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Be Money Smart When You Travel

After a week hiatus, I am back! Thought I was going to be gone for a long time? No, I invested in this domain name for a year, and I will get my money’s worth out of this domain! I traveled to Peru, and enjoyed llama-watching along with other great experiences. However, this isn’t a travel blog. So, let’s talk money!

I often get asked how I am able to afford traveling. I think some people have an assumption that I must be making bank whenever they see that I am posting photos from another destination. I am in fact, not rolling in dough a la Scrooge McDuck style, unfortunately. However, I have learned to be money smart when it comes to traveling. Learned is the key word here, as with anything else on Breaking the Piggy Bank, I had to learn how to be financially savvy when it came to traveling.

My traveling experiences can be broken down to two categories:

Traveling While Not Planning Ahead and Saying Fuck It

Traveling While Being Money Smart

Can you imagine what the difference may be?

My first experiences traveling were in my early 20s. I was financially stable enough, but hadn’t yet learned how to proactively plan towards something, such as a trip. However, I had a near perfect credit score, which in return gave me a few credit cards with high limits. As you can imagine, my traveling amounted to charging nearly everything on my credit cards. I went to Wisconsin Dells purely by nearly maxing out my credit card. Seeing the pickle I had gotten into, my aunt decided to help me out afterwards. She loaned me the money to pay off that credit card, so that I could pay her back without interest.

Yet, I didn’t learn my lesson there.

The trips I took a few years later to Las Vegas and New Orleans? Basically, I charged everything for them, too. One could say I had no business traveling, and one could be right. Looking back now I realize that I could have still traveled to those places, but I should have been planning for them instead. Furthermore, I should have at least made a solid plan in how to pay off everything was charging on my credit cards for those trips. Instead, my mentality was stuck in the “fuck it, I’ll figure it out later” mode.

Now, in the present, I am a stickler towards being proactive about trips. If I know that there might be the chance to travel somewhere in a certain month, then I go ahead and start saving money towards that months ahead. I have a general travel fund in my bank account goals that allows me to set aside money with each month towards that fund.

So, even if I hadn’t planned on visiting New York City in February, I still had money set aside in my travel fund to use on NYC when my friend invited me there. Had there been no money set aside in that travel fund, then this girl wasn’t going anywhere. As far as Peru, I had been saving towards that since December/ January.

How did I get started? Honestly, the first trip I took while being money smart was to Austin, Texas about two years ago. It’s around that time that I began to use a spreadsheet to keep track of my expenses, and that is the tool that helped save towards Austin. Austin had been a challenge to myself to see if I was able to travel because up to that point I had told myself that I had no business traveling with my financial mishaps. However, Austin was the challenge to start new again. To test myself in how I could save to travel rather than use a credit card. From that and subsequent trips, I learned to be money smart when traveling.

Here are some tips and tools on how to be money smart when traveling that I use:

  • Consider your travel options. What is a cost effective way to get there— Via road, train, or air? When I visited Rochester, I decided to forgo the convenience of an airplane and chose the much cheaper option of taking the train there, instead.
  • If you decide to make a road trip out of it, then calculate gas totals. This is especially important if you are not the one who’s car is being used. Make sure you have that person’s back by setting aside how much your half of gas is going to cost.
  • If you’re going to travel by plane, I’d recommend using the app Hopper to keep track of cheap dates. It’s a very handy app when it comes to deciding the best time to fly somewhere. I’ve also used Google Flights for more last minute trips to compare prices.
  • Consider using airbnb with your friends to split the cost of lodging. If you don’t want the whole apartment to yourself because you’ll be out exploring the whole day, you may consider just renting a room through airbnb. Cheaper option.
  • Use Trip Advisor or Yelp for researching how much meals may cost at your destination. This will give you an idea of how much money you may need to set aside to eat or drink.
    • Trip Advisor has some useful forums when it comes to asking for questions about international trips like how much money people typically needed to get by.
  • You can use your credit card for your trip, BUT don’t let it be your only means of getting by. If you do use it for above average expenses while traveling, then make a plan ahead of time on how you will be paying down that balance!
  • Research what type of free things there are to do at your destination. Sometimes you get lucky and there’s a free festival going on during your time there. There’s always free things to do, so that you don’t have to pay to enjoy your vacation.
  • Find a side hustle: If you’re in a time crunch to save or have unexpected expenses come up, then find a side hustle to get money toward your trip. I have done side gigs, such as dog-sitting, website design, and money management counseling to get money I could use toward a trip.
  • Use a spreadsheet! Like always, I know, I’m a broken record, but for real… it’s a handy tool to help proactively plan your travel expenses and plan to pay back friends on the trip and/or credit card purchases while on the trip. Below are two examples of how I use spreadsheets in planning for a trip.
Screenshot (12)
In my spreadsheet for the year, I have a tab that only deals with Travel Goals. The amount is pulled from each month’s travel fund allotment. So, if I change the amount going to my travel funds in July, this sheet automatically updates. This allows me control over planning for trips I have in mind. It’s also a good way to plan how much money I’ll have a month after traveling to put towards any credit card purchases I made while on the trip. As you can see, I also used this sheet to keep track of the amount being spent on airbnb.
Screenshot (13)
This is what it looks like on my monthly sheets. At the top where I include money in and out of the account, I also have a section for goals for the month. As far as traveling, I link up each monthly amount set aside so that it keeps adding up with the following month. The amount you see here of $1,030 is not just from March, but from previous months to get a total of how much I had set aside.

