I have never been a hard-line budget person. I always know what’s in my bank account (and what’s not) and I have a sense of how much things should cost and what is reasonable, so I just try to stick to what seems like a sensible amount to be spending. But ‘sensible’ is nebulous, and given my goals of a travel-based future in combination with my current credit card debt, I figured I should probably make more of an effort to track my spending, particularly while traveling. Being a little more hardcore about it will not only give me a very clear idea of where my money goes, but also of what I end up spending on that I might have avoided had I been better prepared.
There are a handful of travel budget apps out there. I chose to try Trail Wallet after I saw recommendations on a fair few of my usual travel blog haunts. I had also recently started reading the blog of the team from whence it came (Erin and Simon’s Never Ending Voyage) which I think is great. And I love that they built an app for fellow travelers as a source of income for their own life of travel. RESPECT.
Trail Wallet’s got a clean interface, and it’s intuitive to the point where I found my way around in about 30 seconds. This was particularly good as I’d forgotten to download it ahead of my trip and ended up hastily sorting it out around midnight after getting to Helsinki. I was tired. It was still easy.
The overview screen is very clear and it’s useful to be able to switch between currencies with a simple tap. I think the ability to see my totals in multiple currencies so often also helps me get a sense of the exchange rates much faster, which is the thing that teaches my brain what are good and bad prices locally without having to calculate back to pounds in my head all the time.
It’s also very fast and simple to add new entries, and you can go in later and add more detail to the notes if you want to. The categories are customisable, including the colours used to code them (attention to detail. NICE TOUCH). You can then look at your spending breakdown by category (nifty pie chart included) or by day. The by day breakdown is where you can get back into individual entries. The only thing I really wish you could also do is get into the same kind of list via the category breakdown. They do say there will be a big update soon so I’m hoping this will be included.
The other thing I wanted to mention was the budget comments on the overview screen. I didn’t actually set a trip budget for Finland because I just… didn’t. The app displays congratulatory or cautionary comments depending on how far over or under your budget you are. I was spending quite a lot of money but I had no limit set, so when I kept getting things like ‘Hope it was worth it…’ and ‘Over budget. No cookie for you.’ I was laughing, but I was also like, JUDGEY APP IS JUDGING ME. I like the comments, because I like when tech has it’s own personality, but I did find myself being all ‘Shut up, app, I’m not over budget because there is no budget, GEEEEEEZ’. However, maybe pointing out that I was spending a lot was no bad thing. You gotta stay in check in a variety of ways. I guess I just want to know what the default daily budget line is that makes it start telling me to watch my wallet.
This brings me to the way I feel about travel budgeting in general. While I don’t usually properly track things, I am hyperaware of how much money I’m spending all the time. In face, I often over-estimate what I’m spending on a daily basis and then exist in a near constant state of freakout about it. This really can’t be healthy and I wish I could cool it a little. I mean, of course it’s good to control your outgoings and of COURSE it’s good to be aware of your own financials, but life is about living. Sometimes I wish I could forget the money for two seconds and just realise that what I’m spending it on is likely worthwhile, as I decided to spend it on that in the first place and I have good judgement when it comes to my own enjoyment.
Yes, you gotta pay for everything, but I also believe that money is easier to make than memories (think I heard that first on Yes and Yes) and if you don’t go ride a rebellious elephant early in the morning after a big night out in Zambia just because of what it costs, you are probably gonna regret that. I know I would have. $80 is a day or two’s worth of smacking computer keys for me, end even if I had to do a bit more of that to make up for it, riding an elephant is worth so much more to me than the cash I paid for it.
I wish I would have had this app for Africa, because frightening as the final figure probably would be, I really would like to see how much I spent in total on that trip. You can’t put a price on happiness, but sometimes you can see how much getting there costs.
In any case, I am a fan of the Trail Wallet app and I’m looking forward to see what surprises the next big update holds. I think an app built by people who are living the lifestyle of the audience it’s aimed at can only be a good thing. And they seem to take constructive feedback from that audience, so I have a lot of confidence that the work going into improving it is well-aimed.
I have also just now decided that I’m going to use it to track my usual spending for September, and I AM going to set a budget based on what I should be sticking to to help reach my financial goals. I’ve got no travel planned in September so it should hopefully be a good control experiment. I’ll check in with the results at the end of the month.