by prioritizing travel as an upfront expense, I have been able to use my vacation days for fun adventures. It’s a slight tweak on what that old wealthy Babylonian guy says in The Richest Man in Babylon – the “pay yourself first” philosophy. That philosophy has typically been applied to saving towards retirement and building wealth, but I choose to also apply it to travel. For me, a slightly earlier retirement without meaningful travel along the way just wouldn’t be worth it. So, instead of buying all of the latest fashions, going to Broadway musicals, or bar-hopping weekly in the East Village, I’ve gone to Wales, Ireland, London, Amsterdam, Bruges, Vancouver, West Palm Beach, Tucson and more. Travel has been my top priority, and I’ve never regretted it for a second!

Whether it is travel or some other passion, everyone has their own financial goals that they want to strive for. Maybe you really want to save up to go to Machu Picchu. Or maybe you just want to buy a MacBook Air or a leather Prada tote. If you feel you need a boost to start budgeting, I’ve created a downloadable version of the sample budget in this Google Doc that you can reference and tweak to your needs. Here’s to hoping this method works for you, too!

-Eliz

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Interview with Andres Mongrue – World Traveler and Current Expat in Dubai

During every adventure you embark on in life, you will meet new people. In most cases their presence will last momentarily. But every so often you will find a lifelong friend (or two!) – whose impact can be momentous.

Andres is one of those people in my life. He and I were introduced through fellow coworkers during my first week at our company. Needless to say, our passion for travel and penchant for silly jokes helped us became fast friends!Eliz and Andres

I’ll admit – Andres’ travel experiences dwarf my own. Because of this, I find his stories inspiring. He has backpacked across Europe and South America, taken a spur-of-the-moment trip to Guatemala, conducted in-home interviews with rural Egyptians, relocated to Dubai, and more! Not too shabby for someone with a full-time job!

In my audio interview at the link below, Andres and I discuss several topics that I thought would interest you, dear reader of mine! The primary themes include:

1) How he found himself to be an American expat in the Middle East
2) How he has maximized his vacation days to explore new places
3) His advice for choosing the right travel partner

Click here to download the interview as an iTunes podcast

Click here to stream the interview online

I hope you find the conversation as interesting as I did!

-Eliz

How to Pack for a Trip to Florida in Just Two Carry-On’s

I was not the first person to go to Florida for a long weekend this year. In fact, it’s entirely possible I was the millionth. But with Spring nearly upon us and a lot more people gearing up to escape to the sunniest corner of our great nation, I thought it would be topical to discuss how I prepared for my own recent beach getaway.

For my birthday at the end of February my family invited me and my boyfriend to a long weekend at my uncle’s condo on Singer Island, which is a barrier island off the coast of West Palm Beach. He has a dazzling four-bedroom, five-bathroom unit facing the Atlantic. I’ll admit – it was a blessing to have been invited to stay at such a gorgeous spot in the world!

While the lodging and food were mostly paid for that weekend (thanks family!), my boyfriend and I still covered the cost of our plane tickets. West Palm Beach is a town of old money, and the airfare prices sure reflect that! My boyfriend and my tickets were both over $400 each from New York City, given we chose to fly during peak times. (Note: you can find better deals to West Palm Beach if you purchase in advance or travel during off-peak hours.) Although both my boyfriend and I have the ability to check one free bag each (thanks Citi AAdvantage card!), we decided this trip that we wanted to prioritize maxing out our time in the sun by only taking two carry-ons each.

But how to do you pack a carry-on for a beach vacation when you can barely remember what 80 degrees Fahrenheit feels like!? Winter in New York had been brutal this year! Add to that the challenge of balancing bumming around the beach with eating at posh restaurants.

I was somewhat perplexed with how to pack for this trip.  Here is what I knew I needed:

  1. Travel outfit – this would need to include long pants and a sweater or sweatshirt since it was under 20 degrees in New York
  2. Boating/Lunch outfit – something that I would be okay to get sunscreen and ocean water on, but would still look nice enough to be served at a trendy dock-side eatery
  3. (3) Nice dinner outfits – all fairly dressy, since my uncle is a foodie and prefers to dine at high-end restaurants
  4. Activity outfit – on trips like this, you never really know what to expect with the weather, and on a rainy day we received a private tour of the nation’s leading sea turtle hospital (http://www.marinelife.org/) from its CEO, so we needed to dress appropriately for the chilly rain as well as the formal tour
  5. Beach garb – two swimsuits, beach cover-up, flip-flops, etc.
  6. Workout clothes – two sessions worth of workout clothes for morning exercises
  7. Pajamas – When I’m with family I usually prefer to bring loungewear so I can feel comfortable during late-night chats or while watching movies
Family dressed up for my birthday dinner!