I hope some of these tips can help. I plan on having a more in depth post in the future on how you can create your own travel spreadsheet.

Remember, you can travel, but be smart with your money when it comes to booking, going, and enjoying your trip!

Curated List: Talk Money to Me #1

pig own

Dearest Readers,

Since I will be out of the country for the next few days, I have assembled some goodies for you to keep reading from other great sources while I am gone. You can still get your money fix by clicking on any of the following, which will hopefully keep your thirst for more money talk quenched!

Breaking the Piggy Bank will be back to its regular schedule on Thursday, April 19th with a BRAND, SPANKIN’ NEW POST.

“A Story of a Fuck Off Fund”
By: PAULETTE PERHACH
Published on: The Billfold
I chose this piece because it touches on the idea of a “fuck off fund”. For those unfamiliar with a “fuck off find”, it’s essentially a savings fund with the purpose of aiding in the self-empowerment that you totally will need in the case of a life, job or relationship meltdown. In other words, when shit hits the fan in those categories. That job you hate? Fuck it with a “fuck off fund.” Your relationship with the person who puts in half of their income into your apartment ends? Fuck it with a “fuck off fund.” You get the gist of it all.

BOOKMARK The Billfold for more takes on money matters. You’ll be happy you did.

“No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much”
By: ADRIENNE GRAHAM
Published on: Forbes
I chose this piece because it reinforces the idea for creatives, freelancers and any small business owners to value their knowledge. I think we can often grapple with the question of “should I charge for this” or “when should I start charging.” This article gives you the boost to know what you’re worth, and also gives some great practical tips on how to navigate through “can I pick your brain” requests from people.

Goodbye Subscription Services, I’ll Miss You
By: TOCARRA MALLARD
Published on: Can I Be Rich Now
I chose this piece because at some point we have to make decisions about what we want to spend our money on. Most of us probably have multiple subscription services. I know I do! This piece is all about knowing when to end those subscription services when it comes to financial betterment. Also, you should take a look at some of her other posts on her blog. Great stuff!

Should I Buy Grammar Software?
By: ONICIA MULLER
Published on: Onicia’s website
This isn’t just a post for writers and freelancers! Any professional should take into account their grammar. Have you considered purchasing Grammarly? Onicia provides us with a quick review on her experience with the software. I should add: I have yet to make a choice of whether I’ll be purchasing it. However, the information is still worth reading and then considering.

I hope you find the above pieces informative. Do you have a piece you think is worth sharing with other folks interested in money talk? You can always share with me on Twitter, IG, Facebook or via the comments here. I’m always looking for more things to read and share with people!

 

Stop Hitting Snooze on Your Wake Up Call

this is fine

The first step in a lot of recovery programs is to admit that you have a problem. I think the same concept can apply to admitting that we have trouble with our finances before being able to move forward. I’m not saying that you have to say, “This is all my fault.” I think we live in a society where it is very easy to go down into financial ruin, however, I also think that we have to acknowledge our own decisions and habits that might have contributed to how easy it is to get into an overwhelming amount of debt.

