Thursday, May 31, 2007

Places to go, People to See, Things to Do

Now you're there, now what? Well for one, if you're in a foreign country, you may need to be able to communicate. The best way to learn a language is by being totally immersed while you're there, but you get even more out of it if you study some before you go. Here are my favorite resources for foreign language study: - This site has 11 languages you can learn, and the great part is the audio clips that help you learn the correct pronunciation. Of course, this is all free.

FSI Language Courses - Developed by the US government to train those in foreign service positions, these courses from the Foreign Service Institute are top notch. Although the resources may vary depending on the language, they have an impressive collection of resources for 22 languages.

Open Culture
- This site has a list of podcasts that help you learn a language from the convenience of your very own iPod. I have only looked at the Spanish ones, and they were hit or miss, but it's a nice site if you like the idea of learning from your iPod.

Once you're there, you can take classes for whatever language you need. If you're looking to learn Spanish, a good place to start is 123teachme. They have an extensive list of schools in many Latin American countries, and people review ones they have been to, so you get a good idea of which are the better schools.

Now you're gotten there, found a place to stay, and may even speak the language a little. Congratulations. From here one out, just use resources provided previously - such as Lonely Planet and Bootsnall. Here are a list of some other resources you may find to be useful:

Art of Travel - A world traveler who has trekked the globe on the cheap shares how his advice on how to travel cheaply.

- You know who to call for a good time. Similar to the above but more emphasis on Latin America.

EGlobalHealth - Even though it may cost you a few bucks to buy medical insurance, it'll save your butt in the long run in case anything ever happens. Find the plan that's right for you.

This concludes this series of travel. I hope you found it informative and find a way to travel without spending as much money as the average tourist.

Previous entries:
Oh, the places you'll go
Flying and Driving
Free lodging



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Free lodging

When you are traveling, a great way to keep costs down is to stay with friends who live in the area. Now, the internet has taken this to the next level. Staying with friendly friends of friends or even random strangers - if you're comfortable doing that. The big 3 when it comes to finding places to stay are these: Couch Surfing, The Hospitality Club, and

Why would anyone go to such lengths to open up their homes to random strangers? Sometimes, people are genuinely interested in meeting new people or showing people around their town. In colleges, prospective students may stay with current students who volunteer to put them up and show them around the school. This is sort of the post-college version of that. Other times, people may have ulterior motives, but the good thing about these sites is that you can write a review of people you meet, host, or stay with, so others can get a better idea of who this person is.

If you don't feel comfortable doing it that way, there's another way you can get free hotel stays. lists mistakes or hotel rooms you can book for free by taking advantage of the TripRewards best rate guarantee. While the city where you need to stay may not be on the list, it is free after all. In turn, you could even make a trip out of going to cities where you can stay for free. As with many things, flexibility in your itinerary will allow you to get the best deals.

Next up: learn the language



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Flying and Driving

Free flights? No, that's impossible you say. Not exactly. In addition to signing up for airline credit cards, I mentioned a while back how you can earn free miles. Out of the resources I mentioned, I'll mention this site again: Free Frequent Flyer Miles. This deceptively simple site has more information that you can shake a stick at. Its presented in a clear and informative matter and covers almost all the airlines.

Let all of these miles accumulate and BAM! you have a free ticket.

Second best, although not always available, are buddy passes. If you know of anyone or anyone's parents who work for an airline, there is a good chance that they get tickets for a heavy discount - I'm talking heavy like a Krispy Kreme burger. Just schmooze them up and perhaps they'll slip into your possession.

If, however, you are like most of us and neither of these opportunities are available, then you're going to have to cough up some (or lots of) change. ProBargainHunter has created an extensive list of sites which compare airfares from most major companies, and I can't do much better, so I'll refer you there. However, I will add that, I found Kayak and ITA to have the most accurate and up-to-date search results. I also liked FareCompare the best out of the services that notify you when prices drop.

If you are following the open road, then there is a pretty easy, albeit unconventional way to do it for free (and if you're over 23). You can fill in a form at Auto Driveway and see the list of cars that are available from wherever you are leaving. Your destination may not be exactly where you want to go, but there's no point in a roadtrip if you don't take some random detours, right? They generally pay for most if not all of your gas, and you get to take a certain amount of time to complete your trip, so although it's not extremely leisurely, it's not that grueling either. Beggars can't be choosers, right?

Even more unconventional would be hopping on a train - no, not an Amtrak, but more like hobo style. I've wanted to do this, but I still need to do some more research, and I'll post if I ever get around to trying it out.

Coming up next: lodging

Update: I forgot to mention these two, but they have been making some headlines recently. Yapta (Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant) allows you to track airline ticket prices. What's more you can download a program, and if you buy a ticket, you can tag the itinerary. If the price of that ticket becomes lower, it will let you know, so you can call the airline and get refunded the difference.

