In the past couple of years, sharing (or person-to-person renting) has become huge in the travel industry. Everything you need on a vacation – accommodations, tours and entertainment, food, and transportation – can be arranged on a sharing basis (or “collaborative consumption“). One plucky writer decides to assemble a vacation in San Francisco by renting from individuals (hat tip to NZMuse and Nomad Wallet), and lives to write about it.
You can rent everything in this picture! (well, almost)
There are so many forms of sharing across the travel user experience:
- Accommodations such as AirBnB, OneFineStay, VRBO, etc.
- Dining options such as HomeDine and EatWith, where you can partake in home-cooked meals for a “suggested donation”
- Transportation options such as Lyft, Sidecar, Ridejoy
- Touring options such as likealocalguide, Vayable
- And if you need someone to watch your four-legged companions while you are jetsetting, you can try out DogVacay (which says it has been described as “the AirBnB of petsitting”).
Out of all of those forms of sharing, I’ve only tried out the first – accommodations. I consider myself a comfortable user of AirBnB, having stayed at more than 8 AirBnB apartments or private rooms across the U.S. I wouldn’t be opposed to signing up for a home-cooked meal or trying out a tour with a local, but my courage (and risk tolerance) runs out at car-sharing. (I hate even borrowing and driving my friends’ cars for fear of getting in an accident).
My favorite part of the new sharing travel economy is the ability to easily rent a house (or an entire apartment) when I travel with my parents. We did this last May, when we went on a family trip to Seattle. I rented a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom bungalow about 4.5 miles north of Pike Place, and we had so much fun in that little house. One night CB and I got take out from the Thai restaurant down the street, and we could sit at home and eat and enjoy, instead of going out for the night.
My parents and I are planning an East Coast US/Canada trip next year, and I will for sure rent houses for us again. Sharing economy, for the win!
Have you tried out any of these collaborative consumption services when you travel?
Many personal finance advice on saving money mentions the merits of living with a roommate. Sharing an apartment or a house can save big bucks, and may be a necessity in high cost of living areas such as San Francisco or New York City (until you make comfortably into the six-figures or luck into a rent-controlled situation).
The friend whom I stayed with in London lives in a beautiful, one bedroom apartment. She admits that living with a roommate – in a comparable home, similarly located - would save her ~$1,000 on rent a month. By living alone, she is paying a 30-35% premium. But she works long hours and wants to come home to a quiet place to relax and recharge, and is willing and able to pay the premium for living by herself.
That made me think about my living situation. I have always lived with roommates (or CB) except for one glorious year in which I inhabited a charm of a large studio, with gleaming dark wood floors and wall full of windows. At $950/month, that was also my most expensive rent yet. While at school, I pay under $600 for a house share in a gorgeous 3-bedroom townhouse, with my own bathroom and in-unit washer and dryer. I enjoy living with friends and I’m very happy that I get to save some money by having roommates.
After graduation, though, I don’t think I’ll up for sharing my space with a stranger anymore. I’m able to pay the premium for living alone, and fortunately the city I’m moving to doesn’t have an expensive rental market so I wouldn’t save that much money by living with someone else.
Are you (or would you) pay the premium for living alone? How much more money are you paying to live alone than you would with roommates / house-shares?
When it comes to saving vs. spending, which activity makes you happier? Ally Bank has published a study that shows folks that saved more tended to say they are happier than folks who didn’t save.
According to Ally’s survey of 1,000+ Americans,
…among those with a savings account, 38 percent report feeling extremely, or very happy, versus 29 percent of those without a savings account.
Ignoring the fact that Ally’s self interest is in encouraging folks to save more, this finding makes sense to me. Having money saved helps people feel secure or successful, and those tend to create feelings of satisfaction. What I like most about saving money is precisely this feeling of adding to my financial security. I do get a lot of enjoyment out of spending money, though, especially on specific things – a vacation, a good book, the really warm jacket with a hood that I got last Christmas, good food, my favorite foundation and lipstick, etc. Still, it’s always a balancing act in figuring out how I can optimize my happiness with saving and spending.
Do you feel happier saving or spending?
Something that I’ve been struggling with lately is how much I should save for the future vs. how much I should spend enjoying life today. One of the earliest post I’ve written on this blog was about an MBA student who took out extra loans to travel. Now, more than ever, I understand why he did so. Many personal finance bloggers have written on spending money to travel while they have outstanding student loans or credit card debt, so this isn’t a new dilemma.
Here’s the thing about CB’s grad school process – we don’t “technically” have to take out student loans – at least not right now. We can squeeze by, maybe with a $5,000 bridge financing from family that we will repay once I start my full-time job next year. But now I am considering taking out $20,000 so that we will not be feeling such a financial crunch next year. Before I get kicked out of the personal finance blogger club, though, let me state my case.
Here is my thought process… that begin with taking out a Stafford loan for CB’s tuition next year.
- We have around $65,000 in savings right now, that will have to last us until August/September of 2014 when I start my full time job.
- This $65,000 will have to pay for (a) my last semester of tuition at ~$22,000, (b) CB’s tuition for Winter/Spring quarters, (c) our Roth IRAs for 2014, and (d) all our living expenses until I start my job. We will be barely scraping by.
- If we take out a $20,000 Stafford loan, however, we can cover CB’s tuition and living expenses and have an extra money to play with for summer travels and for maxing out my 401K in 2014.