Let’s not necessarily say, “This is my fault.”

Instead let’s say, “I am in over my head in debt” or “I have not been keeping up with things” or “I am continuously living paycheck to paycheck.”

If we are able to admit that we are having trouble, then we can take the next step. Reflect.

Based on my personal experience, you know what doesn’t help? Saying things like:

  • Life is unfair.
  • I don’t understand why I’m not making ends meet.
  • All I do is work, why isn’t it enough?

I used to say those things, and if anything they usually removed me from understanding what I could have done to get out of these giant holes that I was creating for myself. Saying those things also made me angry at the world because I felt like I had been given the short end of the stick when it came to money earned and money kept.

There should have been various points in my life where I should have changed. There were several things that should have served as wake up calls but didn’t. It didn’t matter how many times my credit cards or debit card got declined. It didn’t matter how many times I had to borrow money from my really close friends to make ends meet. It didn’t matter how many arguments I got into my mom because she couldn’t help me or I couldn’t keep up my end of our mortgage agreement. It didn’t matter how I was overworking myself. It didn’t matter how I once borrowed $5 from my younger sister, who has autism in order to buy milk because I didn’t dare tell my mom that I didn’t even have $5 in my bank account. At the time she was probably 14 years old.

It didn’t matter how many bills I got sent to collections. You know what I did with those collection letters? I just started shoving them, unopened, into plastic bags and then hiding those plastic bags. My logic was: out of sight, out of mind.

I kept hitting the snooze button.

Change and betterment cannot happen until you truly own up to your own contributions toward your financial hot mess (aside from again how easily our society sets us up for financial failure).

What were my final wake up calls? I was at risk of getting my car repossessed after falling behind on payments. Later, Capital One sued me. The risk of getting my car repossessed came a few months before my lawsuit, and in all honesty it helped me begin to make the first steps toward financial betterment.

I did not begin to make progress until I finally decided to own up to my own hot mess, and you know what the next step was? Asking for help.

I asked my car’s loan company for help. I finally was proactive and asked if there was any sort of arrangement we could set up because I realized without a car, HOW WOULD I GET TO WORK… which by default meant… HOW WOULD I EVEN MAKE MONEY. I should mention that the PACE bus is unreliable, and I also began to see a lot of the conveniences, such as a short commute by car that I took for granted by putting my blinders on to my financial hot mess. Was it easy? No. I was luckily working two jobs at the time, and a huge chunk of both jobs went toward catching up on my car. Aside from that I had to race to a Western Union for a few weeks to send payments before the weekly deadline, or else bye-bye car!

What did I learn from this entire process? I was able to do it.

The stakes became very high or some people say: shit got real. I’ll write more posts about other ways in that I finally asked for help after admitting I had a huge financial problem in the future, as I think it’s important to open up about how we can’t always do this alone.

If you take anything from this post, I hope it’s that in order to make progress with your money, you need to first talk about it with yourself, and then you’ll be able to reflect and ask for help. I didn’t consider taking a look at my spending habits until shit got too real. No one is going to magically solve your money issues. Only you can. Like with anything: you can’t solve it half-assed. You need to be all in. If you aren’t quite there yet, then that’s OK. Sometimes it takes time to get to a place where you can acknowledge you have a financial hot mess in your hands. IT TOOK ME YEARS TO BE READY TO MOVE FORWARD.

I was clearly a hot financial mess. I think a lot of us have been in similar situations. I’ve met other people who have shared with me what wake up call they chose to act on, and the consensus is that you can’t move forward until you decide to stop hitting the snooze button.


Other things to check out this week:

KC Green: “This is Not Fine”

Many of you may be familiar with the cartoon of the dog that is sitting in a burning building and says, “This is fine”. It was so relatable to many of us who felt like everything around us was burning. The same artist who created that, KC Green, updated that illustration in 2016 to reflect why things are not actually fine. While this updated illustration can apply to anything, I took it to heart when it came to my financial hot mess. For anyone else out there who has found themselves caught up in a spiral of debt, this is an eye opener. I’d say it is even more relatable than the original version KC Green drew.


Next week, I will be out of town with a low chance of having access to the internet. In my absence, I will leave you all with a handy list of other money blogs/articles to read that will post automatically. So, still come back and check that out on next Thursday! Feed your brain!

