Staying on Budget During a Vacation

Next week I take one last trip abroad before I start working full time in January. Starting a new job means I will be working extra hard to show my excitement, motivation, and willingness to be part of my new team. This also means not taking time off for six months! Traveling is one of my strongest passions, so I want to enjoy my last few weeks of freedom by going to Switzerland and London for the first time!

Since I am not working yet and my savings are dwindling, you can bet I am trying to keep my trip as affordable (but fun!) as possible. I am so grateful that one of my closest friends is hosting me in Switzerland, which cuts down on hotel costs immensely.

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To plan my initial budget I followed the steps mentioned in the Realistic Savings Goal: Travel Edition post. Now I have finished planning the trip and have a pretty good idea of how much it will cost, I need to focus on staying on budget while on the vacation.

Keeping to the budget while adventuring is one of the troublesome parts of traveling. I know I can easily get carried away by fun spur-of-the-moment activities or buying things I cannot get at home! This post will share tips and tricks to remaining aware of your spending throughout the trip while also getting the most out of your vacation.

4 Budgeting Tips: Before the Vacation

  1. Plan your vacation goals:
    1. This one sounds silly, but determining ahead of time what you want most out of your trip can help you make money-saving decisions later on, especially if you are on the fence on whether or not to spend for a certain experience or thing.
    2. Ideas for Vacation Goals
      1. Exploring the local cuisine
      2. Engaging in a new culture
      3. Relaxing
      4. Learning something new
      5. Experiencing nature
      6. Taking the best photographs
      7. Trying out extreme sports
      8. Etc!
  2. Plan your food options:
    1. Food can be the most expensive parts of a vacation. If you research beforehand the most affordable and tastiest restaurants around your area for a specific day, you can be sure to not only choose the best option, but take out the stress of last-minute disappointing meals!
    2. Packing easy snacks like nuts or granola bars will help to keep your energy high when you start to get hungry, which allows you more time to find the best food option instead of hangrily (hungry/angry) choosing the closest, and probably not cheapest, restaurant.
    3. Going to the local grocery stores can also be a fun way to learn about local culture and save on food costs. You can buy snacks like mentioned above, or also cook your own meals depending on where you are staying.
    4. Eating larger lunches and taking advantage of lunch specials is also a great way to spend less on the expensive dinner options.
    5. If you are traveling with someone, meeting new people at a hostel, or staying with foreign friends, consider offering to cook meals together or splitting meals. This is a great way to learn more about different foods while expanding your options to try!
  3. Plan your time carefully (or be flexible):
    1. Having to rush from one location to the next can cost you five to ten times the amount you were going to spend on transportation. Planning beforehand can be the difference between a $3 subway ride or a $30 taxi ride. Consider this when choosing hotel check in/outs, timed tours, and meal reservations.
    2. Plan your activities each day in similar areas to give yourself an opportunity to walk from location to location and save money. This way you can get a feel for the city and find things off the beaten path.
  4. Plan your suitcase carefully:
    1. Forgetting clothes or hygiene products can add up, especially in a foreign country. If you are leaving on a long trip or to a distant location, think about building a list of items you want to pack a week in advance so that you will not forget in the pre-trip packing stress. Be sure to check the weather, and don’t forget to pack your toothbrush!
    2. Deciding not to check a bag into your flight can save you money. Having a lighter bag will also allow you to walk or take public transportation stress-free instead of making you consider calling a taxi to lug around your heavy suitcase. Even for month-long trips in cold weather, trust me, you can fit everything in a carry-on.

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4 Budgeting Tricks: During the Vacation

  1. Make friends:
    1. Meeting locals or fellow travelers can be a great way to learn about those hidden cheap restaurants, free sights, and must-do experiences that are worth spending your money.
    2. More people also means more people to pitch in! Some sights have group deals and you can order family-style at restaurants instead of paying for your food individually. Also, you are more likely to enjoy spending time picnicking in a free park or cooking together, which will save you cash!
  2. Keep a journal to record daily spending:
    1. Making a note in your phone or small notebook each time you spend money is an easy way to record your costs throughout the day. This also makes you stop and think on whether or not you should spend money on this particular item or experience.
    2. Every night, add up the totals to see if you are on track. If you happen to splurge, maybe be more cautious the next day.
    3. Keep in mind international credit card fees and exchange rates when calculating the total.
  3. Think twice before buying souvenirs:
    1. I truly believe new experiences are more valuable than souvenirs.
    2. An alternative to souvenirs, and a great present for family and friends, is a hard copy of your travel photos. I use chatbooks.com which links directly to my Instagram account and costs about $15 for a 60 page, 6×6 inch book of my photos. Hard copies of photographs are personalized and unique, but still have the feel of a traditional souvenir. You also don’t have to fit it in your suitcase!
    3. If you do like souvenirs and have the time, pop into a few stores in the area to see where you can get the best price and the best selection. If you are in a rush or are unsure, just consider: “Will I regret it if I leave without this?”
  4. On the other hand, you should also never be afraid to “Treat Yo’ Self”:
    1. You may not get the opportunity to return to that location in the future so please give yourself leeway to buy and try new things. If you do happen to go over budget, just be sure to keep that in mind when you return home and cut back on going out to eat and shopping for a few weeks. The experiences are worth it!

