I recently read a piece on The Financial Diet called, “Why ‘Don’t Worry About Money, Just Travel’ Is The Worst Advice Of All Time.”
Chelsea Fagan addresses several important issues in this article, including privilege, misguided advice about travel, and judging others.
But really, I just love the overall message. Yes, it makes me sad when people say they can’t afford to travel, because many people can afford to if they get creative about ways to earn extra money and save.
But we shouldn’t ignore all our financial responsibilities just because we want to travel.
I’ve spent a lot of time traveling since I graduated college three years ago. One of the most challenging aspects of this journey has been deciding how to use my money. Especially now that I’m married. All my financial decisions impact another person now, too!
I want to be responsible and set myself up for future financial success, but I also want to make the most of my travels. And sometimes, that means spending a little money.
After three years of trying various methods, I think I’ve found a happy balance with my money. Thanks to this balance, hopefully I won’t only be enjoying my money now. I will also have enough money in the future to enjoy financial freedom!
If you’re an expat, here are six tips for how to manage your money while you’re on the road.
1. Send Money Home
When I wanted to move to New Zealand, I worked really hard and saved a lot of money. I saved. And saved. And saved.
When I finally got to New Zealand, I was tired of saving.
I decided that for once in my life, I wouldn’t stress about how much money I had in a savings account. I didn’t even have a savings account! I also didn’t want to deal with the hassle of sending money from my New Zealand account to my American account. So I just didn’t.
I didn’t leave the country completely broke. I had enough to get myself back on my feet when I moved back to the USA. But it would have been nice to not feel strapped for cash so quickly once I was back on U.S. soil. I had to find a source of income immediately, so I ended up taking a job I didn’t want.
Also, because I struggle with anxiety, I spent months in New Zealand suppressing theses nagging thoughts:
“What if you don’t have any money when you go home? What if you also can’t find a job? What if you have to borrow money from your parents? What are you doing with your life?”
That wasn’t fun.
In China, I finally figured out how to send money home internationally. I opened a separate savings account at my American bank, and I’m building an emergency fund. I feel like I can finally breathe, knowing that when The Husband and I move home in July, we won’t be totally poor.
2. Don’t Ignore Your Debts
If you have no debt, I am sending you a million high fives right now! I’m also secretly glaring at you enviously.
The Husband and I are paying off student loans. You may also have loans, or maybe you have credit card debt.
Whatever your situation, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you’re traveling, these financial burdens magically disappear. You may be on the road, but your life back home still exists. That includes the money you owe, unfortunately.
I recommend leaving a certain amount of money in your bank account back home so that you can use money from that account to pay off debts. If you really want to make your life on the road carefree, set up automatic withdrawals so you don’t have to think about it!
There will probably never be a story about me like those I see on so many personal finance blogs: “I Paid off $80k in debt in 3 years!” I haven’t figured out how to travel the world and pay off thousands of dollars in debt in a short amount of time. (But if any of you have mastered that feat, please shoot me an email!)
However, at least The Husband and I are still chipping away at our debt as expats.
3. Put Money in Your Retirement Fund
This point is meant for my fellow American travelers. You may have heard financial professionals preach about the importance of saving for retirement early.
Well, they’re right. And just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you should ignore this advice!
To be honest, I’m putting very little into my IRA right now. Actually, less than 2% of my income. David Bach would be very disappointed in me!
But the important thing is that The Husband and I have continued to contribute even after moving abroad. When we move back home, we will reevaluate our finances and hopefully be able to put more money into our IRAs every month.
4. Splurge on Experiences
Huge purchases I’m glad I made:
Surfing lessons in Australia.
Seafood in San Diego.
Most plane tickets. Most. That’s right, American Airlines, I’m looking at you!
Motorbike in China.
Zip line tour in New Zealand.
Entry into U.S. National Parks.
All of these purchases helped me experience what I wanted to get out of the culture. I don’t resent saying goodbye to that money.
5. But Don’t Splurge Too Much
Decide what your priorities are. For example, if you’re not really a party person, I don’t recommend spending a lot of money going out and drinking just because someone invited you. Save that money for a plane ticket!
Look for areas where you can scrimp a little. Instead of taking taxis everywhere, be patient and wait 10 minutes for the bus. If you’re living abroad, you don’t always have to eat out in your new city. Buy ingredients to make food at home. (I am terrible about that one. Cooking is one of my great dislikes.)
Saving a little goes a long way.
6. Keep Traveling!
If possible, don’t get so caught up in saving, paying off debts quickly, and being frugal that you forget to take advantage of your opportunities.
You’re an expat. Remember that you moved abroad for a reason. Keep seeing the world!
Are you an expat? What advice do you have for travelers who want to learn to manage their money?