- 2015 will be my first full year of earning a salary since 2011, which means that if I pinch some pennies, I will be able to max out our Roth IRAs ($11,000) and pay for CB’s tuition/living expenses ($42,000) all out of my salary, which post-my max-2015-401K contribution will be somewhere around $7,000/month.
On the one hand, student loans are debt that can really weigh you down. On the other hand, I also really want to enjoy our time together this summer, take advantage of the free time I would have before I start working, and make up for the 401K contribution that I wasn’t able to make in 2013. The $20,000 Stafford loan will be $22,040 once interest (8.5%, 1% loan fees) is factored in, for a 2-year payment period.
Bottom-line, I am seriously leaning towards taking out a $20,000 student loan for CB’s graduate school (so that the money we would have spent on his tuition would go to travel in the summer and I can max out my 2014 401K).
Many of my MBA friends are in the same boat. Many of them are studying abroad and planning big trips from Asia to Australia to Europe, from Latin America to Africa, and back again. I have talked to different alumni, actually, about this very topic of taking out more student loans so you can travel. I want to make sure I’m not being too shortsighted when I forgo these opportunities, but I also want to be careful about mortgaging my future.
Several MBA alumni I’ve spoken to said that the money they’ve spent was all worth it – even though they had to take on more loans for the travel portion than they would have otherwise. After all, most of us get good jobs after graduation that will allow us to pay off the loans. And once you start working, the vacations get really compressed and it’s rare to be able to travel with your friends or significant other for weeks on at a time. One alum, however, offered a slightly different perspective – he said it was easy to get carried away during school, continent-hopping every break. The experience, he said, was phenomenal, but the cost is pretty heavy as well. And now that he has been out of school for 5 years and working hard to pay off his student loans, there are moments when he wishes he would have spent a little more conservatively during school.
After I graduate from my program, the only debt we have are undergraduate college student loans at ~$18,000 (at a weighted interest rate of 2%) and a ~$2,500 car note (5%) that we are not in a hurry to pay off. Taking out more student loans when we could have technically scrimped our way through sounds like a terrible personal finance decision, but I’m thinking it’s a good life decision. I am going to think this through some more…
What says you?
Thanksgiving is just a few days away! I am looking forward to this opportunity to have some time off, see my husband, and reflect – with gratitude – on the good things we have going for us. Just as importantly, I am looking forward to a vacation. CB and I are spending our Thanksgiving weekend in Washington, D.C., this year, continuing our tradition of going away on just-us-two vacations for holidays.
George Washington’s kitchen, bustling for Thanksgiving!
Here’s a secret about D.C.: the hotel prices during Thanksgiving weekend are absolutely phenomenal. Apparently, D.C. is not a hot vacation destination during that time. I booked us 3 nights in this gorgeous Dupont Circle property for just $110 a night including taxes and fees. Add in a high parking fee, and we are still getting away with $150/night for our stay.
To plan our trip, I relied heavily on this resource: 100 Free (& Almost Free) Things to do in Washington, DC. As I’ve done in London, we are going to take advantage of all the free attractions that are available, but spend the money on the special places that require admissions fees. In the case of D.C., that means a full day’s trip to Mount Vernon, home of George Washington! As someone who adores books, I am even more excited about the special exhibition on Washington and his books.
Any restaurant or off-the-beaten path tourist recommendations for us?
Christmas is barely a month away, and that means for many people, Christmas shopping is in full swing. I love Christmas and the holiday season, but I really don’t like Christmas shopping, nor am I crafty or patient enough to make gifts. So I like to give the gift of experience, to myself and to loved ones. For the past couple of Christmas, fortunately, CB and I haven’t exchanged physical gifts. Instead, we spent money on traveling out of town for a vacation for just the two of us. I also almost never get my parents physical gifts – they are SO HARD to shop for – so instead, I just book them stays at hotels and have them go on their own little vacation.
Christmas tree, courtesy of Wikipedia common license and HikingArtist
This Christmas, CB and I are continuing the no-physical-gifts tradition between the two of us by heading to Merida, Mexico. I won’t pretend that traveling instead of buying gifts is saving us money. If anything, going on vacation almost invariably cost more than what we would have spent on gifts. But we hopefully will come back with fonder memories of our time together than buying stuff, and the bonus is that we don’t have to find space to put said stuff (or lose them in the clutter of other stuff).
So this Christmas, consider giving the gift of experience to your loved ones or friends instead of a physical gift.
Here are some experiences that I think would make lovely gifts:
- Vacation (my #1 favorite!)
- Tickets to a concert or other live performance, or a sporting event
- Spa package
- Calendar date nights you’ve arranged for the year
- A handwritten note promising to babysit on a weekend evening
- Walking tour of a city
- Cooking classes
- Language lessons
- Craft classes
- Movie passes
- Restaurant gift cards (to a place they wouldn’t normally try)
- Tickets for something fun and active (parasailing, stand-up paddle boarding, horse-back riding are among my top choices)
What are your Christmas gifting traditions? Would you prefer to get a physical gift or a gift of experience?
per The Atlantic
Where we live – and the cost of living associated with our place of residence – is a big factor in our personal finances. It’s no secret that many of the cities that draw Millennials – London, New York, San Francisco, etc., are expensive places to live (a 2010 New York Times article on twentysomethings living in the city profiled folks who pay hundreds of dollars a month for cramped, illegally divided spaces). Is there another way? Can you find cities with a solid job market, reasonable cost of real estate, and still enough of the arts and cultures and amenities that many young people love? The Atlantic’s Nona Willis Aronowitz says yes, and published a series on cities where Millennials can make it now. If you’ve ever considered moving for lower cost of living, I’d check out her series.
