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One of the most frequent questions we are asked is how we have been able to afford to travel for nearly two years. People often assume you have to be a trustafarian or wealthy to travel, and the simple answer is that is not true. Of course you need a job, and yes it helps if you have steady income with minimal debt. The real trick is being a savvy consumer, smart with your income, and a willingness to modify your routine in order to save money.
Here is our simple formula for how to save money for travel: costs ↓ = income ↑.
First, let’s start with the costs because this where there is most opportunity.
Costs add up over time and are the first target for how to save money for travel. The goal is to lower your costs as much as possible while still feeling comfortable with your quality of life. You shouldn’t have to go dumpster diving to save money on food (though, I’ve met people who do this).
The very first thing to do when examining your costs is to identify your needs vs wants. For example, you need to eat, but you may want to go out to eat rather than cooking for yourself. Cooking at home is a massive money saving opportunity. This is the first place to start when trimming excess spending.
Food is typically the bulk of monthly expenses in any budget. Here are some ways to reduce your food costs.
- Buy Bulk. If you’re shopping for food to cook at home, you’ll get a discount if you buy more. This could mean shopping at Coscto, buying large bags of dog food. Jen buys almond milk in bulk from Whole Foods (just ask a clerk to get you a box from the back) and our local food co-op even has options to buy in mega bulk (bonus if you can find some friends to split 50lbs of dates with)
- Buy from Co-ops, Farmers Markets, and Discount Grocery Stores. When we started saving money of our trip, Jen made it clear that high-quality food is non-negotiable. We value what we put in our body and we weren’t going to stop eating organic or natural ingredients. That doesn’t mean we have to shop entirely at Whole Foods or gourmet grocery stores. Instead:
- Shop at your local food CO-OP where the produce quality is local, cheaper, and fresher.
- Visit your weekly farmers’ market where the money goes directly to the hardworking farmers.
- Sign up for newsletters at local markets. They often have sales and/or coupons and will let you know first if a deal is to be had. This is how we one day came home with about 15 variety of nut butters.
- We even went to our local Grocery Outlet to buy items on the cheap. Jen was skeptical at first, but when we found super cheap, high-quality coconut oil, she was sold.
- And don’t forget to buy in bulk. We love these reusable produce bags for bulk purchases.
- Grow Your Own. Growing fruits and vegetables is surprisingly easy. We have a small, yet efficient garden in our backyard where we grow most of our greens. You don’t need as much space as you might think to grow some produce and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about DIY food systems.
- Stop Eating Meat. Aside from the ethical, environmental, and health aspects of eating meat, it can be expensive. Start with Meatless Monday and go from there. You’ll be surprised how little you’ll miss it after a few weeks. Check out our yummy recipes for ideas on how to make simple plant based meals at home.
- Eat Cheap: If you decide that you need night away from the kitchen, then go out for happy hour, where prices are generally lower. Since we’re lucky enough to live in Portland, we also opted to eat out at food carts because the food is fantastic and the prices are lower than standard brick and mortar stores.
If you have medical bills, you can often pay in cash for a huge discount, rather than monthly ongoing payments. Call the office and ask if they’re willing to give you a discount for a cash payment.
Internet speeds and services continue to get better. You probably don’t need the super duper high speed lightning fast connection. Try calling your Internet Service Provider and ask if they’ll lower your rate or downgrade your speed. If you threaten to cancel your service, they will usually offer you a promotional discount rate for 6 months. If not promotion is offered, then lower your speeds. You most likely won’t notice the difference between 25mb/s vs 100 mb/s.
Netflix / HBO / Amazon Etc.
If you still have cable TV then now is the time to cut the cord. It’s overpriced, full of commercials, and there is plenty of free on-demand content available like Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime. If you’ve got a plan with Netflix, HBO, Amazon, etc, then form a group/family plan with friends and share the costs. Why pay for it solo?
The days of having a single cell phone and paying for data, minutes, and texts are long gone. Join a shared plan with family and friends. This is an easy way to save money. If you must have an individual plan, then look at your usage. If you’re not using all your data, downgrade your data plan.
