If you’re like me, traveling the world is something you’ve dreamed about since you were a little kid. I would play make-believe that I was a world traveler, and I spent countless hours daydreaming of the places I’d see, the people I’d meet, and the wondrous thing I’d experience when I was all grown up.
Then real life happened. I graduated college and got a salaried job in my field. I dated guys who didn’t own passports and had no desire to leave town. I watched my friends get engaged, buy homes, and settle down. I accepted that world travels were for people in their early 20s who didn’t have careers yet, and never even considered quitting my job and working for myself around the world until I met Topher.
We weren’t dating at the time, in fact, we hardly knew each other. We were carpooling to Denver for a work thing when Topher said, “You know, since I’m single, I think I’m going to arrange something with my work where I can live London and work remotely, or maybe somewhere else in the world. I’ve always wanted to live and work abroad.”
Oh, this guy is interesting. I thought. Three hours of conversation later, I found myself with a big crush on this intereting, adventurous, intelligent man. We started dating a month after that, and after a few months of being very happy together we started tenatively planning a round-the-world trip. Nine months into dating, we got serious about it.
Just one problem; I had ZERO dollars in savings.
I’d never managed to consistently save money in my life. So how the hell was I going to save enough to travel with a good safety net under me?
I figured out some hacks that helped me save, and I ended up saving $8K in the 8 months between our decision to leave and our leave date. Right now I’m sitting on a hill in the rainforest overlooking the ocean. I did it, and you can too. Below, I share exactly how I did it.
Note: I am not married with kids, and I’m much more flexible than you might be if you’ve got a lot of lives to uproot with you.
I Treated it like a Game: A Game I can WIN
This is my DREAM. If I didn’t go now, we’d get married, settle down, have kids, and always wonder “What if?” So I decided to treat it like a game against myself, and to have fun with this. I set a date (originally August 1st) and said, no matter what, I’m going then.
Game on, bitches.
I Made an Unreasonable, Specific Goal
It was on. So I set a slightly unreasonable goal; $10K by August 1st. In the end I only saved $8k, but by setting a goal that seemed too high but was in a sense doable, I managed to save a lot more money than by setting a goal that seemed easy.
I Made it Easy to Track My Money
Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Well I’m gaming the system now. I need my money to be as easily viewable as possible.
LearnVest makes it really easy to track your savings and your spending
My first step was to sign up for a LearnVest account. I don’t use their paid service; for me just seeing my budget, where my money went, and how I spent it was very illuminating. I learned that I spent $400 a month on food. That my coffee shop habit was way out of hand. That the nights I spent out with the girls was racking up a ton of extra expense. I was throwing my money around like there was no tomorrow; no wonder I didn’t have any left over!
Tracking My Savings Goal
I used Learnvest’s free stuff for this. I put in the due date and my savings goal and learned that I needed to save $1300/month to make that happen. That was about half of my income after taxes. Hah. Hah. Hah. cries
Automatic Withdrawals Are My New Best Friend
I asked my friend Ashley how she managed to save money every month consistently.
Easy. I make an automatic withdrawal 2x every month, like it’s a bill. I set it up to take money from my account right after I get paid, so that it’s gone right away and I barely notice that I have less money in my bank account.
That sounded doable! So I set up automatic withdrawals right after I got paid bi-monthly to take out $650 each time. Easy!
I Eliminated Unnecessary Variable Costs
I learned that I spent far too much petty cash at coffee shops, and too much on food. So I came up with a plan. Instead of blowing all my money going to trendy restaurants with my friends, I would cook for them and have classy nights in my apartment intsead, effectively saving money while honing my cooking skills.
Game on. Following my ‘Make it Easy’ advice, I thought, what if I could make these expenses harder to overspend on? I got a Starbucks gift card and told myself I could only spend $25 a month (which for me was a huge reduction). Being able to see my balance kept me dedicated and I ended up saving a bunch of money this way.
At the time, Sprouts had a deal where if you bought a $100 gift card they’d give you 10% off on it. I bought one and set the ridiculous goal of using one $100 gift card a month for all of my groceries. Note: I did this only for two months, because in the long-term, fuck that. Difficult? Extremely! But it was a game that I was determined to win, at least for a month or two to prove to myself that I could do it.
