The World In Six / Travel

Creative Accounting

My son’s sunburn that cost me $50 to treat in Barbados. Note the (somewhat belated) cover-up.

I’ve started telling a few people about my plan to travel the world doing Wwoof, dragging a kid in tow. Most people think it’s a really good idea… except for those who don’t. The first thing most of these friends bring up is the whole safety issue. Yes, I do worry about getting a toothache in Bangladesh or my son having a high fever in Morocco, but that’s for a few years from now. To be honest, the American health care is among the worst in the world for travelers (it’s not much better for residents!). It seems like every time my son travels, he needs to see a doctor. Once, an emergency visit to the hospital on Naxos set me back a whopping  €7 (that was roughly $7 at the time, before the Euro’s value against the dollar skyrocketed). For that  €7, we got ER service, two calls to Athens (the pediatrician wasn’t working at the island hospital, so they were consulting with a mainland doctor), and a prescription. About a year and a half ago, my son landed at a Bajan clinic where treatment plus medication (two prescriptions) cost me FIVE TIMES!!! the Greek hospital. Yep. Emergency care in the Bahamas was a whopping $50.

Thus, while I am a bit nervous about our health while traveling, I have a pretty grounded perspective of what my money will get me abroad (as opposed to what our family policy—soon to be mandated by legislation—gets us for that impressive $1,800 a month we currently shell out in premiums alone… before co-pays and deductibles… but I digress). Obtaining and paying for health care in the rest of the world is far less frightening than getting it right here at home, is all I’m saying.

Of greater concern is figuring out how to pay my bills right now. You’ll read a lot about money in these posts. Believe it or not, I’m not monetarily obsessed, probably because I’ve never been poor. I’ve always benefited from a  roof over my head and food on my plate, and I wasn’t raised to covet or to pursue a career based on income (maybe that last part could have been tweaked slightly). However, money not only makes the world go around, but I’ll need it to go around the world.

This morning over my breakfast, I was balancing my checkbook and I saw that among my two credit cards (closed, but paying down the balance) was a points tally. I clicked on it and discovered that I had over 11,000 points on my card. I really never thought about these points (the credit cards issue points as a benefit to spending, but if you have a balance, the “reward” pales in comparison with the penalty of paying interest). Thus, I am not sure how/when/where I racked up so many points, but in scrolling through the options of gift cards, blenders, pedometers and other ephemera was a credit for $100 (costing 10,000 points). In another life (a couple years ago), I might have thought taking a $100 credit against my card was far inferior to the Wii sports pack or Hyatt hotel credits they were offering alongside the credit. However, today, I see $100 less that I’ll owe. $100 less on which I’ll pay interest. $100 closer to being out of debt once and for all.

And considering those points probably expire, using them now and owing less seems like a good use of them today.

I’m trying to find creative ways to save, since there are only so many hours in a day I can work and—given the economy—I’m lucky to have any income at all (let alone a six-figure income). I live in a city where people routinely pay 2/3 of their take-home pay on rent (my rent, in fact, exceeds my take-home pay… enter spousal support here). I think one of the hardest things to do about setting a budget is avoiding what I call “seepage.” You give up smoking, for example, but that $10 a day (is it more??? I don’t actually smoke, but I hear cigarettes are outrageously expensive these days) never really materializes; it just disappears and by month’s end, you don’t have an extra $300 or so.

I’ve tried keeping receipts, but I have a hard enough time just keeping track of my business expenses! If I carry around a slip of paper for every transaction in my life, I just end up with piles of trash in my apartment. What I am trying to do now is keep a box for “savings” (no point in putting it into a bank where I’ll pay for the privilege of keeping an account). If I don’t drink (I’m a big craft beer fan) on any given day, for example, I stick $20 in the box. I hope to save up a couple thousand this way. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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