Another new concept comes via Skybus. This carrier flies out of Columbus, OH, and they began offering $10 seats. They are a bare minimum carrier, meaning you basically get a seat, and if you want extra amenities, you have to pay for them, but for the budget traveler, this can be a great deal. Another way they keep their costs low is by going to smaller airports close to the major cities instead of the major airports themselves. I think the verdict is still out on them, but these two are both exciting opportunities to travel cheaply.



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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oh, the places you'll go

This is part one of a series of articles about free or cheap travel. I'll try to complete this in the next couple of days, so keep coming back for more!

The time has come upon us. Summer time that is. The time for scantily clad babes in bikinis (or less) sitting on the beaches of Bimini or the backpacking trip across Europe or the All-American cross country road trip. These have become a rite of passage of sorts for students of our generation - at least those of us willing to sacrifice an opportunity to make money in order to take advantage of the long summers only students get to enjoy.

Despite the fact that you're probably going to have to spend money (unless you luck out and manage to find a job where you go), there are many ways in which this can be accomplished in the stingy student manner.

But before we get started, first thing is first. Where are you going to go? There are many good resources, but my favorite guidebook is the Lonely Planet series. They have a free online forum called the Thorn Tree where travelers can post updates on certain locations, discuss topics, and even plan to meet up with fellow travelers. I wouldn't recommend buying a book until you decide where to go. Just go to your friendly neighborhood bookstore and peruse the pages for free! Another good resource that a well-traveled friend of mine recommends is BootnAll. It's kind of your one-stop shop - you can book plane tickets, tours, hostels, and there's a wealth of other information.

So, now you've decided. Or perhaps you can't decide. Contrary to popular belief, the earth does not end at the edge of some infinite abyss, but you can go around the whole thing. In fact, a friend of mine is doing just that - the round the world trip. A number of companies offer the round the world ticket, and if you google it, you get a number of results.

While the ticket price overall is a good deal, for someone as cheap as myself, I find the cost to be prohibitively expensive (over $2000). If you're interested, however, Wikitravel and Bootsnall may be good places to start.

If, on the other hand, you just wish they all could be California girls, then perhaps a cross country road trip is right down your alley. Hop in a van with a few friends who you probably won't hate by the end of the trip, pack up some tents, coolers, and non-perishable food items and head whichever direction the roads may take you.

My personal favorite, kind of a compromise between the two is Central or South America. You can sleep, travel, and eat at a fraction of the cost it would require to travel in Europe and even the US. There are many good deals on airfare going to these countries. And you can even increase your employment prospects once you leave school by learning Spanish while you are there!

Up next: airfare and traveling



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Carnival and Festival Time

Yours truly (as in me) is taking part in this week's editions of the Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted by Money $mart Life and the Festival of Frugality hosted by Blogging Away Debt. Check out the other great articles!
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Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Sunday Paper #7

This will be the last edition of the Sunday Paper for a while because I'll be taking a couple months long hiatus starting next weekend. I'll try and write a few more posts before I leave, particularly concerning summer travels and travails, so check back later this week. Without further ado, this week's Sunday Paper

Single Ma's Fabulous Financials discusses the difficulties faced when the Governor of Oregon spent a week eating on $3 a day, which is equivalent to the amount a typical food stamp recipient receives. I would have to agree with her assessment that people can eat pretty darn well off of food stamps. It's funny because one of my friends is on food stamps from Oregon, and he too would agree that it supplies him pretty well, despite the fact that he only weighs about 120-130 (but he has a high metabolism). Ridiculous that some people can get a show based on spending only $40 a day. has a list of free or cheap summer movies for kids. I'm still a kid at heart.

Binary Dollar sells his body for money. I on the other hand, will work for even less, free food keeps me happy enough.

Mighty Bargain Hunter asks how much gas prices will have to increase for consumers to change their habits (excluding picking your nose and biting your nails, preferably not in that order). Sadly, rising gas prices takes a greater toll on the poorer segments of society, so they're going to be the ones who won't be able to afford to drive to work, etc.

Boston Gal's Open Wallet presents a story of people printing their own currency in western Massachusetts. That's a really cool idea, and given that we aren't on the gold standard no mo', it strikes me as a little more secure than the paper the rest of us carry around, pretending they have real value.

Frugal For Life showcases a pretty novel product that gives her free AC! I've also heard that those big house fans (I don't know what you call them) in older homes do the same thing, but I'm not quite sure how they work. If anyone is less lazy than me and would like to wiki it, post a reply here.

Get Rich Slowly explains how to care for your credit score. I just had to include this one because one of my friends called me about a week ago asking if he should cancel his credit card because he doesn't use it anymore. The answer? Hell no! Read GRS's entry to see why.

That's it for now. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!


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Monday, May 21, 2007

Throwing Away Money

Who throws away money? And I don't mean in the figurative sense such as "flushing money down the drain" or "burning a hole in your wallet," I mean literally.

