Packing for Travel: Tips from a Business Traveler

Most people do not travel that often; when packing for personal travel it is easy to forget important items. When one arrives at the destination and begins unpacking inevitably there is that moment when you realize something is missing. When I started traveling for work this happened to me all the time and I had to get a system in place so that I was not constantly buying duplicate items. My solution was to build my travel kit and never take certain items out of my bag. Well for the most part, read on and I will tattle on myself with some of my travel mistakes.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you should purchase something, I might earn a small commission which comes at no cost to you (and is greatly appreciated!).

Last week I was staying with family right before a business trip. I had all the things I needed in my kit and was enjoying some time at home before going on a short 3-day trip. The trouble came when it was time to leave for my trip complacency got the best of me. Instead of double checking to make sure I repacked all my items, I just threw stuff in a bag and went on my merry way.

When I get to my hotel and start unpacking, I realize I do not have a toothbrush, toothpaste, or hairbrush. Thank goodness there was a store a short distance from the hotel so I could replace the items quickly.

This mishap got me to thinking about the things that I regularly take with me. The items I forgot this trip are a no brainer for most people. Some of the basic items one should always keep in their suitcase when you travel often is your toiletries, you know like the brush I forgot 😊. I actually go so far as to keep shampoo, conditioner, body soap, and lotion in my bag. This way I don’t have to rely on the items the hotel offers. If you are like the guys in my life you might be wondering what’s the difference, hotel brands are free. However, most of the women I know get it when I say, not all products are equal. When you have long hair like I do, the quality of the conditioner is important.

Now for some of the unusual items I pack that other people don’t often think of. A must have for my go bag is a travel steamer. There are many types but I use the Joy Little Steamer. It is inexpensive, works very well, and easily fits into my bag.

If you have been following my travel series, you will know that metal straws have made it on my must have list. Putting the straws on the list made my friend comment on the fact that she did not want something that she drinks from just floating around in her bag. So, we looked and found a there are some great carry case options. The one I decided to purchase was Ecotribe Straws with Bamboo Carry Case. I love the bamboo case and the straw is tall enough for most drinks. The only exception I have found is my taller 44oz cup. For that I still have my other straws.

The last item that I cannot do without is my bag scale. This may seem strange to those who do not travel a lot but follow my thinking on this one. Airlines charge huge fees if your bag is even the slightest bit overweight. My coworker had to pay $100 for a heavy bag fee. Again, there are many types, but they range from $10 to $25. This one-time fee can save you a lot of money in the long run. Especially if you do any shopping for while out an about on your adventure.

These are just a few of the key items that I keep in my bag at all times. They make my life on the road a lot easier. Just remember, when you take something out of your bag at home or you run out of a consumable product, replace the items as quickly as possible. Otherwise you will end up like me, in the hotel with not toothbrush, running to the closest open store late at night.

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The Pitfalls and Benefits of Credit Cards

When it comes to budgeting and being mindful of money, credit cards can have a huge impact on the bottom line. Many places don’t take checks any more and sometimes people look at you like you are crazy when you slow down the line by paying cash. I can hear them thinking “aw she is cute paying with her little pieces of paper.” Credit cards make paying for things simple and fast, but they can make us less aware (mindful) of our spending habits.  Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls and some benefits of credit cards.

Points Programs

Every day we are bombarded with credit card adds that talk up the benefits of their points programs. If you use their card you will get cash back, airline points, hotel points, or member exclusive access to certain events. This all sounds wonderful but what are these benefits really costing you.

One popular program offers you 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Sounds great, free money! Maybe, maybe not. The company is counting on you not paying off the credit card every month so they can charge you interest, which is much higher than 1.5%, that is pennies to them.  I have seen interest rate ranging from 6% for people with the best credit scores, 14% on average, and up to 25%. If you carry a modest balance the cash back still does not put a dent on the low end 6% rate. 

