I’m starting up a new series here on the Fritter. For a while it was a lot of live aboard stuff, and now, since I’m not being too live aboardy, and moving into the digital nomad lifestyle, I figger I may was well classify it all under the same name. This series will be all about some of the issues I may encounter whilst digitally nomading about. How to take care of finances, what possessions to take, travel arrangements, and so on. If I find a particular solution to anything, I will post it here in hopes that it will make things easier for any future digital nomads. And by the same token, if any of you out there have some tips to share, by all means, toss them in a comment and let everyone else know. No secrets here. The more people are out there traveling and exploring, the fewer the worker bees. So, trade out the blue vest or cubicle farm for a backpack and a laptop, and lets get to some serious digital nomading.
For starters, a little about money:
I’m not going to get into income streams and such at the moment, a post for later. This is going to be more about the physical issues of keeping some cash and cards with one as one travels. Banks, atm’s, and cash itself.
Money is a pain in the ass. Not the acquisition of said funds, but the transport of such. A big wad of bills can easily get lost, stolen, or mistakenly washed in the laundry. I’m constantly finding loose bills in my pockets at the end of the day. Coins are even worse. It doesn’t take long to acquire a large and unwieldy pile of loose change. You can put it in a container of some sort but then you have to drag the container around when you move. And chances are said pile of change doesn’t add up to much value.
I try to limit the amount of cash I carry at any time. Rarely do I go anywhere with more than $20 in my pocket. It depends on what I am doing as to if I will carry more. I prefer to use cash in restaurants, especially in tourist areas. Less chance of a card getting hacked or swiped. The dollar store gets cash only from me too. For everything else, I use a debit card. It’s handy and easy to use. You don’t have to worry about change, and the card is a bit more durable.
As for coins, I quit using pennies altogether a couple of years ago. If I get any pennies for change, I either put them back on the counter or throw them away. They are essentially worthless. Nickels and dimes I hold onto until I can convert them into quarters or I use them to round off a cash purchase. Quarters were important for me to hold onto so I could do laundry. Most laundry machines take quarters only so I had to make a point to have a couple dollars worth as often as possible so I could keep the clothes smelling fresh and clean, until I put them on again. Now, for the first time since I owned my own home some 13 years ago, I have a washer and dryer sitting right outside my door that is included with the rent. So I have no current need to save any change.
For the moment, as long as the current living situation remains, I won’t be saving any more change than I have to. I will use it for cash purchases, tips at restaurants, and generally avoid having to keep many coins in my pocket. Eventually I will be back into a coin laundry situation and will need to save quarters again. But for now, not so much.
So my main source of paying for stuff will remain the debit card. It works perfectly for all I need most of the time. It’s limited by the amount of money I have in the bank, and the bank itself sets some daily limits. If I run into a situation where I need to spend more, the bank will allow me to change said limits for a brief time. I can also notify the bank if I am traveling to alert them of me spending money in other places. That way no one will suspend the account because of suspicious activity.
As for a bank, I use a local Keys bank. They are in tune with the local economy and island lifestyle, and I get free checking because of my advanced age. They have a nice little iPhone app so I can access my account at anytime and contact them if needed. There is a downside however. Once I leave the Keys, getting cash can be an issue. ATM’s outside the Keys will charge for taking money out. But, there are two solutions. One, get an account with a national chain bank. One of the big bastards with banks all over the country. This may make it easier to get access to your money, but you are also dealing with the epitome of evil. The big banks will fee you to death and play hard and fast with your cash. So avoid them. The other way is a bit more simple. Anytime you make a purchase, say for groceries or such, pay with your debit card, and ask for cash back. It costs nothing and you can always have a few extra bucks in your pocket for when you need it.
Another possibility is to open an account at a local bank where you happen to be staying. This works if you plan on being in the same area for a while or returning frequently. This is part of my cunning plans. When I get out to Maui and if I find the place to my liking, I may just grab a checking account for the convenience of having it. If I like the place and return every year, this makes it a bit easier to access cash. As long as bank fees don’t get too expensive.
While I have been talking about cash and debit cards, there is a third evil which I have not brought up yet, the credit card. I got rid of my last credit card 4 years ago. While it came in handy for big purchases, the interest rates got too high, and I was constantly fighting to keep the balance at zero. I have had no use for one since but I am, forgive me Darwin, considering getting another credit card. Hear me out, I have reasons.
Given the nature of traveling like I want to do, there may well be times where I have to leave wherever I am and get to some other place quickly. It could be for any number of reasons. An emergency with a family member. A hurricane or other natural disaster. A financial opportunity that cannot wait. With a credit card and a running credit line of about $1000, I would have the ability to be able to grab a quick airfare, bus ticket, train ride from one end of the country to the other on short notice. A credit card would also give me the ability to rent a vehicle on those odd occasions where a vehicle may come in real handy.
Mind you, I have not made a decision on this one way or the other. It’s a possibility if the debit card proves to be insufficient for my needs. For now, the debit card, and a few bucks in my pocket works out just fine. Risking debt for convenience is not something I particularly care to do, but if I see the need, I will get a credit card again. What I don’t want to do is get one and then rely on it for daily purchases, rack up a bunch of debt, and be back in trouble again. It’s not a priority at the moment and I may well decide I don’t need it after all.
Then there is that old standby, the check. Checks are about the most archaic and obsolete form of money transfer we have. Yet surprisingly, I still have to use them now and then. Most of the time I had to pay rent with a check because the marinas wanted to charge a fee for a card. My new fangled health insurance, designed to make all things health insurancey more better, joined up with Obamacare, and never implemented online paying. So I have to stroke a check every quarter and mail it to them, or let them rob my bank account.
Quick tip. NEVER allow anyone to automatically deduct payments from your bank accounts. No matter how convenient it sounds, it will end badly. If the billing company makes a mistake and takes out too much, you will play hell getting said money refunded. And they will continue to take money out until you tell them to stop. So if you forget, and close an account, the account will stay open as long as said billing keeps going, ruining your credit. Never allow automatic payments.
So I am trying to eliminate checks as much as possible. When I opened my account I got enough checks to last me for 20 years. So whilst traveling there is a big pile of paper I would need to carry around. I got rid of all but one bundle, just enough to allow me to write a check now and then as needed. But eventually I want to eliminate them completely.
Then, what to do with cards and cash and coins whilst traveling? I’ve managed to minimize things down quite a bit. For starters I no longer carry a wallet. Wallets are bulky, can be lost, or stolen. Instead, I went with this:
The case has a sliding door underneath which can hold 2 or 3 cards and a bill or two. It’s very handy and easy to access. Given that my iPhone is rarely out of my sight or not on my person, I can still carry the cards I need without the extra bulk of a wallet.
As for bills, I simply keep them in a pocket here or there, same with whatever change I traveling with. If I do happen to get some excessive amounts of coins, or need to save up for the laundry, I’ll toss them in my bag somewhere until needed. And get rid of them as soon as I can.
So there you have it. This is how I deal with transporting and using money as I travel about. It’s not the perfect system and I suspect I will find other answers or alternatives as I go along. But for now, this is what works for me. Use the debit card as much as possible. Carry only essential amounts of cash. Avoid paying out fees to the banks as much as possible. Got any more better tips or tricks? Send them in the comments.