Ever wonder how people travel multiple times per year and still have enough money to pay for rent and eat? For years I was shocked by how many of my friends and even strangers traveled constantly.. until one day when I sat down and thoroughly analyzed my spending habits.
Welcome to part 3 of my travel series! If you missed the first two posts.. make sure to check them out after you read this one:
- Click here to read “How to Book an Inexpensive Flight”
- Click here to read “Tips & Tricks To Book Cheap Hotels and Accommodation”
Today our main topic is all about budgeting and saving for travel and vacations. Before we jump into it, I want you to know that while some of these tips may seem easy… changing habits can be difficult. You have to keep in mind what your end goal is.. to go on a trip. I’m so much happier spending my money on travel rather than wasting it on little things at home. I have the travel bug as they say.. I have never regretted spending a dime on doing what I love the most. Even if it means I have to give up on others things..
I also want to address that many people feel they can’t afford to travel and while this may be true.. you don’t have to try and save enough money for a trip TOMORROW. Rather, save a tiny bit each day/week/month.. eventually that money will grow and you will have enough to go somewhere. I’m here to provide what tips & tricks I use monthly to save so that I can travel. Hopefully some of my tips will help you as well.
1. How to Create a Travel Budget
There are a few important key things you need to figure out in order to know how much you need to save for any vacation you would like to go on. I know that some of these tips may seem daunting but.. I like to travel multiple times per year. To allow for this to happen I have found that by creating a google spread sheet I am able to plan better. The spread sheet gives me a rough idea of everything that I will need for any/all vacations planned. This includes: flights, accommodations, transport, vaccinations, travel insurance, average spending per day, excursions, etc.
I always recommend researching the places and countries you plan to visit to see how much you need to save in order to plan the vacation you want.. In Thailand I spent around $20-30 USD per day vs. my European trip where I spent $60-100 USD per day. A complete difference.
Here’s an example of my budget for a 3 week Central America Backpacking trip that I am currently planning right now:
It’s not pretty.. but it does the job. I created the budget sheet in google sheets on docs, but you can create one by using Excel too. Basically, I calculated *roughly* an average of everything I’ll be spending during the trip. (Once the trip is closer, I’ll have a better idea of exactly what I’ll be spending money on) The total is on the direct right. As you can see, my budget sheet shows that I’ll be spending around $2,500 for 3 weeks on this trip. (Central America is an inexpensive place to travel to)
The most expensive category is excursions & tours because I know that I’ll be taking a $400 4-day snorkel and boating tour in Belize – which is an all-inclusive food/drinks/accommodations and snorkeling excursion. This is pricy but my friend and I really want to experience this so we’re making it a priority.
The second most expensive category featured is flights. Flight don’t have to be that expensive! Especially for me when I know that I’m definitely doing this trip.. backpacker style.
On the right of the travel budget are my regular bills that I will still have to pay even when I’m not home. This includes my rent, utilities and my car. My rent is definitely the most expensive (thanks Bay area!) so the overall total of what I need for this trip including my regular bills is $3,847.
Thankfully, I already budget in my rent each month ahead of time so I don’t need to really worry about saving that. What I need to focus on is HOW to save for my trip and still live while at home. ;)
2. How I Save For Trips
As you can see from my chart.. thankfully I have around 5 1/2 months to save, so there should be plenty of time to change some of my (bad spending) habits.
Utilizing an iPhone App to Help
One of the first things I did which SAVED me SOOO much money is to download the ‘saving money’ iPhone app – Qapital. It’s THE best! (Use my referral code when signing up by clicking here . This allows you to receive $20 towards your goal ! This isn’t an ad – I genuinely LOVE this app and use it daily! SIGN UP HERE. You receive the $20 after making your first deposit towards your goal, could be by saving only $1!)
How? Basically, you download the app on your iPhone, then connect your checking account to it for funding. This is the account that Qapital will use to fund your “goals.” They also use it to deposit your money when you’ve reached your goal.
Once you sign up, you are asked to create a goal for yourself.. I called mine, “Central America Trip” and my goal was to save $2500. From there, you can create ‘rules’ in order to save money.
