Every time I take a trip somewhere, inevitably someone will tell me that they wish they could travel too—if only they could save the money. I haven’t always been great at saving money, but when it comes to travel funds I learned from the best. When I was a kid, my parents would save carefully so that we could visit my grandparents in Spain every few years. Those weren’t just family vacations, but my very first experiences abroad. In addition to the tips I learned from them, I’ve recently been implementing a few other tricks inspired by Dave Ramsey’s advice and blogs like The Budget Mom. Here are five easy ways you can start saving for your next trip.
1.) Don’t buy what you don’t need
This one is obvious, but if you want to save money for something (or get out of debt, etc) then stop buying things you don’t need. This is the first step on any financial adventure, but it won’t necessarily be easy. So start with small things, like making coffee or tea at home instead of going to Starbucks every morning. Or if you’re like me and easily tempted when you see the words “SALE” or “BOGO” then unsubscribe from all those email updates from your favorite stores. Do you really need ten pairs of boots anyway? Probably not.
Another good way to start this habit is to evaluate what you already have in your life and in your home. Once you see how many clothes or books or kitchen gadgets (or whatever it is you tend to spend money on) you have in your possession already, it can be easier to remind yourself that you don’t need more. In fact, you can probably get rid of some of those things to earn some extra money, and make your life less cluttered while you’re at it. There are lots of online stores that make it easy for you to sell second-hand clothing, and of course there’s always Ebay. If what you have is in good condition, try making some money off of it before throwing it into that donate pile.
2.) Create a budget and stick to it
If you already have a budget, that’s great! Add a category to it that’s just for travel, and figure out how much you can put into it each paycheck. If you stick to it, the money can add up pretty quickly.
If you don’t have a budget, starting one is easier than you think. A zero-based budget is one where every dollar you receive has a purpose instead of just floating around in your checking account. Think of it like giving each dollar a job. This one’s job is to pay rent, while that one’s job is to sit still and wait for you to buy that plane ticket. You can write out a budget by hand (which is my preferred method) or there are lots of free apps to choose from, like EveryDollar.
Still not sure which dollars need which jobs, or even how much you spend each paycheck? Then before you start making a budget, take a full month to write down every expense that comes your way. That includes everything from gas to rent to that unexpected stop at In-N-Out and that sale at Kohl’s. Whether you pay cash or swipe a card, keep a log of your spending so that at the end of the month you can evaluate where exactly your money goes. Find yourself eating out or going to the movies more than you realized? With a budget you can begin implementing changes like buying groceries and cooking at home more or renting from Redbox instead of going to the theater. Before you know it, the money you save can go toward your upcoming trip.
3.) Pay for things in cash
I used to utilize this method during the summer months while I was in graduate school, when I didn’t have a steady income. I’ve recently reimplemented it, and honestly I’m not sure why I ever stopped in the first place. Although no one can argue the ease of a debit or credit card, there’s something psychological about paying with cash. You become more aware of what you’re actually handing over, and it makes you stop and think about what you’re buying.
While there will certainly be bills that you need to pay online, try to pay for most things with cash—easy categories are groceries, house supplies, clothes, self-care, eating out, etc. I keep track of my cash with cash envelopes, and it’s the best way I have found to manage and spend my money conscientiously.
4.) Implement a $1 or $5 bill challenge
This is a fun one, because the cash adds up faster that you might think. Choose a bill denomination (I’m currently doing this with $1) and every time you get one back in change, put it away. I saved $23 in the month of January just by not spending one dollar bills. If I save approximately that amount every month, by December I will have almost $300 toward my next vacation.
While you’re at it, make sure to put all your coin change in a jar! Before your trip you can get it changed for bills and you’ll have some extra spending money for souvenirs or food.
5.) Plan ahead for your trip
Not sure how much money you need to save for that trip you really want to take to Iceland or Ireland or India? Even if you aren’t going until a year from now, you can start planning today. Planning will enable you to set realistic goals. How much do plane tickets usually cost during the time of year you hope to go? Will you stay in hotels or hostels? Which cities do you want to visit, and how much does food cost in that part of the world? Do you need to purchase new luggage or clothing before you leave?
You can get a good idea of what to expect by conducting some Google searches, watching YouTube videos, reading blog recommendations, or getting your hands on a travel book. Of course, prices change over time and exchange rates fluctuate—but it’s better to have something to aim for. If possible, try your best to over-budget in case something changes drastically, or there is an emergency. I saved about $500 more than I predicted I would need for my last trip to Australia and New Zealand; at the end of the trip I was able to splurge a little more on souvenirs and I still had money left over to put toward my next trip.
How do you save for your travels? Let me know in the comments below.