One common mistake people are tricked into, especially with advertising, is putting things on their card just to earn rewards. Sure, you might earn a free plane ticket here and there but if you are paying interest on that purchase that “free” ticket is costing you more than if you just purchased the ticket outright.  If you are making a purchase just for the reward, maybe think twice…can you pay the balance before the next billing cycle. If the answer is no, ask yourself, would I make this purchase if no reward was involved?

I fully confess, I love my points programs. Particularly the program tied to the card I use for business travel. I know that when I put my hotel, car, plane ticket, and any other business costs on the card I will be reimbursed for those charges before the next payment cycle. Therefore, I do get free money.

Carrying a Balance

There are times when an unexpected expense comes up or we just need to make a large purchase. It is great to have a credit card to facilitate the process. Another reason a credit card is great is for online shopping. There are some great deals to be found or products you just can find locally but you need some form of digital payment. Many of the sites I use let me save my payment and all I have to do is click a button and my purchase is on its way. These are all reasons credit is great.

The danger is in carrying a balance. A few years ago, I was helping someone with a budget and they had maxed out their American Express card; these cards are not meant to carry a balance. He was being charged 25% interest on a balance that was over 20k. Think about the math on that for a minute.  That is $5,000 interest in one month. Each month that number grows and it becomes more difficult to get out of that hole.

But let’s take a more common example. Pretend you carry a $2,000 balance at the lower end of the interest scale, say 10%. This will cost you $200 interest; the minimum payment is 50.00. If you pay just the minimum next month you owe $2,150 with interest of $215. And so it goes until you buckle down and pay the balance off.

 I get it, sometimes the unexpected happens and you have to use your card, but I suggest you pay the balance as quick as you can.

Not Paying off Everyday Items

I put a lot of stuff on my card, from gas, groceries, cell phone bill, gym fees, to lunch when I don’t feel like packing my own. It is just easier to have all the charges go to one place and then I pay the balance every payday. This just simplifies my life, especially when I am on the go a lot. The biggest trap I see people fall into not paying off the everyday purchases.  

Even if you have to carry a balance for a large purchase, my advice is to make sure you keep track of the ordinary purchases and make sure you pay them off each month. This way the sneaky interest monster does not grab you and put a dent in your financial goals.

Speaking of everyday items and online shopping, when I lived overseas, I met a lot of people who did not have any credit cards. Where I lived, they were not that common and many local businesses did not accept cards. A friend of mine asked where I purchased the book I was reading; I told her Amazon. She was sad that she could not get the book. At first, I misunderstood and thought she meant they will not deliver to our location, so I quickly told her “no Amazon does deliver here.” The lady corrected me, she said “I do not have a credit card so I have no way to pay for this item.” Being an American from a consumer/credit culture this was new to me. Long story short, I bought the book for her and she just gave me cash.

As Americans, we do live in a credit culture, which can be a good and a bad thing. Having a credit card makes it so we have access to many things at the click of a button. The pitfall is that it is easy to spend beyond our means and the things we buy end up costing way more than we think. As always, there is no judgement, I am just advocating for mindful spending.

Respect and Disagreement: They Do Not Have to Be Mutually Exclusive

Many of my posts end with “respectful comments are welcome” because I would like people who read my blog to know that I would love to have a conversation about any of the topics I write about. Hey, you can even suggest a topic if you are so inclined. But the other day a person from my office found the blog and reacted to that line by saying “you just don’t want people to disagree with you.” Disagreeing and respect are not mutually exclusive.

The idea that one cannot disagree and still be respectful is a bit disconcerting to me. Therefore, I explained to the person what I mean by respectful comments is, I do not like people to post profanity or bullying statements on my page. However, if you disagree with something I have written, by all means share a point of view.

However, the deeper question raised by this conversation is; since when did it become disrespectful to disagree with someone? Is this a common thought process or is this just the point of view of the one person I was talking to?

