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6 Smart Ways to Travel Cheaply

Memorable vacations can come with a price tag you’d rather forget. But with proper planning, smart research and a flexible attitude, you can travel cheaply and still have an experience worth remembering. Here’s how.

1. Cut transportation costs

Before planning your trip, have a rough budget in mind. A vacation calculator can help. If you know how much you’re willing to spend on airfare, this map can give you ideas for destinations that are within your budget.

Traveling cheaply isn’t just about cutting costs — it’s also about getting the most out of what you spend. You may discover, for example, that the $400 you thought could pay only for a flight within the U.S. can actually take you to Paris and back.

If your travel dates are flexible, you may find an even bigger selection of places you can afford to visit. If you’ve already picked a destination, changing the departure dates could lower your airfare.

Setting up alerts for when prices drop should also be a part of your strategy. Try apps such as Yapta or Hopper, which will send you price notifications on flights you’re tracking. (Booking fees may apply.) You can also follow Twitter handles like @theflightdeal or @FareDealAlert for limited-time deals. If you find a price you like, scrutinize the airline’s baggage policy before booking. Some offer cheaper ticket prices, but have strict carry-on requirements or tack on sizable fees for overweight and oversized luggage.

If your destination is within driving distance, consider hopping in a car instead of on a plane. Use a trip calculator, like this one, to make sure it’s worth the tradeoff. Add in the cost of renting a car, if necessary.

2. Compare lodging options

Finding a cheap hotel room can be tricky and takes a bit of effort. Start by shopping around on sites like Expedia, Priceline.com and Kayak to find hotels in the area, and then search for hotel promotion codes online. Contact hotels directly to negotiate a lower price. Also consider staying in a hotel outside the center of the city and looking for last-minute deals.

If you’re open to alternatives, skip the hotel and book a room through a site like Airbnb, Homeaway and OneFineStay. Not only could those be more affordable, but often you’ll stay with a local resident who can point you to cheap restaurants and activities that aren’t in travel guides. Hostels can also be a money-saver if you’re OK with bare-bones accommodations and potentially sharing a room. Keep in mind that they may have age restrictions.

3. Eat wisely (and not just healthy)

Many travelers underestimate the costs of meals, snacks and tips, says guidebook author James Kaiser. He advises bringing your own food or buying it at a store when you arrive at your destination to save money.

That doesn’t mean you have to skip restaurants altogether and haul groceries around. Dining out is one of the most enjoyable parts of travel. The trick is knowing when to indulge and when to save.

Start by looking at your itinerary. Break down your meals each day and identify the times you want to splurge. Then look for ways to save money on the other meals. For example, you can avoid inflated prices at the airport by bringing food and an empty water bottle that you can fill once you’re past security (passengers are prohibited from bringing more than 3.4 ounces of liquids, per container, in carry-on bags at U.S. airports). For breakfast, pack energy bars so you can save time and money in the mornings.

Your spending will likely fluctuate from day to day, so remember to adjust your budget to avoid overspending.

4. Research your currency options

If you’re traveling abroad, find out if the country you’re visiting is plastic-friendly. If so, a debit or credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees could be your best bet. Otherwise, research your currency exchange options to avoid the poor rates and numerous fees common at airport kiosks. Those will shrink your vacation fund before you’ve even had the chance to unpack.

Visiting your bank or credit union to exchange money before you leave may be the best option. Assuming it has that currency, you’ll likely get better exchange rates and lower fees. And, just in case you end up needing more cash once you’re abroad, ask if your financial institution has international branches or a partnership with a bank overseas. If so, you may be able to withdraw cash from those ATMs with low or no fees.

5. Get a prepaid phone or SIM card

A cell phone can be useful for navigating new cities, as well as staying connected to travel companions and life back home. But for international travelers, it may also come with data roaming fees. You’d save the most money by ditching the phone during your trip, but that may not be realistic. Your best option will likely be buying a prepaid phone once you arrive or having your carrier unlock your phone, if possible, so you can use a foreign SIM card when you land.

6. Keep souvenir spending in check

Like everything else, set a budget for souvenirs. Also consider doing some research on the best souvenirs and shops, so you’ll have a sense of what you might buy and the prices to expect.

