Budgeting & Saving

Central America – An Overlooked Budget Travel Destination

Budget travel.

What popped into your head when you read that phrase? Not possible? Southeast Asia? Staycation?

Chances are your first thought was not “Central America” but, stretching from Guatemala to Costa Rica, the area is perfect for budget travelers – particularly those traveling from the United States.

Why is Central America a Great Budget Travel Destination?

Central America is a great budget destination for several reasons. First, its close proximity to the United States results in much cheaper flight prices than those to the rest of the world. For example, a flight from JFK to Costa Rica can cost less than $500 roundtrip while flights to Bangkok costs $800 and a flight to London will set you back $750. Additionally, the flight times are significantly shorter as well.

Plane tickets aside, Central America is also much cheaper to travel in than most other travel destinations. Depending on your travel style, Central America can be experienced on as little as $40 per day.

The area is full of hostels and quaint bed-and-breakfasts, often running less than $20 a night, and eating at local sodas and market stands can keep food costs at a few dollars per day.

Inexpensive transportation in Central America is also available, often in the form of old school buses turned into “chicken buses” which can cost only pocket change for a ride nearly anywhere. For those who prefer a more direct route and a little luxury, cama or semi-cama buses are also available at rates much more affordable than taking a bus in the United States.

Even the tourist attractions in Central America can be done on a budget. Entrance to Tikal is only $22 while a PADI Open Water Diver Course in the Bay Islands runs about $229. Most other activities are either free – such as exploring the many colonial towns or viewing some of the best natural attractions – or available under $100.

Obviously the top tourist destinations – primarily Panama and Costa Rica – are more expensive than other countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Regardless of what you want to do or how you want to travel, Central America may be the answer.

What Countries are in Central America?

Compromised of seven countries – Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama – Central America is a diverse region.

The most popular destinations in Central America are Costa Rica and Panama – both known for beaches and adventure travel. If you want to go zip-lining or whitewater rafting, both countries are a great choice while Costa Rica is home 5% of the world’s biodiversity and Panama offers the Panama Canal and the charming city of Casco Viejo.

However, the best budget travel destinations can be found outside of Costa Rica and Panama. Visiting many of the other countries can be like taking a step back in time as Mayan culture is often prominent and while there has been development for tourists, much of the area provides a break from the Western lifestyle.

In Guatemala, the biggest draws are Tikal, arguably the best Mayan ruins left in Central America; Antigua, the colonial ex-capital that is home to several fantastic Spanish schools; and Lake Atitlan, a beautiful oasis surrounded by several small towns, the most popular being Panajachel.

Belize offers attractions like the Belize Zoo and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as the famous Caye Caulker, while The Bay Islands in Honduras are arguably the best place to snorkel in the world.

Nicaragua offers great surfing in San Juan Del Sur, volcano boarding down Cerro Negra, and the beautiful colonial town of Granada.

El Salvador, while not the most popular destination, offers the surf town of El Tunco and Boqueron Volcano.

Almost every country in Central America will give you the perfect mix of colonial cities, stunning nature, volcanoes, and beaches. Whether you want a laid-back beach vacation, an adventure-based trip, or to spend your days exploring Mayan ruins and your nights partying, Central America can provide it all.

What About Safety in Central America?

One of the biggest issues that comes up when discussing Central America travel is safety. Unfortunately, many seem to think Central America is a dangerous region to visit, based mostly on the hype from the media and past civil unrest in the area. However, most of Central America is perfectly safe – many of the countries actually have lower homicide rates than the United States.

Of course, that’s not to say that there is no danger in Central America. There are certain areas, particularly in Honduras and Guatemala City, that should be avoided due to violence. Most of the violence is directed at the drug cartel and has little to no impact on any tourists.

As with traveling to any destination, it’s important to take basic precautions – don’t get too drunk, take a taxi at night, and keep an eye on your money – but overall, Central America is a perfectly safe region to visit.