Nona says of our Millennial generation:
We’re realizing that those big, bustling cities have become unaffordable for those of us just starting out. And the house in the suburbs, with its long commutes and high gas bills, doesn’t fare much better. So where does a Millennial turn?
I traveled across the country for six weeks in search of the best, most affordable places for twentysomethings to achieve their goals nowadays—whether it’s to start a business, live off their art, have kids earlier, or just finally find a fulltime job.
She found nine cities – listed in no particular order – that fit her criteria:
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Jersey City, New Jersey
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Houston, Texas
- San Antonio, Texas
I have to say that I have never lived in any of these cities, and while I’d be open to trying out other parts of the country, most of Midwestern or Northeastern cities listed here would be much too cold for me. Houston’s sprawl is intimidating. I would be quite open to living in San Antonio – saw an episode of House Hunters where I fell in love with the architecture of the houses the hunters visited – though, if the job market there were bigger/better for MBA jobs. My parents lived in Albuquerque before and I would also be open to that location, although, again, the jobs!
I was a little surprised to that cities in North Carolina (Charlotte and the Research Triangle area) were left off the list. I’ve spent some time in those areas and really think they’d be a great place for many folks – temperate weather, natural beauty, low cost of living, a good job market, and a nice food scene, etc. I have also heard great things about Nashville, Tennessee and Indianapolis, Indiana as great, affordable mid-sized cities to live in. In fact, a classmate turned down a job in Los Angeles in favor of a position in Indianapolis – even though he loved LA and the beach – because he had kids and wanted to buy a house and settle down, and Indianapolis is much more conducive to that goal than Los Angeles would be.
What do you think of this list? Do you agree / disagree that these are awesome cities for Millennials to get ahead or settle down in? If you live in one of the cities, please do your share experiences and thoughts.
London is the most popular tourist destination in the UK, and it boasts more than its fair share of great casino choices for those who would like to play the likes of roulette and the slot machines during their trip to the UK capital. However perhaps the most notable of the casinos to be found in London is the Casino at the Empire, which is the biggest such establishment to be found in the city. The Casino at the Empire has become a real magnet for visitors to the city since it was opened in the summer of 2007, but what has given it this status?
Well for one thing, the size of the Casino at the Empire ensures that there is a greater selection of slots and table games on offer here than at any other casino in the city. However the glamour of this place also offers visitors to London (and those who live there) a taste of the luxury found at the casinos in Vegas or Monte Carlo. The interior of the building is very glitzy, featuring crystal chandeliers and performances by professional showgirls – along with the option of free lessons for those who have never played games like poker, baccarat or blackjack before. Furthermore, it caters to everyone from the high roller gambler, to those who have to watch their finances while they play.
Then there is the historic aspect of this casino, which might seem odd for a place that only opened six years ago. However the Casino at the Empire used to be the Empire Music Hall (hence the name), which dates back to the Victorian era. Thus it offers a little touch of history alongside the modern gambling, eating and drinking that can be done in the huge casino, two restaurants and four bars that you will find inside, making this the London casino jackpot. If you like playing casino games, why don’t you visit Lucky Nugget online casino where you can play poker from the comfort of your holiday destination, not just on a computer but even on your tablet or mobile phone.
Before any long trip, I load up my Kindle with ebooks that I can read on a flight or during down time. I can go through one or two books a day, so if I were to purchase all new ebooks through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, the cost will add up, fast.
Bench that looks like a book! British Library, London
That’s when I discovered the great thing about having an ereader – there are LOADS of free ebooks out there. Some of them are pretty terrible or cheesy, but there are also great classics or quirky stories that are godsends to a reader and a reader’s budget.
My favorite resource for free (or really cheap) ebooks are:
- Project Gutenberg: Gutenberg carries 42,000 free ebooks, ranging from out-of-copyright books to self-published works. You can check out the most downloaded books or search alphabetically or by release dates. As a big Sherlock Holmes fan, I was almost beside myself with joy when I saw all the Sherlock titles I’d have access to.
- Barnes & Noble free Nook books: Whenever I see all the books available on Barnes & Noble’s website for Nook users, I kind of wish I had a Nook as well.
- Manybooks.net: This site has over 29,000 ebooks, and you can search through their recent additions with a genre filter.
- Amazon Daily Deals Kindle ebooks: These ebooks cost $0.99 to $1.99. Not free, but they are cheap enough that if I get something that I don’t turn out to like, I’m not heartbroken over it.
- One Hundred Free Books: This site handpicks and recommends free Kindle ebooks. It’s a great way to discover free ebooks without combing through thousands of them on Amazon.com.
Speaking of personal technology, I have a laptop, a netbook, my Kindle ereader, and my smartphone. I have to say that while everything else is for both work and play, my Kindle ereader is the only piece of personal technology that is purely for pleasure, and not business. I am so glad I have it – it has allowed me to remember how much I love reading. The new Kindle Paperwhite is very enticing, but I’d like to stick with my older Kindle Touch (purchased November 2011) for a few more years.
