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09/28/17 Investing , Travel # ,

Why Spend Christmas in Spain? To Play the Lottery

Why Spend Christmas in Spain? To Play the Lottery

I’d love to travel to Spain someday, especially for Christmas. The gothic architecture. Beaches. Tapas. A sanctuary city for abandoned beach inflatables. Museums. The lottery.

Yes, the lottery.

As a longtime opponent of lotteries for many reasons, I’m changing my mind on Spain’s lottery — and not just because it was for $2.4 billion last Christmas.

Why to hate lotteries

Lotteries are used by governments to raise money, though most of the money raised by lotteries doesn’t go back to the states or education — one of the biggest beneficiaries promoted by state lotteries.

They also increase gambling addition, prey on the poor to play more, and have lousy odds of winning. You’ll likely get hit by lightening before winning the lottery.

But the dumb reasoning that “You can’t win if you don’t play,” along with the easy fantasy of what you’d do with the winnings are enough enticement for millions of people.

If you want to become a millionaire, do it the boring way by saving and investing the money you’d spend on the lottery. And if your fantasy is to spend a month in Tahiti drinking mai-tais for days (OK, that’s mine), then save your money and do it. Continue reading

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08/11/17 Personal Finance , Travel # ,

Avoiding ATM Headaches in Europe When You Need Cash

Avoiding ATM Headaches in Europe When You Need Cash

With free lodging, many things already paid for and a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, our vacation to Europe in July didn’t require having much cash on hand. Still, it’s smart to always have some local currency in your pocket when traveling, and a local ATM is the best way to get it.

Or so I thought.

ATM fees added up during our trip to nearly $200, mainly because I erred in figuring out which banks in Europe had a relationship with our bank in the U.S. That’s not a ton of money lost in fees, but it’s annoying because I thought I could get away without paying much in ATM fees.

ATM fees added up

Before getting into the ways I learned to get around ATM fees — beyond just using a no-transaction fee credit card during the entire trip — it’s worth quickly explaining how they work. There are different charges by different parties when you use an ATM:

  • Your U.S. bank will charge a flat fee of $5 or so each time you use a foreign bank’s ATM. This can be avoided by using a partner bank.
  • The foreign bank will charge a percentage fee on the amount withdrawn. I was charged from 3-8% in transaction fees, though when using a bank affiliated with my U.S. bank, the fee was 3%.
  • The foreign ATM sometimes charged a $5 fee also.
  • A $5 fee was also charged when using my U.S. debit card at a grocery store.

Continue reading

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08/04/17 Personal Finance , Travel # ,

5 Things I Love About How Europe Deals With Money

5 Things I Love About How Europe Deals With Money

My family recently returned from our home exchange in the Netherlands for most of July, and even though we saved a lot of money by not having many hotel bills to pay, we still needed cash each day on our vacation.

Cash is just a lot easier to deal with, especially with small merchants, and businesses seem to appreciate using cash instead of a credit card. The good news was that our travel savings account was pretty full before we left for Europe, so paying for our food, a few hotel nights and incidentals was easy. It was easy, however, until we had to find an ATM to withdraw money.

I’ll get to that mess in another post, but first I want to go over the good things I discovered about how Europe deals with money. Here are five things I found to be smart in France, Belgium and the Netherlands in how they deal with money:

Tax and tip included in the price

This was one of my favorite things about buying anything during our vacation: The price you see is the price you pay.

If the price says €7, you pay 7 Euros. Not €7.63 or some other odd amount because tax is added later. The price includes tax. At restaurants, it includes tax and tip.

You don’t have to do any math at a restaurant table to figure out a tip because it’s included in the price of everything in the menu.

The effect may be more psychological than anything, but it made reading a menu or seeing the price for anything — such as a €75 two-hour boat rental on a Dutch canal — easier to accept than seeing €60 and then adding €15 in taxes. At €60, I’d have my mind set on that price and would be unpleasantly surprised when it was upped to €75 after taxes.

