Last time we talked about our credit/debit cards and a few tips for using/getting local currency. This time we’ll talk more about managing our finances and how we are tracking our expenses.
As mentioned before, we opened a Charles Schwab checking account before we left. In order to do this, you also have to open an investment account with them, but you don’t have to put any funds in it (and we didn’t). This account is our primary means of getting cash, but not our primary account for holding our funds. Be aware that if you do something similar to us, Charles Schwab takes several days to give you access to money when you transfer from an outside account, so make sure you don’t let it go to zero and then try to transfer in some money that you need to access right away.
We maintain our money spread between our joint and individual bank accounts at home and our Charles Schwab account, so that if we lose a debit card or our info gets stolen, we won’t lose everything. This also makes it easy to pay our credit cards that are already set up to be paid from our personal accounts.
The only issue with keeping your money spread out is keeping track of it. Before we left I built a very simple spreadsheet in Google Sheets to keep track of our expenses and money we had coming in, and now I’ve just continued using it to track how much money we have left. Having it on Google Sheets means I can pull it up on our phones or computer (or at work before we left), and I could update it at any time too. I update it about once a week with current amount in accounts as well as on our credit cards, and it tracks how much money we have left. I included a screenshot below, and again, it’s not fancy or pretty, but it works and that is all that really matters to me.
I also made a simple spreadsheet to track our expenses, again, it’s not pretty or extravagant, but it works. Depending on how fast our internet access is, how much I trust it, and how much time we have, we either use a currency converter app that doesn’t require internet access, Google to convert the currency, or the actual amount that shows up on the credit card to fill in the expenses. All of these have been very close to each other, which is plenty good for our purposes. For example, we withdrew £200, and Google and the currency converter said it was $262, and our bank withdrew $264 from our accounts. Since we’re not trying to track with absolute precision and we’re not going to be audited on our expense tracking, our method works great for us to just get a close estimate of how much we spend in each country and an average per day for the trip.
The daily expense spreadsheet also has a main page that shows a comparison of what we budgeted and what we spent for each country, as well as calculates some totals for us and a daily average for the entire trip. We’re going to be spending quite a bit of time in the next few weeks filling in more of the budget column as we really need to figure out where we’re headed after Africa.
Biggest Lesson: Figure out a system that works for you, whether you take a budget spreadsheet from any of the thousands of free online sources, build your own, use something like mint.com, or use paper and pencil, just track your expenses and know your budget.
In the future we’ll talk more about how we are doing compared to our budget and ways to save some money while you travel.