If you find yourself on the verge of an impulse purchase, try an abbreviated version of the 72-hour shopping rule, in which you put off buying something for three days to see if you still want it. That amount of time is probably impractical when you’re on vacation, but if your schedule allows you to return to the store the next day or even later that same day, you may find that you can easily live without that $150 wool sweater from Iceland. You were only going to wear it once, anyway.

Devon Delfino is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ddelfino@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @devondelfino.

Reached Your Savings Goals? Here’s What to Do Next

You created an emergency fund, and built it up so it covers three months of living expenses. You paid off your high-interest debt. You funnel 15% of your income to retirement. That’s good work. But, um — now what? Push yourself beyond basic savings goals by taking on these steps. Check your budget If you used a...

What to Do When You’re Upside-Down on a Car Loan

When you owe more than your vehicle is worth, you are upside-down, or underwater, on your car loan. This doesn’t immediately spell trouble, but it can result in less financial flexibility and security. You face two major risks: If you get into an accident, your insurance will generally cover the damage only up to the value...

Mortgage Rates Friday, May 19: Still Near 6-Month Lows

Mortgage rates for 30-year and 15-year fixed home loans, as well as 5/1 ARM rates, moved a notch higher today, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage interest rates published by national lenders Friday morning. Fixed mortgages rates are wobbling near six-month lows, according to the NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index. Wall Street has a short memory. Worries...

How to Make the Most of Your Summer Job

For most of the past decade, my summer jobs have been haunted by screaming children. Don’t think “scary movie,” though — more like “public pool” (and “summer camp,” and “family friendly restaurant”).

Despite the decibel level, I managed to learn a few tricks in those jobs, even when the work itself seemed like an inconvenience on the way to a paycheck, and then to the beach.

If you have to work all summer, you might as well make the most of it.

Focus on evergreen skills

Chances are, you won’t have a 30-year career as a pool snack bar attendant (although if you do, more power to you). So you might be wondering how your skill with the smoothie machine matters in the long run.

Here’s the thing: How the smoothie machine works doesn’t matter in itself. How you work with the smoothie machine is the real question. Are the smoothie ingredients stocked for the lunch rush? If the machine jams, do you know how to fix it? Do you know how to prevent it from jamming in the first place?

You can learn these basic skills and habits at practically any job, and they will serve you well no matter where you end up. You can learn to do things such as follow through on your commitments and responsibilities; solve problems independently and proactively; and work cooperatively with your boss and co-workers.

If these things seem rudimentary, you might want to keep in mind that …

It’s easy to clear a low bar

If you’re an employee who shows up on time and fulfills your responsibilities with minimal supervision, then guess what? You’re likely ahead of the game. Many of your co-workers could be as new to the world of work as you are, and maybe haven’t figured out those basics yet.

So if you’re competent, you can just coast. Or you could leverage that basic competency into startling adequacy — maybe even all the way up to incredible mediocrity. I’m joking, but the point is that when the bar is low, it’s really easy to look like a superstar. (And that involves helping your co-workers look good, too, if they need the assist.)

But why put in even the minimal effort necessary to stand out in an ephemeral job? Because you’ll also want to …

Start networking

Networking is fancy business jargon for a simple concept. You might know it as “talking to people.” Talk to your co-workers, talk to your boss, talk to your customers if you have them. You don’t need to do any of that “personal branding” or “selling yourself” stuff. Just talk to people, help out your team and do your job well.

You never know who will have future opportunities for you, and if that person remembers you as helpful and hardworking, you’ve already got your foot in the door.

Don’t fake it. Just have a good time. It’s summer, after all, and this job (hopefully) isn’t life or death. Just remember to …

Save some money

This might be the first time you get a significant chunk of disposable income, with no strings attached. It’s your money and you can spend it how you like! Except maybe don’t, at least not all of it. That money can carry you through the next school year, or help pay your tuition.

» MORE: How to save money

If you’re a real overachiever, you could even open up a retirement fund and start stashing. The retirement outlook for us millennials isn’t as rosy as it was for our parents, but time is the most important factor for building up retirement savings. Take advantage.

Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: slayton@nerdwallet.com.

How to Get Your Business Out of Debt in 5 Steps

Debt is a necessary part of running a small business. A business loan, line of credit or a business credit card can help your company hire new employees, purchase equipment and finance growth. But too much debt can stifle cash flow and put your business at risk. And the less you owe, the more you have to reinvest.

The average U.S. small-business owner has $195,000 of debt, according to a 2016 study by Experian.

Here are five steps to digging your business out of debt.

1. Take inventory of your debt

Sort all of your debts by interest rate and monthly payment. This includes payments on business loans, lines of credit and business credit cards as well as outstanding payments due to vendors.

This process can help you prioritize which debts to tackle first. Some experts recommend starting with the highest-interest-rate debt.

New small-business owners should aim to have all of their debt repaid within their companies’ first 12 months to lower the risk of bankruptcy, says Winnie Sun, founding partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California, which provides financial planning for businesses.

2. Boost sales

Once you have a debt management plan, you can think about ways to boost your sales. Here are a few ideas:

  • Reward loyal customers. A loyalty program can increase customer satisfaction and retention: About 82% of people said they were more likely to shop at a store that offers a loyalty program, according to a 2014 study by Technology Advice, a tech services firm.
  • Get active on social media. Sun advises engaging with customers on social media. Respond quickly to comments, ask for input, and pay attention to your company’s Yelp reviews: 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, according to a 2016 survey by marketing company BrightLocal.
  • Consider raising prices. With the right strategy — such as offering a volume discount on large orders — you can do this without losing customers. Volume discounts can help your business stay competitive, according to the Harvard Business Review.
3. Cut costs

Ideally, boosting sales brings in enough revenue to tackle your debt. But if your expenses are running a bit too high, here are three ways to cut them:

  • Sell off equipment, office supplies and other items that you don’t use often. Buy used equipment or lease if necessary.
  • Downsize to a smaller office with lower rent and utility costs, consider a co-working space that doesn’t require a long-term lease, or relocate into a home office.
  • Split costs with other companies. “Look for other people who are running similar businesses and consider sharing resources. Share employees, internet services,” Sun says.
4. Refinance high-cost debt

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in March and has signaled two more rate hikes in 2017. These increase the cost of variable-rate debt, including credit card balances and lines of credit.

If you can’t afford to repay debts in full anytime soon, consider debt consolidation or refinancing, especially if you have strong credit.

With refinancing, you’d take out a lower-interest loan to repay the original loan. With consolidation, you’d combine several loans into one new loan.

“If you can change the loan from variable to fixed, and then pay it down quickly, then that would be ideal,” Sun says.

Business credit card debt can also be refinanced or consolidated via a balance transfer to a new card with a 0% interest promo period; watch out for fees and aim to pay it off in full before the 0% period is up.

All of these options let you lock in a lower, fixed interest rate and decrease your payments.

5. Shorten payment terms with clients

Maybe your business has clients on a long-term payment plan. Or perhaps they consistently pay late. In either case, it might be time to revise payment terms.

For example, give new clients 30-day — rather than 90-day — payment terms. Offering an early payment discount or charging a late-payment penalty can also be effective strategies for collecting on unpaid invoices.

Insider tips: Sign up for our monthly small-business newsletter.

Need small-business financing?

NerdWallet has created a comparison tool of the best small-business loans to meet your needs and goals. We gauged lender trustworthiness, market scope and user experience, among other factors, and arranged them by categories that include your revenue and how long you’ve been in business.

Compare business loans

Steve Nicastro is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Steven.N@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @StevenNicastro.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

Auto-Paying Bills by Credit Card: Help or Hassle? Yes.

Paying recurring bills by credit card is the easiest thing in the world — until it isn’t. Just ask John McCarron, who pays many of his bills this way to save time and earn rewards.

“It just ruins your day, if not your weekend, when you get that call … that your card’s been hacked,” says McCarron, a contributing columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who wrote a column about his experience. “You have to go one by one to all your auto-payees, to their website, and change your [credit card] number.”

