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Wheels are up for me, I’m taking my fifth vacation this year in a mere few weeks. That’s right, my fifth! I’m traveling to Iceland in November and I couldn’t be more excited. (But that’s not the point of this post).
As I announced my newest vacation plans on social media I was flooded with requests on how I could afford this and to teach my ways. So, after many nights of pondering, I decided to put together this guide for you. I’ve divided the guide into separate sections, some longer than others, and links to other articles you might find helpful.
I also divvying my money saving tips for travel into three guides. First, is how to save money before trips, second, on how to save when planning a trip, and the third, how to save money during your trips. (Stay tuned for the second and third guides, coming soon!)
In many of the sections, I list products and services that help me stay organized and financially responsible. Some of these are affiliate links, meaning I get a small fee if you decide to buy it. But I emphasize that these are tried and true products and services, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling you about them.
So put your pocketbook at ease and let’s dive into another adventure:
The first step to being able to travel affordably is understanding your current finances. Travel isn’t cheap, true, but you can (and should!) make it a priority in your life.
So the first step is to sit down and look at your income. How much do you make a year? Do you have any side hustles? Once you’ve crunched the numbers, see what your expenses are. This is when you’d total your monthly bills. Just a warning, this number is going to boggle you, but not nearly as much as the amount of money you spend on things you don’t need.
For this, I take my bank statements and receipts for the past month (ideally a month where you didn’t take a vacation). Then I start to break it down into categories: clothing, accessories, home, gas, etc. A great app to help you do this is Wally. Wally even has pre-established areas and develops visual graphs that can show you what percentage of your money you spent on each category.
Marvel, or more like gawk at the totals. Did you seriously spend that much on take-out? Were there areas that you were good at? I take a few notes of things I could improve on and areas where I could realistically skimp a little more. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but you at least establish a realistic idea for yourself of what you can and cannot afford.
Trick yourself into saving
I trick myself into saving money but using the cash method. The cash method is simply using cash to buy everything. At the beginning of the month, I withdraw a predetermined amount of cash from my accounts. Usually, I use this cash for just “fun money,” or money I want to spend on clothes, eating out, entertainment, expensive coffee, whatever I feel like I need to blow a couple bucks on.
Throughout the month, the only purchases I make on my cards as necessities such as groceries, gas, cleaning products, things that I definitely need in my life. These are typically mundane purchases that fly below the radar as necessary expenses, so I don’t fret too much about this.
But, those new velvet booties? I pay with those in cash. It’s miraculous really how quickly we can spend money. You’ll be shocked when you start to see the sides of your billfold getting thinner and thinner. As you start to see your money literally being spent in front of your eyes, you’ll be more hesitant in saying yes to every coffee date and girls night out with a million cocktails. Instead, you’ll opt for cheaper options. Maybe have girls’ night out on a happy hour night where drinks are half off, or better yet have a wine night in and save even more money.
Make a list
You’re going to think I’m a type A personality after this section, but I’m obsessed with making lists. On my phone right now I currently have three list-making apps, and yes, I use all of them. I love digital lists, handwritten lists, all the lists. Why do I like lists so much? They keep me on task and productive.
Think of it this way: You’re in a store you love, this would be Target for me. You dote around and stroll up and down every aisle. Why the stationary aisle if you need no stationary? Because it’s cute. Why the bedding aisle if you just bought new bed sheets? Maybe there’s a sale. We have excuse upon excuse for why we should buy something. But in reality, we’re just trying to justify why we’re spending money we really don’t need to be.
To avoid this, stick to a list. When I go to Target I look like a snob who can’t get enough of her phone. I literally stalk down the aisles ignoring everything and beelining it towards what I need. It’s because I don’t want to be tempted. That $50 pair of boots, yes, is one shade lighter than the ones I own, but that could pay for a tour in Iceland instead of a nice meat out overlooking the ocean.
My list keeps me honest. As soon as I get home, I evaluate my purchases. Did I get everything on my list? Check. Did I get more? Probably, check again. If I did, I think of why was it because there was a blazing red sign that red sale and that I simply couldn’t pass up? Is it something that I’ll use. Be forgiving, but try your best to stick to a list and be responsible for your finances. It ultimately could cost you a trip.
My favorite app to use is Wunderlist. I love that it’s compatible on my phone (iPhone) and my laptop (a Microsoft product). Better yet, you’re able to share these lists with family and friends and they update in real-time. So if you’re at the grocery store and your honey forgot to pick up milk. No need for a text, just add to the list!
No, coupons don’t make you look poor: just wanted to reaffirm this. Coupons actually make you look smart. People who are thinking ahead financially are often using coupons as a means to help them strive towards their goals.