Budget Breakdowns for Central America Travel

My Travel Costs in Central America – Lengthy Travel

How Much Does it Cost to Travel To Central America? – Globetrotter Girls

The Budget Breakdown for Central America – Jimmy Eats World

The following bloggers have traveled through Central America and offered a breakdown of exactly what they spent during their trips in Central America.

Originally posted 2014-10-31 06:00:56.

Budgeting & Saving

My Plan to Travel the World and Save Half of my Income

I was working on recording a retirement episode of the WealthFast Podcast and stumbled across a pretty neat fact.

The more you save, the earlier you can retire.

The concept is pretty simple; you need about 25-33 times your annual spending rate to retire and if you save 20% of your income, you can replace your income in 37 years; assuming that your savings grow at 5% per year.

That means, in 37 years, you can retire and live comfortably on what you have saved. That seems like a long time to me.

The calculation involves dividing your savings rate by your spending rate.

20% divided by 80% in this case. This calculation gives you an annuity; how much you can add to your retirement fund each year.

Let’s assume that you decide to save half of your income, 50%. Your annual contribution would be 1.

Using a Present Value calculation we plug in the following variables; $0 current balance, 5% interest rate, 1 annual addition, -25 Future value. Solving for N, the number of years, gives us 16.6.

That’s 16.6 years until retirement!

It sure beats working in a cubicle for 40 years before retiring.

Can I Save if I Have Student Loan Debt?

If you’ve seen my recent video on Youtube, then you know that I have a plan to pay off 65k in student loan debt in less than three years. Part of this plan involves saving more money by cutting expenses.

Little did I know that by cutting unnecessary expenses and making more money, I would be able to save much more.

In fact, I would be able to save 50% of my income!
50 percent savings club
That means that each month I deposit an entire paycheck into what I affectionately call my Freedom Fund. Instead of a retirement goal, I have a debt pay down goal and a travel goal.

Is It Really Difficult to Save 50%?

I used to think that radical savers were crazy couponers that clipped and snipped for an extra 30 cents at the grocery store. Now I know that radical savers have made a lifestyle decision. A little over a year ago (84 weeks to be exact) I read this post over at Frugal Portland about how Kathleen planned to save half of her income.
save half income commenter

At the time, I was saving 10% of my pre-tax salary in my company sponsored 401(k) plan. I even commented on that post that I wanted to do the same but only if I could travel as well.

84 weeks later my plan is in place.

How I Plan to Save Half My Income and Travel

I started the blog to document my goal of travelling more. Because I am saving half of my income from my day job to fund my student loan debt payoff, I will fund my travels with half of my income from my side hustle.

Is it really so hard to believe that you can save 50% of your income and still do what you want to do, like travel the world, buy a house or pay for advanced education?

Apparently it is, because after Kathleen published this post on Yahoo about how she and her fiance planned to save half of their combined income, the trolls came out. Similarly an ugly comment was made on my 65k debt payoff video.

I guess it’s radical to save money and pay off debt.

Who knew?

And now the fun stuff. Kathleen and I are starting the “Save 50% Movement” for everyone who is a radical saver. You could be saving to pay down debt, saving to travel, or saving for a house. We’re here to encourage each other to save more. Even if you’re not quite ready to save 50%, join us and as you see how easily others are doing it you will be ready. (Let’s hope it doesn’t take 84 weeks.)

Are you radical? Join us.

How to Join:

  • Commit to saving half of your after-tax income. (If you can save half of your gross income, that’s awesome!)
  • Request to join our Facebook group to stay motivated and encourage others

Optional for bloggers:

  • Write a post declaring your goals and grab the button below to include in your post.
50 Percent Savings Club
<div align="center"><a href="" title="Save Half Club" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="50 Percent Savings Club" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

Originally posted 2014-01-22 14:40:55.

Young Finances

4 Vacation Spots You’ve Never Heard of But Should Visit

Are you tired of traveling to the same locations for vacation? Maybe you’ve been to Florida or Jamaica too many times to count. Jamaica, Miami, Cancun, and Los Angeles are just a few common vacation spots populated by thousands of tourists each year.

Traveling to places that are overrun by too many tourists can be very frustrating. It can be hard to find a spot on an overcrowded beach or finding parking in  lots flooded with out of towners. Here’s a few great places that you’ve never heard of and should definitely visit.