Share your favorite places for free or cheap ebooks! And has anyone traded up to the Kindle Paperwhite from a Kindle Touch?
books! grad school has ‘em
From one-income to… one-income
I get my MBA next May, and I’ve been really looking forward to being (higher-earning) DINKS again once I graduate business school, but it appears that we’re going to be single-income for a while longer – but for good reason! CB got into the graduate program he applied to. He will have to make up some prerequisites that he didn’t take in undergrad, but at the end of 2 years he will graduate with his masters in computer engineering. I am really excited for him to have this opportunity, and we are going to figure this out together.
The costs (financial & otherwise)
The whole program will cost ~$60,000 over 2 years. This is not a small sum. On the other hand, since my MBA has a sticker price of $100,000 just for tuition alone, CB’s tuition is looking very reasonable by comparison. Fortunately, my post-MBA job is in a relatively high-paying industry, so I will be able to cash flow his tuition and living expenses for the duration of the program if we live frugally. We are going to try our best to come out of grad school debt-free.
The other wrinkle is that we’ll be continuing our long-distance marriage for a little while longer. CB’s program is in Northern California, and he will be able to live rent-free with some family near the school. We plan to see each other once every 2 or 3 weeks. As my job entails lots of travel, I am hoping I can get most of my flights paid by miles. It’s not ideal, but it’s the most workable plan for us, right now. I hope that once he graduates and I have more seniority/proven myself in my job, we can make alternative arrangements that will allow us to live together, or at the very least see each other 3-4 times a month.
Money will be tighter but we will make it work and it will be worth it
So, there’s that. I hope I don’t insult any parents, but I imagine this is what having a baby is like. I keep reading that “money will be tighter but you will make it work and it will be worth it” when people talk about babies, and that’s the attitude I am keeping in the face of this other big adventure. Money will be tighter but we will make it work and it will be worth it – and the financial rewards will hopefully be much higher than with a baby! Har har.
I imagine the rest of this year will be spend planning and preparing for this transition. We won’t be able to save as much as I had hoped, but it’s for a good cause, and it’s an investment in his career and our future. And this added expenditure is an additional incentive, frankly, to “lean in” to a demanding but remunerative career for me.
We won’t be saving much outside of retirement
The other thing I know is that I don’t want to put off travel and fun. Maybe I’ve gotten a good dose of carpe diem I still want to go places, I still want to have adventures together. So, perhaps against the collective wisdom of personal finance bloggers, I will be saving very little outside of retirement funds ($28,500 for Roth IRAs and 401K) for the next 2-3 years. Any money I have left over from paying CB’s tuition will go to travel and fun for us.
Christmas is less than 2 months away, which means that CB and I are less than 2 months away from our romantic escape to Merida, Mexico! We booked this trip around the same time as my trip to Iceland – and it was just as well, because my London adventure has completely jump-started my hankering for more stamps in the passport. CB and I went on our first real vacation together to Disney World in Christmas of 2009, and since that time we like to take time to get away by ourselves during the holiday season.
Top left: Merida, top right: cenote, bottom left: Uxmal Mayan ruins, bottom right: Celestun. All photos from Wikipedia.
Have you heard of Merida? I haven’t until last year, when I saw several House Hunters International episodes devoted to this city. The capitol of the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida is also known as the White City for the whitewashed walls of its colonial buildings. It’s the cultural center of the Yucatan, and in recent years has seen many expats move there for its quality of living and affordable real estate (although prices are no longer such a bargain).
Fortunately for visitors, Merida is still a fairly affordable destination, even during the holiday high season. We booked a wonderful bed-and-breakfast for under $80 a day, including taxes. A private day tour ranges somewhere from $30 to $70 a person. Our preliminary budget comes to about $2,500 for the both of us. Merida is about 2 hours from Cancun and Tulum, but it’s not a resort beach town. Instead, it offers the blend of culture, adventure, and relaxation (and lovely, historic buildings) that CB and I are looking for, all at a fraction of the price that a resort in Cancun would cost during the same time.
Our preliminary Merida budget:
- Flights: $1,100 for two
- Hotel: $500 for bed & breakfast stay
- Tours/excursions: $500
- Food: $400
- Total: ~$2,500
Have you been to Merida, Mexico (or the rest of Yucatan Peninsula) before?
The first ever souvenir I bought with my own money (allowance) was a little sandcastle from Catalina Island back in 1997 or 1998. It cost $5, a very princely sum for me back then. I still have it at my parents’ home, in remarkably good condition.As I’ve started traveling more, I realized that it’s good to get a little something to remind me of a place, but I also wanted something that I can use in my daily life. The truly kitschy items can be interesting, but they take up space and I probably will tire of them once I get them back home. Instead, I have decided to get items that I can make use of everyday, and that aren’t emblazoned with names of the city.
Here are a few of my favorite souvenirs from my travels
Turtles from Buenos Aires, $3-$5 each (2005 & 2012 – the turtle on the right I got from the later trip). Silver compote bowl from Savannah, GA, $20 (2013). Scarf from London, $8.50 (2013). All from vintage shops or street markets.
My 3 tips for picking up unique and memorable souvenirs:
1. Visit vintage shops, street markets or farmer’s markets. Many times these venues will offer unique items for cheaper than the big tourist stores. A souvenir purchased during a sunny afternoon browsing through the a store or a market will remind you of that wonderful experience, versus something picked up before you run to your flight.
2. Check out museum shops, especially on smaller, off-the-beaten track museums. Some of the coolest items I’ve seen are in museum shops, and you have the added pleasure of knowing you’ve contributed to the operations of a nonprofit cultural institution. (If you are in London, I highly recommend Victoria & Albert Museum Shop).
