Ugh, finance. I hate numbers. Math makes me queasy, actually. Like, physically nauseous.
On the other hand, I love traveling. And traveling costs money. So, unfortunately, I need to find said money to do said traveling. So that brings me back to finance. And numbers. And math.
At some point, I realized that my urge to travel was more significant than my aversion to math. No one was more shocked than me when I realized that, believe me. Because I dread budgeting, I started obsessively researching it. And I found a whole bucket load of tips that I now use to squirrel away funds into a savings account I have for the sole purpose of funding my travels.
Here are some of the tips I found while stumbling around the web, by asking friends and, of course, by observing my money-minding, checklist-writing, wonderfully organized husband.
So here goes:
- Cut the coffee. Here in China, a puny little cup of non-fancy coffee currently costs upwards of 25 CNY (which is just shy of 4 USD). If you have only one cup every working day, that comes to more than 500 CNY per month. That’s around 80 USD, people. 80 USD!! So, instead of having the one tiny cup of coffee per day, you could also have about 35 servings of delicious Chinese noodles here in Shenyang. Or visit the Forbidden City in Beijing 8 times and still have some change. Or take the cable car up to the Great Wall, take a stroll there and go back down on a giant metal slide along with 3 of your friends with enough money left over for water and snacks for all of you. Or…you get the idea. So, if you are a caffeine addict, make your own coffee at home instead of polluting the planet with throwaway paper cups and wasting precious travel money.
- Quit smoking. Really. If you are a smoker and have not yet given up that unhealthy, smelly, nasty (have I mentioned unhealthy yet?) habit, do it now. Or at least cut back. Just think of all the beautiful things you could discover, the friends you could meet on the road, the travel memories you could make and the all-around awesomeness you would experience if you used that money towards your next trip instead.
- The same goes for nights on the town. Frequent drinking is not exactly known for its health benefits. And, when you do it at restaurants, in bars, pubs, or clubs, it becomes real expensive real fast. So, do yourself and your wallet a favor and limit your spending in that area. You can always reward yourself for your frugality later when you are sipping a beer on a beautiful beach. In Vietnam for instance, a local pint will only cost you 20,000 VND (that’s less than 0.9 USD). And, since you’ve been so good recently about indulging less, you can even have two!
- Another drain on your finances is a habit of ordering take-out food, frequent meals in restaurants or even regular stops at fast food joints. You’d think that those do not amount to much, but they tend to add up alarmingly. The perfect antidote is cooking at home. It’s cheap, it’s healthier (you become much more aware of how much sugar, grease, and other nasty things go into your food when it is YOU putting them there), and better for the environment. Just make sure to buy ingredients that are in season and avoid processed foods. Processed foodstuffs look cheaper on the outside, but they are a lot less nutritious than their non-processed cousins, so you have to eat more of them for the same effect. And they’re sooo unhealthy!
- Analyze your credit card bill. Check all purchases to determine whether they were made while you were hungry, angry, lonely or tired. These are vulnerable states of mind that make us splurge on unnecessary things. Once you have identified them, you can become aware BEFORE making a purchase that it may be unwise and simply NOT buy in the first place. Tadaa, money saved!
- Get an app. What kind of app? The kind that helps you track the money you spend on a day-to-day basis. Being held accountable – even if it is just by a string of computer code – might help you refrain from buying things you don’t really need or want and going into debt for it. Forbes did an interesting article on such apps in June 2017, you might want to have a look. My favorite from their list of money saving apps was Unsplurge because it lets you save up for a specific goal, which is just perfect for our purposes!
All of the tips above are about changing your habits. This does not happen overnight and is a bit of a challenge. You will probably relapse a few times and fall back into old spending habits. That’s okay. Just keep going. Remember, the goal is that extra day in your dream destination or that fantastic experience you could otherwise not indulge in. But what if you feel that those long-term, sustainable routines are not for you? Or that you are not ready to change your lifestyle, or that maybe you are already doing all of the above? Then I have also found some quick, one-time fixes you can do to your budget that will make you insta-travel-money.
- Unsubscribe from all those unnecessary retail email lists. Receiving newsletters into our inbox animates us to buy the things advertised there. So instead of browsing those emails about the latest fashion, technology or “fun activities,” have a look at travel blogs instead and plan your next trip. Material things will only clutter up your living space and gather dust. Travel memories, however, last forever and don’t need nearly as much storage.
- Are you overpaying on your cable bill? Chances are there are cheaper cable TV options out there. And if you are willing to haggle, call up your provider and renegotiate your contract. Or maybe you don’t really need cable TV at all. Many people still spend ridiculous amounts every month for cable, instead of using a much cheaper option like Netflix or Hulu.
- And another one: when was the last time you used your home phone? Cell phones are the way to go, trust me. You can save the monthly cost of a landline and put this money away instead to save up for your next adventure.
- You could also set up a deduction of your paycheck which is automatically transferred onto your travel fund savings account. It can be a tiny amount which you won’t even notice, but it will add up over time and help you stay that extra couple of days longer on your next trip or enable you to splurge for something while you are out exploring.
There are companies that want to help you with squirreling away small amounts of cash each month, such as digit. This app/website analyzes people’s income and spending patterns and calculates which small quantity you won’t miss, then siphons it off into their account to save it for you. You can then withdraw the money at any time when you want to make a big purchase (or go on your next epic journey).
Another service called acorns automatically invests money from rounded up purchases with your credit card. This means that if you were to purchase something, let’s say a couple of books for a total of $35.87, they would take $0.13 and invest that money for you into a diversified portfolio. Supposedly, it’s all very low-risk.
Both digit and acorn seem a bit fishy to me because they need me to give an awful lot of personal financial information to those companies. Also, I don’t really have control over what they do, which I find quite scary. Plus, they cost money. Money I could save for my next trip instead. I think I’d still rather go old-school and set up a small automatic transfer every month. Seems to me it’s the more frugal and sensible option. But that’s just me.
- Another option for something that will cut your monthly costs is checking whether your internet provider charges you a router rental fee. Many companies give you a router when you first sign up with them but then charge you monthly for using said If this is the case for you, go to your provider’s website to find out which routers are acceptable for you to use and go out to get your own.
- When was the last time you went to the gym? Honestly now. Yesterday? Last week? Two months ago? While some people are workout-obsessed and dedicated and actually use that expensive gym membership, most of us don’t. So, instead of keeping the monthly payment up in the hopes that we will someday get our act together and go, we could find other ways of getting into shape.
I think an excellent alternative is doing bodyweight training because it can be done at any time and almost anywhere. It makes you independent of weather conditions and gym opening hours. And, the best part, you can keep doing it even when you are traveling. An app that I like and have used in the past is freeletics. The company is from Munich, which made me like them instantly since that was my home for 8 years before moving to China. The app offers countless training sequences that will really challenge you. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of free resources, most of their features only unlock with a premium account. I had this premium membership for a long time and was very satisfied with the service.
But when I started training for a half-marathon in 2016, I switched to runtastic, which in my opinion is the best running app out there. So, if you like to run, you might want to give them a try. Most of the content is free, and the app is straightforward to use and – I think – does a good job motivating you. There is also a premium version that you pay for annually. With it, you get training plans and story runs, and access to their bodyweight training app called runtastic results.
Sorry for the little segue into work out apps – maybe a topic for a future blog post?
Anyway, these were the 12 most helpful tips I have gathered which will make rounding out your travel funds easy as pie. Which ones did you like? What are other tricks you use to make your little travel money hoard grow? Let me know in the comments!