Ballin’ on a Budget

To many I’m known as the guy with the flashy clothes and aggressive style, seemingly tossing my money here or there. But really, it’s all about calculation and diligence. It’s cliché to say, but when you turn professional, poker is more than just a game; it’s a fulltime job and a lifestyle. And to maximize your profits, when you’re on the road you have to learn to turn down a few luxuries in the name of the almighty dollar.

After I graduated from the University of Illinois, I spent a year-and-a-half globetrotting, playing in high-stake tournaments everywhere from Monaco to Macau. What I learned? Traveling is not cheap. At all. Luxury hotels, taxi rides, room service and the occasional all-night bender took its toll on my wallet, and even when I was running good, I wasn’t nearly as profitable as I should have been. Here I was, an Economics and Business major, wasting money because I couldn’t keep track of my cash flow.

I decided then and there that I was going to change the way I operated on the road. You might say I developed a system for being thrifty. Since then, as my play has improved, so has my budgeting.
Here are a few tips:

Spreadsheet it: How are you going to spend wisely if you don’t know where your money is going? Any poker player with half a brain already has a spreadsheet to keep track of their play. Start doing the same for all your other expenses. Gas station coffee? Put it in there. Trans-Atlantic flight? Spreadsheet that shit. New suitcase because your old one caught fire? You know what to do. Organize your spending into categories, that way at the end of each month, each year or each trip, you can see exactly where your money is going. Keep track of potential tax write-offs, as well, and save casino online holland yourself some more on the backend.

Travel cheap: This extends to everything from the flight to the tournament to ground transportation once you’re there. One trick I use is, if I’m traveling in the U.S. I always book my flights on Southwest Airlines, sometimes as far as six months in advance. Southwest won’t charge you a fee to change your ticket, so you’ll only have to pay the difference in price. If I know I’m going to be in Connecticut come April, I’ll book my travel now and schedule my return flight for the second to last day of the tournament. If I happen to predict correctly, then I just saved some dough. Otherwise I’m paying the same price as if I booked my flight casino online last minute. Once your there, say screw the taxi. Take public transportation. Walk. Get lost. There are worse things than wandering around Paris, learning the lay of the land and the lives of the locals.

Live cheap: At first, when I was traveling to Europe I would stay in plush hotels, even between tournaments. Well, I cut that out mobil casino quick. At some point, I realized that I was going to these incredible places where I could be experiencing the culture and meeting new people, and instead I was living a watered-down, Americanized version. So I started staying at hostels. My first was a St. Christopher’s Inn in Paris. Not only was it cheap, but there was a club in the basement with a live band playing some old-school Temptations! My buddy and I stayed in the same six bed room as four Australians, and instead of staying to ourselves, we hit the town with them. Now I have an open invitation to come visit Down Under. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything, and I saved a quick buck while doing it.

Eat cheap: Like I said before, skip the restaurant, skip the take out and skip the room service. Book hotels and hostels near grocery stores and stock up on some cheap eats. Most places have a fridge, so you can get lunch meat, dairy and other good stuff. My personal favorite, while at the table, is sea salt chips dipped in tuna mixed with honey Dijon mustard and giardiniera oil.

Opportunity costs: Everything factors into your return on investment (ROI). Everything. That includes lost opportunities. Like many pros, I play online Sundays religiously, whether I’m at home or not. But when I’m on the road, I get less sleep, I don’t have the same computer monitor and I’m playing on a hotel bed instead of in my usual setup. And all this affect my profitability. While I still make money, over time I’ve noticed that my ROI is lower when I’m away from home. So if I could have made an extra $2,000 had I not entered a tournament, I chalk this amount up as part of the rake. Being a poker pro is about figuring out where you could have made money and where you could have saved money, at the table and away from it.

Splurge: You didn’t become a poker player to be cheap all the time, right? Everybody has something that they’ll pay a little extra for. Don’t feel bad about it. The key is to find a happy medium and limit these kinds of expenses. When I play poker I’m capable of playing absolutely insane or very conservative, and I live my life the same way. So spend where you have to, budget where you can, keep track of your dough and watch your chips stack up.

One Response

  1. How do the pro's do it? - Poker Forums

    […] I read a while back on Faraz Jaka's blog, although it mostly discusses travel costs for live play: http://farazjaka.com/ballin-on-a-budget/ I like the overall saver's mindset he has. Smart guy, […]

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