A Money Coach in Canada

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Guest poster and adventuress Amanda Steele has been living and teaching in Moscow since November. Here are some savvy money tips she’s learned!
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Moscow is expensive. Period. But, don’t let that little known fact get in your way. It has a lot to offer. With a little street sense, your roubles will go a long way!

1. McDonald’s!
Did you know McDonald’s was invented in Russia? Actually no, but that’s the running myth. Don’t ever over look a McDonald’s in Moscow because they are golden (pardon the pun). McDonald’s has free and clean washrooms. Sadly, more often than not, you pay your 20 roubles to use a washroom and you’re left dealing with a stinky hole in the ground. McDonald’s to the rescue! The key to using the free Wi-Fi without being harassed is to look like you’re eating. A friend of mine entered McDonald’s, collected some random trash off of tables, and then sat in the restaurant for an hour surfing the web. McDonald’s of Russia is nothing like the ones you find in North America. They are well-kept dining experiences.

2. Collect those Flyers!
I spent my first six months in Moscow turning my nose up at people trying to hand me flyers on the street. Finally, my roommate asked me why I wasn’t taking advantage of the great deals. Unlike the street flyers I found in North America or Britain, these flyers actually offered deals- no 10% off your second latte ridiculousness. Always grab a flyer from someone standing outside one of Moscow’s coffee chains (Шоколадница or Кофе Хауз) because they give away two-for-one coffees and sandwiches.

3. Count your Roubles!
Russia is not and I repeat not a plastic society! You will be expected to pay in cash for everything. If you’re paying by credit card then chances are you’re paying for some inflated foreigner benefits. When exchanging money, ensure that you receive small banknotes. You’re expected to pay in cash and to give exact change. If you try to buy a can of cola with a 1,000 rouble note you might be out of luck. It’s wiser to count out your money in coins then risk having to purchase extra items to make the cashier happy.

4. Watch what you eat!
When dining, keep a menu with you. More often than not, the menu will have photos to help you identify your meal. When you receive the bill, review the items on it. Not every restaurant is out to rip you off but it does happen. Some restaurants take advantage of foreigners who can’t read Russian and add extra hoping you won’t notice. Quickly scan your bill for any extra items and compare any unknowns to the menu.

5. Service with a Smile!
Tipping your waiter is still customary in Moscow but you don’t need to go all out. Handing over only 10% is normal and expected. You’re not going to get an overwhelming ‘thank-you’ if you leave 25% nor will you be accosted if you leave 10%. Don’t worry about it.
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July features a series of posts on being smart with your money while travelling. Pop by previous posts:

Photo Credit: Neil1877

Grrrr!

The UK has a tax (VAT) of 20%.  I reckon I spent approaching $1000 while I was over there (yes, budgeted) which means I contributed to Her Majesty’s Coffers in the range of $150.00+

I dutifully kept all my receipts, but when I got to Heathrow discovered that Receipts Alone Do Not Suffice.

I also needed to show all my goods, which would have been a serious time delay and hassle as they were interspersed amongst my suitcases.

Furthermore, I needed to complete a form each and every time I had made the purchases, and the form is provided by the shop keeper.

Hassle, much?

In any case, I didn’t have time to rifle through my carefully packed luggage, nor had I completed any of the forms.

*le sigh*    I did at least thoroughly enjoy the BBC so I suppose I can find some solace that I benefited from the taxes.

Fellow frugal travellers, headsup:  do the research on reclaiming taxes in advance of your trip!

Oh, and to add to the irritation, I picked up 3 lovely jars of jam from the Harrod’s duty free.  I got through Heathrow just fine, but the security in Calgary pointed out that they were liquids in excess of 100ml so the lemon curd, thick marmalade and raspberry jams are now in some Calgary dumpster.

Bollocks!

Photo Credit:  Stewf

This is Post #3 in July’s series of money tips for travellers.

Post 1:  How to save money in England

Post 2:  How to save money on accommodation (without sacrificing comfort)

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5 MONEY DETAILS TO SORT BEFORE YOU LEAVE

1. Confirm that your debit and credit cards use chip technology This has messed me up in my month in England. My Visa card has the chip but neither of my debit cards do! No merchants can swipe my debit cards, consequently, I have to use my Visa card. This is not great (see #2)

2. Find out how your Visa calculates the exchange rate if you are travelling abroad. This varies from bank to bank. In my case, the exchange rate is first calculated from GDP into USD then into CAD. Some banks charge a double whammy for those to conversations. All banks (I believe) add an “administrative” percentage to the exchange rate. Mine is 2%. . CIBC is 2.5% This isn’t terribly significant but it’s worth knowing what you getting into.

3. Scan your calendar for the time you are going to be away. Are there any one-off or regular payments going to be made? (what’s that? you don’t have those noted anywhere? Hmm. Need a little help getting your money organized? My biz can help). Ensure those payments are organized (cheques left, funds in account or what have you).