I hope you have a wonderful (and on-budget) vacation!! Please share your tips and tricks to staying on budget by reaching out via my Contact Form or joining the Sophie Explains community on Facebook. Thank you!!

Google Spreadsheets 101: The Basics

Spreadsheets are one of my favorite organizational tools because they are fun and easy to use! I use Google Spreadsheets to budget, store my favorite recipes, create travel itineraries, make shopping lists, organize potluck dinners with friends, and more. Spreadsheets are a quick and simple way to efficiently store, organize, and share data.

In the new series “Google Spreadsheets 101,” I will share the tips and tricks to make using spreadsheets an effortless part of your everyday life.

The first five tips you see below answer some questions you have asked about customizing the starter budgeting spreadsheet. In the beginning, spreadsheets may seem overwhelming and cumbersome, but they can become a fun part of your budgeting process!

Tip 1: Overview of a Google Spreadsheet

First, let us review the main parts of a spreadsheet using Google Spreadsheets.

  • Name: If you click on this you can edit the name of the spreadsheet directly.
  • Toolbar: You can format the look of the spreadsheet with colors, borders, number formatting, etc.
  • Function Box: This allows you to perform functions such as summing a set of numbers to find a total value. See the complete list of functions here.
  • Column/Rows: These make up the body of the spreadsheet.
  • Tabs: You can create new sheets within one spreadsheet to group relevant data.

Tip 2: Freezing Columns

The first step when starting a new spreadsheet is to determine how you want to use it. Will it be a simple shopping list, an itinerary for your trip, a new budget? This will help you determine which headers you need. Start by filling in the main headers. You can freeze the first column so that whenever you scroll to the right on your spreadsheet, the headers are always showing. You can also freeze the top rows as well.

Tip 3: Adding Columns

If you want to add a new column simply right click on the top of the column (with the letter) then click insert to the left/right depending on where you want to place the new column. If you have a specific formatted set up that you want to implement in your new column (like colored highlights or bolding), you can also right click, copy the appropriate column, and paste it in your new column to duplicate its format. This is also true with rows.

Tip 4: Creating a “Sum” Formula

The most common reason to use a spreadsheet is to take advantage of its handy formulas. For example, if you want to add up all you spent last month, you may use a “sum” formula. In a new box on the spreadsheet, write “=sum(” (without the quotations) and then highlight all the boxes you want to add up. If you want to add the numbers in the boxes in a row or column, just drag your cursor along the row. If you want it to add up boxes that are not connecting, hold the “ctrl” button on your keyboard and click the selection of boxes to add up.

Later on you may need to double check that your formula is adding the correct boxes, especially if you add new rows or columns. Double click on the box that has the “sum” formula. In the function box at the top of the screen you will see which boxes it is adding. It should also highlight those boxes in different colors on the spreadsheet to help you easily identify any boxes missing from the sum formula.

Tip 5: Duplicating a Tab

I prefer to keep my budget spreadsheet organized with a new tab for each month so that I can easily review a year’s expenses. To create a new month’s spreadsheet, right click on the appropriate tab at the bottom of the screen and select duplicate. A “copy” of that tab will appear, and you can double click to update the name of the new tab. Keep in mind that this will duplicate all the information of the previous tab, so I suggest duplicating clean tabs without any of your monthly data before putting in the information.

If you have any other questions about using Google Spreadsheets please contact me through the blog’s Contact page or Facebook page. No question is too small! I will answer the subsequent group of questions in the next installment of the “Google Spreadsheets 101” series. Thank you!

Realistic Savings Goals: Travel Edition

After graduating college and joining the workforce in 2013, the first thing I wanted to do was save up for a trip to my favorite place, Japan! To take the first step towards my goal, I had to figure out where I was spending my money so that I could realistically cut back spending and start saving. That was the start of my budgeting journey!

If you are reading this blog, you are probably passionate, motivated, and very busy. I bet you have a multitude of fun projects and trips in the works. Maybe you are building your very own home gym or saving to go backpacking in Europe or even creating an art business on Etsy. Whatever it may be, determining a smart and realistic budget is the right way to get started.

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In the “Realistic Savings Goals Series” we will explore tried and true methods used to save up for a variety of goals.

Today we will discuss how to save for a trip, either domestic or international travel. This method will help you create a manageable savings schedule.