3. Pick up free or cheap prints or advertisement (or your own pictures) and frame them when you are home, voila! Easy to transport, instant artwork for your home, and they’d make for interesting conversation when you have guests over.
Do you have tips for picking up unique, budget-friendly souvenirs?
Home insurance is one of those costs that you don’t want to spend our money on if truth be told. But you don’t have any choice. You know that if anything happens to your place that you would be thanking all the saints that you did get home insurance. Home insurance is one of those things that we pray we would never have to use. Because you don’t really want to spend money on home insurance, you try to get the cheapest that’s available. You tell yourself that it should be enough. That should keep you covered.
But before you feel secured you should realize that getting cheap home insurance might not be enough. There are some things that it does not cover. Check out the HBF home insurance website to find out what they do & don’t cover.
What Standard Policies Cover
Before we discuss what cheap home insurance does not cover, you should understand first what it does take care of. Here are some of the things that a basic home insurance policy would cover:
- Dwelling Coverage- This is the kind of coverage that would pay for damages that would be inflicted to your home by causes that covered. It would include damages to the plumbing, electrical and AC of the house. You should get enough dwelling coverage to pay for the cost of rebuilding the entire house.
- Other Structures Coverage- This pays for the damage suffered by structures that are detached from your main house. Garages and sheds can be included in tis kind of coverage.
- Personal Property Coverage- This is the kind of coverage that would pay for the loss and damage of your personal property within a dwelling because of a recognized cause. That can include your clothes, furniture and even sporting goods.
- Loss of Use Coverage- This is the kind of coverage that would pay for the cost of having to move out. This is used in case you cannot stay in your place while it is being repaired.
- Liability Insurance- This is the coverage that would protect you and your property in case someone files a lawsuit for damages because of something that happened while inside your property.
What Some Cheap Home Insurance Might Not Cover
Here are some of the things that cheap home insurance might not cover:
- Special Coverage for Contents- This would provide a greater coverage than the basic Personal Property Coverage. It provides coverage for a broader set of situations.
- Contents Replacement Cost Coverage- This is the kind of coverage that would pay for the actual value of the contents of your house. The value would not be affected by depreciation.
- Valuable Items Plus- This is the kind of coverage for specially valuable items such jewelry and silverware. It can also cover some of the more valuable gadgets such as cameras and computers.
- Personal Articles Floater- This is the kind of coverage that you need if you are not satisfied with what the Valuable Items Plus coverage will give you.
These are just some of the things that you would be missing if you will be getting cheap home insurance.
For some reason, American consumers don’t seem to be particularly interested in comparison shopping when it comes to selecting financial products like credit cards, loans, IRAs, mortgages and more. Their eyes seem to glaze over at the very thought of trying to find the best interest rates or figuring out which product has the lowest number of fees. In fact, a recent survey found that 66% of credit card users don’t shop for the best rates at all.
But the financially savvy know this is a very important part of being an educated consumer. Simply put, it makes financial sense to shop around, and to do so in a methodical manner. On a long enough timeline, this will save you a ton of cash that could be put to better uses by yourself and your family. As such, here are a few things to consider when you start shopping for your own financial products.
Find Unbiased Info by Looking in the Right Places
Don’t by fooled by promo materials and advertising campaigns; you’ll find better information elsewhere. Although these sources probably do have accurate information, you can be that this information has been spun in the interests of the company that prepared the materials. Apply some critical thinking when it comes to these sources: Is the information at all relevant to you and your needs?
But when all is said and done, it’s best to remember that these are nothing more than marketing materials. They’re supposed to represent the interests of the people who created them, and those interests aren’t going to align perfectly with your own. Given this, then, where’s the best place to look for unbiased and comprehensive information?
To begin with, there are a quite a few websites that don’t have a horse in the race, so to speak. You’ll want to look for sites that pull information from a wide range of providers and really look at the numbers from a consumer perspective. Some good site in this vein are Bankrate.com and SmartAsset.com — both of which provide tools to compare various types of savings and deposit accounts, insurance policies and interest rates, and fees for all kinds of financial products.
Consumer finance magazines and newspapers are also excellent places to find solid information. In particular, publications by organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Reports are both particularly useful for consumers seeking unbiased information.
Consumer advocates like Clark Howard are also excellent sources of information in this capacity. And if you may want to check with financial experts who specialize in the type of product you’re considering. For example, if you were shopping for annuities, you would want to check out Fisher Investments Annuity Assist to keep up with the latest information.
Learn the Key Factors for Consideration
Let’s face it: Financial products are complex organisms with a lot of moving parts. The most crucial parts differ pretty drastically depending on the product in question. However, there are a few key points that are valuable to consider no matter what product you’re considering.
The first of these would be to know the costs and fees for the product in question, particularly any fees related to managing or administering the account. Insist on seeing a table of fees when discussing the purchase of such a product. And while you’re doing this, it’s also helpful to know exactly what the the terms and conditions entail — for example, whether there are withdrawl and cancellation fees or penalties for early payments.
You’ll also want to know the risks and returns that are intrinsic to the product you’re considering. What kind of performance is expected, and what limits and caps are applicable? What level of risk does it carry? You’ll also want to know whether there are any tax repercussions that could be applicable.
Your best bet is to pay close attention to all the fine print that accompanies the product in question. Also, it’s good to review consumer comments, but keep a critical eye out for any suspicious testimonials that might be planted or otherwise falsified by people with ulterior motives.