Imposter Syndrome

mrkrabsimposter

Real talk:

I feel like an imposter when it comes to this blog and my ability to help others financially. To be fair I also feel like an imposter in a lot of other aspects of my life from writing to comedy to anything, really.

Here’s the thing: I know that I know things about finance, which I learned through the many mistakes that I have made. I’ve gotten a pretty good grip on my own finances, and know that the tools I use and the habits that I practice can help other like-and-ready-minded people like myself.

Then, why do I continue to feel like an imposter?

Feeling like an imposter is my crutch. It’s an easy to go to excuse to limit myself.

Recently my lack of struggle against the imposter syndrome has led me to procrastinate on a money project that I was working on for someone else: a spreadsheet. It should come as no surprise that spreadsheets are my go-to tools when it comes to wealth management (also known as: budgeting). As someone with an English major background, I used to detest spreadsheets.

Now I find myself fascinated by how they function, and most of all how to make them easy on the eyes and user-friendly. My motto is: if a spreadsheet looks ugly why am I going to be motivated to stare at it. So, a friend hired me to create a spreadsheet for them.

It’s not the spreadsheet that it’s the issue. I’ve made other spreadsheets for other people before. It’s not that I’ve been busy. I mean I am, but I’ve gotten pretty good at whipping up some basic “get your life together” spreadsheets. It’s just that now I am trapped in my head, thinking “who am I to offer this to that person?”

I was behind on a lot of payments. I owed a lot of money. I was sued by Capital One. I filed for bankruptcy. These are all failures. I’m a loser. What do I think I have to even offer to other people with this Breaking the Piggy Bank project?

What do I have to offer?

A spreadsheet? Yeah, but why shouldn’t this person just find someone who has been great with their finances for years and is natively great with numbers instead of me?

After letting my imposter syndrome take control, I decided to do some reflecting. The question turned to: What don’t I have to offer?

I’ve gotten my shit together (financial, at least). I don’t judge others for their finances. I have explored different avenues of budgeting. I have been doing well for at least the last year if not two years!

Ok, enough pep talk.

This particular post is what I would define as a “in progress” post. I think we are all constantly “in progress”. Sometimes, we just have to navigate through these crutches that we hold onto for dear life. Whether that crutch is feeling like an imposter or in terms of money management, feeling like no matter how much we make, we just can’t get out of debt. We become comfortable in using these crutches. Then we miss out on the progress that could have been made.

FYI, here is a sneak peek at the snazzy spreadsheet that I am creating for this friend. Know how long it took me to finally whip this template concept up once I finally kicked Mr. Imposter out? It was a pretty quick turnaround. All that is left is to enter the formulas.

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 1.27.17 PM.png

Things to check out this week:

Speaking of imposter syndrome and inner critics. Writer and wonderful writing professor/mentor, Luís Alberto Urrea, wrote this short piece that is worth a read for those of us with constant inner critics. Go read “The Mr. Smith Syndrome” online. 

Got something to say about this blog? I’d love to hear some positive things to help keep the Imposter Syndrome at bay. Comment. Tweet at me. DM me on Facebook or whatevs. You can even tell the Pig at Ask the Pig.

When You Let Family Borrow Money – Ask the Pig #2

ask the pig

It’s like an advice column,

but not as judgmental or retrograded! Got a question about money? I’ll try to answer it to the best of my ability because we are all on this financial journey together!

So, gather around because the Pig is in!

This month’s Ask the Pig focuses on borrowed money.

Dear Breaking the Piggy Bank:

I loaned my sister $5K over the course of 2 years. For 3 years I’ve been telling her to pay her other debts before worrying about me. After letting the interest rack up, last Christmas, I finally paid off the credit card (I allowed her to use my credit for the loans) debt because she was likely never going to get to it. I told her that she doesn’t have to repay me BUT she’s never allowed to loan money and I wouldn’t be buying my nephew a Xmas gift. IMO not forcing his parents to repay me is a big gift. As his birthday approaches, I’m still suffering from the financial hit (cash flow, not emotional). How long can I use the I loaned your parents $5K so you can’t expect a gift from me excuse

– Broke Aunty

Dear Broke Aunty:

It sounds like you should be called Super Aunty, instead! First of all, I hope this response is still timely. I’m not sure when your nephew’s birthday was or will be, but at any rate I hope this is somewhat helpful. Now, it sounds like you decided to take on the burden of the financial responsibility that belonged to your sister and her partner, which is a TREMENDOUS action to take on. The unfortunate side of it is that now you are left feeling the cash pinch.