Family photo before my birthday dinner – all dressed up!

So here’s how I tackled it…

In flight strategy = LAYERS:

  • Green jeans w/ brown leather belt
  • Light-weight mixed material crochet sweater with black cami
  • Beige canvas military jacket
  • Brown sneakers and grey socks (I normally NEVER wear sneakers with jeans, but since sneakers are featured in all of the fashion magazines lately, I thought I’d try to pull off the look with a pair of neutral-colored kicks. This would allow me to be able to work out at the gym in the mornings.)
  • Wool winter coat
  • Undergarments (of course)

Clothes and shoes I packed:

  • (2) bikinis
  • (1) swimshirt for watersports
  • (1) terrycloth beach cover-up
  • (1) waterproof workout shorts
  • (2) workout capris, used one the whole trip for PJ bottoms
  • (3) workout shirts, used one the whole trip as a PJ shirt
  • (2) pairs workout socks
  • Lightweight solid white zipup sweatshirt
  • (2) chino shorts – cobalt and black
  • (3) nice colorful sleeveless tops in silky, breathable fabrics
  • (1) deep blue cropped cotton cardigan
  • (2) day or night sundresses
  • (2) pairs regular socks
  • (1) black flip-flops
  • (1) brown leather strappy sandals
  • (1) black high-heeled sandals
  • (1) strapless bra
  • (6) pairs assorted underwear
  • (1) black belt

Other items I packed:

  • Small bag of matching jewelry
  • Hair straightening iron (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE PRONE TO FRIZZY HAIR LIKE ME!)
  • Makeup bag with cosmetics for (1) evening skin look, lipbalm with SPF, (1) day eye look, (1) evening eye look, and (5) assorted lipsticks and glosses
  • Toiletries bag inclusive of separate stashes:
    • Travel-size shower items and razor
    • Travel-size face wash, makeup remover, and skincare
    • Toothbrush and travel toothpaste
    • Travel-size body lotion
    • Nail polish to match my manicure in case of chips
    • Travel-size sunscreen
    • Travel-size perfume and deodorant
    • Cotton balls/Qtips
    • Travel size hair styling products (I brought one ounce containers of argon oil, anti-frizz hair milk, blow-dry protector, and flat iron heat protector, which would normally seem excessive. However these items were essential since my hair would become untamably frizzy each day in the Florida heat.)
  • Laptop, phone, headphones, and chargers
  • Magazines and books for the plane and pool
  • (2) pairs of sunglasses
  • Digital camera
  • Large collapsible beach bag
  • Small black leather evening purse
  • Medium-size brown leather day purse
  • Eyemask

As you can see, I was able to fit a lot into only two carry-ons. I’ve found that if you buy the right luggage and supplies to help you reduce bulk, you can pack a lot more than you think! My two biggest packing take-aways from this trip are:

  • For a long weekend trip, try purchasing several one-ounce travel sized canisters at the Container Store. Typically travel size items sold in stores are 3oz, so the smaller size reduces the mass and weight of your toiletries bag significantly. (As a note, you may need to buy a full-sized sunscreen once you arrive if you’re as fair-skinned as I am!)
Travel Size Containers

1-ounce or less travel size canisters from the Container Store, TravelGuard razor container, Travalo refillable perfume sprayer

  • Bring light layers. It helps to be able to mix and match your outfits, especially so you can stay warm at night after changing out of your beach clothes! On my trip the temperatures sometimes dropped at night to the upper 50’s, so I was very thankful that I brought different layering options!

    Shelling on the Beach

    Shelling during low tide on a rainy day

The above is an all-inclusive overview of the packing strategy and secrets that really worked for me. The biggest win was that even with bringing so many outfit options, my carry-on roller duffle still fit into American Airline’s baggage sizers for both flights! That said, I know many people may have some more tips and tricks to add. Let me know if I missed anything!

-Eliz

Sheer bliss!

Sheer bliss!