I am a geek when it comes to checklists and organizational tools. I like to systematize anything that happens routinely. Recently I’ve been working to organize our financial life when we travel. We enjoy long stretches of travel in our RV, and that requires being organized around many things. I have a pretty good system for packing for those long excursions, and I also create many lists in the weeks leading up to the trip.
The most worrisome aspect of extended travel is managing finances from the road. Despite the fact I have automated much of our bill-paying, I worry about things falling through the cracks. I’d like to share some helpful ideas I’ve picked up along the way, and I hope you’ll share your own tips about managing your finances when you’re a frequent traveler.
Dealing with the Paper
Suspend your mail. Many of our bills come electronically, but there are still some that come via snail mail. I worry about mail piling up in the mailbox, especially mail that might contain sensitive personal data. Once upon a time, you had to physically go to the post office and fill out a mail-hold form. Now, it’s a snap to manage this online. It takes me less than a minute to fill out the details. So far, this process has worked flawlessly for us.
Cut down on the mail in the first place. This practice is bigger-picture-thinking but well worth it regardless of your travel habits since it reduces waste. Because of our traveling, I was extra motivated to reduce the amount of mail coming to our house in the first place. Although it took a few months and some guerilla tactics, I went online or called all the companies that were sending us promotional mail and asked them to take us off their list. You can also go to Direct Mail Preferences online to find information about how to get off mailing lists.
Find an accordion-style file. Accordion files are very handy for traveling. Mine is flexible plastic with a sturdy handle. You can also use a hard-sided plastic bin with a lid, but that won’t be as easy to squeeze into a smaller space. Fill this file with all the important papers you might need while traveling. I keep ALL our important documents in my accordion file when I’m not traveling, and because it’s small and flexible, I can bring the entire thing along instead of an abbreviated version.
Secure financial papers left behind. Whatever you are leaving behind should be properly secured. A well-hidden fire safe is sufficient. If you are already minimal about what you keep in your files, this should be easier. Extra travel in your life is an effective catalyst for streamlining your financial papers!
Managing the Money
Plan months ahead with cash flow. Try to build a surplus in your cash flow so that you can pay ahead for things that arise during your absence. Enter all the upcoming auto-drafts into your checkbook and double-check that all income will automatically deposit without your input. Spot potential financial obligation landmines you may have forgotten by looking further ahead in your budget.
Mark important due dates on your calendar. For bills you’re unable to set to draft automatically, mark your calendar so you don’t pay them late or forget to pay them at all. It’s good to also create reminders to check on your bank account. It is wise to confirm deposits were made when expected, and bills were paid on time. Problems are far easier to fix when caught early.
Have an emergency cushion. This is good practice even if you don’t travel for long time periods. It can be frustrating and complicated to handle financial issues if they arise while you’re away from home. Ensure you have a cushion of funds in a money market that can serve as overdraft protection for your checking account.
Taking Care of Your Credit
Take only one or two credit cards. Keep any other cards at home in a safe place. The caveat here is to do some homework. For example, while we love our Discover card, we were disappointed last summer during a trip to Ontario to realize almost no merchant accepted it. Fortunately, we had also brought our Visa card. The danger of misplacing or having cards stolen is increased when you’re on the move or in new places, so try to avoid bringing a wallet full of cards.
Leave your debit cards at home. If you use a debit card to prudently manage your money, kudos to you. But debit cards can be more dangerous to lose than credit cards, so be thoughtful about the risks you want to manage while on your trip. If possible, take a credit card and leave the debit card safely at home.
Alert the credit card company of your travels. Give your credit card company a heads up if you are traveling, especially if it doesn’t fit your normal pattern. Credit companies will sometimes refuse charges if they suspect your card is being used fraudulently.
I alerted Discover that we would be traveling to Ontario last summer, and they were delightfully helpful. The agent described how the exchange rate would work on the card, and helpfully noted our travel on our account so no one would suspect fraud when we made our charges out of the country. As I mentioned above, almost no one accepted Discover, so I found the situation hilariously funny. Despite this, we do really love working with Discover.*
Streamlining your financial life can help you in so many ways, especially when you leave home for stretches of time. Take time to get organized around your finances before you leave home. The more streamlined and automated you can be, the better.
What ideas do you have to make managing your finances on the road simpler and less stressful?
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*I am not an affiliate of Discover.