“How long can I use the I loaned your parents $5K so you can’t expect a gift from me excuse?”

A few thoughts:

I think that being honest with your nephew about how money is a bit tight for you at the moment can only serve to teach him the importance of how money works. In other words: money is not just something that we have unlimited access to. While there may be some people who may deem this as “taking it out on the kid” or “being stingy now”, I see it as a teachable moment for a child.

One thing I would caution about is pinpointing the money constraints on your nephew’s parents. As someone who was occasionally let it on the grown-up issues between my mom and her siblings while I was a child, I think there are certain things as kids we don’t want to hear about our parents or aunts and uncles. Being told that my parents are the reason that Super Aunty can’t buy my gifts, might make me unsure of how to take that information. Rather than holding the parents accountable in the form of your nephew, find teachable ways to explain how money should be budgeted. Since my line of work is around education, I’m also going to mention that the National Center for Families Learning has some great kid-friendly AND parent-friendly tools to learn about money. One such interactive game is A Day at Dollar General.

Furthermore, I think this is also a great time to demonstrate how love is not shown only in the manner of material things! I’m sure you can always give the gift of your time, as corny as that may sound. I think from a young age we are told by society that money and material things are what will make us happy. Being the aunt who engages with her nephew via quality time together: walks, arts & crafts, etc. , can also help teach that gifts aren’t everything. (Plus, I assume other people are also giving him gifts of some sort. What’s one less gift?)

I think keep doing you. You can keep the material gifts on the back burner for now.

A few other musings:

During the first Ask the Pig, Onicia (http://www.oniciamuller.com/resources.html)  (an overall awesome person, writer, comedian, project manager and Type A personality) left us with a useful comment that gives food for thought about lending money to family and friends —

My mom says when you lend money always consider it a gift and don’t loan more than you’re willing to lose. Money spent is money spent. If you wanted it to grow or be part of your rainy day fund, keep it in the bank.

This is a thought I had not previously considered. I mentioned this idea to my aunt, and she raised her eyebrow. Take it as you will, but it is at least a thought worth noting. 


Do you have something to Ask the Pig?

It could be anything from, “Hey Pig: What’s with your excel sheet?” to “Hey Pig: I still haven’t been able to save money consistently, got any tips?” or “Hey, Pig: How do I know which credit card to pay off first?”

Submissions are taken all month long and responded to every second week!

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

It’s that time of the year again, folks! My vehicle plates expire this month, so it’s time to pay the whopping $101 to the state of Illinois to renew them! And you know what? That’s OK because I’ve been preparing for this expense since December!

Today’s post is going to tackle those annual expenses that we have each year, but somehow they still take us by surprise. You know which ones I’m talking about…

These are the bills that we only have maybe once a year, but every year they are around the same time, and somehow every year you might get that dreaded feeling, that “oh shit, I forgot about that bill” feeling, that “ugh, why” feeling, that “oops, over drafted cause I forgot that was set for an automatic payment” feeling.

I used to get caught off guard with these annual expenses. Then I realized that it didn’t make sense that I kept acting surprised with these types of bills because they happened every single year. Yet, in a way, it kind of did make sense. It’s easier to remember the bills you may on a monthly basis compared to the bills you only see once a year.

As the title suggest: out of sight, out of mind.

I thought to myself: How can I prepare myself for these “unexpected” bills, which are very much expected.

A huge part of my growth in the aftermath of my mishandling of money is in learning how to be financially proactive rather than reactive. As I discussed in last week’s post, I am barely learning how to proactively save money. I don’t have an adequate savings amount where if shit hits the fan, I can have a safe little bubble for a while. However, I’ve learned to be proactive in small ways.

When it comes to tackling these annual bills, the key is to actually think about them. I’m not saying constantly think about them each and every week, but what can help is making time to sit down during the year and making a list of what annual bills are due in which month. It honestly will only take less than 20 minutes to just make a list of them!

