A Money Coach in Canada

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Here’s the second in this month’s series on saving money while travelling.

Looking for affordable accommodations when you travel this summer without giving up comfort? My pal Gregg saved hundreds on his European tour by using an online site.
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I’m 48 years old, and having just returned from a 3 week/9 city whirlwind tour through Europe, I’ve been joking that it was my two decade late ‘post university tour’. For this trip, however, I wasn’t quite up to the thought of lugging a backpack around and sleeping in less-than-private hostels. I wanted a bit more peace-of-mind knowing I had a room reservation and, if at all possible, a private bathroom.

As I went online to research hotel prices in Europe my naiveté became apparent. I was making my plans only two to three weeks from my departure date and WOW are hotel rooms expensive – those ain’t dollars, they’re Euros, worth 40% more! As I contemplated delaying my trip, I decided to look at more affordable options having recently heard there were web services connecting travellers with people renting out rooms and apartments. So I started my search and came across AirBnB.com

Airbnb lets anyone search and book rooms, apartments and unique spaces from people around the world. Membership is free and the only fee you pay is a small booking fee charged on top of the rental once you commit to a reservation. For my trip I was looking for a room for two people for two nights in cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, Rome and Barcelona and found great convenient places for each of them. Prices ($CDN) ranged from $58/night for a room in someone’s London apartment near Canary Warf, to $77 for a full flat/apartment in Prague, to $90 for rooms in Paris and Amsterdam, to $93/$98 for Florence/Rome, and $88 in Barcelona for a full funky place in the centre of town that I booked last-minute using the Airbnb iPhone app.

Everything worked out great with all our reservations, and the best part was meeting local people who were more than happy to chat and provide insider tips and tourist information. Of course you can’t always tell exactly what a place will be like from a website photo (our Rome apartment was fine but the street and entranceway were not appealing), but Airbnb features like testimonials, photos and Google Street View minimize any uncertainty. And although you submit your credit card information when you book, the charge is held ‘in-trust’ until you arrive and find everything is suitable. This gave me great peace of mind knowing that I wasn’t handing out my credit card, or cash, to strangers, and that I could call Airbnb to cancel and receive a refund if the space was unavailable or not suitable.

The trip was great and staying with locals in each city really helped us feel connected to the cities and countries we were visiting. Although I found Airbnb to be the only site I needed to use, you can also check out Crashpadder.com, Couchsurfing.org, For Rent by Owners,and Vacation Rentals By Owners . I didn’t use these as the latter two focused more on apartments and homes for rent for longer stays, and the first two didn’t seem as feature-rich, but they may be worth a look too. To check out how Airbnb works go to: www.airbnb.com/info/how_it_works.

Bon Voyage!
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Gregg Taylor is a career coach and consultant who loves life, travel, and supporting people through life and career transitions. He can be reached at gregg at visionpath.ca

Readers: any tips for comfortable accommodations at affordable prices while travelling? Anyone use any other sites?

Featured Image photo credit: Jessamyn

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

Friends. Friends help us celebrate life.  Friends help us heal when we need healing.  And for me, some dear friends in England have graciously welcomed me into their homes for a whole glorious month to gain perspective and do some visioning about my next steps.  Specifically, I have paid for only 1 night of shelter, and even that was reasonably priced and part of a girls getaway.  Only a very small number of meals have been eat-out — little more than I’d have eaten out at home.  I have done lots of thinking, reading, blogging and work on my business.

But that is not all. That is not all.  For free, I have:

…explored the Tate Gallery in Cambridge; I have attended  Sunday Services and the contemplative mid-week EvenSongs (just what this soul needed) at this Cathedral, which was more rich in art and faith and intellect and history than I had previously thought possible; I have punted the River Cam after a pub lunch (ok those weren’t quite free, but they weren’t much); I have experienced a little life-behind-the-scenes of a chorister (my friend’s son);  I have done my  Couch-2-5K runs along this Sea and this Sea and in fields so pastoral with bunnies and wobbly foals and sweet calfs and birds that it might as well have been Narnia; and spent a day swimming and lazing on this wild beach on the one 30C day so far; and gone for a long walk on the Broads after leisurely lattes and toast served with style in the (English) Garden of my hosts.

And all that in addition to the primary blessing of reconnecting, with plenty of time for leisurely conversation, with treasured friends.

Is it apparent how saturated with blessing I feel right now?

Huh.  There’s frugality.  And then there’s Priceless.

I bet some of you have similarly rich experiences of spending time with friends away from home.  Do!

Greece – that lovely country most of us simply associate with the bluest of seas, the softest of sands and brilliant white domes – may be well and truly cluster-fracked at this point. And if they’re fracked, they may pull down a whole lot of other European countries with them. And if they do take down the Eurozone, the US, itself shaky, will find its head submerging below water.

What happened? Here’s a story which may help:

Max and Eve lived beyond their means for quite some time. Truth be told, they spent nearly 50% more each year than they earned! Their credit cards and lines of credit racked up.

The reasons they were in debt were ones with which anyone could sympathize, such as fighting off the neighbourhod mafia. By the time they got rid of the thugs they were so in-the-hole they had to go to a debt counsellor who helped them consolidate their loans. Things went well for several years then those mafia came back *again* and once again they had to borrow to get them off their back. They mortgaged their home to the hilt.

