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Small Savings – Travel, Part Two

A few weeks ago, I shared some of my cost savings tips for travel in a post from my “Small Savings” series. Here is part two, and the last of it (for now…I keep thinking of more!).

Travel in the times right before/after “peak season”. Ever notice when you look into a hotel’s rates…that sometimes you find that they’re in three buckets – high season, regular season, and low season? These seasons are supposed to correspond to popular holidays, and also the best times, weather wise.

However, the weather has changed a lot lately, if you haven’t noticed – it’s been hot in months that used to be cold, and vice versa. Rainy in dry season, and dry and rainy season. I almost never book at peak season prices anymore if I can help it (Thanksgiving and Christmas being the exception..hey, I have to use those vacation days!). Instead, I try and book either in regular season or even low..researching the weather patterns in the last few years. So far, it’s worked out fine.

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Lovely weather while in Bali in May (considered low/mid season)

Book through the right agent. Despite what we’ve been taught by Priceline commercials, it’s not always better to book through discount brokers, especially with luxury properties. Fair or not, you stand a much higher chance of being booked into that small, noisy room by the elevator…and the hotel may be less likely to respond to your complaints as well.

Instead, either book directly, or if it’s a luxury hotel, I recommend booking through a service such as American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (available with the Platinum and Centurion cards) or a Virtuoso agent (which I use, as I no longer have a qualifying Amex). Bookings at valid hotels through the latter two usually gets you breakfast for two, and another amenity – all for no extra charge above what you’d pay on the hotel’s own website. Now you know why I always indulge in great calorie laden breakfasts, whenever we travel!

Virtuoso Magazine

Brand names don’t always equal quality. I find this especially true for accommodations, less so for airlines – I’ve rarely been impressed by a U.S. carrier and never disappointed by Singapore/Cathay, which is pretty much in line with their reputations. For hotels though, quality and experience can vary widely. I am a huge fan of the Four Seasons, but there are a few properties in select locations when Four Seasons would be very low on my list. Unfortunately, almost all Ritz Carlton’s have been disappointing for me (except New York) and I’d much rather stay at the Double Tree down the street where the prices are lower and there are great cookies! Continue Reading

Money Travel

Small Savings – Travel, Part One

Travel is one of my favorite hobbies in the whole world. To me there’s few things better than the anticipation a week or so before a trip – scouring through various TripAdvisor reviews, looking through guidebooks, and dreaming of all the cool things you’re going to do. It makes getting through the work week so much easier when you see your calendar coming up with the words “VACATION” blocked off.

Because of that, I try to go somewhere and explore as much as I can, which of course is never as much as I’d like. I’m limited by both time and money. Sometimes, lots of money. I used to be the kind of person who defined travel as a “priceless” experience – those three weeks in Europe spent dithering around, boozing in the afternoon and drooling over boutique window displays? Invaluable for broadening my horizons and exposing myself to unique and vital cultures! Now, I feel differently. I don’t think travel is priceless at all – it definitely has a real value, and I try my best to maximize it.

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I’ve been asked several times to put together my tips for traveling on a budget, which I’ve hesitated to do as I’m much less Rick Steves (love him by the way), much more priss who generally spends unnecessary amounts on cushier travel. I’ve put together some tips and rules that I follow though – and I hope that you find them helpful.

Book hotels early….and then periodically check on prices.  As soon as we decide to go anywhere, my first step is usually to find a hotel. Yes, even before flights! For me, hotels are an integral part of almost all travel experiences. You can go out and have a great day, but it can be all ruined if you end up spending your night on scratchy sheets in a smoke filled room.

As soon as we’ve identified our preferred hotel, I go ahead and make a booking. Almost all hotel reservations in my experience are guaranteed by just your credit card number, and no deposit – so making a booking costs you nothing, and locks in a rate. This can be very valuable, especially as more and more hotels these days are doing fluctuating rates, just like airlines. Continue Reading

Money

How I Budget and Save – A High Level Overview

I’ve received a few requests asking about how I manage the budget in our household, and approach our savings goals. In the spirit of full disclosure of the obvious, I am definitely not a financial expert. My savings philosophy is far from scientific, and stems from a combination of how I was raised, and that one time I calculated what we would need to retire and was scared out of my wits. Here’s a high level view of how we budget and save in our household. I’m going to start from a high level view of our gross paycheck, and go from there.