Five Step Process to Save for Travel

  1. Determine the overall cost. When I was planning my trip to Japan, I thoroughly researched the cost of airfare, housing, food, local transportation, and even souvenirs. It is better to be safe and go a little overboard than to have your savings pool run out halfway through your trip.
  2. Determine your timeline. When is the soonest you can depart? Figure out your ideal vacation date and then work backwards to do the math. Let’s say you want to save up $1000 for a trip to California, and you have five months to save. $1000/5 months = $200 a month you need to save.
  3. Determine if it is realistic. Would $200 a month be possible to cut out of your current budget? Maybe you decide to spend less on going out to eat or don’t add to your emergency savings goal for a month or two. If you don’t feel comfortable with this plan, it is time to rethink your departure date. If you wait a total of eight months: $1000/8 months = $125 a month. This turns into about $30 a week. Is this more realistic? If not, keep working backwards.
  4. Stick to your budget! The hardest part of any budget is sticking to your plan. Some tricks I’ve used in the past include updating my budget spreadsheet weekly (instead of monthly), setting alerts on Mint.com (when I overspend in a category), or taking out cash instead of aimlessly spending with credit cards. Let me know what tricks you use!
  5. Record everything. Every time I return from a trip, I’m itching to plan the next one. If you record all of your costs (from airfare to snacks) in a separate spreadsheet during or after your trip, this makes budgeting for future travels easier and more realistic. It also is fun (for me!) to compare what you expected to spend versus what you actually spent. Sometimes this is possible to do in your monthly budget, but most trip expenses span multiple months, such as the day you buy airline tickets months ahead or book hotels a few weeks ahead. Keeping everything together in one place is a great way to simplify saving for your next trip!

Bonus: Travel Checklist

There are a lot of expenses to consider when traveling, this checklist covers the basics. If you can think of anything I am missing, let me know, and I will continue to make the list more comprehensive!

  1. Airfare – Take advantage of price tracking sites like Kayak, Cheapoair, Skyscanner, Mobissimo to determine the best time to buy affordable tickets. Tuesdays are generally the cheapest day to buy tickets!
  2. Housing – Consider the costs for all housing options such as hostels, AirBnB, or hotels. Consider joining an awards club for free nights or deals. If you stay with friends and like to bring gifts to your hosts, don’t forget to budget for those too!
  3. Sightseeing and Activities – Do research before you go! What are the top places to see and how much are they? Are there city or combination passes that include a lot of these locations?
  4. Food – Determine average cost of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks at your destination. Look up unexpected costs of that particular destination, such as places that charge for tap water and bread. If you want to want to save money, think about stopping at a grocery store for breakfast items, snacks, or even food to cook if you are staying somewhere with a kitchen.
  5. Transportation – Will you be using taxis, trains, subways, renting a car, or walking? Be sure to look up if your location has a special rate for all-you-can-ride for 24 hours, 3 days, or a week!
  6. Souvenirs – Before you leave, make a list of friends and family for whom you want to buy souvenirs and how much you are willing to spend on each person. Be sure to calculate how much you want to spend on yourself as well.
  7. Luggage – If your purse, backpack, or suitcase needs to be updated before you leave, you may want to add this into the overall cost of your trip.

Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet (Part 2)

In our last post we talked about the Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet. Since this may be the first time you are doing any sort of budgeting, I wanted to provide clear and concise steps to get you started! By the end of this post I know you will be much more comfortable and confident with the process!

Goal for this Week: Review September 2017 income and expenses

Resources Needed: Budgeting Spreadsheet and an account with Mint.com (Sophie’s Top 5 Reasons for Using Mint.com)

Estimated Time: One hour or less

Let’s begin!

  1. Open up your editable copy of the starter budgeting spreadsheet in Google Drive or Excel.
  2. Login to your Mint.com account. Open the Transactions page and export all transactions via the link at the bottom of the page.
  3. The Mint.com export comes in .csv format, you can open this with either with Google Spreadsheets or Excel. Then open your starter budgeting spreadsheet in an adjacent window for easy access.
  4. Manually copy and paste each transaction from September to the appropriate section of your spreadsheet. See how to format the spreadsheet in the “Sample Version” tab of the Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet or in the screenshot below.
  5. Finally, spend a few minutes reviewing the end result. The totals in Column C will automatically add up due to embedded formulas, but it is good to double check that all of your entries are being “summed” correctly.
  6. If you have any trouble using the spreadsheet or find the formulas are not working, please feel free to Contact Me! As we talked about last week, remember that it is a work in progress, and I bet you can quickly find ways to update the spreadsheet to make it easier to use. I encourage you to make it your own!

Congratulations! You are done with September’s budgeting spreadsheet!

Look at the totals for each category and your final profit or loss for the month.

Does it surprise you? Were there any categories that you spent more or less than you expected? I am sure right away you can identify some areas that you could save in for next month!

