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Keeping track of expenses in three currencies does not simplify things.

Keeping track of expenses in three currencies does not simplify things.

For the last several years, well since starting college, I have kept track of my expenses using an excel spreadsheet.

It started out being several columns for the date, the place and the amount put onto my credit card. I felt I should keep track of what I used my credit card on in case a credit card bill was off. The following summer I was doing a bit more freelance computer work and wanted to keep track of the hours I worked, what I made and I what I spent it on. At this point still a disorganized spreadsheet.

My sophomore year started with a small jump forward, I now had columns for different expenses with subtotals at the bottom with a running overall total next to them. And I put a section for income so I could see how much I was losing that quarter. From here it evolved slowly into a more complex sheet but the same idea remained.

Now that I am moving away from that lifestyle (one where I mostly spent money) into one with a reliable income I decided to look at free personal finance software for OS X. I looked briefly a few times, gathered a list of potential applications and tried them out.

None of them did anything new. One had a better way to enter items and another and most had easier categorization (currently I use a column per category). One overarching “feature” was program specific file types.

The one feature that they had that I did not already have in my spreadsheet was pie charts and graphs for showing how much money has been spent in various categories. Graphs? Those are easy.

A few minutes later I now have a spreadsheet with two neat pie charts at the bottom. One breaking down expense categories and the other showing various incomes versus overall expenditures. Expenses in shades of red (for different credit cards and such) and income in shades of green (bank account, gift cards etc.). Now I just have to keep the green side from being eaten by the red side to stay out of debt.

I suppose that once I lead a more financial complicated life I will need a more advanced piece of software to track investments and the like. However for now when there is rarely anything over a thousand dollars a simple spread sheet has turned out to be the best of the lot.

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Reflections in Rick Carpenters' art studio.

Reflections in Rick Carpenters' art studio.

It tends to be a dreaded moment when going to purchase books only to find that the textbook for the class is written by the professor. On one occasion I dropped a class because not only was the textbook by the professor but several others were by other faculty members (this was hardly the only reason though). The fact that they have a book is a sign that they know what they are talking about, it is bad because they might just be bad writers and they are assigning it because it is theirs. Furthermore there is then only one perspective for the class: the professor’s.

So when I signed up for Astrobiology the books was written by the professor (Kevin Plaxco) but as it was only twenty dollars used I did not feel so bad. I also skimmed through it and there was fortunately little chemistry diagrams or tables. Since astrobiology is a relatively new field I felt that it would be okay (compared to a professors book in English or Political Science).

The second week of the class the professor did something that I felt was just a good thing to do. He reimbursed everyone of us for the money he made from us buying his book. Turns out he only makes fifty cents a copy sold.

He did this because when he was an undergraduate a professor did it for him and it made a lasting impression, he said that if he ever published a book and taught a class with it he would do the same. Now I am going to say that if I ever publish a book and am lucky enough to teach a class using that book I will also pay back the students the money I make off the book.

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Top Off

A yellow glass sculpture from Chihuly.

A yellow glass sculpture from Chihuly.

I received an e-mail from the University of Washington offering me a $2000 fellowship for starting there this year.

Best e-mail of the week.

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Money Matters

 

Monies

Monies

Tied with Time as the most important factor to consider when traveling is money. While planning the trip I recommend to carefully consider how much everything will cost and find the best deals for getting around and housing. Once out in the world and traveling just stick loosely to a budget initially set out and don’t worry about it. Otherwise the entire trip will be spent looking up the best exchange rate and counting foreign coins (unless you collect coins in which case it is fun to do).

After a time and duration of a trip is set then buy transportation over as soon as possible. If you are in the U.S. then getting over to Europe can be the most expensive part. This may put you off to airfare within Europe but inter-country flights can be cheaper and faster then other means (more on this tomorrow). 

Make a budget based on how much you will spend each day, averaging out large transportation costs and accommodation. Let us say that the trip is fourteen days in Germany with a side trip to Switzerland. Given a total budget of $3000 the first things to do is subtract off airfare to make it, lets say, $2000. You now have $142 dollars a day to spend on food, attractions, transportation and a place to sleep. Once you have this number I would recommend converting it to the local currency (euros) and working with it from there. So $142 would become €90.

With a daily amount I would suggest you make pessimistic estimations of daily expenses. For food I would say €20 for dinner and €20 for the rest of the day. If hotels/hostels are picked correctly you could have breakfast included which would result in roughly €30 a day for food instead of €40. Since my experience is exclusively hostels I would say €25 – €30 a night, some places could be as low as €8 a night (like East Berlin). This leaves €20 a day for day trips, museums, or whatever looks interesting as you walk around that morning.

Try to keep at least a rough count of how much you spent in a day, that way at the end you can look and think: “I only spent €70 today, that lets me spend €110 tomorrow”. Creating a rough guide of daily expenditures helps manage a budget, if there are large expenses you can plan for those separate of the daily expenses.

Traveling in hostels at the age of twenty I found myself spending roughly $100 a day. Since I was based out of Edinburgh and not the U.S. I did not have to factor in the transatlantic airfare. 

Another money issue; how to get it there. I used a mixture of ATM card, Credit Card and Travelers’ Checks. In retrospect I did not need the travelers check (I got them from my Dad). There are plenty of ATMs everywhere and every one I used had an option at the beginning to switch to english. For a credit card I was a Capital One card since there were no transaction fees for exchange rates so I get a good rate. If you are planning to use a card a lot I would only use it at large stores or hostel/hotels, small stores have to pay for the card or may pass their fee onto you. Besides every small business owner loves to be paid in cash anyway.

For converting prices on the go I find two methods work best. The first is write down some benchmark numbers, say €5, €10, €20, €50, €100 and use those to gauge prices. The second was pioneered by my grandmother (an avid traveler) she priced everything in the local cost for beer. So a €15 train ride would be about four to five beers. Choose an commonly bought item figure out the cost of it in the new currency and then use that to gauge prices while working through cities.

The dollar may be at a low point right now but if you start waiting for it to recover you may pass up your chance to travel and it is hard to pay back regrets.

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