Get Info From Federal and State Agencies
There are also quite a few agencies (both state and federal) that will assist you in shopping between financial services and products. Check out the resources offered by the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Trade Commission to get a better idea of what’s in the cards for anything you’re considering purchasing.
Clearly, then, it’s always in your best interest to do some serious comparison shopping when making any significant financial decision. This is particularly true when it comes to taking out a loan, setting up a mortgage, or getting a new credit card. What other tips do you have for people who are in the market for a new financial product or service? Have your say in the comments below.
UK: minimum wage, vs. U.S.: tipping required
One of the things I’ve noticed during my stay in London is how nice it is not to have a “discretionary but-not-really tipping system because if you don’t tip the restaurant workers won’t make enough money” scheme that we have in the States. During my vacation, I didn’t tip for take-out food and the most I tipped was £4 on a £31 tab for a sit-down restaurant (after checking with my English friend on what is appropriate).
It was such a nice change to not feel as if I HAVE to tip, and instead, save the good tips for the great service. It’s also wonderful to know that U.K. restaurant workers must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage of £6.19/hour, whereas in the United States restaurant workers do not have to be paid the minimum wage and therefore tips are expected to be part of their overall compensation.
We all pay for restaurant workers’ service. As a consumer, I would much rather pay a higher price for food/services (and know that the price I pay accurately reflects the cost of paying the people who serve these foods) vs. participating in a tipping culture where tipping for all intents and purposes is not discretionary.
Ah, but you say that a strong tipping system such as the United States prompts great customer service. I do see that servers in the U.S. tend to be a little more responsive, but I would disagree that tipping really enforces good service here. It is because that tipping has become expected – and there really is very little correlation between tipping and great service if 20% is now the “default” tip. So why don’t we just cut to the chase, bump up people’s salaries, bump up the prices that consumers have to pay, and stop the tipping madness?
What do you think? Would you rather pay more for your food and not have to tip as much or continue the current system?
Double decker buses on London street between Victoria Park
I’m back from my six-day vacation in London! And what a wonderful six days they were. This is going to be a long post, but I hope it will be useful (or at least interesting!) to y’all and at the very least it will serve as a trip diary of sorts for me. But first, the finances. My total trip spending was approximately $720 USD, which is less than 50% of my originally planned $1,500 budget. All the expenses I’ve incurred in London I have in pounds (currently £1 is $1.68):
Total Trip Spending:
- Airfare: $250 (plus 60,000 United miles)
- Hotel: I stayed with a school friend.
- Food: approximately £100 (£16-£17 per day), or $170
- London transportation: £70 – £25 is the total amount I put on my pay-as-you-go Oyster Card. There is still a good £5 or £6 left on it. I took the tube from Heathrow Airport to my friend’s place, but splurged on a £45 mini-cab service on my return back to Heathrow.
- Attractions, tours, entertainment: £35. I LOVE LONDON for its myriad of free or incredibly low-cost museums and attractions. I purchased something at the gift shop or the café or purchased a fee-added tour at every museum, because I want to support these institutions in the little ways I can.
- Shopping: £35. I bought some vintage scarves on sale for myself and friends and got a hostess gift for my friend whom I stayed with.
After getting in around midnight and then going to be at 2am the night before, I woke up at 1pm, a sad cry from the 9:30am I set my alarm to. I walked past the famous Brick Lane Market (it looked a little too crowded) into the Spitalfields Market. In one of the stalls I bought a very delicious, extremely buttery, slice of “twice-baked banana bread” and then found this incredible set of London landscapes, all reasonably priced at £25-£50 (self-control exercised, did not purchase).
Then I went to a falafel chain restaurant. Moments after I sat down and unwrapped my falafel sandwich, the sky darkened and started pouring rain. But it was all for the best because I struck up a conversation with a local. After the rain let up a bit, he offered to show me around. And because this is the sort of thing you can do when you are traveling alone, I said, sure, why not. And so I spent the next 2 hours on a personal tour, walking through the Smithfields Meat Market (incredible Victorian architecture for a meat market), passing by the famous Gerkin in the City, looking up at the golden dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, stopping by the edge of River Thames and even finding an old-fashioned red telephone booth for me to take an unabashedly touristy picture in.
That night, my friend and I went to a little noodles place not far from where she lives, and we met up with one of her friends who is an expat lawyer in London. I enjoyed my £8 dinner.
View of London Eye, at night
Again, woke up around 11:30am. I quickly got dressed and got over to the Tower of London, where the queues never stop. From 12:30pm-5pm, I walked the Tower grounds. Entrance cost £19.50, and included a few free tours inside the Tower. The much-publicized Yeoman Warder’s tour was great, despite the… 60+ person tour group. I saw the Crown Jewels, spent a lot of time in the White Tower, visited the spot where Anne Boleyn (mother of Elizabeth I) lost her head, and came very close to a Tower Raven. Those creatures are HUGE. Then I came back home – with a pit stop to a Pret-a-Manger to pick up a sandwich on the way – to get ready for an evening reception held by my alma mater (in business casual! I wore my tango heels because I didn’t want to pack another pair of shoes). That evening, I munched on grapes and marmalade and listened to a professor share his thoughts on China’s geopolitical future.