I think of disagreeing with someone as a way to have a lively debate and share ideas.  However, one should not make it personal or put down other people and their ideas. It is one thing to say “I think you should not talk about money with kids because…” it is another thing to say “you are a total moron if you…”

When I debate with people I do not back down easily, especially on topics that I feel passionately about. There may come a time when the group has to agree to disagree, shake hands, and walk away still friends. One last point, it is good to listen to people who disagree with you because it is a chance to challenge your thought process and maybe learn something new.

I hope that this post will encourage readers to feel comfortable commenting on my topics, whether you agree with me or not.

When Should We Begin Teaching Children About Money?

Recently the local news station was doing a segment about how game companies intentionally make children’s games addictive. The reporter gets a father and child on TV for an interview about how the child charged about $3,000 worth of game items to the father’s credit card. When the child is interviewed, he is gleefully telling the reporter how he just clicked the button every time the game gave him the choice to get another boost, coins, or extra lives. The news story got me to thinking, when should we begin teaching children about money?

The child on television is talking to the reporter in a way that made me think this the child still does not really understand that they did something wrong. The tone, body language, and words chosen all point to the kid thinking “I had fun with the game, my dad got mad for some reason, and now I get to talk about it on TV. Look at me on TV.”  If this is really the case and not some kind of dramatization or coaching off screen, someone has failed this child if they spent $3k on a game in one month and still does not understand there is a consequence for this action.  

It dawned on me that the reason I know so many adults who struggle with managing money is because they were not taught as children how to manage money. Therefore, I began talking to my friends and family to get their opinion about what age is a good age to start teaching kids about money. I got a wide range of interesting answers.

I will start with my own childhood. My parents have always been very secretive about money; it is very taboo…we just don’t talk about those things. I knew we did not have a lot and that after my step-dad was injured at work we needed help. I never knew how bad it was exactly but I did know I got free lunch at school because my parents qualified for some assistance.

When I was 17 a friend of mine was taking business economics as an elective and the class had a personal finance month. She began telling me all about the things she learned in class. I realized I did not know anything about managing my money.  I had a job, cashed my paycheck at the bank that issued the check, and gave my dad a little money for my car insurance.  At 17 maybe I should have known a bit more about how to manage money.

My coworker started having conversations with her child when the child was in elementary school. My coworker started with small conversations like teaching her child one does not always get what they want when they want it. Things have a cost and sometimes we have to wait to purchase something and/or save for it. As the child got older my coworker gave her kid a prepaid debit card as a way to teach the daughter how to manage a small amount of money. As the child grew the complexity of the money lessons grew.

Another friend takes a middle ground on this issue. He thinks that you should not start money conversations when children are too young. Just let them be kids as long as they can before putting the pressure of the world on them. This friend is of the school of thought that all you need to teach a children responsibility is  give them chores and paying a small allowance. This way they learn you work for what you have. Then when the child is 14 or so you can teach them about money.  

That is all well and good in generations gone by. But today companies actively build marketing programs to target children. They are bombarded with input at a very young age so my opinion is we need to start teaching them small lessons at a young age. The child does not need to know every detail of the family budget.  But it is a good idea to teach a child that they cannot just click a button and get something anytime they want it.

This is a complex issue and can become emotionally charged. Most parents I know do the best they can by their children and work hard to provide their child with the things they need. However, I think we should consider that one of the things a child need is lessons and boundaries. Teaching a child about money is a life skill that can make a world of difference throughout their whole life.

Any opinions out there; what is a good age to start teaching a child about money?

Respectful comments are welcome. Names are optional to post a comment.  

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Motivating Employees and Negotiating Salary:


This post is going to cover multiple but related topics. While at lunch I was speaking with a work friend and asked her what she thinks I should write about today. She said “How to ask for more money when applying for jobs.” The statement reminded me of an article that basically said companies should pay people what they are currently worth in the market not offer salaries based on what the person earned in the past. The second thing that came to mind was how do companies motivate their employees. In my mind these topics are interrelated.

