The time after a trip is filled with all kinds of denouement. Of particular importance to most travelers, especially those who are self-employed and need to file accurate taxes, is the state of the travel budget. Of course, if you’re looking at your budget for the first time only once the trip has ended, you’re probably not going to be happy. You might regret the week-long string of five-star steak dinners or buying that section of the vineyard that 10 years from now will yield your namesake wine.
During my month in Argentina I found a daily reconciliation of expenses to be a critical 10-minute exercise. In fact, this practice coupled with some useful tools helped me stay on budget to the tune of spending 87% of the $3,500 allotted for this trip. Tips, tactics, and breakdown below.
Tools & Workflow
Before I left for Argentina, I met with Sarah’s uncle, who is a great accountant, and he gave me some bookkeeping advice. Rule one: keep all of my receipts. This is crucial paperwork to have on hand in the unfortunate event I’m audited by the IRS after I’ve been writing off trip expenses. I brought along a simple envelope and stuffed all the receipts in there. Now that I’m home, I’ll file away the receipts and keep them for at least 10 years (the length of time in which the IRS can choose to do an audit).
Many of my purchases in Argentina did not come with a receipt, however. In this scenario, the best thing to do is keep a list of all your expenses. I jotted down the expense in the moment, and later I used Open Office’s spreadsheet tool to record each expense, describe the purchase, and list the seller.
At a macro level, I used the iXpenseIt iPhone app, a recommendation from Michael of A Tasty Pixel (you should check out his Cartographer app), to build a custom budget for Argentina in which I recorded all purchases and withdrawals in dollars. This helped me understand how much of my overall budget was left at any given time.
Finally, as most travelers do these days, I used online banking to check accounts and maintain a small balance in my travel debit account. I opened up a separate checking account for travel to prevent utter liquidation of our assets in case my debit card was lost or stolen.
My workflow was simple: after subtracting my airfare from my budget, I created a target number of dollars I could spend each day. I then decreased that number by 25% to create a buffer for those days I anticipating going beyond my limit. I had to recalculate this number after I rented the apartment because that was a sizable amount of cash to take out of the budget. I converted this dollars/day figure into a pesos/day limit and added it to my expense spreadsheet as a visual reminder of my target. In the end, I exceeded my limit on only three days and the majority of other days were well below it.
|Food & Drink||$590.91||19.30%|
It’s no surprise that transportation was the big expense. My accommodation expense was low because I CouchSurfed for half of the trip. The line between food & drink and entertainment is hazy, but entertainment expenses are those for things like tickets to a jazz show or entrance to a museum. “Other” includes souvenirs and necessities like toiletries while fees represent transaction fees and the reciprocity fee leveled at Americans entering Argentina. Despite my best efforts at record keeping, there’s still a $62 discrepancy between my records and my bank account. This is likely due to minor errors in record keeping and money lost in converting currency.
It’s great that I came in under budget, but saving for saving’s sake, much like travel for travel’s sake, isn’t all good. While I wasn’t penny-pinching, there were a couple of times when I decided not to do something because I felt it would be too expensive. Obviously, I had the breathing room to make it possible. I should also point out I’m not big on souvenirs.
Argentina is a very affordable country for Americans. You can eat well for a fraction of the cost in the States. For example, I ate several fantastic steaks for 35-45 pesos each. That’s $9-11 for a steak that would probably cost me $40-50 here (and it wouldn’t even be as tasty). Drinking at bars is particularly expensive as drink prices seem comparable to those in the States. Buenos Aires, as a whole, is priced like any major city. While the blow might be softened by using the peso, your wallet will still take a hit.
Have any of your own money-saving tips or tactics for Argentina or in general? Please share them in the comments!