I had the opportunity to head back to the Atlanta area a few days ago, and I was lucky enough to be there during one of my favorite times of year - move out time. My friend and I dutifully went dumpster diving to see what we could drag in, and part of my haul was a container filled with change. I just counted it to see, and it is well over $10 in change. Perhaps that's "chump change" to some people, but for me, that's a couple of meals, no small matter for a student living on loans.

When did change become so useless that people just throw it away? Is it that hard to go to the grocery store and get it changed by the Coinstar machine? Then again, perhaps I'm the weird one. I pick up any loose change I see on the ground. I also hate seeing things thrown away - right now, I'm even wearing a pair of boxers with a hole in the perineal region because they're so old. You can see why I become so flustered by the fact that change actually gets thrown away.

What are your views? Do you stoop and pick up the penny or do you not mind when you drop some change here and there?


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Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Sunday Paper #6

Welcome back! The Sunday Paper is back, at least for the short time when I'm not in school and have time to scour other blogs for interesting articles.

Personal Finance Advice explains why poor people have less debt in higher cost of living areas. Quite an interesting phenomenon since it is counterintuitive, but it makes sense to me personally. Last year when I was working and making some money, I wouldn't hesitate to spend money on going out or even treating friends to dinner, but now that I'm living on money owed to Citibank, I've had to cut back on my drug habit.

My Two Dollars finds the best places to find free wireless internet access. I have a funny story about this one. Last year, we didn't have wireless at the house I lived in, but I lived across the street from the music building of my school. Since the doors would be locked at night, I would have to go over and sit outside in the grass with my laptop plugged into the side of the building because my battery was on its last legs. Ghetto fabulous, no?

StopBuyingCrap examines the idea of receiving free services from professional friends - no, not that kind of professional.

Free Money Finance points us to an article showing how intelligence may be linked to income but not wealth. So even if you're stupid, as long as you're frugal, I guess you're fine and well. But what if I'm dumb as a rock and like to go on shopping sprees?

The Sun's Financial Diary shows a complex mathematical proof of why girls are evil. No argument there.

Everybody Loves Your Money found a group who scams the Nigerian email scammers. I guess the old adage is true: what goes around comes around.

An English Major's Money introduces an article in the NYT about outfitting your kitchen for $300. The kitchen is my playpen, so I can relate, but I've found many good deals in thrift stores as well.

Get Rich Slowly examines the costs and savings of installing a rain barrel for your lawn/garden. I'd love to have one since they look so cool, but another thing I do is, when I wash my fruits and veggies, I do it over a pot to collect that water, and I'll water my plants with that.

That's it for now, happy reading, and another edition should be up next Sunday and perhaps even the Sunday after.


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Summertime and the living is easy

Now that I'm on summer vacation, I'll try and update more, at least until I leave for a couple of months for some traveling. The reason I haven't updated this blog much since the flurry of postings during the beginning of this year is that after reading a couple of books like Ishmael and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I've been much more critical of the way I spend my money. What I've gotten from both books is a further heightening of my conviction that the way we in America and other industrialized nations spend, consume, and discard, is not sustainable and comes at the expense and even exploitation of others.

Before, money excited me, the prospects of earning, saving, and accumulating money excited me, and perhaps that was because of the books I was reading, such as . Nowadays, I see money more as a means to an end, a necessary evil, rather than something that inspires me. Without inspiration, you can see why I've lacked the necessary motivation to update this blog in a consistent manner.

However, lucky for you - or perhaps unlucky if you find my prose to be pedantic - I think I've found a way to balance my anti-consumerism with frugality. In fact, in many cases, the two even go hand in hand. From henceforth, I will cut out the crap, both figuratively and literally, and only present examples of ways to not spend money. "But that's the same thing as saving money!" you say. Not quite. Saving money generally implies not spending as much as you normally have to spend on a product while not spending money is just that - either not even buying a product or figuring out a way to get it for free.

Without further adieus, I'll begin today.
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Friday, May 04, 2007

Got my mind on my pounds and my pounds on my mind

One thing I and many other fellow bloggers sometimes forget is that there is actually a fairly large international audience that follows blogs. Those of us in the States are used to thinking in our Americentric ways, but in reality, most people live in other financial systems which are governed by different regulations. While the rules for being frugal don't change in any system, how you allocate your savings or spend your money do.

That is why I was surprised when I was approached by Peter, who runs The Thrifty Scot. His site contains a collection of articles and a plethora of links to various offers, including credit cards, loans, mortgages, insurance, and banking, all for those who live across the pond in the UK. My surprise stems from the fact that this may be the first well organized site I've seen from another country, because I would expect more to be out there. I recall coming across a Canadian one, and the only other one I can think of off the top of my head is Personal Finance Advice, whose writer is an ex-pat living in Japan.

I am disclosing here that I am receiving a payment for the banner on the site, and although I've expressed my dislike of advertisements in the past, I am endorsing this one because I feel that it fits my criteria of being a valuable resource of information, and I had the choice of whether or not to have it on my site. So, if you're ever in need of finance in the UK, be sure to check out The Thrifty Scot.

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