Travel is exhausting. Booking and going on trips is only a smidgen of the work involved in keeping up with a life full of travel. Finances play an important role– the most important role– in travel and that means staying on top of them like your wayfaring life depends on it.
As a newbie to the nomadic life, I’ve been spending all of my spare energy on organize every detail in my life to make my trips as easy and stress-free as possible and I’ve stumbled upon some truly amazing programs that have given me such peace of mind that I might as well be asleep.
If you’ve already read my GeoTech: How to Game the System for Free Travel, then you know I like to devote quite a bit of superfluous attention to my credit lines in order to wrack up travel rewards. Obviously, this isn’t a casual activity that can be done half-assedly or with anything less than excellent credit. So, here’s how I’ve been staying in Finance Heaven with an entry-level salary and, you know, bills to pay (sad face).
1. Your Credit Card Apps: I currently use only two credit cards, both of which are travel cards with excellent rewards programs. Both are “training wheels cards” with no annual fee that allow me to wrack up rewards for spending without costing me a dime. As I said in “Free Travel”, I’m a worthless piece of poo to credit card companies because I pay no fees nor interest. Ever. I’m able to do this because I don’t actually use my credit lines for credit in the traditional sense– I use them for the my regular old spending and always pay off my balance completely at the end of each billing cycle.
You can have as many credit card accounts open as you want, into the hundreds if you can manage it, and it won’t hurt you or your credit score as long as you stay organized and on top of your payments. And god bless these companies, they all have apps that allow you to electronically pay your bill with the push of a button. I do it when I’m bored sometimes just because it feels good. (This is addict behavior, but at least I’m addicted to something beneficial… like greed.) (Just kidding.) (No I’m not.)
The bottom line is that credit is a numbers game and knowledge is power and power over your credit lines is how you win the game. You should be taking a “money minute” out of every day to check up on all of your balances and transactions to keep track of your spending habits and potential fraud.
2. Credit Karma: Your credit score is the single most important facet of your financial identity. Sorry to not-so-subtly imply that your identity is tied up with your money, but is. You feel good when you’re secure and you self-identify with your financial security.
Credit Karma is my favorite thing that I’ve ever signed up for. It’s free, because ads (yay?). I’ve tried other services that you have to pay for and honestly, Credit Karma is both easier to use and more aesthetically appealing.
The app offers your credit score as well as a free credit report, whose purpose is to help you understand the how and the why of your current ranking. For example, the report literally grades you on an A-F scale based upon your credit utilization (how much of your spending limit you use), which should always be under 30%, otherwise you become “high risk”. My utilization usually tips in at less than half of that. If your credit spending limit is too low to accommodate your regular spending habits, you can call and have it raised or look at your habits to see what you can comfortably cut back on.
Without this knowledge you can’t improve your score, so I recommend taking full advantage of the free education. There’s no better feeling than watching your score creep up each day during your “money minute” after making simple, stress-free changes.
3. LearnVest: This app is the single greatest thing to happen to Millennials– it’s essentially a replacement for the old-school financial expert. After downloading the app, you can securely sync all of your bank, investment, loan and credit accounts with the app and you’re instantly met with a summary of your spending and saving habits, your total debt, your investments, and even your real-time net worth. I didn’t even know my net worth before downloading this app, because screw doing the math myself. Hey, I never said I wasn’t lazy.
The app comes complete with constantly-updated resources to help with any savings, debt or investing goals you might have. You’re also assigned a financial expert who gives you a free call at the time of your choosing. I personally have goals to invest, so my financial expert is guiding me in how to get started and how to manage my portfolio. It’s honestly that freakin’ easy.
All the information is updated in real time so you’re never left in the dark about your credit balances or transaction history. If you literally only have one minute to spend checking your money, this app is a good substitute for your credit companies’ apps.
4. Wallaby: This is where the fun starts. I found this app thanks to a commenter on “Free Travel”. Wallaby is an app that securely connects your credit card accounts and makes decisions for you based on rewards programs. If you’re having a delicious dinner at the Bleu Martini and you’re not sure which card will offer the most points for your dollar, Wallaby recognizes where you’re at and tells you to use your Citi card, because you get 3x points at restaurants. If you’re not sure how to pay for your gas, it’ll tell you to use your Discover, because it offers the highest percentage in cash back. It’s the best way to optimize your rewards status.
5. ShoeBoxed: This is exactly what it sounds like: a digital shoebox for you to stuff your receipt into until tax season. Just take a photo of your receipt and leave it in the shoe box. The processing program will translate the information into digital receipts to accompany the photo for easy searching. If you’re not cool with paying for that premium service, which I’m not, it takes only a second to input the information on your own.
If you’re traveling for business, you can tag your receipts as reimbursable or, for tax purposes, deductible. On the other side of that coin, you’ll always be able to prove an alibi if you’re falsely accused of a crime, even if you paid cash and threw away the paper receipt. Ok, maybe I just read too many espionage novels… nah.
6. AwardWallet: This app is a blessing in a similar form to Wallaby. It syncs with all of your accounts from credit cards to dining rewards program, to frequent flyer miles and even surveys-for-miles programs. They update all the time to show you exactly what your current rewards balances are so if you’re travel hacking, you can quickly summarize in one place exactly how you’ll not pay for a trip.
It also keeps tabs on your travel plans via your rewards accounts so you have all of your flight/car/hotel information– anything connected to a rewards program, paid for or not– right there inside the app.
7. Your Airline’s App: This is isn’t exactly a financial app, but even with all of these other apps you’ll still need to download your airline’s app to supplement them. They allow you to do anything such as booking your flight, changing your seat, navigating to your gate and applying your rewards miles. They even extend to extraneous uses like parking reminders, coupons and games.