Max and Eve were living a typical middle-class lifestyle. Their (mortgaged-to-the-max) home was lovely and they welcomed many relatives and friends for weekends. They both worked hard at their jobs. They ensured their children were well dressed and got a good education.

Then Max and Eve discovered that all their aunts and uncles were forming their own investment firm, called All In This Together (AITT for short). Several of their cousins joined as well. Max and Eve wanted in. It was time for them to start getting seriously ahead, and besides, they were part of the family.

Max and Eve did have to convince AITT that they would deal with their debts, which was a bit embarrassing, but whatever. And there was lots they didn’t tell AITT. They didn’t tell AITT that they had borrowed from their neighbours in exchange for agreeing the neighbours could use their garage for the next 10 years. They didn’t tell AITT they had borrowed from their friends who owned a nursery and promised they could use the garden to grow flowers for 15 years, which meant Max and Eve could no longer grow their own vegetables. They also had something going on with PayDay loans which no one knew about. Although some of their cousins suspected Max and Eve weren’t being entirely honest, they were family after all (and besides, they had a few dirty little secrets of their own) and eventually AITT let them in.

At first things went well; they invested together, they covered each other’s backs, and for Max and Eve the best things was those mafia and their henchmen were gone for good; no one would mess with AITT. They family lent one another money, and Max and Eve got repeated loans when their roof needed replacing and their son got into a really good, but expensive, school.

But as things go in all relationships, some of the dirty little secrets began to emerge. Cousin Herschel got wind about the whole garden thing and challenged Max and Eve on it. Thankfully didn’t have to respond as Cousin Sven’s finances got shaky and all attention turned on him. Then Aunt Maureen disclosed she wasn’t as financially secure as she seemed. These were cause for concern but not insurmountable.

And then the unanticipated happened. Their distant cousin overseas, George, had been doing a number of investment deals with AITT and KABOOM, it was all over the news: George was pretty much going down. AITT held several emergency meetings. Things were getting tense. Above all, they needed to present a united front so they did their best to help out Cousin Sven and Aunt Maureen. Oh, and Uncle Steve and Cousin Susan. The firm’s resources, partially gutted by George, further gutted by Cousin Sven, were slimmer by the day. Then, at this worst possible time, it emerged that the PayDay loans people were about to come calling on Max and Eve with clubs. And the bank discovered the deal with the nursery which in fact was against the mortgage conditions and were about to repossess the home.

The family had a Very.Serious.Discussion with Max and Eve. With raised eyebrows and angry looks, they helped Max and Eve out (for the umpteenth time!) and gave them just enough to hold the PayDay loans people and the Bank at bay until Max and Eve could get their act together. There were very, very stern words spoken to Max and Eve and it was unequivocal – pull your kids out of private school, start renting out your garage (they didn’t know about the deal with the neighbour), and sell your house and move into a smaller place, because you’ve got one year and one year only to pay up.

Stressed out, Max tried to negotiate something more bearable, and asked for more money to actually pay off the PayDay loan and ideally get his garden back too, but all AITT felt they could afford was to make the interest payments for a year.

Max and Eve did what they could. It was hard. Harder than expected. The kids went ballistic about leaving their school. The housing market tumbled and they couldn’t get serious buyers interested. They were going without vegetables which would have long term effects on their health.

And when the year was up, Max lost it. Eve was willing to go hardcore and forgo everything that made life nice for them, but Max was seriously pissed. It wasn’t their fault that Sven and George and Maureen had screwed up. So why was AITT being so hardline with Max and Eve? And why had they had to bear all the brunt of paying off the mafia?

Max and Eve’s relationship started to fracture. Seriously fracture.

Eve was resolute that they had to honour their commitment to the family and AITT. She foresaw that if they failed AITT, then AITT would collapse and the whole family would be ruined.

Max thought the life they would be condemned to – cramped apartment dwelling, dashed hopes for their children, working long hours towards nothing but paying off AITT – was not a life worth living. He alternated between rage and utter despair. He couldn’t believe Eve was putting the welfare of AITT ahead of their own.

The kids were scared and confused, and cried every day and had nightmares.

It was awful.

Max told Eve that if she proceeded, he would divorce her.

Eve proceeded.

What happens next? Keep an eye on the news.

** If it’s not obvious: Max and Eve are Greece. AITT is the European Union. Other than that, the events are very loosely correlated.

** A few interesting facts:
Greece twice had to fight to leave the Ottoman Empire which is what put them in debt. They pledged their whole country as collateral on the debts. They didn’t pay off their debts, but they weren’t invaded by whoever lent them the money, either.

Recently, Greece borrowed money in exchange for all their Airport Fees for years to come.

Greece is currently having to offer 20% on its bonds to attract anyone. Contrast that to 0.65% for Canada Savings bonds.

WORKERS TAKE TO GREEK STREETS AGAINST CUTBACKS

Photo Credit (top image) The Justified Sinner

I spent much of Monday on an English Seaside. The picture speaks for itself. Later, a friend found this poem by Robert Frost which I thought apropos to both the experience, and the act of jumping off the consumption train (this month’s blog theme) in favour of the art of contentment.
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Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)—
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

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