Category Archives: Travel

Leaving (your money in) Las Vegas

I learn the most about personal finance when spending time with families. Single folks usually can hide their personal finance problems, but families tend to talk about them more openly — even if it’s just to argue about how to spend money for the day. It’s valuable to listen to people in their 30s and 40s to learn about PF issues before you encounter them.

This weekend, I got a schooling in how gambling — and more importantly, financial honesty — effects a marriage. My aunt and uncle are both fairly well off, yet own an expensive home and live in a very pricey area with two kids, so for them — even making approx $400k a year, every cent counts.

Both of them look at bills after meals and with a gasp exclaim that the meal was pricey. They offer to pay for my meals, on occasion, but you can tell in the way they offer they really want me to pick up my portion of the tab (which is fine, I just wish they’d come out and say it.)

However, the most uncomfortable part of my weekend with my aunt and uncle in Vegas was when my aunt inquired about my uncle’s gambling. Now, he wasn’t high rolling or anything… he just played a few hundred bucks in video poker. But he didn’t seem to want to tell my aunt. What made the situation worse was that he would gamble a twenty here and a ten there in front of his children, then get upset at them when they brought this up in front of their mother.

If you’re in Vegas there’s nothing wrong with gambling a little bit, but you have to set limits and more importantly, if you’re married, you have to be open with your partner about how much you’re going to spend. I don’t understand how the same couple constantly worried about every penny can function with gambling involved.

All in all, my trip to Las Vegas was depressing, especially from a personal finance point of view. Watching all of these people… rich, poor, tourists, locals, everyone – just giving away their money in hopes to win big, is almost too surreal to believe. My grandmother, for instance, plays video poker non stop. She puts in $100 and goes through it in about five minutes, only to go to the atm, pay another $5 fee, take out $100 more and go through that. She says she comes out ahead but I can’t really believe her. She does have a strategy which seems to help her “hit” on occasion, but I can’t imagine anyone who is a gambling addict could actually come out ahead always. Granted, she’s alone and her boyfriend of five years recently passed away, and she has nothing except the video poker machine to keep her company. She doesn’t travel, she doesn’t go out to fancy restaurants or shows, she just gambles. That’s her life. That’s a lot of people’s lives in Las Vegas and in the state of Nevada. It’s a sad, sad place.

At least when you are visiting the state there is a beginning and end to your gambling, but when you live there, it easily turns into an addiction. I spent about $50 on video poker, more to bond with my Grandma (who constantly screamed in my ear that i’m doing it all wrong and that I shouldn’t gamble but instead play the game the way it wants to be played) than to get rich quick (though of course in the back of my mind I was still hoping…)

I don’t understand Vegas. It would make more sense in the old school sense with cheap buffets and entertainment, all to get people to come and spend their money on roulette. But these days everything there is just so expensive. The shows, the rides, the hotels, the spas, the food… who has money left over to gamble after paying for your vacation?

If anything good comes out of my grandmother’s gambling addiction, it’s her thousands of “comps” which basically provide free room and board for her visitors a few times a year. I didn’t feel so bad wasting $50 on video poker when my entire stay was otherwise free. I can’t imagine ever going to Vegas and actually paying just to be there. It might be fun to go with a group of friends and party the night away — if you’re super rich — but otherwise, how is what happens in Vegas ever worth the price?

My "Free" Trip is Costing Me a Fortune

I’m going to Israel for free in a month. That’s all fabulously frugal.

But my passport is costing me about $200, all-in-all, to get replaced.

I’m missing at least 2 weeks of work or about $2400 of income while I’m abroad.

Now I’m finally looking into the price of a flight from SFO to New Jersey. How much could it be?

Uh — $450 is how much it could be. Talk about inflation hitting home. A flight home used to cost $330 at most, and that was on the high end. A month ago, for about one day, the flights dropped to that price, and then they went up again. Should have booked then, but what-can-ya-do?

I have the money in savings to pay for all the associated costs that go along with this “free” trip and I know it’s a great opportunity, yada yada, but still, it’s painful to justify taking such a huge “free” trip that is costing me, including lost income during my vacation time, about $3000.

$3000 for a “free” structured vacation. That’s hard to chew on.

I was (and still am, sort of) considering staying on for another week… but to change my flight it will cost me another $150-$400. Then I’d also have to figure out how much it would cost to travel and stay there… more income lost… and then there’s the cost of hostels, transportation, and entertainment. Some of the people going on the trip are thinking of going to Greece or Turkey for a bit, and that would be awesome, but now I’m thinking it’s a bad idea.

Then again, I’m getting a free flight, and mostly free living expenses for two weeks in Israel. My rent will still be due back home (sigh) but at least I’m not paying for a hotel and such elsewhere during these two weeks. Plus, I’ll be spending some time in New Jersey before and after the trip, with my parents, who will hopefully feed me and such – so maybe my other costs for the month won’t be that huge.

BUT — my boyfriend was supposedly going to meet me in Jersey after I got back for a small vacation of his own. We’d stay at my parent’s place, which would keep costs low, but if we want to do anything… like go see a Broadway show, etc, those costs are going to add up too.

All the sudden, I feel like this entire experience that sounded so great from afar is going to cost me $5000.

I have the money… I have $5000 in a liquid CD. Is it worth spending it all in June in hopes (and with the expectation) that my income is going up and I’ll be able to earn that money back? How often do I get a free trip to Israel? I’m so glad I traveled around Europe for a few weeks in college and I’ve been dying to go back.

Oh… and then there’s that $1300+ camera I promised myself if I ever went back to Europe.

oh, god.

Going to Israel – For Free!

One of the benefits that comes along with being born Jewish (besides being, uh, one of The Chosen People) is a free trip to Israel.

The program, called Birthright Israel, provides free trips to Israel for Jewish youth under the age of 26. They send a lot of us kids to Israel each year… trying to get us to feel connected to our past and perhaps carry on the religion for a few more years of history.

I’m not a Zionist by any means – I’m pretty much agnostic on the issue of Israel (and religion in general).

So the trip actually is FREE. It requires a $250 deposit but as long as you go on the trip you get your money back. When the deposit was do my checking account was way low so my parents spotted me the deposit money but they’ll be getting it back.

However – small costs for the trip that’s free can and will quickly add up. I don’t exactly have all of the suggested packing items. I still have to pay for a roundtrip ticket from California to New York to get to the flight to Israel (though I’m going to make the trip a vacation home to New Jersey for a week or so as well as long as I can work from New Jersey for a week or two.) There are other costs as well… (not counting souvenirs and such) so my free trip costs…

$100 passport (I lost my old one. At a bar. Don’t ask.)
$350 round trip flight to New York
$30 water shoes “teva shoes” (from suggested packing list)
$60 sleeping bag (I’m going to try to get one used? Or borrow one?)

and then the big cost that I’ve promised myself (If I can be good and save for it…)
$600-$2000: A DSLR Camera – either Nikon or Canon.

For the past few years I told myself if I get on the Birthright Israel trip (or ever travel abroad again) I will be bringing a nice DSLR camera to take pictures. Last time I was in Europe I had a film SLR camera that broke a few weeks into the trip… but seemed to be working. So I wasted tons of film and lost dozens upon dozens of pictures. My digital camera that I brought was kind of crappy and while it took a few good shots, the quality was not that high.

I want to get more into digital photography anyway and I can’t think of a better excuse then to save up and splurge on a nice DSLR.

That’s coming last, though. First I need to pay my estimated quarterly taxes!!! But it’s a good excuse to try to work extra hard over the coming months.