How to budget your travel nursing salary

June 05, 2013

Travel nursing offers opportunities that most other careers can't offer: excellent compensation, exciting adventures in new locations, and a very impressive resume. But with so many things to do and in so many new places to do them, it’s important not to spend as if on a perpetual vacation.

As Brad Crawford, and his travel nurse wife Stasha, have experienced first-hand, having a budget is important for everyone but it’s especially true for travelers. Life on the road inherently comes with expenses that every travel nurse needs to prepare for:

Traveling Costs:

Gas prices have a huge impact on travelers. The cost of filling up your tank can change drastically depending on the time of year and your current location. The total distance to your next assignment is another variable that needs to be taken into account. If your next destination is more than an 8-hour drive, you might want to stay in a hotel. If you're traveling across the country, you'll be spending several nights in a hotel. Depending on how many assignments you take each year and how far you travel, you could easily spend $1000 a year or more in gas and hotel costs traveling between assignments. Don't forget about fast-food, snacks and drinks. Sometimes these can nickel and dime you more than you expect.

Location Costs:

Once you get to your assignment location, the spending doesn't stop. Moving into your new apartment or hotel usually includes a trip to the grocery store to stock your refrigerator and shelves. A lot of travelers throw away inexpensive household items like mops, brooms, and trash cans. Once again, these inexpensive items can add up quick. You'll also want to enjoy your new assignment and have some fun. Money needs to be budgeted for everything from kayak or bike rentals to amusement parks and nights out on the town. And what about that restaurant everyone at your new job keeps talking about?

Job Costs:

If you plan on traveling to several states, you will need to pay for a nursing license in each state. These can range from less than $50 to over $200. You'll also have to maintain your CEU's depending on which states you want to retain your licenses in. However, some companies such as Fastaff will reimburse you if you take a position with them in the state you were newly licensed in as well as offer free CEU’s. Some hospitals require a particular color of scrubs so you may find yourself unexpectedly replacing your wardrobe.

These are just a few of the almost certain costs you will run into. There can be plenty of other expenses like souvenirs, mail forwarding and plane tickets to fly home and visit family. Even if your travel agency reimburses you for some or most of these expenses, you usually have to upfront the money yourself. Having a budget can save you from having to resort to using a credit card, thereby eliminating interest and stress.

Tools for creating a budget:

There are several programs you can use to start a budget. If you are a “Do-it-Yourself” kind of person, you could simply create one yourself using Microsoft Excel. Don't have Excel? OpenOffice.org offers a free alternative. You will need to have a basic understanding of spreadsheets to go this route but there are plenty of resources online and even free budget templates you can download. If this sounds like too much work, there are free and paid options.

Mint.com is a free online resource that will connect to your bank accounts and keep everything up-to-date for you. Once you categorize your purchases, Mint will remember that a check card purchase from JCPenney falls under the clothing category. One disadvantage to this approach is that it can become too hands-off, even with the free smart phone app. Some people prefer to enter all of their purchases manually so they are forced to keep up with their budget.

If this sounds like you, a program called “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) is probably your best bet. It will set you back $60 but a budget that works can be priceless. YNAB intentionally leaves out the ability to sync your accounts so you have to manually keep track of everything. Its goal is to get you to budget enough money that you eventually pay for the current month's expenses with your previous month's earnings instead of living paycheck to paycheck. YNAB also has free online classes and a free smart phone app.

Establishing a budget really can make the difference between a good or bad traveling experience. With so many travel expense variables, it is nearly impossible to properly manage your money without a budget. It is very powerful and rewarding to be in control of your finances and not have that stress in your life. If you find yourself struggling with unexpected traveling costs, and scraping for ways to pay for them, do yourself a favor and get your budget started today.

As the husband of a travel nurse, Brad Crawford sees the travel nursing experience from a different perspective. While his wife, Stasha, focuses more on the “nursing” aspect, Brad is more concerned with things like the crime rate, what the weather is like, and what sort of fun things there will be nearby. Together they have created TravelNurseHelp, a website designed to combine much of the info a travel nurse needs in one place.