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Business Travel and Your Finances

CB048735I just got back from a week-long business trip where I stayed at the most expensive hotel I’ve ever been to. The restaurants offered $15 soup, $18 hamburgers, $35+ entrees and $17 cocktails. Fortunately I don’t drink coffee, because if I did, I would have been forced to purchase it for $5/cup since the ritziest hotel ever doesn’t think it necessary to stock your room with a couple packets of coffee. That’s what $250+/night gets you!

Now all of this seems shocking, but I was there on business, so I’ll get reimbursed for all the money I spent. (In fact, I’ll even end up earning money in cash back rewards!) But there were two things that were utterly frightening to me. First, the majority of the people staying at this hotel were clearly there on vacation, meaning they were willingly doling out hundreds of dollars per night for their coffee-less hotel rooms, and piling obscene food costs on top of that. Second, I feared that after a week in fantasy land where it was just a given that your dinner would cost $60, I’d have a hard time readjusting to normal life.

My fianc√© wanted to take me out to dinner when I got back, so I told him not only do we have to go somewhere with cheap options, we absolutely cannot go anywhere with any expensive options, because in my current state, I may not be able to discern what’s a reasonable price for a meal. I needed to be shocked back into reality. Pizza it is!

After a couple delicious home-cooked meals this weekend and my brown bag lunch of tuna salad on a bagel today, I feel I have readjusted. Now my travel credit card balance will just look terrifying until I get reimbursed later this month.

I thought it would be fun to reflect on my week as an A-lister and think about how to make the most of business travel (and how to maintain perspective).

Manage Your Credit Card

If you’re the CEO or an upper level manager, you may have access to a business credit card, but more often than not, you’ll have to put business travel expenses on your personal card and get it reimbursed. This means you need to manage your credit card well. If you’re constantly pushing your credit card limit, you may not be able to handle the extra expenses. Once when I went to a conference with several others on my team, my coworker had to ask our boss if he could put his hotel room on the company card because he was too close to his limit.

Not maxing out your credit card is always good advice, but it becomes even more crucial when you have to shoulder business expenses. You never know when unexpected expenses will arise, and you need to be able to handle them. (Also, it can’t look good to admit to your boss that you max out your credit card.)

Reap the Benefits

If you manage your credit card well and have ample available credit, you’ll be able to take advantage of your credit card rewards. What could be better than spending $2,000, getting cash back or rewards points, and having the money reimbursed before your credit card due date? Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me! You’ll also be able to rack up airline bonus miles and hotel loyalty points.

Stay Healthy

One of the most challenging aspects of business travel is staying healthy. All of your meals are eaten at restaurants, available time for working out may be at a minimum, and it’s often hard to stay hydrated on the go. I recommend bringing some snacks with you, some basic workout tools, and a water bottle. Pack some nuts or granola bars so you can have a nutritious snack to keep you fueled. Bring a workout DVD and some resistance bands so you can work out in your hotel room. And always have a water bottle with you that you can keep filled.

Maintain Perspective

I’m not going to lie, I had a good time dining at restaurants I would never go to if I were the one paying. But there was a stark contrast between me and some of the other people I was dining with. I marveled at the prices on the menu, wondering how on earth they could justify charging so much. Some of my colleagues joined in with me, joking about the $15 cup of soup. Others did not seem to be phased by it in the slightest. Not only did they order an appetizer and entree, they also threw in a seafood tower, as if it were no big deal to add $60 to the bill for a few oysters and shrimp.

I don’t care if it’s considered tactless to talk openly about the obscenity of menu prices at some of these fancy restaurants, if you pretend it’s acceptable, you’ll convince yourself that it is. By all means, order the $35 chicken breast, but never get past the ridiculousness of that price.

Look Past The Facade

It would be easy to feel jealous of all the vacationers at the hotel, assuming they’re so rich they can throw money away on extravagances and enjoy a relaxing week by the pool without a care in the world. Some of them probably are that rich. But what are the chances that gaggle of girls in their 20′s hitting the hotel bar are all fabulously wealthy? Pretty slim. It’s much more likely they’re living in the moment, maxing out their credit cards and saving nothing for retirement so they can party now. Not so much to be jealous of, is there?

Talk to Your Boss

Your boss will need to approve your spending when you get back to the office, so make sure you’re on the same page. Many companies have a per diem allowance for meals, which is a great way to gauge how much you should be spending. But if your company doesn’t have a per diem allowance, or if your destination is too expensive to stay within the allowance, talk to your boss before you overspend. After all,¬†spending $2,000, getting cash back or rewards points, and having the money reimbursed before your credit card due date is great, but only getting $1,500 approved for reimbursement and having to cover the extra $500 yourself would be pretty awful.

Is All This Normal?

I’ll admit that my business travel is probably not representative of most business travel. There are plenty of sales reps on the road all the time who stay at Best Westerns and eat at roadside diners who don’t run into the same challenges. But I’m in marketing, so whenever I travel, it’s to a high-profile resort hotel for a conference – specially picked for it’s desirable location to attract attendees. And that means it’s disgustingly expensive and filled with vacationers who are happily hemorrhaging money from every orifice. When you find yourself in this type of situation, enjoy the frivolity, but remind yourself frequently of the ridiculousness of it all, so you will return home as level-headed and frugally minded as you were when you left.

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