As you get more comfortable reviewing your finances each month, I strongly recommend updating the spreadsheet to fit your lifestyle. For example, it might be helpful to add new categories in Column A such as public transportation costs, student loan repayments, or specific savings goals for travel or weddings.

Later we will learn how to analyze and review the results in detail to help you confidently create a budget that fits your spending habits and savings goals. Please follow Sophie Explains on Facebook for the latest updates!

Note on adding transactions manually: Although it seems tedious to copy and paste each value of every transaction monthly, I find it essential to identify any red flags, such as recurring payments you thought you had cancelled or abnormal credit card purchases.

Keep in mind that manually adding each transaction can lead to error (as we are only human). Use a method that helps you identify which transactions you’ve transferred to your budget. My preferred method is to highlight rows on the exported Mint.com spreadsheet once I have added them to my budget so I do not miss or duplicate any transactions. Good luck!

Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet (Part 1)

Congratulations on taking the first step towards achieving your financial goals by reading this post! To celebrate, this week we have a two-part series on starting your very own budgeting spreadsheet. If you spend one hour at the end of each month recording and reviewing where you spent your money, you can stay focused on your savings goals.

A budgeting spreadsheet helps you understand where to cut back in spending to make room for what is important to you.

Budgeting is a work in progress, but it can be a fun one! There is no perfect template that will help you start saving money right away, and you might have to adjust the spreadsheet every few months to fit your lifestyle and spending habits. Maybe you enjoy collecting video games or are saving for a wedding or love to pamper your pets! Everyone has different priorities for spending their money that are factors for your spreadsheet.

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To get you started I have created a generic Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet based off of my own current spreadsheet:

View the Spreadsheet on Google Drive

To save this spreadsheet in an editable format, go to File in the top left corner of the page, and then Make a Copy. This will create your own private and editable spreadsheet in Google Drive. If you prefer to use Excel, go to File, Download As, Excel.

Later this week we will learn step-by-step how to fill out the spreadsheet. If you haven’t already created a free account with Mint.com, don’t forget to sign up (it only takes 15 minutes!) and link your accounts so you are ready to go on Thursday!

Note to Readers: I wanted to thank each and every one of you for all of the support I have received since launching the site, you are all amazing! Also, I want to hear from you, what budgeting problems or questions do you have? If you are thinking it, I promise other people are too, so reach out on Facebook or my Contact Page and I will do my best to answer everyone!

Mint.com: The Ultimate Time-Saving Tool for Budgeters

When I first started recording my earnings and expenses monthly, it was a tedious process: I was logging into each individual bank and credit card account to view transactions, copying them over to my personal budgeting spreadsheet, and finally re-ordering everything chronologically. At the time, I was a full-time student and did not yet have many expenses, but when I started working and living on my own, the long process made budgeting unbearable. Then I found Mint!

Mint.com is a secure and free way to combine all of your account transactions to help you budget efficiently each month.

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As this is a personal blog, I wanted to share with you my own reasons for using Mint.com. This post is extremely relevant because next week I will help you create and fill out your very own budgeting spreadsheet, and using Mint.com is a necessary time-saving resource for that process.

Sophie’s Top 5 Reasons for Using Mint.com

  1. Free: Who wants to spend money on budgeting tools when you could spend it on fun vacations and pampering pets?
  2. Secure: Mint is owned by Intuit, the same company that runs both TurboTax, a popular tax preparation software, and QuickBooks, a small-business accounting program. Mint uses multi-factor authentication upon login and SSL encryption to ensure that all data stays safe.
  3. Convenient: In addition to organizing your daily transactions, Mint provides an updated credit score each month with a breakdown explanation of the factors that affect your score, as well as clear instructions on how to improve your score. (We will dive into the importance of credit scores in a later post!)
  4. Accessible: You don’t have to worry about missing and leaving out your cash transactions, just log into the Mint app on your phone anywhere anytime and record your expenses directly.
  5. Easy: The first time you use Mint you will have to spend a few minutes linking all the appropriate accounts, but after that it’s ready to go! Mint saves me hours each month when I budget because I don’t have to switch between accounts to log information. I appreciate that Mint can find ways to save my time and work efficiently.

Mint has so much more to offer than I have discussed above, so take some time to explore for yourself and see what a wonderful resource it is. Other sites, free and paid, are similar to Mint, and I suggest you check those out as well and let me know if you find something better. In the end, I encourage you to find a resource that helps you save time each month so that budgeting is a fun experience, not a tedious chore!

Next week, to thank you for being so supportive, I have a special two-part series ready to get you started on creating your own budgeting spreadsheet! Please follow Sophie Explains on Facebook for the latest updates.

Note to Readers: No, this is not a paid promotional post, although if Mint would like to change that I would be happy to accept. (Just kidding!)