Tag Archives: israel

Exchange Rate, and How Traveling Years Ago Would Have Saved Me Dough

One of my readers left a comment asking about traveling with the current exchange rate in Israel.

The exchange rate in Israel is about 3.2 shekels per dollar. It is always hard to figure out what the exact exchange is in terms of what commodities you get per your penny since the cost of living is often higher outside of the US. I found a small Iced Tea which would run $1.25 or so in the US would be sold for $2.50 to $3 in Israel. Certain products like suntan lotion were extremely expensive, about $25 per bottle that would cost $10-$12 in the states.

I had some cash on me at the beginning of the trip, but I charged most of my purchases. The credit card exchange rate was about 2.9 shekels per the dollar. I probably should have spent some time before the trip figuring out the conversion rates and costs, but I really wanted to just let the trip happen without much planning. In the long run, I may be a few hundred dollars short because of my desire to avoid planning.

Traveling is tough right now with the dollar being so weak. One of the reasons I didn’t end up traveling outside of Israel after my organized trip was because of the dollar suckage. I wanted to take a ferry to Greece, spend a few days there, then maybe go on to Italy – but it would have been impossible without putting myself into bankruptcy.

In any case, I’m hopeful that by next time I can make a trip out of the states, the dollar will have recovered. Looking at the gas prices around here — at $4.67 and up, I’m not sure that will ever happen.

Back from Israel, How’d the Bank Account Fare?

In short, I spent too much money in Israel, but I might be able to balance the books due to a variety of upcoming life changes that will involve spending less money and taking in, hopefully, the same amount of income (as long as my company still wants me to work there!)

As I wrote previously, the trip to Israel was, in itself, free. The flight was free and for the first two weeks, the housing and most of the food was free. So spending on other things seemed to make more sense… I mean, when is the next time I’ll be back in Israel?

My big purchase – my Canon DSLR Xsi – was the best purchase I’ve made in my life. I took over 4000 pictures and they’re my favorite souvenirs from the trip. Meanwhile, on the trip I bought extra food, some clothes, jewelery, gifts, etc. It all added up. To quite a bit of money.

But… even in the last week of the trip, I barely spent any money on room and board. I stayed with family most of the time and while I didn’t expect them to feed me, they did… they fed me a lot. And I got them gifts for their kindness, but having to pay for my own food and housing would have cost a lot more. I stayed in hostels for only two nights of the trip, and i didn’t have to, but I wanted to have that freedom. So each night in the hostel cost me about $20-$30. Otherwise, I had all free housing. It was a good deal. And my family was awesome and so nice to me. Even family I never knew I had. All second cousins and such, but they took me in like I was their own daughter. It was awesome.

I know, at the moment, my spending far surpasses my normal budget. And I only worked one week out of this past month, so I haven’t been taking in any money either. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that in a week I move into my friend’s house for, probably, a month, while trying to find a new place to live. I’ll offer to pay her something for my time there, but it will not be anywhere near the price of my current rent (of $1050 a month). And I’ll be starting back to work again on Monday, so I’ll be taking in money and spending very little for housing. When I do find a new place to live, I’m trying to find something that’s even less than what I’m paying now. It might not be an ideal living situation, but it’s not like my current place is perfect. The studio thing was awesome – I love, love, love living alone… but other than that, it was just a waste of money. Utilities were included, which was good, but I still had to pay my internet and cable bill all on my own. Living with even one other person and splitting that bill will lower my costs a lot.

So I’m pretty much looking for a shared living situation, at $600-$1000 a month. My rational side keeps telling me to get a tiny cheapo room with or without access to cooking and to just save my money. I’ve been thinking how much I want to get my teeth fixed, and how if I live super cheaply for a year and save I can afford to fix my teeth in about a year. That alone makes living in a tiny room worth it. Besides, even though I work from home a lot now, there’s no reason I can’t make a habit of going into the office more often. I want to do that anyway, and if they keep liking me, eventually take on a full time position with my current company (fingers crossed.)

It was kind of weird being away for a month and not focusing on money as much as I normally do. I haven’t been obsessively tracking my stocks, or checking to see if anyone of my borrowers defaulted on their Prosper loans. It’s been kind of nice. As soon as I get all the bills paid off and my old paychecks cashed, I’m going to tally up just how much I spent in Israel and how much I have to make back. I’m a little scared, but not too scared, as I know I can make it back within a few months if I’m smart about it.

Just remind me to be smart about it. 🙂

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.