You know what I noticed? This still astounds me, but I started eating a lot healthier. Turns out that fresh vegetables and fruits are way cheaper than anything else. I stopped being such a squishy person, and I hit my numbers.
Did I really need Netflix? Absolutely!
But then I remembered the plethora of completely shitty movies on there. Nope. No one needs Netflix anymore. Cancelled. Same with my Spotify Premium. Hey, $10/month is $120/year! That adds up. And I wasn’t going to lose this game.
Do I miss Netflix? Not really. Instead, I read books and learn new skills with my free time. Do I miss Spotify? Yes. Yes, I missed it so much I re-added it after a couple of months. Even I am not an impenetrable fortress of self-control. (Note: I’m listening to Spotify right now. Turns out Greg Laswell’s new album is terrible.)
I live an hour from work. I could carpool to work, which I sometimes did with my neighbor Andy; but he only worked a couple days a week and we had different schedules. Most cities have a carpool program and I could use that, but then I remembered that my work paid for a bus pass. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but… game on.
Riding the bus has been an interesting time to say the least.
I once overheard the guy next to me on the phone say, “Yeah, it’s rough work, but I have a job and hey, I mean I’m out on parole after committing murder! That’s pretty much best case scenario all things considered.” He laughs. A pause. “Yeah. I did. Yeah. He’s dead.”
Sitting next to murderers isn’t ideal, but I save $150 a month doing it (not to mention the mileage and associated depreciation on my car). Game on! Also, the lack of commuting by car left me a lot less stressed out. I started meditating on the bus too. Okay, so I still don’t have the hang of mediation (why be mindful when you can be daydreaming?) but my wallet thanked me.
I Expensed More Stuff Through Work
I thought about other expenses and remembered that there were things my phone would pay for that I never filled out an expense report on. My phone bill was $40/month at the time, and for the last 10 months I hadn’t expensed it. That’s $400 extra I could have in my bank account!
What ELSE had I not been expensing that I could? Lesson learned: expense everything you can.
I Need Less Stuff Now
- I buy less stupid shit
- Thrift store clothing is awesome
- I’m leaving the country anyway… what the hell am I doing buying stuff that I’ll just have to give or throw away? This one was easy and saved me +/- $300 a month.
I Increased My Earnings
I was making $40,000 a year, and I suspected I was underpaid at my job. So I did my research. I pulled numbers from multiple different sites and to my surprise, the average earnings for my position where I work is 65k a year. Holy shit. So I walked in to my boss’s office and asked for a $25k raise. Showed him the paperwork saying I deserved it. He offered me an 8k raise. Not 25k, sure, but still a 20% raise. I took it.
Summary: If you want to increase your earnings, read up on negotiations, and get yo’self a raise, or get a side-job
I Moved to Cheaper Rent
I moved in with my boyfriend (which was in our plans anyway) and he pays more rent in exchange for me cooking all the meals and cleaning the apartment for him.
If you have a year or so to plan, consider getting roommates, living in a cheaper area of town for a year (the sacrifice, as long as you’re not putting yourself in danger, is well worth the reward of traveling the world!), or the dreaded moving in with the folks if you’re young and unmarried. Game on, remember? This is temporary pain for an experience that you’ll never forget down the road.
I DON’T TAKE SHIT OUT OF MY SAVINGS ACCOUNT
Even $50 a month is still $600 a year that could be getting me a place to live in Colombia for a month. I understand that emergencies come up (I’m under my savings goal because I dipped into my savings to fix up my car), but unless it’s an absolutely necessary situation, I count my savings account off-limits.
And There You Have It
I saved $8000 and even if something goes wrong with my current remote work, I have a pretty good pad to land on. I’m on an island with no cars, living off-the-grid in Bocas Del Toro, Panama right now. I’m sitting in the post-sunset glow on the porch accross the table from Topher, scratching bug bites and rueing that our eco-house is running low power because it was too cloudy for the solar panels to be effective today. We spent almost 3 hours taking a boat to go grocery shopping today, and I’m googling, “how to get ants out of your computer” because they’ve made it their nest. But it’s all worth it. Because we did it. We’re seeing the world, working anywhere that has wifi, and we’re on the adventure of our lives.
If you have any other specific questions about saving to travel, email us at TopherandMadi@fuckyourtravelblog.com. We’re happy to help!