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The first cut: retirement savings 

Both my husband and I work, so we have a gross figure that is paid out approximately twice a month. From these paychecks, the first contribution goes towards our individual 401k accounts, calculated towards an amount that maxes it out to the federal limit per year ($17,500). These deductions are split between a traditional 401K (pre-tax) and a Roth 401k (post-tax). By the way – if your employer matches some of your 401k contribution, you should know that it does not count towards your individual $17,500 maximum. If this is the case for you, you can be saving even more for retirement! I found this out a few years ago and adjusted our numbers accordingly.

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The second cut: long term savings 

After our 401ks, the second deduction from our paychecks goes into savings. We save 50% of our take home pay, after retirement contributions. Here I will caveat that we are saving for a house, and that I count our “home savings account” as long term savings. Our overall savings each month are allocated largely between this “home account,” which is kept in cash, and a separate, truly long term savings account which is kept largely in individual equities. Continue Reading

Money

Favorite Reads: Money

As some of you know, I love to read and once in a while receive inquiries about which finance books I might be able recommend. I have to admit that while I am very interested in personal finance, I haven’t read too many actual personal finance books. The few that I have read have been very popular ones like The Total Money Makeover. I did enjoy these books, but found that I didn’t necessarily carry a lot of the lessons into my everyday life.

I sat down and thought about the books which have made a real impact in how I approach my finances, and here are the five standouts. I hope you find some of these picks helpful!

Finance Books

The Tightwad Gazette. During an especially broke feeling period in college, I started googling “ways to save money” and somehow found myself ordering this book, which is full of ideas to save money that range from the reasonable to the possible extreme. Reusing ziplock bags that have held dry goods? Makes sense. Dumpster diving for only slightly expired food? Maybe not, at least not with my coordination. In all honesty I don’t really use many specific lessons from the book. It’s value to me has always been as a) an entertaining read, and b) a general lesson to never waste anything, and to always be resourceful and creative with what I already have.

The Intelligent Investor. I am by no means a sophisticated investor. Over the last ten years I have had some experience making small investment choices, and experienced the satisfaction of watching investments go up, and the supreme disappointment of seeing them tank. Ben Graham’s classic book serves as a reminder that market is not always efficient, or absolutely correct in valuation, and you shouldn’t lose your head if it dips on you. I always try and see the stocks I’m buying as part of a larger belief in the value of a company, and not just speculation. But even for a small fry like me after about a decade (albeit a very turbulent one), I still think investing takes nerves of steel!

The Big Short. I love all of Michael Lewis’s books and own almost all of them. The Big Short is a fascinating read about some of the very few individuals that made out like bandits in the financial crisis of 2008. For me personally, it’s a lesson that going “against” the market isn’t always bad, and that in some cases, it can be very lucrative – if you have the stomach for it, and the capital.

The Millionaire Next Door. Anyone who has even paid a passing glance over this blog would know that I’m not doing the greatest job of being frugal in all areas of my life. This book has a few poignant lessons that can always bear to be repeated, and it always serves as a great reminder to me to save, to invest, and to be responsible.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This is my favorite book in the world – a novel which at first glance has nothing to do with personal finance. However, the story of a young girl who grows up very poor in Brooklyn has always moved me. The joy that Francie the main character describes when choosing a penny bag of candy or enjoying a trip to the library reminds me that many of the best things in life can be had for very little, or free. It’s a lesson that I sometimes forget – that you don’t have to spend a lot of money, if any at all,  to find what brings you joy in your life.

 

Now that I’ve shared a few of mine – I’d love to hear yours. What are some of your favorite books about finance, money, and more?