This is a question that we frequently get as our travel up to date has been based on a single moderate salary (my husband has been a full time student). That or people say something like, "It's too expensive to buy plane tickets to go anywhere far. I've got bills to pay".
If you have any intention of traveling as prolifically as we do, we've found that it comes down to lifestyle rather than intermittently employing strategies to save up money for a trip. The ideas I'm going to describe for you here is our lifestyle in a nutshell that allows us to save enough to keep the trips coming. If your goal is just to save up for one big trip then adopting a few of these strategies may be all you need. If you want travel to become what you do, then maybe you should consider taking on a lifestyle change. Lastly, don't be afraid to glean and sift ideas. There are a lot of experienced travelers out there sharing their hacks for making this traveling thing work, all with unique insights to share. At the same time, don't expect that you can adopt all our ideas or anyone else's and have your life fall into place. Things that work for one person may not work for another.
Strategies to Save Money
- Limit eating out. This may not sound like a big deal, but research in a 2013 article by Forbes revealed that the average American spends $1,000 or more annually just eating out for lunch! Imagine if you added in expenses from eating out for the other two meals! Justin and I make a point to pack all our own meals for work and keep our time on the restaurant circuit to a minimum. If we do eat out we pick budget places (usually around $5 a dish) and have only eaten at a truly posh restaurant once in our lives.
- Start cooking. If you limit eating out, this is the obvious next step in the process. If you don't know how to cook, spend some time with a friend or parent who does to learn the basics. If that's not an option, the internet has it all! Watch classes on YouTube and browse blogs for tips and tricks. Consider picking up some simple cook books for ideas. Believe me, you don't have to whip up a fancy meal everyday and will save more money making basic things from scratch versus buying pre-made meals. Beans, rice, lentils, soups, sandwiches and some fruits and veggies were our family staples growing up and continue to be to this day.
- Cut the cable. According to Money by Time, the average US cable bill is $86 per month. That's over a $1,000 a year! Although we enjoy cable at hotels (and the one time I lived in a furnished apartment) we have never had it in our home. Most things that you see on TV can be found just as easily online (like the news) and for shows we use Hulu and our Amazon Prime account. An added benefit of not having cable is that the time we save from not sitting in front of a TV can go into planning the next trip.
- Pay attention to your utilities. Become mindful of the things that drive up your utility bills. Leaving sinks running, leaving lights on throughout the house, long showers, running AC/heat around the clock and so forth. Out of this list I think we save the most money by being very careful about our AC and heat use. We've lived in some very cold (-20F winters) and very hot (triple digit summers) places and still manage to keep the bills low. When it's cold we set the thermostat to a moderate temperature and use the assistance of blankets and layers to stay warm. When we leave the house the heat goes off and we sometimes turn it off at night too. Summer goes in much the same way. The AC is never on when we're away and we like to open windows at night to naturally cool the house down. In the morning they get shut and even curtained if we're really feeling serious. We strip down, embrace some sweat, and use a strong fan next to our bed at night instead of the AC. We didn't even realize how much money we were saving with our methods until we moved to California and heard everyone griping about their $600/month summer utility bills while we were averaging around $60/month!
- Shop smart. Unless it's used or on sale we pretty much don't buy it. Marshall's, Craigslist, Gear Trade, and eBay are our friends. Give love to no name/store brands - for instance instead of buying $3.50 Sarah Lee bagels opt for the $1.50 Walmart brand ones. Pay attention to price per ounce. You will often find that getting one large item is cheaper than getting two or three of the same thing in smaller sizes.
- Buy used cars/lose the car. We've never bought a new car in our life. Can we afford one? Yes, but we'd much rather use that money to traverse the globe then drive around in something that is losing value the moment you drive it off the lot. Plus, if you don't buy your car outright you're tied to your monthly payments and end up paying a lot more for it due to interest. Cars are really a horrible money hole in general due to gas, insurance, and maintenance. So when possible, downsize in number or lose the car completely if you're close enough to work and activities or a good public transit system. For the last three years Justin and I have had our second car parked and off insurance. We also specifically chose an apartment close enough to work and school that we could ride our bikes, thus keeping fuel costs on our other car to a minimum.
- Simplify your phone plan. Different surveys state different numbers, but it would appear that the average American pays around $80 a month, with one study by Cowen and Company touting a $138 monthly average amongst Verizon, AT&T, Spring, and T-Mobile users. This could put you at an annual range of $960 - $1,656 for your phone plan. Consider downgrading to a plan with less data and options or check out one of the no contract companies that piggyback onto larger carriers. We are currently using Cricket (Justin) and MetroPCS (me) and only pay $35 and $40 a month respectively for smartphones with unlimited data, talk, and text. We don't have Samsung Galaxies or iPhones, and if our phones still work we don't waste money upgrading every time a new phone comes out.
- Downsize your house or apartment. Think about what you really need to be comfortable. If you aren't using that third bedroom or it's costing too much to heat that two story house, it may be time for you to downsize. The largest place we've lived as a couple is our current house at 1,200 square feet.
- Pay attention to the small things. Everything adds up. Instead of getting Starbucks on a regular basis (numerous reports state that the average annual cost of buying coffee from a coffee shop is around $1,000) brew it yourself at home. Do home repairs and projects yourself as much as possible. Use things until they are completely gone (for instance make up and deodorant) and find creative ways to eat leftovers instead of throwing them out. And list could go on and on.
It's so easy to spend money, and yet at the same time there are so many ways to save it. So get out there and start saving on behalf of your dreams of travel. We believe in you! And if you have stories, tips, or tricks on how you've saved or continue to save money, we'd love to hear them!