A coworker at my previous job once said to me “people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.” I had to stop and think about this for a minute or two before I realized that for the most part I agree with this statement. Most people I know keep doing the same kind of work as always, just at another company. This would say that the employee likes or is willing to do the work, but something in the environment is not satisfactory for them.  

If you like the job you do what motivates you to stay with your employer? What makes you happy? What makes you feel valued? These are questions that managers should ask and have a reasonable answer to. Recently during a mid-year review my manager said “I don’t know what motivates you.” I responded, “I am motivated by autonomy and the ability to pick my own projects.” It is good he asked but clearly, he did not listen.

Two weeks later I am put on a team that has little to no autonomy and is very rigid. I am not sure what is more aggravating, the fact that he asked and did the exact opposite, or the fact that the rules established are so rigid that they actually get in the way of actual work getting done.

I am not the only one frustrated, several people are slipping away from our project. Each week we hear about yet another person leaving, and they are the really talented people too. Some people are going to a sister project at a different company; they are literally doing the exact same work just for different managers.

This is where we loop in the concept of negotiating salaries. I wish I could find the original article so I could link it to you all, but the concept the writer was trying to bring to light is that just because someone made a certain salary in the past it does not mean that is what they should be paid in the future. Pay people what they are worth. If their skills and talents grow, then salary should grow. A person may have been underpaid at their current job, does that mean the new employer should under pay them as well? Money is another type of motivator. A well-compensated employee is more likely to stay with a company especially when combined with other non-tangible motivators, like autonomy and respectful work environments.

Here are some tips on negotiating a salary that you all may have heard about before but are worth saying again.

  1. Do your research, know what the industry pays for the type of work you are doing in the area you want to do it in. Glassdoor is one good place to look for salary information but there are other web pages you can look at. If you know the average it is easier to justify your number or on the flip side adjust your expectations.
  2. Do some cost of living evaluations. I mentioned in a previous article that I recently took a job in a bigger city but did not realize how expensive it would be to commute. I knew about the expensive housing and other factors but did not factor in expense I never had before. Had I known I might have asked for a different number.  There are several good cost of living calculators that will tell you how far your money will go if you move from one area to another.

For example, last year I was offered a job that was a good 10K less than the current salary. I asked the potential employer how they arrived at the offer. The reason given was cost of living was supposedly much less where I would be going. My research showed that the cost of living was only 3% less so I would be taking a cut in terms of money and buying power.  Although my current job was about to end, I still kept looking.

  • When negotiating you should not put a number out there until you know the full extend of the job responsibilities. If you ask for an amount and then they put more responsibilities on you later you might end up feeling underpaid and stressed out.

If you are like me and work in an industry that is project driven, you end up moving from one job to another on a regular basis. It is important to know what your skills are worth and look for an environment that will allow you to improve your skills as well as learn new ones. Negotiating salary is just a part of life.

On the other hand, if you work for a company that offers steady work it is important for employers to pay attention to what motivates employees. Well paid, motivated employees will stay with the company long term, offer innovative ideas, and create value.

Join the conversation: What motivates you? What makes you feel valued. Feel free to comment on this post.

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In the meantime, Happy Budget Tuesday 😊

Impulse Spending: Lottery Fever

The Powerball has climbed to $625 million for the drawing on Saturday, March 23, 2019. The higher the prize climbs the more people get lottery fever and feel the need to buy into the dream that the next big winner could be them. It is okay to dream but the question becomes, where is the line between dreaming and gambling money one cannot afford to lose?

A coworker of mine buys one ticket for every drawing no matter the size of the prize. This amounts to a modest $4 a week, and he calls it a tax on dreamers.  He knows that he is not likely to actually win anything of significance but still plays. My coworker has a rule to never buy more than one ticket; either you are going to win or you are not, but one ticket is enough. This is on the caution side of the line and dreaming.

I’ll be honest, I recently started joining my friend in the one ticket per drawing dream. But my dream is a little smaller than his, I just dream of wining the second-place prize; first place prize gets too much attention.  Overall, the cost of this indulgence is easily absorbable…but yes, it is on my budget under discretionary spending.

