Part 1: Four Ways Business Travel Dug Me Deeper Into Debt
“You’re so lucky you travel for work.”
“You have the best job ever.”
“I want your job.”
I’ve been hearing those comments ever since I took my first job requiring business travel. That was in 1998. Sure, I admit traveling for work is pretty groovy. I’ve been introduced to destinations I probably would never have visited on my own such as London; Dunfermline, Scotland; and Gothenburg, Sweden.
I’ve dined in fabulous restaurants on the company’s dime with the most memorable being dinner at London’s Oxo Tower Restaurant where the real Bridget Jones, Renee Zellweger, was dining with friends. And, I’ve snuggled in amazing beds with soft and comforting feather duvets. (Hello, Starwood!) Unfortunately, business travel has a price and it’s dug me deeper into debt.
Just returning from a business trip and getting ready for another has finally prompted me to put my thoughts together and write this post with hopes others will learn from my missteps. Since there were quite a few ways biz travel dug me deeper into debt, I’ve split this into two posts.
How Bad Was My Credit Card Debt?
Okay, I’m sure you’re wondering how can business travel dig you into debt. Logically, traveling for work means someone else has been picking up the tab. Nope, not necessarily.
Before I share some of the ways business travel dug me deeper into debut, let me preface this in saying the $40,000 in credit card debt I accumulated was not solely because of business travel but it certainly contributed to it. My former husband and I lived above our means and relied on credit cards to satisfy our impulses. I also know “essentials” were charged, such as a $4,000 bill for an MRI I needed that my medical insurance company at the time didn’t pay.
No, I know longer have $40,000 in credit card debt but still have a good chunk to pay down. The majority was paid off in 2008 following the unexpected death of my former husband. Whether intentional or not, he left me as his 401(k) beneficiary and he borrowed against it. There was a little money left to pay down my debt and begin my life over, so to say.
Why didn’t I hang onto to it until I reached retirement age? Because his death made me realize life is too short (he was 43) and I was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Four Ways Business Travel Dug Me Deeper Into Debt
Anyway, let’s stay focused on the topic of this post. Here is the first set of four ways business travel dug me deeper into debt:
#1. Didn’t Send the Reimbursement Check to the Credit Card Company
I quickly learned in order to travel for business, one needs to have decent credit. This is because of upfront travel expenses as conference registration, airfare, hotel reservations, ground transportation and meals. There were months when I had up to $12,000 in businesses travel expenses charged to one card. The logical thing to do is to either have the employer pay for expenses in advance or have the finance department send payment directly to the credit card company.
But, we know this doesn’t typically happen. Being handed a $4,500 expense check is tempting to spend on something else with the reasoning of paying business travel expenses with the next paycheck. Yeah, I admit to doing this and guess what? It doesn’t work.
I also had an incident of mailing a $2,800 payment to American Express (AMEX) and my then husband saw a huge credit in our account. He did what any logical person would, use the credit to pay down another credit card. About two weeks later, the check was returned to me by the United States Postal Service in a plastic bag. The check never made it to AMEX and the envelop had been destroyed. At the same time, AMEX shut my card down while in Europe for lack of payment. I had to somehow find the funds to pay off the expenses to have my card reactivated. Thankfully, I had a Visa card to charge expenses during the trip.
1. I try to have my employer pay for as much travel in advance, such as airfare and hotel. I also ask for a cash advance. I have to admit, I miss those reward points but in the end, I know it’s something I need to do.
2. As soon as I receive my expense check, I deposit it then send payment to my credit card company.
3. I don’t use mail to pay my bills (Sorry USPS, you even lost the stamps I ordered and paid for online!) I don’t use auto-pay but manually pay my bills to prevent them from being lost in the mail.
4. Although married, my then husband and I lived about 5 hours away. Sharing one checking account was difficult so after the AMEX incident, I opened my own checking account.
#2. Didn’t Know My Organization’s Expense Policy
Working for a government agency has been eye-opening. There’s a statute or something that says “free rides” are not reimbursable. This means I cannot be reimbursed for mileage if someone drives me to the airport in my car. Mind you, to get to the airport for a business trip, my fuel and wear and tear on my car was used and I’m not parking at the airport. Let’s say the round-trip cost is $50.
Rather, if I drive myself to the airport and park for say, 5 days, I would be reimbursed. The cost would be $50 for round-trip mileage plus $50 for 5 days of parking making the total $100.
Did ya get that? The agency would rather reimburse $100 vs. $50.
Or, there have been situations when I’m entertaining a client who happens to bring a guest as a significant other or family member. My organization will not reimburse me for the guest(s) and I’ve eaten the costs of cocktails and entrees. Why did I do it? Because I didn’t want the client to feel uncomfortable, especially since my competitors are able to pick up tabs.
1. Believe me, I check my organization’s policy these days if I’m in doubt before making a purchase.
2. Well, I still pick up the tab of guests but have been better in emphasizing my organization’s policy. I swallow my pride and just come out and apologize for not being able to pick up the bill.
#3. Didn’t Eat Smart
Although I never raided a hotel mini-bar (that I can remember), there were many times I wasted money on room service. Some of the organizations I worked for reimbursed for the actual meal amounts while others had a per diem. Think you can order room service for less than $8? Um, no.
Buying water throughout the day or other snacks are not reimbursable and not covered in the per diem.
1. I avoid room service altogether. Period.
2. I try to stay at hotels offering complimentary breakfast and enjoy a hearty meal. I don’t receive the breakfast per diem and I’m okay with that. I also try to eat as inexpensively for lunch and dinner but treat myself to at least one nice meal during the trip.
3. I bring a water bottle from home along with healthy snacks or pick up snacks at a grocery store (nuts, fruit, carrots). I fill up my water bottle each morning (there’s nothing wrong with tap water!) and replenish when possible throughout the day.
#4. Too Generous a Tipper
Speaking of room service, I never really knew if I should add gratuity or not. I know a service charge is added but never understood how much is given to the server. I admit to giving the room service person an additional gratuity and not requesting reimbursement. I also leave a tip for housekeeping, tip the valet (when I have no other option than using valet), and a hotel concierge. I tip about 20 percent on dining tabs and maybe a little more if service was exceptional.
Unfortunately, most of these tips are not reimbursable which I find ironic since I work in the tourism industry and we expect visitors to do this.
Well, not sure if I have a solution for this. I feel excellent service should be rewarded and I should support those in my industry.
Part 2: Five Ways Business Travel Dug Me Deeper Into Debt
Has anyone else had these experiences? If so, how did you handle them? If you travel for business, do you find you’ve dug yourself deeper into debt?