Thursday, February 3, 2011

Keeping personal expenses in check when on business travel

I have a funny life. At home I'm dirt poor, never go out to eat, or to the movies or to much of anything that isn't related to a kid's performance.

But I travel frequently for business. I stay in nice hotels, eat at fancy restaurants, and have this second life of luxury. On my company's dime. I don't abuse my expense account. I'm honest about what I spend, and I'm not extravagent compared to my colleagues.

But the "extras" in a business traveller's hotels really add up. Like $4 for a bottle of water in the room. $15 for a movie. And don't even get me started on the minibar.

So I bring my cheap ways with me. If I have time, I stop by my public library before  my trip to get a DVD to watch on those late evenings after a business dinner when I'm too wired to sleep. Or, if I don't have time, I grab a favorite DVD from our collection (from the the time before we stopped spending money on such things). Or, failing that, I may even buy one from iTunes or rent from Amazon. Still much cheaper than hotel pay per view.

I buy a bottle of water and a snack, if I need one, at a local drug store.

I use my corporate credit card for as many expenses as I can so that I don't have to wait to file my expense reports to get reimbursed. I forgo the rewards I might earn if I put them on a personal card. But since my personal cards have balances (I know, I know) I also forgo the interest that the issuers would charge me.

I even save money for my employer. Instead of paying $15 a day for internet access in the room, I bought a Wireless USB dongle from Virgin Mobile, which usually ends up being much cheaper, and more flexible. (Typically, the hotels I stay in have free wireless in the lobby, but not in the meeting rooms or guest rooms.)

If the cost is the same, I use my frequent flyer airline and my rewards point hotel. The rewards are slow to come, but may help me bring one of my kids, or even Mr. Poorhouse, on an exotic trip some day. 

The one thing that is tricky is bringing gifts to kids of friends who live in my destination city or bringing souvenirs home to my own kids. I probably spend too much on this kind of thing. Any of you have ideas for keeping the cost of guilt presents down?

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unbinding the TV again--and the phone too

P TelevisionImage via WikipediaSo, it turns out the 3-for-1 Internet/Phone/TV deal I bragged about here wasn't such a good deal after all. About a year ago, we found out it would be cheaper to add TV services to our Verizon FIOS Internet and phone service. What we didn't realize was that it was a 6 month teaser deal and that there was a penalty for cancelling the services before 12 months.

So the moment that our contract was up, we ditched the TV again. We already jetisoned our home phone service in favor of Callcentric VOIP, which uses a router in the basement and our regular handsets. For about $5 a month we saved $40 a month on our Verizon home phone service, which we rarely use. (Callcentric has unlimited calling plans for more, but we never even come close to our allocated minutes on our mobile phone plans, so we don't need one.)

We all have mobile phones now (a safety things since the kids are sometimes on their own after school), but we weren't ready to get rid of the landline yet. You see they are young and frequently misplace or forget to charge their phones. OK, I'm guilty of that too. Anyway, we wanted to be sure we still had emergency service (Callcentric can provide 911) or could get in touch with them if they are home alone. The service has been great, though we still use it rarely. Oh, and we got to keep the same phone number. They took care of porting it.

So, we are now ONLY paying for FIOS, which I'm not willing to give up. At $60 a month, with no taxes, it's much better than the $120 monthly bill we had been paying for the last few months. Yay. You'd think we would have learned about bait and switch tactics by now, but I guess old dogs are tough to train.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Watch out for business credit cards

Credit cardsImage via WikipediaApparently credit card issuers have found another way to circumvent the new CARD Act protections. They are pushing their business credit card lines, which aren't subject to the new rules.

In an act of decluttering (thank you Fly Lady) I tackled the mound of paperwork in my front hall and found FOUR offers for a business credit card from Capital One. This despite the fact that my credit rating frankly sucks, and I've put myself on the card offers do not mail list. And, oh yeah, I've never done business with Capital One.

Anyway, my business is dead, and it turns out that one of my payment agreements with another issuers prohibits me from applying for an additional card.

Not that I'm going to. But I'm not just getting hounded by Capital One.  0% balance transfer offers are showing up again. Ugh. That's how I got myself into this mess in the first place.

Be careful out there. These big credit card companies are not your friends.  The two cards that I still have have been good to me. They are from USAA and from my credit union. They never jacked up the rates to 30%, despite an occasional late payment. They haven't lowered my credit line.
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