Roseau, Dominica

Roseau is the capital of Dominica. It’s the largest city in Dominica and a tropical paradise. In Roseau explore black sand beaches and rain forest. Take a walking tour and observe the Dominca’s architecture. Go cycling around the island and river tubing in one of it’s amazing rivers. Also, in Roseau, Dominica, you can eat tasty West Indian cuisine.

The Corn Islands, Nicaragua

The Corn Islands are two islands off the coast of Nicaragua. Take in the sun on Nicaragua’s white sandy beaches. Pick fresh fruit from Nicaraguan fruit trees. On the Corn Islands are plenty of activities for travelers. Travelers can enjoy fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.

Also, you can go horseback riding across the beach and enjoy the Nicaraguan baseball games; which happen to be the number one sport in Nicaragua. If you are looking for relaxation, you can also take advantage of the local yoga studies and massage parlors. Vacationing on The Corn Islands is very affordable. It’s a very small island with few luxuries. Hotels and bamboo bungalows run anywhere from twenty to a hundred dollars a night.

Lord Howe Island, Australia

Lord Howe Island is located between Australia and New Zealand. This beautiful island is known for being volcanic. It’s covered with rolling mountains, clear water beaches, and unique flowers and plants that can on be found on the island. The island boasts about  fourteen species of birds. Due to the many bird species, bird watching is a popular pastime on the island. In addition to bird watching, tourists can also fish on the famous coral reef of the island. Also, body surfing, snorkeling, kite boarding and diving are popular activities to do on the island.

Juist, East Frisian Islands, Germany

The Juist, East Frisian Islands, are a cluster of islands along the coast of Germany. Locals call it the “Magic Island”. What makes this island unique is that there are no automobiles on the island. All transportation is by horse and carriage or by foot. This island is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. On the East Frisian Islands, time seems to go a little bit slower and moments last forever.

Juist island is one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable islands in the world. Enjoy the natural beauty of the island. Walk its gorgeous beaches which are covered with little wicker chairs for seating. Enjoy the scenery on a bike tour. Go kite surfing or even sail on the marina. Some other great activities on the island includes a music festival in the spring and a crime fiction festival in the fall.  The opportunities for fun on this little piece of heaven is endless.


What do you think of these vacation spots? Would you ever visit?


Originally posted 2013-10-08 07:00:18.

Budgeting & Saving

3 Affordable Music Festivals under $200

Music festivals are largely held during the summer. However, if you are wanting to attend one, it is best to start planning well in advance. By doing this, you can more effectively budget for them and get your tickets in advance. Even when you do this, many festivals are still so expensive that they are simply not doable for the average recent college graduate. For instance, passes for Coachella start at a massive $375, and that doesn’t include travel or lodging expenses.

Not all festivals are this way, though. There are many festivals around the country that offer both an incredible experience and very reasonable prices. What sets these festivals apart is a commitment to sound business practices that put their customers first, while keeping their goals centered on growth. If you want to attend a music festival, but do not have a large budget to work with, it is important for you to find one with these kinds of ideals.

Here are three music festivals that fit the bill, and won’t break the bank at under $200 each.

Treefort Music Festival (Boise, Idaho)

Treefort Music Festival is held yearly in Boise, Idaho over five days in March. Treefort’s regular 5-day pass price is incredibly affordable at $179, and featured over 400 bands in 2015. These range from local acts to big names. Treefort also offers many discounts for buying tickets early, including 200 incredibly limited $50 passes, as well as a discounted pass for people under 21 years old, making the festival even more affordable. During Treefort, Boise’s entire downtown area becomes part of Treefort, and the city’s friendly environment is worth the trip on its own.

Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, Illinois)

Held in July in Chicago’s Union Park, Pitchfork Music Festival has one of the best returns on your money of any festival in terms of the level of artists you will see. For $180, you get three days of some of the best up and coming artists, as well as more established ones. Pitchfork is incredibly dedicated to keeping prices low, and also works closely with local Chicago businesses, vendors, and the artistic community. This means that the money you spend by attending this festival contributes to growing local culture, while keeping it affordable.