This week as the pot grew from $425 to $625 some of the people I work with started an office pool with a buy in of $40 per person. I read an article around the time of the 1.5 billion lottery that posed a theory that the reason people start office pools is because they want to have something to bond over. Most know they will not win, but want the camaraderie that comes with having a common dream, even if it is only for a little while.

The part that is crazy to me is hearing the individuals in the pool talking about buying additional tickets. Why do I say crazy? Well the same people buying all these tickets are the same ones who often speak about having a difficult time paying bills, or paying bills on time. They think if only they win this time all their money woes will go away. But the chances of them winning are 1 in 262 million. The reality is when you cannot pay your bills, the lottery is not likely to be your way out. This is on the side of the line where people gamble money they cannot afford to lose.

.The lottery phenomenon is interesting to me, people want to dream a little dream. Logically we know that the chances are so small that we will win, but a small voice says “it has to be someone, maybe it will be me.”  At the end of the day my perspective always comes back to budget. If you have the extra money to spend, by all means have fun. If not, do yourself a favor and avoid the impulse spending.

To all of you out there, do you dream the little dream? Or do you stay out of the game?

Mindful Spending: Common Issues to Look For

Recently an article was posted on MSN Money about 30 money mistakes people make and how to avoid them. While I don’t agree with the whole list or that the things on the list rise to the level of a mistake, I do think they are interesting talking points when discussing how to be more mindful when spending money.

Some of the issues mentioned in the article I have discussed in previous posts such as, the importance of a budget, having an emergency fund, setting goals, and financing costs. I won’t repost the authors whole list; you can find the article at the link in the reference at the bottom of this post. What I would like to do in my post is look at a couple of the items on the list that captured my attention.

The first thing on the list, eating out a lot, is one that I am probably guilty of. The reality is I am a terrible cook and hate the hassle of making a meal when a lot of the time it is just me. This is not necessarily a mistake but it can be a costly habit. So, I have to ask myself, is eating out worth the hit to my budget? Or is this a place where I can find savings to meet other goals. Honestly, the answer changes from time to time.

Another item on the list is paying for subscriptions that you don’t use. This one caught my attention because it was also the focus of a commercial for a bank. The bank commercial is touting their new app that lets the user easily identify recurring payments. You hear a voice saying “Mike has 2 music services, that he does not listen to, 4 video streaming services, that he does not watch” …. And so on.  When I saw this topic highlighted in two different ways it got me to thinking about the things I pay for and if I get value out of it.

I have a Pandora account that I listen to every day as I drive to work, the $12 I spend on that is value added to me. But as I examined my spending, I noticed that there were a couple of things I purchased, used for awhile, but then stopped. It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Now I have to decide if I want to start using these services or do I need to stop paying for them.

Let’s be honest, if I have neglected the services for a while it is probably time to turn the subscription off.  Two of my services I paid the whole year up front so that I could get a discount. What I did was go to the subscription service and turn off the auto renew. This is where I think some companies are sneaky, they have you pay up front and then by the time renewal comes around you forgot to turn it off. I suggest if you have a similar situation, turn off the auto renew and make a conscious decision about whether the service is still worth the price.

If you find yourself with this money issue, you are not alone. In fact, I was helping a friend with her budget, as we looked through her expenses she came across a $10 monthly game subscription her son has signed up for 2 years ago. He had her permission at the time because it was a gift. But she totally forgot about it and the auto renew was still on. The kid has moved on from the game but mom was still paying. 

As mentioned above, the whole list can be found at the link below, the article is food for thought. If a reader interested in exploring a particular topic, please share in the comments section. If you found this information interesting please let me know by liking the posts.

References

Notte, J. (2019). 30 money mistakes you’re probably making and how to avoid them. Retrieved from http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/personalfinance/30-money-mistakes-youre-probably-making-and-how-to-avoid-them/ss-BBTu0Ot?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=ASUSDHP15#image=1