How to Cut Costs to Afford Your Next Trip
Since I’m currently planning for my next trip (no clue as to where or when, all I know is that it’s happening -- that’s the first step!), I figured I'd share how I save up money. I think the most important thing to understand when it comes to travel is that it is a million times easier to make a trip happen when you make it a priority. I took a finance class my senior year of college (best decision ever), and I remember learning that putting money towards your 401k and savings was like paying yourself first, above anything else. For me, this also includes putting money towards my travel fund. By the time I funnel my paycheck towards rent, bills, student loans, my 401k, savings, and travel funds, there's not a whole lot left over, but I'm always confident that I'm paying myself first in the long run. Anyways, here are the tricks and tools I use to fatten up that travel fund!
1. Actually set up a travel fund. This alone will help you start saving money because it's easier to funnel money into it. You can even set up automatic transfers every month to correspond with your paychecks. My travel fund is through Charles Schwab, which is totally separate from my Chase checking account and my Barclay Dream savings account. This ensures that I can't easily withdraw or transfer money until I'm ready to set off on my trip.
2. Start small. When I was in college, I worked as a Writing Center tutor. I can't remember how much my paychecks were, but they definitely weren't much. Even then, I saved enough to get my butt to Switzerland and Italy my sophomore year by flying budget airlines and living off of Clif bars. Save what you can depending on your financial commitments. $100/month adds up, but so does $50, $25, or $15. As long as it's >$0, you're making moves to get yourself abroad. Then take the next steps to increase those amounts.
3. Cut back on “luxuries.” Luxuries are going to mean different things to different people. For me, it's usually manicures and magazines. For others, it's that $5 Starbucks drink or monthly massage. A few weeks before I left for Thailand, I was getting my hair cut and the stylist recommended that I get balayage highlights to "bring out my curls." I pinned a ton of photos on Pinterest and was this close to making the appointment before I realized that 1) I really like my natural hair color and 2) I didn't want to spend $90 to color my hair. A week later, I used that $90 to cover three days of scuba diving in Thailand. My main perspective on this is that I'd rather spend my money on experiences, and I definitely count Thailand as an experience.
4. Cut the cable. I haven’t had cable for 15 months and I don’t miss it at all. I also grew up watching very little TV (my coworkers can attest to the fact that I’ve never seen an episode of Friends or Seinfeld). I use Netflix or my parents’ HBO online account when I have to catch up on GoT.
5. Pack a lunch. This is my worst habit - I am the first person to grab lunch at a place downtown instead of bringing my lunch. Between Chick-fil-a, Chipotle, and Panera Bread, I am a sucker for a quick, delicious lunch. However, I easily spend $50+ a week on eating out at restaurants. I am trying really hard to cut back on this and am going to the grocery store once a week now.
6. Reconsider subscriptions and memberships. I dropped my gym membership from $55 to $25 by giving up parking for the summer - I ride my bike to the gym now (we’ll see how long that lasts). I also cancelled my Pandora and Spotify subscriptions. Take a look at your current memberships. Is there a student, teacher, or corporate discount? Have you done a recent price comparison with any other similar services in the area? What else are you subscribed to "just because" (magazines, beauty boxes)?
7. Sell things. I have sold old prom dresses on eBay, Ugg boots on Poshmark, and textbooks on Amazon. The cash adds up, and instead of using it to buy even more clothes, I immediately deposit it into my travel fund.
8. Re-consider those big purchases. I have yet to put up artwork in my apartment because I literally think about how the $200 I'd spend on framing could get me a week of hostel accommodation in Honduras. My Mac laptop is six years old, and while I eye those sleek, sexy new models, I know that my laptop functions just fine. Same with my TV. And my car (except I am weirdly attached to my Ford Fusion at this point). This goes for just about everything else I own, but it comes down to understanding wants vs needs. Whenever I'm thinking about a big purchase, I try to hold off as long as possible and usually the urge fades away.
9. Don't spend that cash windfall. Cash windfall usually refers to winning the lottery (yes, please), but you can find extra money in your hands with a tax refund, work bonus, or Christmas check. The trick is to not let this money linger around for too long - treat yoself (within reason), and then immediately transfer the remaining money to your travel fund.
10. Switch your expenses to your travel credit card. I've already talked a lot about how I use my travel credit cards to make my trips a reality. After Thailand, I was putting purchases on my debit card. Now, I am putting purchases on my credit card, tracking them, and then paying them off every month. I want to earn points for every dollar, and should be able to rack up another $100-200 in miles.
11. Cut back on entertainment. I always spend way less money when I'm not dating someone, so this one works out particularly well. Going to the movies is expensive. So is dinner. So is alcohol. This doesn't mean that these options are always off the table, but even replacing dinner at a restaurant with a fun night of cooking in can make a difference. And everyone loves Netflix. Win-win.