Bumbershoot (Seattle, Washington)

One of the longest running festivals in the country, Bumbershoot is held every Labor Day weekend at Seattle, Washington’s Seattle Center.  The festival has national, as well as smaller Pacific Northwest acts. Of American music festivals, it has truly one of the best urban settings, with The Space Needle towering overhead, multiple museums adjacent to the festival’s grounds, and Puget Sound only blocks away. When you mix the setting with the incredible lineup they put together every year, Bumbershoot is an incredible festival, especially at its low price. Three day passes for Bumbershoot 2015 started at $163.50 and steadily increased to $209.50 leading up to the festival.  

Originally posted 2015-11-30 10:00:42.

Young Finances

Avoid Lifestyle Inflation By Living Like a Broke College Student

Lifestyle Inflation is this almost irresistible phenomenon that we all encounter whenever we obtain a better position at work, more income, a new home or any other financial or lifestyle increase. If you’re trying to get out of debt, save for a home or retirement, or just improve your financial situation, lifestyle inflation can be a serious hindrance on the road to financial success.

Lifestyle inflation can affect anyone regardless of your income. According to a Federal Reserve Report, less than half of Americans earning between $75,000 and $99,000 saved any money whatsoever- and as many as 16% of those within that income bracket actually went into debt. So much for living below your means.

Initially it might be tough to stop feeling entitled to anything and everything but it can be done. By knowing firmly that lifestyle inflation can happen to anyone I combat lifestyle inflation by simply living like a broke college student.

I don’t just model the lifestyle of any broke college student however. Certainly not the ones who sleep in until noon, blow all their money on thirsty Thursday or try to ball out in Florida over spring break. I try to take tips from the hardworking college students who are so dedicated and focused on their future goals that they don’t have the time or energy to feel entitled for more. Most college students live a simple, frugal lifestyle which is perfect for avoiding lifestyle inflation. Here are a few ways to follow their example.

Follow the Free Food

In college there were so many opportunities for free food between the campus organizations and the departments that promoted participation in several events. I remember my university had an organization that served breakfast during specific times and I often participated in the academic department’s workshops for free lunch.

There are plenty of ways to eat for free outside of college as well; they just need to be discovered. From church potlucks to community events, free food is all around. If you have kids there are plenty of restaurants that offer “kids eat free” promotions weekly. I recently found out a non-profit organization offers free dinner to anyone in the community every Wednesday. Scoring a few free meals throughout the month can help lower your grocery bill.

Keep Expenses Low

College students often have small simple budgets so it’s easier to keep monthly expenses low. In order to cut your expenses you can walk or take the bus to places that are nearby to save money on gas, split utilities and bills with others in your household, share and borrow items with friends, find a cheaper gym or skip the membership altogether, and share a family phone plan with others just to name a few. The simpler you live, the better.

Find Creative Ways to Entertain Yourself

If it’s one thing college students know how to do, it’s have fun. Between stressing over projects and finals there is always something fun and interesting going on in a college town. When I lived in a college town for 2 years I not only immersed myself in the university culture but I also got involved with actual community itself outside of campus. I learned a lot of about frugal entertainment and how to find free and unique events.

Between doing free or cheap things like kayaking and biking, going to festivals, attending plays and movie screens, listening to live music, and taking cooking classes, I really didn’t need to keep up with the Joneses and spend a ton on entertainment. If you’re looking to find creative ways to entertain yourself I’d suggest getting engaged in your community and searching for fun and frugal events that don’t cost much.

Stay Busy to Avoid Shopping

In college I was so busy between going to class and doing homework, working, doing an internship, participating in my organization, and trying to get the proper rest that I didn’t even think much about going shopping, upgrading my car or ordering more things. Not only did I not have the money to do so, but it’s important to emphasize that I didn’t have the time to even desire things like that. Staying busy with your career, family and professional and personal goals is a great way to escape consumeristic desires to obtain more and more.

