By Emily Landsiedel
The first and most frequent question Peter and I get when we announce we are traveling to 22 countries over the next nine months is, “How can you afford that?” Well, getting to this point was both very difficult and surprisingly easy. It was difficult in that we had to make a lot of sacrifices on our day-to-day spending and spent many hours stressing over how we could meet our goal, but surprisingly easy in that we managed to accomplish this huge feat after only 10 months of saving! (And no, we’re not rich.) Below, I explain how we managed to save over 60% of our income this last year to make this dream a reality.
1. Sell Everything You Don’t Use
The first thing Peter and I did once we decided we wanted to travel abroad was clean out our house (we were moving anyway, which I’ll get to later), and we held a garage sale. We sold furniture, backpacks, bikes, anything and everything we did not absolutely need. We also have made the decision to sell both of our cars before we leave the country. That way we won’t have to find a place to store them, and we won’t be making payments on cars we can’t use.
2. Prioritize- Needs vs. Wants
Learning how to shift our mindset and prioritize needs vs. wants was the single most important step we took towards reaching our savings goal. We cut our spending by two-thirds the first month by applying this strategy. This concept applied to everything we bought, down to a 50-cent candy bar. Every time I got the urge to buy something, I would assess whether it was a need or a want. If it was something I just wanted but didn’t need to have, I would turn around and walk away. This required a lot of self-control countless times a week, but affording a day in Southeast Asia was a bigger priority to me than spending money on eating out or coffee. It’s not easy, but prioritizing travel over our wish to have all the day-to-day things that entice us has been the key to reaching our goal.
A lot of people understand they need to avoid going out when they’re trying to save money, but what they may not realize is how much they spend on things they want at the grocery store. I don’t buy a lot of big items, but before we started saving, I would spend way more than I needed to at the store. I think I assumed, like most of us, that if I’m spending my money on food, it therefore is necessary. However, you can save a lot of money by what you’re buying and not buying. For instance, I used to go and purchase a ton of produce that I had no specific plan for, just to snack on. It would often go bad in the fridge before I ever got to it. Now, I am only purchasing what I need for my meals or something I specifically came to the store to buy. I always show up with a list that I stick to, and I avoid going down aisles I don’t need to go down, so I can’t pick up extra food along the way. If I didn’t need it before I came to the store, it’s not necessary.
Finally, I would make it a personal goal each workweek to try not to spend a single dime on “wants” until the weekend. Teaching requires working long hours into the evening, so I rarely got together with friends during the week. Instead, it was mostly avoiding the temptation to stop at Dairy Queen on the drive home or buying alcohol at the grocery store. I had to remind myself, “Dimes Make the Difference.”
Did we ever mess up and spend money? Of course we did! We would go out to eat with friends, buy coffee, see a movie, or go out for drinks. We weren’t perfect, and we also needed to keep our sanity. However, we would try to limit excessive spending as much as possible, and when we slipped up, we would recognize that each day was a new day and try again. As long as we kept needs vs. wants as our general mindset, we steadily got closer to our goal each month.
This is the day Peter and I first got the idea to travel the world.
3. Work Extra Hours or Jobs
This year I took on as many additional jobs as I could handle at my work. I worked playground duty on my lunches and tutoring after school. I taught myself a whole slew of new skills like soap making, scrapbooking, and painting in order to teach after school enrichment classes twice a week all year long. I was averaging about 50 hours a week (plus 10 hours of grading and lesson planning). But the busier I was, the less I spent right?
4. Travel Credit Cards
If you’re financially responsible and know how to use a credit card like you would your debit card, including paying off your balance in full each month, travel credit cards are the way to go. This required a post in-and-of- itself, so you can find my detailed advice on this here.
5. Reduce Your Current Expenses
Look at your bills- what can you cut? Are you subscribed to a music service you don’t need? Could you substitute cable for Netflix? Could you live in a cheaper apartment? This takes me to the last major way Peter and I saved . . .
Peter and I have been living long distance for the last four years. He lives and works in Great Falls where he grew up, and I live and work in Helena where I was raised. We only get to see each other on the weekends. In July of last year, I had been living in a house with a friend, but when he moved out and I got a new roommate from Craiglist, I realized there was no point in spending hundreds of dollars every month to live with someone I didn’t know when I could save thousands by moving back in with my parents and just pitching in for food. Peter and I decided it was smarter to live with our parents in Great Falls and Helena and go back and forth on the weekends, than paying rent on two apartments with acquaintances for roommates. Our parents have been incredibly generous putting up with us for the last 9 months in order to help us reach our goal to travel the world.
I purposely saved this strategy for the last section because I know it is not feasible for everyone to save on rent this way, and because living with our parents didn’t make or break our trip. In fact, saving on rent and utilities only made up 20% of our entire savings. If we had not lived with them, our trip still would have been possible, we just would have needed to save an additional four months to reach our goal. So before you discount everything previous to this and think that you can only afford to travel the world by living with your parents, know that it is still completely possible without this step.
So when you hear us say we are traveling the world for nine months, instead of saying, “I wish I could do that,” I hope this helps you realize that you CAN do what we are doing. Travel isn’t reserved for the über rich. Anyone can save money for travel by employing some or all of these steps.