Despite those headaches, McCarron still favors this payment method for recurring expenses. It’s easy to see why, since the benefits usually outweigh the drawbacks. Auto-paying bills by credit card is smooth sailing about 99% of the time; the other 1% of the time, it can be a real doozy. But by centralizing payment information, monitoring fees and canceling unneeded service subscriptions, you can enjoy the best things about this payment method while avoiding the worst.

Paying by credit card has advantages

Automatic payments don’t have to be made by credit card, but often that’s the best option for:

  • Rewards. Some cards offer as much as 5% back for purchases in certain categories. Debit cards and checking accounts don’t offer such perks.
  • More time to pay. Credit cards typically offer about a month to float purchases, interest-free, after the billing cycle ends. Debit cards take money out of your checking account almost immediately.
  • Security. Credit cards give you time to recognize and dispute billing errors and fraudulent charges before they drain your bank account. You’ll also get zero-liability protection from your payment network and protection under federal law. Debit cards are protected to a lesser extent. If a fraudulent charge on a debit card goes unreported for more than 60 days, you likely won’t see that money again.

There are also benefits to paying bills automatically, whatever the method:

  • Discounts. For example, several cell phone plans offer $5 discounts each month if you sign up for automatic payments.
  • Time saved. There’s no need to write a check to every payee each month. Plus, you’ll save on postage.
  • Protection from late payments. You generally won’t have to worry about getting service cut off or incurring a late fee because of a forgotten payment.

But before you “set it and forget it,” make a plan for managing the potential pitfalls.

Updating card information can be tedious

Giving a service provider a credit card number for automatic payments isn’t a one-and-done deal. You’re responsible for updating your card information when it changes.

And, yes, it will change — even if your credit card preferences don’t. The expiration date will arrive. The card might get hacked.

For McCarron, it took a full workday to transfer payments to other cards. Even then, he didn’t remember to update the payment information for his quarterly car insurance bill until the insurance company sent a failed payment notice.

“My insurance didn’t expire, but it would have if I hadn’t caught that,” he says.

Make it work: Today, there’s no perfect, high-tech solution for managing automatic payments for credit cards. But a low-tech fix can help.

First, it helps to manage all your recurring payments in one place. Get a “just for bills” credit card, and keep it for these expenses. Next, make a list of all your recurring credit card payments. When it’s time to update your payment information, this reference could make your job a little easier.

Convenience fees are common

You can pay almost any bill with a credit card these days. But in some cases, it might cost more.

Most utility companies that accept credit card payments also charge convenience fees, according to 2016 data from Chartwell Inc., an information provider for the utilities industry focusing on gas, water and electric service.

“Most of the time, it’s just a flat fee, which averages $1 to $2 and is processed through a third-party such as Western Union, KUBRA or BillMatrix,” says Will Adams, a senior industry analyst at Chartwell. These fees generally apply to debit card payments as well.

It’s also not uncommon to see 2% and 3% convenience fees on private school or university bills or homeowner association fees when paying by credit card.

Make it work: If your utility company allows automatic payments by credit card, consider the cost. Say you owe a $1.50 fee on a $100 bill, and pay with a 2% cash-back card. You’d still come out ahead in rewards, as long as you paid in full every month. If the fee is $5, though, consider automatic withdrawals from a checking account instead.

Quitting can be hard

Not too long ago, discontinuing a subscription was easy: You’d just ignore a company’s entreaties to “Renew today and save!” Nowadays, auto-renewal policies and automatic credit card payments make it easy to hold onto subscriptions long after you need them.

Canceling an unneeded service — and stopping the charges — will take some effort on your part. Sometimes, there’s no way to cancel online, and you have to talk to a salesperson on the phone. (Ugh!)

But when trimming the fat from your budget, eliminating these dead-weight expenses is important.

Make it work: Try an app like Clarity Money or Trim to help you identify and cancel recurring bills automatically. Or do the job yourself, either online or by phone.

Set up your credit card account so it sends you text or email alerts for all your credit card purchases. These notifications can give you a mental nudge to curb spending, even when you’re flying on financial autopilot. After all, automatic payments by credit card should help you save money — not spend more.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

 This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

 

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