Goals are the things you are trying to save for.. such as a trip or a car, something special. Rules are transactions that you make to trigger Qapital to transfer the designated funds to your account that you saved.
Qapital offers different ‘rules’ that you can add to your goal in order to save up the money. Ones I use are:
- Round-Up Rule: Every time I make a transaction (buying starbucks, gas, whatever you spend) it ’rounds-up’ what I spent to the nearest dollar+ and puts the difference into my Central America goal. For example, if I spent $3.21 at Starbucks, it rounds up my transaction to $4 and saves the .79 into my Central America goal. This is amazing, because I never missed that .79 to begin with. I’m automatically saving money! I round up to the nearest $2 now to save even more money, but you can choose for yourself what is most comfortable.
- Set and Forget Rule: Once per week a designated amount of money is automatically transferred into my Central America goals account. You can pick any amount of money – I picked $30 and I never miss that money!
- 52 Week: This is SO easy. For every week out of the year, it will transfer a designated dollar amount into my goal account.. and each week it will increase. $1 for week 1, $2 for week 2, and so on. I’m on week 5 and I haven’t missed that money.
- Payday: I have a rule where automatically 15% of my paycheck is deposited into my Central America goals account. I know that sounds like a lot, but I have budgeted for this to automatically be transferred in.. and I’ve saved SO much money already.
Drumroll please… in 5 weeks, I have saved $828 into my Central America goals account by using Qapital! I’m SO excited. Itt was the easiest money I have ever saved. I also decided to add a last minute goal for my Barcelona trip (going there in March) to see how much extra $ I could save.. and wow I’m shocked. Basically $500 extra spending money saved so far.
Once I hit my goal, I can just transfer the goal money back into my checking account.. it’s THAT easy. If you’re interested in giving it a try, click here to download the app. It costs $3 per month but it is worth it.
It’s also fun because it celebrates little milestones and alerts you when you’ve saved different amounts. Like when I hit 25% of my CA goal:
Analyze Current Spending Habits
Another way that I learned to save was by actually doing a deep-dive into what I spend vs. what I save.
- Pull up your checking and credit card accounts and print out your statements. 3-hole punch everything and put it into a binder. This will help keep you organized!
- Sort everything into categories: Food, Rent, Bills, Shopping, etc.
- Categorize your spending into needs and luxuries.
- Highlight the charges that are necessary: rent, bills, gas, food, toiletries, etc.
- Take a look at the rest and add up how much you’re spending on non-essential items. It may shock you! At one point I was spending around $180 per month on coffee in the morning. Can you imagine spending $2,160 on COFFEE per year?! This completely shocked me and was a huge wake up call to take a step back and re-think how much I’m spending unnecessarily.
Once you analyze your spending habits, try adding up all of the frivolous things you spent your money on in the past year. Just think…you might have been able to take 2-3 vacations using that money. For me, I decided to save smarter.
20 Easy Ways to Save More Money
- Sign up for EBATES – Ebates is INCREDIBLE! You can earn CASH BACK at over 2,500 of your favorite stores.. signing up is free and if you sign up by clicking here you can get a $10 cash bonus when you sign up and shop. :) I have saved 100s of dollars by using ebates and I love it.
- Sign up for a credit card with travel perks. This really can help if you are someone who uses credit cards for most of your purchases. If you’re in the market for getting a new travel card make sure to check out The Points Guy – his website is devoted to travel hacking and is constantly posting about which travel credit cards are the best to get right now!
- Stop buying Starbucks everyday – Ok.. this may not apply to you, but it applies to MANY of my friends and people I know who spend at least $5 a day on coffee/extra purchases. When you add up how much you’re spending per year vs making it at home, it is insane.
- Sell things in your closet that you don’t wear – I have done this on Poshmark and I’ve made around $3000 doing this! About 1x per year I clean out my closet and sell things that I don’t wear anymore.. all of that extra money helps.