Tower of London
I woke up a little earlier than previous days and was out the door by noon. I caught the underground to the British Museum. I didn’t do much there, except sit around a bit and visited the Money and Clocks/watches exhibits. For some reason, I didn’t quite feel in the mood to visit the British Museum in much depth that day. So around 3pm I went east, to the Geffyre Museum, a museum dedicated to the home and décor of England’s urban middle classes, from the 1600s to the present. I only had an hour to spend in the museum before it closed, but I promised myself I’d come back before I left London. I had a good hot chocolate and a scone in the lovely café/conservatory that overlooks the Museum gardens (£4.95).
Dinner was a Masala dosa from a local curry place (£5.99).That night I went to a tango class and milonga (£10), and danced a few times with some very, very exciting gentlemen (who in addition to being fantastic dancers were also very smart dressers). During a break from dancing I met a lovely lady who used to be a hairdresser but gave up that profession to teach and dance tango full-time. Tango, it’s serious business!
I got to Westminster Abbey around 11:15am and saw that the scheduled tours with the vergers were at 2pm and 2:30pm. So I decided to return for the tour, and instead spent the few hours in between walking around St. James’ Park, known for being the smallest, but apparently most beautiful, of the royal parks. Saw some royal pelicans royally lounging in the sun. If I had walked just a little further I could’ve seen the Buckingham Palace, but laziness (and hunger) won out. After a lunch of spaghetti, scone, and tea (£9) at the Central Hall Westminster, I returned to Westminster Abbey for the verger’s tour. This tour costs £3 in addition to the £18 admissions ticket, but it is so, so, so worth the money. Photography is not allowed inside the Abbey, so all I can share are some of these outside shots.
Westminster Abbey, inside courtyard view
Westminster Abbey is probably the most incredible building I have seen in my life to do. It is simply amazing, and it almost boggles the imagination that a building erected in the 1200s is still standing today. I was fortunate to have a more senior verger to lead our very small group of 6 or 7. As part of the tour, we visited the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor, where the tomb of Henry III (the king who started building the present church) and several other kings and queens were kept.
I left the Abbey around 4:30pm and walked towards the British Academy, past Trafalgar Square, with a short stop in Pret-a-Manger for a buttery pain au raisin (Only £1.40! I love Pret-a-Manger’s – I’ve scarcely gone a day in London without going into one for a snack or a sandwich.) The British Academy is housed in just a lovely building tucked in a smaller street from the Square… I wish I could have taken a tour of the house. I sat in on the Changing Face of Value, a panel discussion on technology, material culture, and changing values. The panel was interesting, but what was even more interesting was the reception afterwards. There were some nuts and olives prettily presented in small white bowls, and servers circulated with glasses of juice and wine. Mind you, this was all FREE. I started chatting with an older gentleman at the reception, who turned out to be a professor of organizational research. He was a pleasure to talk to and we exchanged cards and said we’d stay in touch. These British Academy lectures and panel discussions are open to anyone, free of charge. All you have to do is to make a reservation via www.britac.ack.uk/events. Highly, highly recommend.
A rare, sunny day with no hint of rain. I was out the door by 10 minutes past 11am and started the hour’s walk toward Victoria Park, London’s oldest and largest public park. I was a woman on a mission – to get a meat pie from The Ginger Pig, which Timeout London has specifically highlighted as the thing to do. Some parts of the walk were very lovely – I passed by Regent’s Canal (look at those cute little houses with balconies facing the canal!), but the meat pie itself was thoroughly disappointing and not worth the £5.50 I paid.
Apartments next to Regent’s Canal, East London
To appease my disappointment, I took the tube to the British Library. In the café area I got a hot cup of tea, a good scone, jam, and some delicious, thick Jersey cream for £3.95. I also went on a tour of the Library (£8), and then spent an hour strolling around the Treasures room, where there lay TWO copies of the Magna Carta. Around 7pm I met up with my English friend whom I met my first day in London and then we went to a Pakistani restaurant, Tayyabs, where I dug into lamb chops, lamb sausages, lamb Karachi (love lamb!) and all sorts of accompaniments. I paid for dinner as a thank you for him taking me around London the first day (£35).
My last day in London! I had an early breakfast with a former classmate near the Lyseum Theatre. He generously paid. Afterwards, I went to Sir John Soane’s Museum for a little bit (£5), then I strolled around the Covent Garden Market, where I heard a delightful quarto of violinists and a cellist (I gave them £5). I was feeling hungry, so then I headed back to the Geffyre Museum in East London, where after a stroll around their herb and period gardens, I enjoyed a nice little lunch in the conservatory: tea, scone with cream and jam, and salmon finger sandwiches. SO GOOD, and only £7.95! I discovered that the Victoria & Albert Museum is open late on Fridays, so back on the tube I went to South Kensington. I wandered around the museum for a bit (my favorites, of what I’ve seen, are the jewelry gallery and the antique stained glass gallery). After I picked up a gift for my friend who hosted me, I rode the tube back.
Covent Garden Market
Perhaps it’s because I was traveling alone and not with CB, or perhaps because London is a place I am likely to return to for work or personal reasons, I didn’t feel the pressure to see everything, or even everything that a tour guidebook says a week’s worth of itinerary should include. I didn’t make it to the National Portrait Gallery, or Buckingham Palace or Kensington Palace or Shakespeare’s Globe. I didn’t want to travel outside of central London, so there goes Hampton Court Palace, Kew Gardens, Bath or Cambridge (upon reflection, I probably should have tried harder to go to Hampton Court Palace). I didn’t even have a proper English afternoon tea – my friend wasn’t feeling well before our planned tea date, and I figured there’s no point in spending £25 on tea by myself. I’ll save those attractions for next time. On the other hand, I thought I did a couple of really interesting things that perhaps most tourists don’t often have the chance to. Making a new friend and getting my own personal tour of London and the City was serendipity, but I also had a very nice evening at the British Academy, and my night at the tango milonga made me more determined to dedicate some serious time to this craft once I got back to the States.