First, sell your car if you can. They are huge money sinks, terrible for the environment, and a depreciating asset. Use a shared rental model like Zipcar, Lyft, Car2Go, or GetAround. Another option is to consider moving towards a one-car household. If you must have a car and cannot sell it, then drive it less. Take public transportation, ride your bike, and carpool. Cars are expensive with maintenance, licenses/taxes, gasoline, insurance, and repairs.
For electricity, unplug things when you leave the house. Consider changing your heating and/or air conditioning by 1 or 2 degrees. If you have a garden, water in the evening so the water doesn’t evaporate over the day. Use a soaker hose or drip hose to save water. Get a water barrel and harvest the rain for gardening.
Items / Things
Don’t buy anything! You don’t need a new shirt, the latest cell phone, or a new pair of shoes. The goal is to cut your costs. If you have to buy something, are you getting the best price? We bought our supplements from Amazon and saved nearly 50% compared to our local store. What about buying used? When we needed a new lawnmower, we found one at Goodwill at a considerably cheaper price. Same goes for clothes, consider buying second hand or at a consignment shop.
I am a live music buff and love seeing my favorite bands in person. I didn’t stop enjoying my passion for groovy jams, I simply limited the number of shows I attended. Instead of going to see every band coming through Portland, I only went to shows of my favorite band. It’s about moderation.
Movies can be really expensive. Rather than see the latest movie in 3D, we went to the second-run theater that costs $4 per person. Sure, the theatre has not had any updates in 30 years, but that’s ok, we still got to see the movie without all the extra costs and advertisements.
We had a bit of a kombucha and coffee habit before we learned how to save money for travel. Both drinks can be pricey when purchased at a cafe or market, especially when you add up the costs over a period of time. After a little research we found out that making kombucha at home was incredibly easy to do. We also started buying bulk coffee and making it at home, rather than paying inflated prices at cafes. Think about your own addictions or splurge items, can you make them at home for less?
Trade / Barter
Trading skills or goods for services needed can be a huge money saver. We needed some work on our bikes, so I traded my business skills in exchange for labor with my local LBS. I even made a new friend in the process. Look for opportunities to trade a skill you have for something that you would normally pay for.
The sharing economy continues to be a place for people to find value in sharing the ownership commonly purchased items. Aside from peer to peer car sharing as mentioned before, there are other sharing economy-based ways to save money. For example, in Portland there are tool libraries and kitchen libraries. When we need to use a weed whacker, we don’t buy one to use three times a year, rather we rent it from our neighborhood tool library. Or, consider asking your neighbor!
Once you’ve cut back on your costs, then it’s time to put your efforts towards generating more income.
Airbnb / Roomate
One of the easiest methods for making additional money is with housing. Are you going away for the weekend? Rent your room, apartment, or house on AirBnB. We spent the summer before our trip exploring nature and rented our place over a dozen times. You’ll need to make sure you have the appropriate permits and that you’re following city codes, but it’s time well spent. You can always get an additional roommate if you’ve got the space in your living quarters. This is an easy way to generate fast income in the short term.
Services / Skills
Got an in demand skill and a little bit of free time? Look to sell that skill online or look for other opportunities to make a few bucks. We’ve had friends find short-term weekend jobs via Craigslist or job hiring boards. The goals is to make a few extra dollars without taking a full time second job. Have fun with it and make sure to put the money into your travel bank account without spending it.
Sell Sell Sell
We sold a ton of stuff before we left. Bike parts, clothes, electronics, college text books, furniture, you name it. If it had value and we didn’t want it anymore, we sold it. You’d be surprised how easy it is to sell text books online or sell electronics on Ebay. It takes time to catalogue your possessions and the payoff can be worth if you sell enough times. Plus, simplifying your life with less clutter and less stuff has positive phycological effects too.
High Yield Savings Account
Once you start saving money, put the money in a high yield savings account. You’ll get the best interest rates, have access to the money at anytime, and still be earning interest on income. Here is a list of the current top High Yield Savings Accounts. I’ve written before about how to securely manage finances while traveling.
To read more about how to managed your finances while traveling, read my post 9 Tips to Securely Manage Your Finances While Traveling.