- Buy Food From the Grocery Store – I know this sounds obvious.. but seriously. Try to only eat out around 1-2 times per week (for both lunch and dinner!) You’ll be shocked at how much money you can save by doing this. Extra points if you take up couponing.. you can save ridiculous amounts of money by shopping the sales/using coupons.
- Give yourself a weekly allowance – and stick to it! It is really helpful if you track how much money you’re spending per week into an excel sheet.
- Cut out unnecessary memberships/subscriptions – At one point I was spending around $150 per month in excess subscriptions! So ridiculous and I was only using a few of them.. when you go through what you’re spending, make sure to check out your subscriptions and cut out what you don’t need; Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, Gym, Tanning, Juicing Place, whatever it is.
- Don’t buy name brands at the store – This can save you lots of money over time.. I can never tell the difference between brandless paper towels vs bounty.. just save a few dollars each time and buy the brandless type.
- Meal Prep & follow a list at the store: Before you go to the store, come up with recipes and write down exactly what you need for them, and STICK to the list. Do not buy more than you need. I used to go to the store without a list and I would end up overspending. every. time.
- Cut back on the beauty – This was really hard for me.. I used to get my hair done every 6 weeks and it was around $200-300 each time. Insanity. ( I have the thickest hair on the world AND live in the Bay area) I also used to get a mani/pedi every month and that was around $50 because I went to a high end place. Now I go to the salon less and do my own nails. I have saved so much excess money!
- Open a new savings account – This is for the people who don’t use an app like Qapital.. but I used to have an account that was dedicated just to my travel fund, and I would transfer money into this account. DON’T EVER TOUCH THIS MONEY!
- Cut your cable – This is a little more extreme.. but if you’re someone who has a larger cable package, maybe consider downgrading your package or cutting it all together. I find that unless you’re a guy who watches every sport (my boyfriend) you really don’t need to watch shows live.
- Move somewhere less expensive – This applies more to people who are renting vs. owning a home.. I live in the Bay Area near San Francisco so my rent is extremely high. (one of the highest in the U.S.) Unfortunately this means that I have to spend a lot in rent every month. My boyfriend and I decided to downgrade our apartment by $400 per month in order to save money, and that is a savings of $4,800 every year!
- Buy a reusable water bottle – This is a very simple but great rule. I used to buy plastic water bottles almost every day at school or when I’m out.. but try and bring a reusable water bottle where you can refill it and not only save extra $$, but use less plastic!
- Reduce your utilities – This is something that my boyfriend and I have been actively following this winter.. we haven’t been turning on the heater very often! It’s saved us hundreds of dollars.
- Buy items in bulk – This tip isn’t always true, but knowing which items to purchase in bulk can be really helpful. For example; buying shampoo & conditioner is better to buy in bulk, and also buying refillable dish soap or hand soap is better than buying a whole new container!
- Check out the free things to do in your city – Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a day out, try to do some free things in your area to save some money.
- Start hiking – This is a great way to not only get yourself out in nature, but it’s also a free activity to do on the weekends!
- Pick up a second job – This isn’t always feasible, but if you have a little bit of extra time.. you could always become a dog sitter (using apps like Rover) or if you have babysitting/nannying experience.. sign up to be a date night sitter through Care.com!
- Cut out alcohol – I hate this tip because I love the social atmosphere behind going out for a beer or wine.. but it is so expensive to drink! If you can cut out alcohol for a period of time, you can save a significant amount of money.
I hope that this post has inspired you to start saving and budgeting for the trip of your dreams. The last couple of years I have become more and more culturally aware and experiencing new countries and people has become a blessing. Seeing how others live all across the world is extremely important.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
– Anthony Bourdain
Last minute tip: Travel insurance is SO important, and I always book mine through World Nomads. Even if I’m just taking a quick weekend trip to Cabo San Lucas, I always get insurance (in case of flight cancellation, losing my luggage, health insurance, evacuation, and SO much more. World Nomads doesn’t break the bank either! (It’s also backed by Lonely Planet, Eurrail and more as the best travel insurance.) Price out your next trip below:
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If you have any questions on budgeting/travel – please don’t hesitate to ask me! Comment below and I’ll answer as soon as possible.