Mostly, I woke up very late, went to one or two attractions a day, ate scones with loads of butter and cream and jam, drank tea, and walked. I must have walked 2-4 miles every day. No wonder people in London are so svelte despite all that scone and cream and jam! Walking was a wonderful way to see the city (when it’s not raining), and see the juxtaposition of the old and the new. In the evenings, before bed, I would read the Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie mysteries on my Kindle, and feel a tiny jolt of excitement every time I read about a street or an underground station that I now recognize.
P.S. The word scone appeared in six times in my recap. This was a very good trip.
Quintana Roo, Mexico. photo by jthezel
For a lot of people, a vacation isn’t really a proper vacation unless it features sun, sand and sea. It’s no surprise then that beach resorts are such popular holiday spots. These locations provide visitors with a chance to relax and top up their tans, and many are well served by local amenities such as shops, restaurants and bars.
The only trouble is, it’s easy to bust your budget if you’re planning trips away from home like this. To help save cash, it’s therefore really important bear some basic principles in mind. For example, try to book your breaks either well in advance or at the last minute. This is when most of the very best deals are available. Also, if you’re going to popular destinations for one or two weeks, consider booking package holidays rather than arranging the elements of your vacation separately. Traveling in a group and sharing accommodation can also save you a tidy sum. Meanwhile, make sure you search the web thoroughly for the best deals. Spending a little time comparing offers can result in big cost reductions.
By taking tips like this into account, you should be able to enjoy guilt-free trips overseas. For example, perhaps holidays in Cancun would be ideal. Boasting 14 miles of white sands, this world-renowned Mexican destination is ideal for beach breaks. As well as natural beauty, Cancun offers luxury and convenience. While there, you can make the most of golf courses, jungle tours, snorkelling, scuba diving and sport-fishing, among other things.
Another top destination is Santa Maria Island in the Azores. This small landmass in the Atlantic offers a real sense of isolation. With a total area of just 97 square kilometres and fewer than 6,000 inhabitants, it has a unique charm. It contains woodlands, nature reserves and beautiful sandy stretches, and you can spend your days beach hopping before returning to your hotel to lie by the pool or sip on a refreshing beverage at the bar.
Goa in India is another stunning coastal location. Once the premier trading port between Europe and the subcontinent, it features palm trees, white sands and clear waters. It’s no wonder then that each year around two million tourists flock to the area’s shores. Its locals have a laid-back charm and there is plenty to see and do in the region. You can check out vanilla-scented spice plantations, explore cathedrals and fill up on the sumptuous local dishes.
The great thing is, with some careful planning, it’s possible to enjoy fantastic beach vacations like these without breaking the bank.
There are few things nicer to look forward to than a luxury holiday in a sun-drenched destination. Unfortunately, luxury holidays usually come with high price tags, especially during the peak holiday seasons. However, there are some methods to use that will significantly reduce the price of a luxury holiday to a more affordable level.
A luxury holiday does mean different things to different people but the general assumption is five-star hotels in beautiful surroundings. The Mediterranean island of Ibiza has long been a desired holiday destination thanks to the beautiful beaches and fabulous nightlife. Cheap holidays to Ibiza are available but if you’re looking for a touch of luxury then the upmarket hotels will be hard to beat. Booking a last minute holiday to Ibiza is always a good way to obtain low-cost luxury accommodation but there are other ways to find luxury bargains.
Book accommodation and flights separately
Many people will only book their holidays through travel agents and this can be a good option if you are prepared to negotiate over prices. Travel operators make commission, which means they will usually negotiate prices if a sale looks likely.
Another option is to book directly through the airlines and hotel websites in order to research your options thoroughly before your book. Online research means you can compare hotels and the amenities they offer before booking. Check out the difference between four and five star rated hotels to see if you are really getting more for the price of that one extra star.
When it comes to booking flights there are a few golden rules to follow in order to find the lowest prices. Midweek prices will always be lower than Friday to Monday prices. Flying early in the morning or late at night will also bring lower priced flights and booking well in advance is the preferable option.
Booking during the low seasons
Ibiza is an all year round sunshine destination, which means you are pretty much guaranteed sunshine whenever you arrive. However, the peak holiday season in Ibiza is from June through September due to the higher temperatures and the school holidays. Booking either side of these months will mean significant accommodation discounts. These discounts can be as much as a 70% reduction simply by booking either side of the peak holiday season months.
Book later and independently
The trouble with Mediterranean destinations is that many hotels, clubs and restaurants do shut down during the winter months but not all of them. If you fancy some winter sunshine in Ibiza in a luxury hotel then book early using online hotel websites. The temperatures in Ibiza during December will be around 55F and a four star luxury hotel will set you back around $500 per person, per week. That same four star hotel during July will cost $1,830 per person, per week.
Research is the key to finding a luxury holiday at a reduced price. However, choosing the low seasons can mean an extended holiday for a fraction of the cost of a one week holiday during the peak season.
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