By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
Back in 2015, my husband was a full-time student and I was the main source of income for our little family. Working in one of the lowest-paying areas of the country in a hospital with less-than-ideal staffing ratios meant I was working a ton of overtime and heading straight toward full-fledged burnout a little over a year into my nursing career.
Shortly after I hit the one year mark on my unit I began researching travel nursing. I quickly realized I could double my income easily by working contracts two to three hours from home, and negotiate with managers to have long stretches off to go home and be with my husband. From a financial standpoint, this was a no brainer, and I took the leap into travel nursing shortly after.
Thanks to travel nursing we were able to pay my husband’s last semester at a private university in cash, purchase a car without a loan, and pay off my undergraduate loans (still working on his grad school loans, but we’ll get there!). We accomplished most of this in about two and a half years, and during a lot of that time, we only had one income.
Travel nursing can be a powerful tool for making huge financial gains, but you do have to commit and plan ahead to truly maximize the benefits of travel pay.
1. Write out a budget for each assignment
Your expenses and payments will change with each new assignment and so should your budget! Take time to sit down at the beginning of your contract and write out the cost of everything and how your payments will be broken down. Even simple things like the cost of gas or groceries will fluctuate based on the area of the country you are living in, so be prepared to adjust accordingly.
2. Be flexible but conscientious with your budget
As mentioned before, it may take some trial and error to figure out what things will cost when you first get to a new location. For example, we had to drastically increase our grocery budget in Seattle because they didn’t have an Aldi (our go-to for cheap groceries) and all of the regular groceries ran more expensive. Plan to overspend the first week or two, and then dial in your numbers once you get the hang of what everything will cost.
3. Write out your financial goals
Are you aiming to pay down debt? Perhaps retire early? Save for a big trip? Regardless of your why for making a financial gain, focusing on a goal can help you stay on track with your budget. It is a lot easier to say no when temptations arise if you know the money you are saving is going towards something worthwhile. We even made a little whiteboard with columns for our debt paydown and savings accounts so we could track how much money was going towards our goals and celebrate milestones.
4. Negotiate a good overtime rate
I have found that once you get rolling with a financial goal you will often be more motivated to work a little extra to meet those goals even sooner. If you are going to work overtime, make sure you are getting more than just 1.5 times your base hourly (if you opt for a lower hourly rate). Overtime pay as a traveler can be quite lucrative, so make sure and take advantage of it!
Keep 2-3 months’ pay in savings.
Unfortunately with travel nursing there is always a risk of contract cancellation, housing mishaps or other last minute changes to your plans. Most of these tend to put some sort of strain on finances, and it can be easy to resort to credit cards with significant interest rates in case of these emergencies. Instead, plan ahead for them and stack up some cash to have as a backup fund. That way you don’t have to worry if an unforeseen circumstance arises, and your big financial goals don’t take a hit as a result.
Don’t forget to budget fun money
One of the best parts of travel nursing is the spontaneity and flexibility. At the very least, most travelers don’t have a lot of obligations outside of work so it is easy to say yes to things like after work happy hours or day trips on a stretch off. In addition we get the luxury of taking as much time off as we’d like between assignments. Even if you have financial goals, plan for some unexpected fun money so you can also enjoy your assignment while making financial progress.
Regardless of your reason for wanting to maximize your pay as a traveler, I highly encourage you to work toward taking control of your finances now. With a new year and a fresh start, this is the perfect time to take a little time and really look at where you want your money to go. As travel nurses we have the ability to have fun and make great progress financially, so we might as well take advantage of the opportunity.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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