Okay, let's be real. Saving money is hard. Life is constantly throwing temptations in your path - encouraging you to spend, spend, spend! So how does anyone afford to travel? For me, exploring new places is a passion. If I don't do it frequently, I get kind of antsy. So, it's worth it to me to find ways I can save money for travel. To help you do the same, I'll share some of my practical tips on cutting daily expenses. And honestly, you could use these money-saving tips to help you save for anything you want!
For the most part, these are simple tips which are easily implemented. Others are larger lifestyle choices and obviously everyone's priorities are different. Some of these tips will work for you, others won't. But I'm hoping this article will spark some ideas for you and help you find ways to start saving up for travel. Let's get started!
1) Track Your Expenses
Tracking your expenses is easy and everyone can do it! Doing this makes it much easier to figure out where you're spending your money. Once you've figured that out, you can look at where you can cut back to begin saving for that dream trip.
So when I say "track expenses," do I mean everything? Yes - every expense! I'm still using an Excel spreadsheet for my tracker and I don't track in real-time. Truthfully, this method doesn't work well for cash purchases which I tend to lump together. If you're just starting out, I'd recommend using one of the many expense tracker apps available. Once you get in the habit of tracking as you're spending, you'll have a reliable record of your expenses to review.
Tip: Get started tracking right away! Use your credit card statements from the past couple months, then enter those expenses into your app or whatever system you're planning to use.
2) Create a Budget with a Travel Fund
Now you've got an idea of how much you're spending on things. Do you see an area where you could cut back? Create or modify your budget with these cuts. Then, funnel those savings into a separate Travel Fund category.
By creating a Travel Fund, you'll know exactly how much you have to spend when starting to plan a trip. You'll be able to create a trip budget without having to scramble to find the money!
Becky's Budget Tips
1) Be realistic when creating your budget. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment when sticking to it!
2) Do you have trouble remembering not to spend the money in your checking account? If so, transfer the Travel Funds into a savings account! Out of sight, out of mind... until you start planning your trip!
Now that you're set up for success, I'll share with you some of the ways that I've cut expenses to save up for traveling. Some of these have changed for me over the years as my lifestyle changed or as I've learned some life lessons!
Planning a trip? Check out my Ultimate Guide to Preparing for International Travel!
3) Make Your Own Coffee
For anyone out there with a caffeine addiction (like me!) - this one is a big one. Although it may not seem like a lot, making your own coffee can save you a decent chunk of change! Consider making your coffee at home before heading into work. Or, purchase a French press or coffee maker for your office. Even here in Hong Kong, most of the time I use my French press at home despite being in a neighborhood full of fantastic coffee shops.
Think about it. Depending which coffee shop you visit, plus what type/size of beverage you order, you'll probably spend between US $2 - US $5 each morning per coffee. But, if you're like me, you need a coffee after lunch too! So that adds up to US $4 - US $10 per day - on coffee! Now let's say you do this ~20 days per month... you'll spend roughly US $80 - US $200 per month.
So what could you get with that money? Well, my round-trip flight this October from Washington, DC to Jacksonville, FL was US $168. A little french press coffee can get you to Florida!
4) Cook Meals at Home
Like making your own coffee, buying groceries and cooking meals at home can save you a ton of money. Although I love dining out and trying new restaurants, I balance that with cooking at home at least half the time. If we ate out or got take-out for every meal, we'd probably spend hundreds of (US) dollars more per month that instead we save for travel.
Are you a busy person and always on the go? Make a couple meals over the weekend and freeze them to eat during the week! When living in Laos, sometimes Jeremy and I would visit the market on Saturday morning, then spend the day preparing a couple Indian curries. We'd freeze them and they lasted all week! Meal prep plus quality time all in one!
If you're uncertain about recipes or your cooking skills, sign up for Pinterest (it's free)! Search for recipes then pin ones you like to boards to revisit when you start cooking. You'll find hundreds and hundreds of recipes, videos, blogs, etc. to help you navigate your way into the cooking world! Don't be afraid to experiment!
5) Pack Your Lunch
Continuing the theme of cooking at home, packing your lunch is another easy way to cut back. One reason I tend to make curries and stews in large batches is so that I have leftovers. In the U.S., I'd make a dish then pack up the leftovers in my Tupperware containers that were perfect for microwaving in the kitchen at work.
Though it's different everywhere, eating out for lunch in Washington, DC costs roughly US $7 - $15 per day. Again, assume ~20 working days and you'll spend US $140 - US $300 per month on lunches! A couple months of packing your lunch can get you places (literally)!
Even if you don't have leftovers, anyone can make a sandwich and throw some chips/fruit in a bag! My lunches in Hong Kong are often exactly that glamorous - peanut butter and banana sandwiches! Maybe this is why I'm so excited to travel and eat good food...!
6) Look for Happy Hours or Weekly Deals
Although cooking at home is a great plan, sometimes you just really need a night out! In order to cut costs on random nights out, I hunt for good happy hour deals! Some restaurants and bars offer really good discounted drinks and bar snacks that you can easily make into a meal. Plus, if the bar snacks are good, then you may want to give the place a try for dinner in the future.
