The final damage… nearly 4 months salary of the average Lisboan. Here’s what I’m doing to fix that.
Well… that escalated quickly. As all know, I quit my job and I’m assuming its obvious that I am now living off of savings. The current plan is to live off of ~$3k/month to maximize the amount of time I have to travel and, even more so, to work on my start-up idea. Incredibly I’ve never actually built a budget, but looking back I’m not sure why I magically thought my vague plan would balance itself out. As best I can calculate, I spent roughly $3,671.42 for the 28 days I was Lisbon, putting me nearly $700 over budget in my first month of exploration. With the average salary in Lisbon being ~$990 (860 euros), my monthly expenditure came out to nearly four months of local salary. Here’s how I spent it, the mistakes I made, and how I’m going to address them going forward.
As this is my first “expense report,” I’m still trying to decide the best way to present this information to make it as useful, helpful, and engaging as possible. Bear with me the first couple rounds.
First Up: Overall Spending Buckets
I’m still testing out what will work best for me over time here. I want to be able to allocate my expenses quickly, understand broadly where my spending is going, and in a way that allows me to make big changes (aka cuts) as quickly as possible. As of now, this is how I’m going to break them out: Flight, Lodging, Food, Uber/Taxi, Entertainment, Other, Total Estimated Cash. Some of these are easy to determine, while some of them are broad guesses. Given my finance background, I’m about to overanalyze the shit out of this. So hold on tight, this is going to be wildly exciting.
- Flight ($506 – $18/day). $506 was just for my flight from Athens to Lisbon (not NYC to Athens). I booked this flight super last minute, assuming I would be able to get a cheap Ryanair/Vueling flight whenever I wanted – NOPE! I also booked two separate flights to maximize my layover in Zurich, incurring two separate baggage fees ($100 in total). Stupid – and Zurich isn’t even that special. Overall, I could probably have saved about $50 bucks in baggage fees and probably another $150-200 for the flight if I booked more in advance.
- Lodging ($723 – $26/day). Not much to say here. For a short-term stay, $26/night is a great price. That said, a furnished, shared apartment in Lisbon is probably closer to $350-450/month. While I looked at that option to save some money, it is hard to find a one month lease (3-6 month is common), I didn’t want to try to find roommates over the internet, and I’d rather have a trusted, central intermediary (Airbnb) in case anything went wrong.
- Total Entertainment ($654 – $23/day)
- Additional Lagos/Porto Trips ($425 – $15/day). I took 2 separate trips, totaling 5 nights, which required train transportation and booking additional nights at local hostels. While those expenses by themselves are reasonable, it came to me being double-booked for 5 nights of lodging. Since I booked my Lisbon hostel for a month in advance, I was not able to cancel or adjust my booking, meaning these trips cost me an extra ~$125 just in lodging. In addition, I split a car rental in Lagos ($116 for my portion) which looking back definitely wasn’t necessary, especially based on the implied daily rate.
- Airbnb Experiences ($165 – $6/day). I booked three Airbnb experiences – 2 surfing lessons and 1 cooking class. I enjoyed all three, but I heard people getting cheaper surfing lessons and looking back the cooking class probably wasn’t good enough to justify $78.
- Other ($64 – $2/day). Includes a wine & cheese night with friends and a 40 euro Benfica ticket. Both great purchases.
- Uber/Taxi ($132 – $5/day). This bucket could definitely be lower. I would say about half of this expense bucket was being lazy and leaving too late for dinner with friends and early morning trains. The other half is probably going to and from the bars – a fairly reasonable expense given public transportation shut down after a certain time. I bet I could have saved $50-70 overall here. Have definitely cut this down significantly already.
- Food + Cash ($1,583 – $57/day). I’m bucketing these two together because I think they broadly represent what I spent in total on food and drinking. With free breakfast at the hostel, and lunches available nearly everywhere for <$10, this basically comes down to me eating too many expensive dinners… and going to Bairro Alto a little too often. Overall, it is ridiculous and will definitely cut this down significantly just by cooking more meals at home, planning when I go to more expensive restaurants, and tracking the spending better with my credit card (more below)
- Food ($661 – $24/day). Includes just what I can pinpoint as food on my credit card bill. Food is fairly cheap in Lisbon, but it is still pretty easy to rack up a fairly large bill even if you’re eating alone. I think some of my expensive meals were worth it, while some were simply mediocre. Honestly, sometimes I was just bored so I kept eating & drinking.
- Total Cash ($922 – $33/day). Alright so here is this massive vague bucket which is partially a wild estimate. It includes cash ATM withdrawals ($699), ATM fees (more below), and my estimate of what was put on my credit card and my friends reimbursed me in cash. I didn’t keep track of my receipts so this is largely based on ATM withdrawal dates and assumes I spent all the cash my friends gave me (which I think is mostly true). I’m assuming most of this was spent on food and alcohol… simply because I can’t remember spending my money on anything else. Maybe some public transport, but that would be a relatively small amount.
- ATM Fees ($36). This is crazy. I was using more cash in a hope I would spend less. Not only did that not happen, but I got charged ridiculous fees to pull out my cash. My credit card doesn’t charge FX fees so will be using that more going forward (also allows me to track my expenses better). Hopefully, I can keep that to <$10 this month.
- Other ($73 – $3). Who knows? This basically includes anything on my credit card bill I couldn’t translate, along with some local public transportation and grocery bills.
Moving Forward: Changes I’m going to make
Thinking about my incremental spending in Barcelona vs. Lisbon, I will not only have to cut $700 to get to even for the month, but also another $700 so I end up even for the trip! While this might be tough to accomplish in Barcelona alone, I’m also heading to Croatia next which is very cheap and should help with making up on the daily budget. I also need to consider I will be in Barcelona for 33 days vs. only 28 days in Lisbon. Here are some broad ways I’m planning to save some money.
- Cheaper flight ($365 savings). My flight to Barcelona was only $140, saving me $365 right away.
- No overnight trips ($300). Assumes no double-booking of lodging nights and no rental car, but leaves the train tickets in.
- Other entertainment cuts ($50). Assumes I still do a couple day trips and Airbnb experiences, but overall save a little more money.
- Fewer Taxis ($80). Assumes 5, $10 taxis during my time in Barcelona.
- Lower ATM fees ($20).
- Lower Food/Drink expense ($640). After spending $57/day on this category, this should be incredibly easy to reduce by half. I’m going to assume I conservatively cut by $20/day or $640 (accounts for staying in Barcelona for longer).
These broad rules and groups should help me get back to even. Will definitely be keeping better track of expenses and in general making sure I spend my money on what will really make me happy.
Orientation: Today is day 14 in Barcelona – I can’t believe how fast this is going actually. I’ve recently been more focused on improving this site and have actually been able to make initial contact with a few people interested in my start-up project (see below if interested)! On the business side, I spent a bunch of time analyzing the page views and behavior flow of website visitors, as well as setting up proper analytics (Google Tag Manager/Facebook Pixel). It feels good to sit down and focus, but I also feel like I’m not exploring the city as much as I should be – will be working to fix that balance before I leave!
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