A friend once scolded me for being money mongering. We were going to Goodwill and I have a coupon for 25% off my entire purchase. She scoffed and said, “Aren’t you getting a good enough deal because we’re at a thrift store?”
In reality, no. I expect my money to stretch far. As you guys know, I work full-time as a blogger and freelance journalist. I work really hard for my money. So I expect a lot out of the money I spend. Don’t feel ashamed if you want that. I think we all do.
If you haven’t already, read my post about thrifting and how it is the number one reason I can afford to travel numerous times a year.
Ibotta makes shopping at major retailers a breeze. Featured on the app are coupons for food, electronics, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, nearly everything. After you purchase the product you scan the barcode and your receipt and Ibotta credits your account with the money you saved. Some of my biggest savings on the app have been on expensive items such as razors and meat. You do have to save a minimum of $20 via the app in order to cash out and only coupons can be redeemed at big retailers. (A full list of retailers that have coupons on Ibotta is listed here.) You can also claim a $10 sign-up bonus by joining and using my referral code: kuueska.
Checkout 51 is similar to Ibotta but focuses more on groceries. You’re also able to redeem these coupons are virtually all retailers unless otherwise noted.
Cartwheel is the exclusive savings app for Target. When the app was first released, it only listed coupons that offered a certain percentage off of an item. For instance, if you wanted to buy Threshold brand curtains, you could receive 10% off that item. Now, the app also offers manufacturers coupons that will save you a handful of change to a couple bucks off an item. Do note that these manufacturer coupons on the app cannot be stacked with printed or other digital manufacturer coupons.
Price match — This is virtually well known by now, but most big box retailers will match competitor prices — even Amazon prices! Take the time during checkout to take a few seconds to browse online and see if you can save a couple bucks. It never hurts! This sometimes even reflects coupons, so if one store has a coupon for 20% off the item you’re buying, some retailers will also match that.
Think of how many times you’ve lost something. Searched for the hidden scoundrel for weeks. Caved and eventually bought a replacement, and then ended up finding the lost item months later down the road. Sound like a familiar tune? Well, it’s because we’re in a rush and were unorganized.
Now, I can’t tell you how to organize your entire life, (I don’t even have that figured out yet, ha!) but I can tell you how to organize your bills and personal life.
What people neglect is to organize their time as well. Time is money. So purchase a planner and get started.
In the debate on paper or digital planners, I’m an advocate of both! It’s great to have a planner always accessible when you make spur of the moment plans, and also a place where you can combine all the things you need to get done. Here’s what I use both of my paper and digital planners for.
This is my favorite style of a planner, with the days broken down into hour chunks. It’s so handy being able to visually see when I have free time and when I don’t. Staying on task and time management are the two things professionals who work from home struggle with. I use a highlighter and block out the times where I’ll be busy. In addition to a paper planner, I have highlighters and sticky notes to try to keep the chaos organized. (I’ve linked some of my favorite Amazon products here as well since they were also highly requested).
Similarly, this is why I’m obsessed with iCalendar. I love that it’s set up in the same way that my paper planner is. That makes it easy to switch between the two planners and consult each other. What’s great about iCalendar is that I can access it via the Cloud on my laptop and keep all my devices updated. I also love the reminders function, that a paper planner doesn’t have.
Another area of organizing that often skimmed upon is your personal documents. This is essential for travelers. Ever booking a vacation and think, “Hmmm, I wonder where my birth certificate is?” There are important documents that you’ll need to apply for visas, passports, etc. Keeping all these items organized helps you be more efficient and creates less of a headache later.
For me, I organize all my important documents in an expandable portfolio and store the originals in a fireproof safe. I keep copies in an additional portfolio in my desk. My passport also goes into my fireproof safe with copies in my desk portfolio. (Since it’s highly requested on my Instagram, I’ve included my passport cover here).
Change your mindset
The biggest obstacle you’ll come across while trying to save money for vacations is yourself. The way you think and spend has been ingrained in your brain for years. It’s hard, and unrealistic, to undo that hardwired response and expect immediate results.
For me, growing up in a household where money didn’t come easy, I learned how to be a good saver. But at the same time, if I do have an excess of income, I would want to spend it all because it felt like such a luxury to have. It took years for me to realize that travel is what I wanted to spend all my excess cash on. Once I established a few of these practices in place, it simply made sense how I could afford to vacation every year, now multiple times a year.
I also found it helpful to reinforce the message. It can be little reminders: a wall print, handwritten sticky note on your computer, a mantra — anything. For me, I started following some money saving blogs and podcasts, as well as travel-related inspiration that reminded me why I was cutting all these “luxuries” out of my life.
An expensive cup of coffee fuels me through the day, but the memories of a well-earned vacation get me through a lifetime.