My travel savings have changed radically over the years. When I was 21, feeling flush with money with a $1000/month paycheck and no expenses, money was just there to be tossed at a weekend adventure into The Middle of Nowhere, Russia or a big night out on the town. Now – after blowing savings on a huge year of travel, a green card application, and a 5,000 mile + move across the ocean – our travel budget is more like the spare change rattling around in our bank account after all the bills are paid.
But honestly what I’ve come to realize is that travel can be teased and pulled out of any budget if you’re just able to look at the concept with a squint and head tilt that radically shifts what travel looks like. So whether you’ve got thousands of dollars stockpiled for a major round-the-world trip or you’ve got a twenty crumpled at the bottom of your bag for a day when you just need to blow off some steam, I think my rather unsexy budgeting ideas can help you make the most out of your money.
Let’s have a look at the four methods I’ve been using to be sure I can meet my 2016 goal of traveling more, both near and far!
Hide from spending opportunitiesSee those clothes/camera? All oldies but goodies which I’ve yet to replace because I’m avoiding spending opportunities!
Simultaneously the most simple and most difficult strategy to employ, I’ve got to say. The concept is pretty simple: keep yourself away from temptation. For me, money-spending temptations pretty much solely revolve around food and drinks. Knowing and acknowledging the things I completely lose my mind around help me plan ahead and hide from spending opportunities.
Because honestly: while a Starbucks coffee tastes delicious, $4 here and there really begins to add up after a while. Throw in eating out once or twice a week and you could be spending hundreds of dollars each month on totally unforgettable drinks and meals. Me? I’d rather pocket that money and spend it on a unique experience like a weekend getaway to a new town with some seriously fabulous dining options.
How I keep myself from whipping out the wallet: spend a day in nature, lose myself in a gorgeous residential neighborhood where shops are few and far between, or stay at home to plot where I’m going to spend my travel fund!
Avoid recurring costsI’ll give you a great example we’ve been struggling with since coming to Indianapolis: a car. We’ve seriously considered getting one but also add a several hundred dollars per month recurring cost due to insurance, gas, maintenance, etc. Buying a car would make our lives so much easier, but it would also tie us down financially and physically. Personally I’m one to err on the side of freedom over convenience, but that’s a personal decision for sure.
So while avoiding recurring expenses may be unavoidable (let’s be honest, some places you need a car), through the years I’ve always found myself happy in the end that I avoided putting a monthly burden on myself. Remember: the fewer the expenses, the easier it is to take off on a new adventure whenever you feel ready! At this point, rent, monthly phone/internet, and a quarterly student loan payments are the only things tying me down financially – and that feels good!
So every time I’m sitting at a freezing cold bus stop before the sun rises and cursing the world, I have to remember those hundreds of dollars I’m saving for an adventure way more exciting than a junky used car!
Create an unbudgetWhat’s an unbudget, you might be wondering? Glad you asked! An unbudget is basically a system set up so that you don’t have to go through the tedious process of figuring out what percentage of your paycheck goes to what area. Instead, you choose 2-3 areas you consider absolutely essential (rent/amenities, travel savings, house down payment – for example), budget for them, and spend the rest of the money without thinking about it. That’s it.
Here’s how I unbudget: I save [x]%* of my paycheck in a savings account I save [x]%* of my paycheck in a separate travel account. I pay for rent, internet, and cell phones. The rest of the money is to be spent however we like. I appreciate that this process is a lot simpler for us because we have very few financial obligations, but I really think this could work for everyone. Because honestly, once your savings and necessities are out of the way, it’s fairly simple to figure out what you can do with the rest of the money.
*varies per month, but usually around 20% and 30%, respectively.
When times allow for savings, our travel rate is really high (like, absolutely no eating out or ‘want’ spending, really high) but the beauty of the unbudget is that it works however you need it to work. If you know you like to go out a lot or spend wildly on clothes, simply lower your savings rate and enjoy the (relatively) guilt-free feeling of knowing you can run your bank account to zero with a solid savings base!
Use credit cards strategicallyLet’s be honest: budgeting can be tricky and it can often feel like there is no wiggle room in your budget to save more, especially for something like travel. I totally feel you – I’ve talked about that before.
But one handy trick I’ve really come to embrace since getting a credit card last year is to pay everything with my credit card that earns me miles with every dollar I spend. (Obviously with the express intent of paying everything off that month! Credit card debt seriously cramps travel!) The pain of paying rent lessens just a bit when, rather than just sending a check off, I pay with my Capital One Venture Card and get a couple of miles back. While it may not be much, those miles eventually add up and can be used for flights, hotel rooms, and all other kinds of good stuff you’ll need when traveling.
Basically if there are months with no room (or not enough room) in my unbudget for travel savings, the Capital One card gives me the feeling I’m working towards a travel goal anyway! (I also have a 360 account which is lovely because it has no minimums or fees – so even if you’ve only got $10 in your travel account at the moment, that’s OK!)
Now’s not the time to be greedy: share your best tips on how you save for travel adventures in the comments below!
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.