Another tip for saving money when eating out is to look for weeknight specials. Sometimes restaurants will offer these deals on a Monday or Tuesday night when business is generally slower than later in the week. A couple restaurants in our neighborhood in Hong Kong offer 2 for 1 pizzas on Monday night or 2 for 1 steaks on Tuesday night. It's a nice way to treat yourself but pay half the price!
Looking for a place to eat in Hong Kong? Check out these 22 Great Restaurants to Try in Hong Kong!
7) Participate in Free Social Activities
You want to see your friends, but you don't want to spend a fortune to hang out at a bar all night. What else can you do?
Suggest a free activity like hiking or hanging out at a beach for your next get-together with friends! Or, invite everyone over to your place for a potluck. Think creatively about what free activities you can do in your area then get your friends on board!
8) Ditch Your Cable Service
With so many streaming services available, it's easy to ditch cable. In the U.S., cable TV is super expensive. When I lived there, I was too attached to certain channels, like the Food Network, to give it up. Now living in Hong Kong, we don't have cable so we save that money each month and only pay for Netflix. I won't say I don't miss it though!
9) Cut Back on Monthly Subscriptions
Magazines, newspapers, etc. - do you still read them? Are they worth keeping? Sometimes you buy a subscription and then just get used to having it. But think about whether you really use those subscriptions. If not, maybe it's time to cancel them.
10) Evaluate Gym Membership
Far be it for me to tell anyone they shouldn't have a gym membership. Obviously exercise is great for your health and something we all need in our lives. However, do you go to a super expensive gym? Is it worth the money you're paying to go there?
When I lived in DC, I loved jogging outside on the trails and neighborhoods near my apartment. I bought a set of free weights and used my living room for workouts. It worked great for me and I had no need for a monthly gym membership (despite my friends' attempts to get me to join!).
Now I do pay a small daily or monthly fee to use the gym in my apartment building. Though there are much nicer (and more expensive) gyms I could go to, the one I use meets my needs and doesn't make me sign a contract. It's all about finding what is right for you though!
11) Get Rid of the Car
This would be tough for anyone who is not living in an urban area with access to public transportation. But if you do live in a city and could do without a car, getting rid of it is a great way to save money. Or, if you're a multi-car family, consider eliminating one car.
When we lived in DC, we always had a car. Parking could be a hassle, but it allowed us to easily take road trips and to see family. So it was worth it to us. But we only had one car for two of us. Since we didn't drive it to work, we were able to pay less in car insurance each month. Though every now and then those pesky maintenance issues would arise and we'd need to drop a bunch of money to keep the car running!
In Hong Kong, owning a car is super expensive and really not necessary, so we don't have one. Looking at our U.S. car payments, insurance, maintenance, etc., we are saving about US $500 per month compared to what we were spending right before we moved to Hong Kong. That's money for travel!
12) Use Public Transportation
Can you tell I live in a city? This is another one that's more for urban dwellers! When you're trying to cut your monthly expenses, using public transportation is key. It may take you longer, but it's far cheaper than the alternatives. You save in gas and parking costs over taking your personal vehicle. And compared to taxi or Uber costs, public transportation wins price-wise hands down!
Here's my Guide to Using Public Transportation in Hong Kong to help you during your visit!
13) Consider Renting over Buying a Home
An un-American-sounding statement, for sure. Buying a home is just one of those "American Dream" things that people talk about and assume you'll do. But after buying a home a few years ago and dealing with the headaches of home ownership (and selling it), I don't think it's for me.
Home ownership is an investment and you have to put a lot into it. This means that money you want to save for travel may get sucked up by an unexpected house expense, like needing a new furnace. Or having to get a tree removed because it's about to fall on your house!
I discovered that I like knowing how much my monthly rent is. And knowing that if something breaks in my apartment, someone else will be responsible for paying for it to be fixed. And when I'm ready to leave, I won't have to worry about selling my house! Maybe that's my nomadic soul speaking....
14) Earn Extra with a Part-Time Job
If money is tight and you really want some extra cash for travel, consider getting a part-time job. Recently I've been pet-sitting in Hong Kong. I get to meet other animal lovers and their adorable fur babies. But it's also nice to have some extra funds to splurge on trips!
Consider your skill set and what you like to do. How could those translate into a part-time job you could do? Here are some ideas - tutoring, barista, bartender, Uber driver, etc. - so many to consider!
15) Work Abroad
If you really want to explore the world, working abroad is an excellent way to do it. Moving will give you a new home base from which to explore. This is true even if you move somewhere new in your home country.
When we decided to move to Hong Kong, travel was a key consideration. Having lived in or near Washington, DC almost my entire life, I've been to most of the places nearby. My short trip possibilities felt exhausted. Now I have many new places to explore - in Hong Kong as well as only a few hours away by flight or train!
Final Thoughts on Saving Money for Travel
For me, discovering new places and interacting with different cultures is a passion. It's worth eating peanut butter sandwiches and making my own coffee so that I can have those experiences. If you feel the same, I hope you've found some ideas in this post to help you save for your next trip!
Leave me a comment and let me know how you save for a trip! Happy travels!