Saving money to travel is tough. After tackling over 35k in student loans and medical debt, I’ve put a few lessons together to help you do the same.
For most of us, the biggest barrier against booking our next trip are the financial constraints we face. For me, it was no different. I graduate college with about $35,000 in student loans (about average for college grads these days), had major knee surgery, serious dental work all while living in one of the most expensive cities in the country in the USA, Washington, D.C. All this to say, with some strict budgeting I was able to pay off my loans and all my medical procedures within about three years. On top of that, I saved enough money to start traveling full time! I’ve put together some tips I’ve used over the past few years that might help you save money to travel as well!
1. Make a weekly meal plan and stick to it
One of the biggest wallet killers is eating out multiple times a week. Whether it is going out for lunch at work or dinner/drinks after, these can add up to easily a couple hundred dollars a WEEK if you’re not careful. It’s admittedly not as enjoyable to cook or meal prep for yourself each week, but it’ll end up saving you a ton! Every Saturday or Sunday plan your meals for the following week and make a shopping list for everything you’ll need to make those meals happen. Get as granular as possible, outlining breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day of the week. The less wiggle room, the easier it will be to stick to the plan.
2. Stick to a pattern
Consistency is also key to a tight budget. If you keep an arsenal of a few recipes you use for lunches or dinners, then you’ll be able to buy in bulk and (kitchen) economies of scale will kick in. The more variety of in your meal lineup, the more types of ingredients you’ll need to keep in stock which will increase your grocery bill.
3. Find copycat recipes of your favorite takeout
This is by far one of the easiest ways to make your weekly meals more delicious and easier to stomach day after day. There’s a salad chain in the states called “Sweetgreen”, and they make the best meals I’ve ever had. If I could only eat at one place for the rest of my life, it would be them. BUT eating there every day would absolutely destroy my wallet. Luckily though, there are plenty of food bloggers out there who have created copycat recipes that taste damn close to the real thing. I’ve managed to find copycat recipes of my favorite salads and pretty much only rely on those for my dinner repertoire.
So if you have a favorite chain or restaurant, the chances are that there are some food bloggers out there who share the same passion and have put together some copycat recipes. Or if you’re more adept in the kitchen than myself, you can probably come up with some yourself!
4. Invite friends over instead of going out
Friends are great. Friends can also wreak havoc on your budgeting goals. Instead of hanging out by going to dinner or drinks, offer to make food and invite them over to your place. Get a bottle of wine, grab some cheese or snacks and you’ve go yourself a good spread for a tenth of what it would cost at a restaurant. You can even impress them with your cooking skills by making some of those newly found copycat recipes! More often than not your friends will also bring over some food or drinks and you’ve got plenty to last the night.
5. If you do go out, find a good happy hour
Yeah staying in all the time is boring. Especially in your 20s. So when you go out, look for good happy hour deals near you. You’ll likely pay about %30 less than you’d usually pay for the same drinks. Every little bit counts when trying to budget aggressively. There was a good speakeasy-ish joint next to my apartment in D.C. which offered $6 classic cocktails and martinis. That’s a steal! So when it’s Friday and you’ve had a hell of a week, look for some of those types of deals to drink away the pain.
7. Think about what you might be giving up with each purchase
This one is a little harder to quantify and more of a mentality to take on. Whenever you’re about to make a purchase, imagine the opportunity cost that purchase entails. A new $100 pair of shoes? That’s easily 7 nights in some hostels around the world. When you think about purchases in that way, you might start to examine your spending habits a bit differently.
8. Examine your monthly overhead and prioritize
In today’s world, pretty much everything comes with a monthly subscription service. Sometimes we easily overlook those expenses. Take a look at your monthly credit card statements and see what is a recurring expense each month. Spotify? Gym? Netflix? Hulu? All of the above? Those can add up to some serious cash! Prioritize which ones you value the most and cancel the rest.
9. Don’t forget to treat yourself once in a while
All this budgeting can really be a burden on your psyche. Life is supposed to be fun, don’t forget to keep that in mind! It’s ok to throw in some nice dinners, drinks or splurge purchases every now and then. If you reward yourself then you’ll be more inclined to stay motivated for the long haul. And once you’ve saved enough for a trip, don’t forget to look at a little inspiration.