4. Call your banks to let them know where you are travelling. Trust me on this – it will save you the time and hassle of your visa card being suspended for “suspicious” activity. (And if that does happen, don’t get mad at your bank. Thank them for protecting your visa).

5. Get travel insurance. First, check what your employer provides and what your credit card provides and what your regular insurer provides. If they don’t, or strike you as insufficient, shell out the extra $$ for peace of mind.

Photo Credit: Clive C

Enough of the heavy duty posts about the economy and Greece.  Or why it’s so important to jump off the consumption train.

It’s July!  Serious summer!  And I bet most of you have *some* kind of travel ahead. (Can’t afford to?  My online money management program can help!)  So this month, I have a series of posts lined up all about being smart with your money while travelling, or even living abroad.

First up:  England. After 3 weeks living with both a native Brit and a Cdn expat, here are 5 tips I’ve learned to save money while staying in England.

1.  Cel phones & Internet

I paid Bell an extra $100 for 100 phone minutes.  I can make the calls from the UK to anywhere in the world.   Usually these would be at nearly double that price for calling from outside my region so I’m glad I made the call to Bell.   However, I popped into a local  (England) phone shop (I forget the shop name, but they’re in every mall) and discovered for £10, or $15, they would have given me the same minutes on a new sim card.  Don’t know how to replace a sim card?  It’s super easy. Having said that, it would have involved jail breaking my iPhone (I got it for $200 in exchange for locking into a 3 year contract with Bell) which I was hesitant to do.

Internet?  Of course I turned my roaming data off (and you should too, or you’ll probably regret it!).  I had hoped for the same kind of ubiquitous free wifi that Vancouver enjoys, but no such luck.  In fact, only one coffee shop and one pub has provided it free so far during my stay.   So I bit the bullet and paid £39 (about $60) for 60 hours of wifi from BT OpenZone.  Most coffee shops have BT OpenZone as an option.   Next time though, I’ll buy a dongle, although apparently they’re not as fast as using BT OpenZone.

2.  Grocery Stores

Obviously buying groceries is less expensive than dining out.  Grocery stores here seem to supply way more quick-and-easy (yet healthy!) travel-friendly items than Canadian stores.  Marks & Spencer is particularly fabulous – little curry bowls and fancy-schmancy couscous boxes, for example.   As you would expect, there is a range between super-value grocery stores up to high-end grocery stores.

Sainsbury is probably the most value-for-dollar.  Think:  SuperStore.

Tescos are everywhere, and a good, basic store.  Think:  SaveOn

Marks and Spencer are probably comparable to Safeway.

Waitrose is generally top end, perhaps comparable to the IGA Marketplace.

I have not seen anywhere comparable to  Urban Fare or Whole Foods (Waitrose might reach those heights but I’ve only been in one small one).

3.  Trains. Trains are the way to go between towns.  The further in advance you book, the better the fare.  Use trainline to find the best deals.  So far I haven’t seen any real advantage of going first class over economy, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a money coach.  So unless you have money to spare, stick with economy.

4. Many galleries – top calibre galleries – are free or by donation.  Spend time enjoying them!  The Tate Galleries, The National Gallery, Natural History Museum — enough to keep you engrossed for hours, for free.

5. Shows.  If you’re prepared to risk not getting a seat at all, really super-low deals can be had by booking same-day theatre tickets from Last Minute.

One thing everyone should know is that the whole country is well in to the chip-(debit) card. My debit card isn’t (I’d received the card but not my pin before I left) so I can’t use it at all! Problem inelegantly solved by using my visa which is chipped.

Readers – any of you travel in England a lot? What would you add to this list?

Photo Credit: APDK

I can’t help but have my heart in my throat sometimes when I hear the statistics about people, especially in the States and Britain and especially Greece, who are facing structural financial difficulty. By that I mean: through no fault of their own, they are truly struggling to find work, or their currency has been devalued, or their net worth has plummeted because of the housing market or what have you.

It sounds horrible to say this, but while I’ve known for forever about these kinds of ongoing issues in other countries, like the former Eastern Bloc or Africa, it’s really sinking in at a visceral level now that it’s occurring right next door.

I’m a money coach. I help people manage the money they *do* have, not the money they *don’t* have. Nevertheless, I’d like to put together a series of blog posts for those who are facing particularly acute money struggles. I have some ideas – nothing mind-blowing, just a few topics I hope will prove gently encouraging – that I’d like to post about over the coming months.

Do you have ideas? If you are, or have been, or know someone who is facing serious financial struggle (either short term or long term) would you leave me a comment below? Feel free to use an alias and even a fake e-mail. I just want some REAL feedback.

Thanks,

Nancy

Photo Credit KuddlyTeddyBear

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