What do you do with that list once you make it? Put it somewhere you will look at it.

OR HEY WITH ALL OF OUR FANCY SMARTPHONE TECHNOLOGY, input it into your calendar and set a reminder for the month before it is due. This can eliminate the whole SURPRISE factor that really shouldn’t be a surprise.

But hey Angelica, I have my annual gym membership fee set for an automatic payment so I don’t actually have to think about it. It’s covered!

Gotcha. You’re right. The bill will be paid, but will you be prepared for that week or month if you didn’t remember your available balance might be lower than expected?

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can also plan to set aside money ahead of time for said annual bill, so that it isn’t a one time financial hit. Thereby, you might be under lesser money constraints when that bill goes through.

For instance, my plate renewal is $101 and is due every March. If I didn’t want to take the hit of $101 in my paycheck for March, I can decide to set aside an amount each month toward that $101. So, if my plate renewal is every year, then I can set aside $8.42 a month to have that cost covered come March.

$8.42? That’s less than I pay for Netflix a month! So, in short, it’s doable.

So, inquiring minds want to know… what are your annual bills that you have on your plate? How are you preparing for them?

I have plate renewal and gym membership fee in March.

Then I have a busy annual bill month in June with:

  • Annual vet visit
  • City sticker renewal
  • Pet tags renewal
  • Costco membership renewal

This is what it taking into account these annual expenses for June look like on my end:

Screenshot (6)_LI

Again, spreadsheets are my go to tool. Find what works best for you to be proactive. 


Come back next week for the ASK THE PIG feature where I’ll answer the questions you’ve submitted. There’s still time to anonymously ASK THE PIG a question you have! Click the link and hit submit!

I Tried to Open a Savings Account…Hilarity Possibly Ensued.

Remember those money goals I posted about in January? Let’s check in with one of those goals:

I will open an actual savings account separate from my current bank account. This will help me resist the urge to “borrow” from money I have set aside. I have no problem setting money aside, but then end up telling myself that I can always “borrow” from this money if I replenish it the following month. (We’ve established already that I get paid monthly.)

Well, I tried to open a savings account twice this past month, and both times I was declined! All right, all right, you got me. That line is slightly misleading. Did I get declined both times that I attempted to open a savings account? Yes, that much is true. Both times were with the same credit union.

The first time I was denied because I had applied for a regular savings account without having first applied for a “membership” savings account which established membership at the credit union. In my defense, I thought I was already a member! How could I have been mistaken in my membership? Well, folks. This is the same credit union that approved for my first (non-predatory) credit card post-bankruptcy (months later, way later). Since I am a cardholder member with them, they had opened up a non-transaction savings account to establish membership with them. See how easily I made the mistake of assuming I had a membership account already?

The second time I applied for the correct “membership” savings account. Then, I still got denied! Why? Apparently, I failed my own credit history questions. Due to this the credit union flagged my application as possible fraud. I swear those credit history questions are tricky sometimes.

I always had the opportunity to apply yet again! However, failing two times already just made me say, “Screw it. I don’t need to have a savings account”.

It was too much adulting.

It wasn’t until I was going through some old documents at home that I realized I once had a savings account with American Express. Yes, you heard right. American Express offers online savings accounts. I was able to dig up my old information, and wondered if there was a chance the account was still open and active, despite not having had used it in years!

Ladies and gentlemen, not only was this account still open…

but there was money in it! How much money?

$1.25

You read that right!

This was from interest alone, essentially.

You know that feeling when you find a crumpled up dollar in your jeans during laundry day? That’s how I felt when I saw the $1.25 in my savings account. CUE ANY JUDGMENTAL PEOPLE. I’ve already been transparent enough to say I’ve handled my finances very poorly in the past. Did you miss the tagline on this website that mentions I filed for bankruptcy?

So go ahead, you can think to yourself: This girl was/is a financial hot mess.

I’m clearly working on it, and I know there are a lot of other people out there just like me. So, this post is to everyone out there who doesn’t have a savings account, has one but nothing in it, is trying to learn how to save, etc., etc.

Let’s keep moving forward!

FYI, I transferred money from my checking account to my savings account because my plan is to utilize it. So here’s to the first step to meeting my savings account goal! I’ll do a check in later in the year.