No digging for pennies

There were a few exceptions to the above rule, and I never did figure out why. A few times I bought a bottle of water at a convenience store and the €1 price would become €1.09 at the cash register. I’d have to dig for pennies in my pocket when this happened.

But this rarely happened because most businesses didn’t add taxes at the cash register. Almost everything I bought didn’t require change because it was priced at the nearest Euro. Instead of €2.20 for a soda — orange Fanta was popular — it was €2 even. Continue reading

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05/04/17 Sharing Economy , Travel # , ,

How We’re Saving $4,000 on Summer Vacation With a Home Swap

How We’re Saving $4,000 on Summer Vacation With a Home Swap

The three main costs of a vacation — transportation, lodging and food — can be so high that affording a getaway can be difficult. Eliminating one of those costs with a home swap, however, can make it affordable — especially during the high season of summer vacation when more people take time off.

There are free ways to fly (credit card rewards points for free flights) and you can find cheap food anywhere. But you still have to come up with some cash to eat and to earn the rewards points.

Lodging can be trickier. There are cheap options such as renting a room in someone’s house or staying for free at a relative’s or friend’s home. But wouldn’t it be better to have a home to yourself for a relaxing vacation?

A home swap can do that for free.

A month in Europe

This summer my family is going to Europe for free for almost an entire month. We’re visiting Paris and Brussels for a week and staying in hotels — at a discount with a travel package through an airline — and then staying in a home in the Netherlands for almost three weeks for free by exchanging our home in the Bay Area with a Dutch family.

We made the swap through HomeExchange.com, a service that has more than 65,000 homes in 150 countries. You just search for homes in areas you want to visit, then email the homeowners to see if they want to do a swap.

At about $200 a night for a hotel room, I’m estimating we’re saving about $4,000 by exchanging homes. Continue reading

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03/22/17 Saving , Travel #

5 Ways to Save on a Short Vacation

5 Ways to Save on a Short Vacation

I went to spring training in Arizona recently with some friends, and while it’s difficult to call four days away from home a real vacation, the short vacation still felt like a worthwhile one.

Four days off in a row is basically a long weekend, and it can be hard to justify the expense of a flight, hotel, rental car, meals, souvenirs and other expenses that often come with a vacation.

I’m a big baseball fan and a trip to spring training is worth the expense, but spending a lot of cash for four days of fun is still hard to justify. For example, spending $1,000 over four days is a lot more expensive per day — $250 — instead of over a week, though extra time will add to your cost. But my thought is if you’ve already spent the money on a flight somewhere, you might as well enjoy being there for more than a few days.

With some planning and the generous help of friends, I made the visit to Arizona an inexpensive trip. The financial tactics I used can be used for any trip, short or not, but can be especially helpful on a budget for a short trip.

Here are five ways to save on a short vacation:

Go where friends and relatives live

short vacationI have family and friends living in Arizona, and while I didn’t impose on them during this trip for a bed to crash on, some have invited my wife and I to stay in their homes if we’re ever in the area.

You never know if those invitations are sincere or not, but if they are, then three nights is probably the most amount of time you’d want to spend there for the sake of everyone. You want to be a good guest, and after three nights it can get difficult.

The high school friend who hosted us during this trip is an incredibly nice guy and has offered to let me stay at his house. On this trip I was traveling with two other friends, so there wasn’t room for all of us.

Still, he was nice enough to drive us around, and offered to let us use his family’s second car — which we declined. Luckily, we found a place to stay that was a short drive from his house. And that’s another area to see if a friend or family member who lives in the area you’re visiting can help you out in — transportation. Many people have second cars that sit idle all day, or you could use Lyft, Uber and public transportation. Continue reading

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Hi, I'm Aaron Crowe. Welcome to CashSmarter. I'm a personal finance freelance writer who enjoys spending my money wisely and using minimalism to make my money last longer while increasing income.