Welcome to Money Moves: A 12-Week Guide To Investing In Yourself, our e-course in partnership withBlackRockthat aims to help more and more people experience financial well-being. Each week, we demystify the true cost of the milestones we want most in life—retirement, marriage, home ownership, business ventures, and more—and deliver the tools you need to achieve your money goals. That includes real stories, from real women, with *very* real financial dilemmas.
I’d always wanted to travel the world so I worked nonstop during my 20s and aggressively saved to make my dream a reality. My method was really simple: I set up an automatic transfer for every paycheck in a savings account so I never missed the money. Whenever I got a raise, I still lived off the same amount of money and put the rest in savings. Even when I was working in nonprofit making $48,000 a year I was able to save $15K in a couple of years. It was hard but not impossible! When I was 27, I finally saved enough. I quit my job, left my NYC apartment, sold most of my stuff, and hit the road for 10.5 months. I traveled to 21 countries, in South America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
Planning the trip was an extremely important part of the process; I researched how much I would roughly need per night per country. I purchased my plane tickets ahead of time so I knew how much time I’d spend in each country. I opted to do an a la carte style so I bought over 20 one-way flights. I found it helpful to have that schedule set up beforehand so that once I was on the road, I had no choice but to move on regardless of how exhausted I was or how much I was loving a certain country. After my route was set, I estimated the cost per night based on researching hostels in the area, how much transport cost to/from the airport (in my eyes, one of the biggest unanticipated costs in traveling!), the cost of big day trips or excursions and the cost of food. Of course, these were all estimates but it was nice to have a benchmark for each country so I had an understanding throughout if I was on or off track in terms of my budget.
In the end, I spent $15,500 soup to nuts on my trip, which was a little more than I anticipated. That number included my flights, overland travel, hostel/hotels, food, excursions, anything I spent on my credit card, etc. When you are in Cusco and hear about an amazing trek it’s hard to say no, knowing that you’ll probably not be back there for a very long time. There were also expenses that I just didn’t account for: the $300 visa at the Argentinian border, splurging for a hotel in Bali on my birthday, a short boat ride in Kho Phagnan that somehow cost $60, etc. I didn’t intend on putting all that much on a credit card (probably around $2K when all was said and done) but it was all definitely worth it!
By the time I wrapped up my 10.5 months I was completely broke and living off my credit cards (and accruing debt). I wish I had set aside at least a couple thousand to get back on my feet but instead I moved in with my parents in New Hampshire and within a week I was waitressing to make money again. I also forgot to budget for health insurance so it was overall tricky to get financially stable again. It took me nearly 8 months to make enough money to move back to NYC and to land another job in my career path. The transition was brutal.
If I had to do it all over again, the biggest difference I would make is budgeting for more excursions and day trips. I was so focused on food and lodging that I forgot that when you travel it’s hard to say no visiting the area’s only volcano, seeing the biggest underground cave, or hiking the tallest mountain in Australia. Those types of day trips and excursions cost a lot of money but are ultimately what I remember the most. Also, I would have saved more money for the transition back into real life.
As I’ve gotten older it’s become more difficult to save. Shortly after getting home from my trip I was diagnosed with cancer which was hard is every way but I could have never imagined the repercussions on my finances. Even with very good health insurance, I fell into debt that took me nearly 5 years to pay off. Turns out, I’m one of many! I read a study recently that found that 62 percent of cancer patients are in debt because of their treatment and 42 percent of patients lose all of their life savings within two years. Like many cancer patients, I had to use credit cards to bridge the gap in cash flow. I’m back on track now but it took a lot of time, blood, sweat, and many tears. I’m currently enjoying being debt-free and planning two vacations that I get to pay for in cash which feels really good. —Maggie, 36, NYC
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