How to save money for travel (and stay motivated)
Do the prices of flights make your heart contract? Feel weak when you get an email advertising discount travel "specials" that would require you to basically stop eating in order to fund the trip? Do you look at people who always seem to be hopping on a plane/train/cruise and wonder how to save money so you can do the same thing? Congratulations - you're normal.
While your non-millionaire status may seem like a problem (considering your dreams to travel the world), I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be a stumbling block. There are many great posts on how to save money when travelling (for starters, try Nomadic Matt's) but while you could book a one way ticket and waitress your way through, you probably need to store up some cash first.
Here are some of my tips on how to save money for travel (and stay motivated while you do it).
Know your real bank balance (and your goals)
While it sounds pretty boring (I can almost hear you crying 'Don't make me open a spreadsheet, please!"), you can't start saving money until you have a good idea of how much you're bringing in and how much you're spending. Go through your bank statements and list your monthly expenses (all of them) in whichever way seems less threatening - try the notes app on your phone, a tracker like Wally, or a nice harmless piece of paper. It won't bite.
Try to be as exact as possible, but focus on the expenses that you incur every month or on some other regular basis. What is on that list that you could do without? Do you have a monthly subscription for a TV service you never watch? Gym membership you barely use? Splurging on digital downloads you could do without? Are you spending more on entertainment and eating out than you thought? Try to remove the less-than-crucial expenses from your list. Congratulations, you have a budget!
Now, if you add up all the crucial expenses and subtract that total from your income, how much is left over? If you're ambitious, that could be how much you save every month. Maybe you could save even more than that, if no unexpected expenses popped up to eat your money and you work consistently to cut back. Use that figure to set a monthly target of how much you'd like to save. Now you have a goal to work towards.
Pay your savings out first
I know people who try to save what's left over at the end of the month. If you're super disciplined and can see that money in your bank account and not spend it, good for you. I see that money, forget it's meant to be savings, and accidentally trip and fall into the nearest shopping mall.
I highly (strongly. seriously.) suggest that you open up a separate savings account, linked to your main account. The second your money comes in, pay the amount you want to save directly into your savings account and try to forget about it. It's untouchable.
If something unavoidable or urgent pops up and you really need the money, you can transfer it back into your main (spending) account. But if not, it will reside in a nice safe space, earning you interest while your other account takes all the day-to-day damage. If there's anything in there at the end of the month, transfer it back to savings.
Having separate accounts saves you the mental calculations of deducting your savings from your disposable income to work out how much you can actually spend. In a few months, the balance in your savings account can help motivate you to keep going, virtually crying out "Don't spend me!" and showing you how far you've come.
Figure out what you can (and can't) live without
If you've tried this savings thing before, you've probably come across a book called 'Your money or your life'. While I am not going to force you to follow all the nine steps (if you feel so inclined, feel free), one part that hit home for me was around what makes you happy and what you feel is a valuable way to spend your hard-earned cash.
Remember, that money didn't just appear -- you dedicated hours and hours of your time on this planet to a task and money was given in return. If you put all that effort in, don't you want to spend it on things you actually care about? What is a non-negotiable and worthwhile expense for you and what isn't?
For example, I used to spend a lot of money on food. While I like food (and need it to survive, obviously), I did not want hours at a desk to be repaid by boring things like bread and apples. So I found ways to cut down (switch brands, try different stores, finish everything in the cupboard before buying more) and I was fine with it. I didn't feel deprived.
Now, if you'd told me to cut down on my dance classes, I would have death-stared you into eternity. They're something I genuinely enjoy and look forward to, and sacrificing them for a cheaper form of exercise would have made me feel cheated and frustrated. I could save in other ways, but I'd be okay if I could still have that one thing.
Figure out what adds the most to your life and accept that expense. It will keep you motivated and help you on days you feel that saving is too hard and you should just give up. Once you've got that safely locked in, you can work on cutting back the others.
Stay away from money-eating temptations
Don't want to spend money? Don't go to the shops. Unsubscribe from store promotion emails. Unfollow YouTubers who do “haul” videos or social media accounts that always talk about what new think they bough this week. It seems so simple, but impulse buys are a threat you need to avoid.
Seriously, I know shopping is fun, but find another hobby. Don't hang out at malls. Don't window shop and torture yourself. Don't browse online stores or make wishlists or obsess over whatever your favourite brand Instagrammed today. You'll just see things you never knew existed but that you suddenly can't live without. You'll either spend money on them, or feel upset about the fact that you can't.
If you need to go to the shops, go with a list, and don't deviate, even for things that aren't that expensive. In the age of fast fashion and affordable-but-beautiful goods, it may not seem like much of a dent in your pocket. I mean, they have a 3 for 2 special so it's okay, right?
Sure, if you really, really need those 3 things because whatever you had broke or wore out and is essential and unfix-able. Otherwise, that's money you spent on even more shirts instead of buying lunch one day on your Euro trip.
Find creative (and small) ways to cut down
If you think about it, there are probably lots of ways you could save money. Maybe you could meet your friend for coffee-and-catchups in a nearby park with beverages you brought from home, instead of coughing up for a vanilla soy latte and slice of gourmet cake?
Maybe you could plan your meals in advance so you don't hit up the more expensive corner store at 8pm on a Friday night because you're out of a key ingredient (or worse, get takeout). Could you walk, cycle or take off-peak public transport on the weekends? Eat at home and just pay for a drink when you go out with friends? Could you do a quick search for coupons or discount codes before checking out your online shopping cart?
When you look at these on their own (or when compared to the cost of big-ticket items like flights or accommodation), they may seem like insignificant savings. But over time, they all add up.
Think of it as optimising the costs of your life. A small change now could let you buy another scoop of gelato in Florence, or a ride on the metro in Paris, or a museum entrance fee, or pay for some fresh fruit for breakfast when you're sick of hotel croissants.
Try to make small steps towards your goal everyday and celebrate the moments when you spend less than you could have.
Can't save any more? Make more
Of course, if you've tried every money saving tip Google can find and you simply can't spend any less, you've got another option: earn more. Now, I'm not suggesting you have to ask for a raise or go hunt for a higher-paying job (you can if you want to), but there a few other ways to top up your piggy bank.
Odd jobs and part-time and weekend work could help you out. A couple of shifts at the local ice cream parlor perhaps, or a house-sitting service? Know anyone so doggedly avoiding a task that they'd be willing to pay you to get it done? Have any creative business ideas you could turn into passive or side income? Or perhaps some old appliances, clothes or furniture you can list online and live without? Look for opportunities.
Visualise and plan your trip to keep inspired
Let's face it, saving isn't much fun. But you know your trip will be. On the days when you've had enough, immerse yourself in planning. Read up about the hangouts the locals love. Research the architect of the famous cathedral. Browse cute Airbnbs or restaurants in the area. Imagine what it would feel like to walk the cobbled streets.
Yes, your trip may be months or even years away. But you're working towards it. You're getting closer with every paycheck. And when you get there, you'll know almost as much as the tour guide and appreciate it so much more.
Then all the times you had to choose the cheapest option or miss out on something will be passed. And they'll have been worth it.
Need some more tips to stay motivated? I've written more about how to consistently work to achieve your goals here.