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I’ll be the first to admit that I am the worst budget backpacker and that saving for travel is hard. I’ll make budgets but rarely stick to them. I get to a location and think “When will I ever be able to do this again?” It’s that YOLO type of thinking that gets me into trouble and spending more than I should. But luckily I know a few good ways to save money.
I think it’s more important to save before you go than to save on things while traveling. Budget travel can be harder than it seems. Both have their benefits, but I think the majority will agree with me that you’d rather have the extra cash to splurge when you feel the need than ever feel restricted and not be able to do a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I do believe in splurging and I do believe in being realistic. I’m not promising that these tips on how to save money will help you fund your entire trip, but they will certainly help bulk your wallet up a little. I think it’s smart to think save now, spend later, rather than spend now, make more later. You will always be able to make money again, but it will become increasingly harder to get out of debt the further you get into it.
Here are my best tips on saving money and how to avoid the annoying dollar signs flashing on your credit card once you get back. I have highlighted what I think are the most important ways to save money in the headings, but there are even more money saving tips in the descriptions!
BUY ONLY THE NECESSITIES
If you’re asking yourself, “How can I save money?” This is the top tip you need to follow. Every single time you see something online or in a store, ask yourself: “Do I really need this?” Make this a habit right now and you’ll be saving money for travel in no time. When you stop purchasing the little things that you think aren’t hurting your budget that you’re working so hard to build you’ll notice exactly how much they were hurting you. It’s always the little things that aren’t necessary that sneak in and drive up that credit card bill. What is necessary? Food, gas/transit pass, school, rent/mortgage, cell phone, and bills. That’s about it. Try to stick as closely as possible to just these things.
STOP EATING OUT
I know, I know, it sucks. I hate cooking so eating out is always so tempting. But in reality, saving money for travel is more important than a temporary meal. Invite friends over instead of going out, have a pot luck, or cook together. All you have to do is be organized. Create a list of meals for the week, shop, cook ahead of time or know what you’re cooking for that day. Oh and those fancy Starbucks drinks you’re getting? Those add up. If you buy even a simple coffee every day that’s $2/day, $10/week, and $40/month. That could be a whole day of exploring in SE Asia. I know it’s easier said than done, but would you rather eat out and have the satisfaction last for just a meal or have more money for travel?
GET THE RIGHT CREDIT CARD
Depending on where you live you can definitely get some amazing benefits. Some travel credit cards not only give you travel points for spending but will sometimes cover you for insurance during trips as well. Money back credit cards are also great. That flight that you just purchased? You got some money back for that. They usually reward those who spend money for recurring automatic charges (this is awesome for cell phone bills!), and for those that spend money at grocery stores and gas stations (who doesn’t?). Always make sure to read the fine print. Sometimes there are sneaky hidden fees The card may not be worth the yearly charge or the benefits aren’t as good as you hoped.
MOVE HOME, GET A ROOMMATE OR LIVE SOMEWHERE CHEAPER
Not always the ideal solution, but saving money on rent can save you hundreds of dollars a month. To me living at home saved me over $5000 in 7 months. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
SET UP A SAVINGS ACCOUNT
Open a savings account that will earn you interest. From every pay cheque set aside a certain amount (a percentage is best instead of just a set dollar amount) into your savings account. Once that money is there it is a big no-no to touch it. To make things simple have that percentage automatically go straight into your savings account.
Or you can build up your spending account without opening a new account. For every time you add more money for travel you will have a new number that represents zero. For example, tell yourself that $1000 is zero. You never go below that number ($1000). You get paid. Add 20% of that pay to your travel amount (let’s say you’re paid $750 x 0.20=$150). Your new number is $1150 that acts as zero. Don’t go below that new amount ($1150) which is now zero. Sometimes banks will charge a fee for savings accounts if you have less than a certain amount in the account. The last thing you want is another fee while you’re traveling and draining that account so this is when the treat a number as zero in your spending account can come in handy.
CUT DOWN ON BILLS
Save on electricity by being more energy efficient. Use your washer during low times (the fewer people that are using electricity and water at the same time = cheaper for you to use), change lightbulbs to more energy efficient ones, turn off anything when not in use. Get rid of cable, and landlines, downgrade to cheaper cell phone and internet plans.
SAY NO TO EXTRAS
Gym membership? Get your nails done bi-weekly? Get you hair dyed? Go to the movies weekly? These are all things that you don’t need. Workout at home using your bodyweight. Paint your own nails or have a friend do them. Use hair dye from a box instead of going to the salon. Rent movies at home. You can still do things, just make them as cheap as possible. Everything you skimp out on will save for travel and be totally worth it.
WHAT WOULD YOU RATHER?
This is my favourite question to ask myself and has gotten me to stop those extra, unneeded purchases. I think it’s the best way to save money easily. For example, would you rather go out and have a few drinks with friends or save that money and buy delicious cocktails on the beach during your vacation? I think the answer is pretty obvious.
But why do I have to give up my social life and things I like before my trip? You don’t always, it could be as simple as cutting it down. The truth is that if you’re not willing to sacrifice even a little something to save then you won’t be saving much. You can’t keep spending the way you’ve been spending if you want to save. Money isn’t going to fall out of thin air (though I really wish it would). You have to find ways to make do with what you’re earning or find a way to earn more to keep up your lifestyle of wants.
INVEST IN THE RIGHT PRODUCTS
This is the only time I will tell you to spend more money, though it may not always be the case. Investing in the right product will always be the better option. If you’re preparing for your first big trip and need a backpack, then invest and spend more money on the right one. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find. It’ll probably be shit and then you’ll need to buy a new pack again for your next trip. I do the same for shoes, electronics, and more. Anything that you need to last you a while is something to invest in. Spending $100 more on a good backpack will save you from making further purchases and a backache. Most importantly this doesn’t mean to just run and get the most expensive one! More $$$$ doesn’t always mean better quality.
DITCH THE BOOZE
You’re talking to someone who went from drinking multiple drinks a night 3-6 days a week in college to a couple of drinks a month. If there is anyone who can prove that booze is the culprit for minimal savings then it’s me. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. I promise you’ll feel better too.
As awesome as guide books can be, they can also be pretty pricey. I find pretty much all of my travel information for upcoming trips online, specifically from blogs. Not to mention a ton of bloggers also offer discounts for a number of things, like AirBnB stays. If you really like guide books then I’d suggest purchasing eBooks (cheaper) or single chapters if you’re looking for anything specific. Lonely Planet offers both options!
You know that you’ll be making some purchases before your trip that are for your trip, it’s inevitable. So while you have the time to why not shop the sales? Make a list of what you’ll need and keep an eye out for those things. Check Amazon, other shops online, and at cheap stores (like WalMart) that carry many items for a fraction of the price. Especially for stuff like toiletries!
SELL YOUR STUFF
Got clothes that you no longer wear? Books that are now just clutter? Sell them all. Even if you’re selling items for $5-$10 they will quickly add up. Electronics are easy to earn a good amount on, and so is furniture.
PICK UP SOME WORK ON THE SIDE
There is always a way to earn a little extra income on the side. Pick up an odd job here and there or a second job. Do freelance work, or use a hobby to sell stuff (seriously even baking cookies and selling them at work can help). Find something that works for you.
Some of these may seem simple and they are. Others not so much, but are totally worth the hassle. With a combination of even a few of these saving money tips you’ll be putting loads into your travel piggy bank in no time and be on your way to your next dream destination.
What do you do to save money for travel?