Don’t Be Afraid to Invest in Yourself

I love that college students are not afraid to invest in themselves. Not in terms of racking up too much student loan debt of course, but by realizing their potential and joining groups and attending workshops and networking events. Being in college is all about learning, growing and soaking up the whole experience like a sponge.

After we graduate and land our first job, I feel like people plateau and get too comfortable without realizing that life is a journey and we should be growing and learning every day. Improving your professional skills and expanding your network is a must even if you have the perfect career and make great money. When we stop reading, learning, and investing time in growing our skills and building relationships with others it’s easy to stop being humble as well. Then that entitlement sneaks in.

If you could learn anything from your former, broker college self, it might as well be how to combat lifestyle inflation by living simply and realizing that your overall long term goals are more important that rushing into living ‘the good life’. Avoiding lifestyle inflation is the key to achieving your goals and ridding yourself from having to live paycheck to paycheck.

How do you avoid lifestyle inflation?

Originally posted 2015-03-11 10:00:23.

Young Finances

4 Small Ways to Earn Big Money for Travel

I recently announced that I would be spending 2015 traveling through Central America. While Central America is one of the cheapest areas to travel through and I’ll be doing several things to keep my expenses down, preparing for the trip still required saving a large sum of money.

Saving a large amount of money for anything can be a daunting task and while reducing spending plays a major role in saving for anything, I have found that I am much more successful at increasing my income and earning money specifically for one thing than I am at cutting expenses. To me, it’s easier to say “this money is specifically for travel” when I find a new source of income than to change spending streams for income I already have.

(Though sometimes it’s necessary to do both!)

As soon as I made the decision to travel, I began looking for additional sources of income that I could put directly towards travel. I did some research and while I tried many different things, I found the following to be the most effective, both in terms of time and money earned.

While I used these ideas to increase my travel fund, you can use them as a way to save or earn money for nearly everything.

1.) Survey U. Survey U is a survey company aimed at millennials. I’ve been a member for several years but only began participating regularly while saving up for my trip. After you sign up, they send you a few surveys a month that you are free to either complete or ignore. The topics vary but usually have something to do with pop culture and technology. Each survey is given a specific number of points based on the time it takes to complete. Points are converted into rewards in the form of Paypal money or an Amazon giftcard.

It’s easy and something that you can do on your own time. At times I wished they sent out more surveys because I was enjoying them enough that I wanted to do more.

30 All-Inclusive Vacations Under $599 – 99 Hours Only

2.) Sell Books on Powells. Powell’s, a large independent bookstore in Oregon, gives you the option to sell your books online. They’ll even pay for the shipping. All you have to do is go onto their website, enter the ISBNs of your books, and they’ll decide whether they want them and how much they’ll pay. They send you a shipping label, you mail the books, and within a few weeks you get money deposited into your Paypal.

Unfortunately, the downside is that Powell’s is very picky about which books they want. They only want books they think they can resell and if your book is in anything but great condition, forget it. However, for those of us with boxes of books laying around, this can still be a worthwhile option.

4 Small Ways to Earn Big Money for Travel | Young Finances

3.) Have a yardsale. This past summer, I went through everything I owned and decided to get rid of everything that wasn’t adding value to my life. I ran an ad in the paper, set up a few tables in my yard, put a sign by the road, and held a yardsale for 2 days. Within those two days I made more money than I did at my job the previous week and got rid of things cluttering my life at the same time. While there was some work involved – sorting through things can be exhausting – it was well worth it.

Hosting a yardsale is a great option for anyone who needs to purge their home. It does take some time and effort but people will buy more than you might expect and decluttering is always a great thing to do.

4.) Use Swagbucks. Swagbucks is an internet search engine alternative, like Google or Bing. But when you use Swagbucks for your internet searches, you can earn points. You can redeem those points for cash via your Paypal account.

None of these options is going to result in a windfall of money – however, when you are saving up for something big, $20 here and there truly makes a difference. Combine all 4 together and you can definitely put a dent in your savings goal.

Have you tried any of these? What are your favorite ways to earn money on the side?

Originally posted 2015-02-23 10:00:00.