This is the first of a two-part series on overcoming self-imposed obstacles to independent travel.
“I wish I could do that”, people say to me when I tell them I’m quitting my job to travel the Earth. “It’s my dream to take a trip like that, but I just don’t have the money!”
Well, you could!
We are certainly not independently wealthy people. We started saving in January 2009, and as of May 2010, we have reached $65,000 which puts us $5K over our goal (see The Budget). While our friends were busy buying cars, condos, plasma TVs, iPads, vacations, kids, etc., we were saving over half our monthly income.
How you ask? By making lots of small sacrifices which, actually, end up being not much of a sacrifice at all.
Understand Your Spending
I cannot stress this enough. Until you start to track your spending, you don’t realize just how much of your money is going to things you simply don’t need. The small stuff adds up. I strongly suggest a very powerful (and free) website by the name of Mint.com. This budgeting tool tracks every dollar you spend and provides analysis on exactly where your money is going. The animated graphs will aggregate spending by category (e.g. shopping, rent, restaurants, etc.) and will show how your net wealth is growing (or shrinking) over time. If you are a chart and graph connoisseur like me, you will love this site. Mint will help you identify easy changes to your lifestyle. A few examples:
- Kim dropped her iPhone and data plan. = $40/month
- I started brewing coffee at my desk. = $25/month
- I rode my bike to work (on nice days) and stopped taking cabs. = $60/month
- We downgraded to a cheaper cable TV plan. = $50/month
- We ditched our storage unit. = $100/month
That’s an extra $275 in savings right there, and that’s just the little stuff. If you cut some of the bigger ticket items like eating out, vacations, fancy apartment, etc., you will find yourself with another $500 (or more) on top of that…per month! Not bad.
But if you really want to save some serious cash, there are three words that will have you in that hostel bunk in no time– sell your car.
Oh baby. This was the best decision we’ve ever made. This may seem counterintuitive, but selling your car actually gives you more freedom. Freedom from $200 parking. Freedom from $1,500 repair bills. Freedom from $300 car payments. Freedom from $30 per week in gasoline. Freedom from an endless money pit!
Granted, this is much easier for us urban dwellers, and the car-free lifestyle may not be possible for everyone. However, I highly suggest you look into it. It may be difficult at first, but I think you’ll never go back after making the plunge. Our car-free lifestyle alone has funded a large chunk of this adventure. Would you rather be sitting in traffic in a Toyota or on the beach in Goa?
Open a Low-risk Savings Account
You will want to segregate those trip-bucks if want any hope. Some suggest investing your money in mutual funds or stocks, but I think these instruments are too volatile in the short run. True, if we had systematically invested in Apple and Google over the past 18 months, we would have over $100K by now. You will drive yourself crazy if you kick yourself like that or dwell on the possible upside. Think of the potential downside— you could lose 50 percent or more of your hard-earned savings. Not a good thing.
We suggest an online savings account such as Dollar Savings Direct— one of the highest yield accounts when we began saving heavily. Our money grew safely and predictably at 1.5 to 4 percent per year in this FDIC insured account. It may not sound like much, but it put an extra $650 in our pockets. Remember, compound interest is your friend.
If you don’t see it, you won’t spend it. Create automatic transfers or direct deposits to your savings account each month. I had 80 percent of my paycheck directly deposited in our savings, and we learned to adjust. We grew accustomed to only seeing a few hundred dollars on my payday, and we lived off of Kim’s salary for the most part. It may be tough at first, but Mint.com will be a big help.
Make yourself a thermometer graph. You know the kind. Print a copy each week and put it on your refrigerator. If you are planning to travel with a spouse/friend, have a little unveiling ceremony each week. It will keep you both motivated, and it makes saving money kinda’ fun! Before you know it, that mercury will be shooting through the top.
So the next time you pick up that cute shirt or cool gadget, remind yourself:
“Would I rather have this…thing…or an unforgettable trip around the world?”
As my college roommate Ryan would say,