Budgeting as a traveler

Undeniably, one of the perks of travel social work is that we are generally paid a wage that is reflective of our value.  I don’t even want to get started on how first responders, teachers, social workers are compensated on a whole in the United States, but for many people, travel work may be the first time in their careers where they can work freely without massive financial burden.

But with great power, comes great responsibility… or that’s what they say.  An easy trap to fall in to, and trust me, it’s super common and incredibly human, is that we walk away from our first assignments thinking, “I made really good money, so how did I not manage to save anything?”  Simple answer is, life happens.  It’s okay. 

In my past life as a music therapist, I sat on a regional board as the treasurer.  I had always been great with other people’s money, but not amazing with my own.  So I knew how to budget, but I never really followed one for myself.  I’d have a general idea of what money needed to be saved or how my paychecks were being spent, but I was never really disciplined about it in a way that I felt I could carry through.  This carried through probably until my third travel assignment.  I’d make a general budget, and I’d mostly follow through, but after a Netflix binge of Friends somewhere between my 3rd and 4th assignments, I really decided to pay myself first.

The episode of Friends (and honestly, I remember seeing this episode when I was in high school) was the one where Monica has to ask her parents for money… but her Elliott Gould father can’t understand why because he taught her to put 10% of every paycheck away in savings.   It sounded good in practice, but it wasn’t until I decided that I was paying myself with that 10% that I really started to implement the practice.  Here are the things that work for me:

1:  I apparently use the “Envelope Method” but with bank accounts. 
The Envelope Method supposes that you get paid in cash or have cash in hand.  You have an envelope dedicated to each of your expenses.  You funnel the appropriate amount of cash away in each envelope. 

I do this with bank accounts.  This works really well for me.  I have an account to pay my students loans, an account to pay my credit cards, etc.  When I get a paycheck, I divert money to the appropriate bank account, so I don’t have to deal with it.  If it’s in my main account, I’ll think it’s play money… so everything that is not for me to play with, has a place to go and the bills get paid from those accounts.

2:  I thank my money.  This is one of my more spiritual concepts; but I’m super grateful for my money and so I let it know.  Whenever I log into my bank account, I tell my money I love it, and I thank it for circulating.  If you dread money, money will dread you.

3:  I created a weekly budget (here’s a spreadsheet I created) and once I got real about what money was going where, down to the $5.52/week for my Planet Fitness membership, I found that I could actually stick to it and have play money at the end of each week.  If you’re avoiding figuring out your actual numbers, work through the resistance however your normally work through your issues.  Clear those old belief patterns about finances out of the way.  Old beliefs, thank you for your service, you are now retired!

4:  Automatic transfers:  Once I complete my budget, I set up automatic transfers so on the morning of payday, the money is just transferred to its new home without me ever having to see it.  This is especially nice when you’re growing your money.

5:  Have one savings account that you commit to not using.  This means, you may have multiple savings accounts.  Have one for emergencies (I don’t actually call this account “emergencies”, as I’m a firm believer in whatever you put out, you get back), and have one that just gets to grow.

6:  I name my bank accounts.  I call my accounts fun names that remind me of where the money is going, it’s easier for me to keep track of.   

7:  You don’t need debit cards for all of your accounts.

I had been thinking about creating a budget resource for this site for quite some time and recently got a friendly question from a fellow traveler which prompted me to take action and get you a spreadsheet.  The weekly budget spreadsheet is meant for you to put in your weekly debit/expense amounts for each type of bill and if you don’t know what the weekly cost of something is for you, I’ve put in a little calculator to take your monthly or semi-annual bill and convert it to a weekly cost.

There’s also a way for you to calculate what your likely take-home pay per week will be vs what a recruiter will tell you.  Recruiters tend to “forget” to calculate your pay with taxes taken out of your taxable wage.  In my experience, you take home about 71% of your taxable wage, so I account for this in the budget.

Feel free to let me know if you have questions about how to use this.  Download your own copy.  Use it, change the names of the budget items.  Everything should auto-populate for you.  Time to grow your money!


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