One question that I’m contstantly being asked by people is: How can you afford to travel so much?
My answer is always the same: I save.
So many times I hear people telling me that they’d love to travel, that there are so many places in the world they’d love to go, but they simply can’t afford it. Very often, these are the same people who spend my weekly budget going clubbing every Friday and Saturday night, then cure their hangovers with an expensive brunch out every Saturday and Sunday morning.
Of course, this is a huge generalisation, and these are very obvious financial drains. Obviously not everybody is so ignorant of their own bad spending habits, and not everybody has enough money to do those things to start with.
I’m lucky in that I was taught the value of saving from a very young age. (When other children had a bucket and spade, I was building sandcastles out of washed-out yoghurt pots. Why not? I didn’t know the difference; I was two.) I’m also very lucky in that I own my house, so I don’t have to pay rent. Then again, I only work 2 days a week, so I don’t have a full-time income, either.
And yet I still travel, and I travel a lot.
So here are my top ten tips on saving up enough money to do just that:
1) Budget budget budget!
This is the obvious one: the one at the top of every savings list.
But I’ll let you into a secret: I’m pretty dreadful at budgeting. You know those budget posts you see, where everything has been itemised down to the last carrot, the final gallon of petrol? I don’t like them.
Life is unpredictable, which means that spending is, too. When I see budgets which are as rigid as that, it makes me nervous. What if something crops up that hasn’t been budgeted for? What if I get a cold and have to buy cough medicine? Or the sun suddenly shows itself and I’ve run out of sun tan lotion? Or what if it’s something bigger that needs paying for, like a flat tyre? How do I level that with my super-strict budget?
This doesn’t mean that I don’t budget at all. It just means that my budget is much looser. I don’t even calculate it on paper. Genrally, I do a rough estimate in my head of how much things cost. I arrive at a weekly figure, based on how much I roughly expect to spend on everything I buy, from bills, to petrol, to food, to my phone contract, to extras.
This is my weekly budget. It gives me a boundary to work within, but means that I’m not overly stressed if there’s an emergency and I have to go over it.
Of course, everyone is different, and you have to budget in a way that works for you. For me, I know that a rough mental budget is what works best for me.
2) Make your own lunch – and your own coffee, too.
This is a huge one for me, because I do love a latte.
If you add up the cost of an average meal deal + takeaway coffee, it comes to around £6. That’s as much as £30 a week. Or, to put it another way, a staggering £1,560 a year.
That’s the equivalent of a return flight to Australia, and then some left over for surfing lessons. Or it could buy you 3 months rent in a share flat in Edinburgh. Or a month of travel in South East Asia.
And less money spent on shrink-wrapped sandwiches means more money to spend on delicious local cuisine when you’re travelling.
As an added bonus, making your own food & coffee also means less packaging, so it’s better for the environment as well as your pocket.
3) Don’t have the pudding, or the second pint.
Making your own food & coffee is all very well, but it’s no fun sitting at home wth lentil soup and a recycled teabag every night of the week.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going out for a meal / drink / night out, as long as it’s controlled.
A meal out can be surprisingly affordable. It’s all the little extras that make the cost rack up: the starter, the pudding, the glass of wine… Sometimes each of these can be almost as expensive as the main course, so sticking to one course and one drink can really help with the saving (though maybe also try not to order the most expensive dish on the menu).
If you really want to cut back, the phrase, ‘just tapwater for me, please’, is your new best friend.
Binge drinking at a swanky London bar every night of the week? Well, that’s going to put a hole in your budget. But the occasional dinner out with friends? That’s much more realistic. Plus it means you get to tell your friends all about your latest travel plans.
4) Reduce your grocery bill.
There are often ways to reduce how much you’re spending on groceries.
The key one is to cut back on those luxury items you’re buying, such as the freshly squeezed orange juice and finest cut of beef. Could you drink water sometimes, instead of always drinking juice? Could you eat less meat? I’m not a vegetarian, but I very rarely buy and cook meat at home, because it’s so expensive and environmentally unsustainable in large quantities. I know I joked about eating lentils, but it really is a lot cheaper to live as a vegetarian.
You can also reduce your grocery bill by cooking your own food, rather than buying ready meals. Ready meals are generally more expensive than the sum of their ingredients, and often contain an unhealthy cocktail of additives and preservatives. Far better to cook your own pasta bolognese from scratch.
Or, if you’re feeling lucky, you can take a chance on reducing the grocery bill to almost nothing. Most UK supermarkets will drastically reduce products that are reaching their sell-by-date, to save them having to throw the food away. By doing your shopping in the hour or two before the supermarket closes, you can save tons of money – particularly if you buy vegetables to make into soup, or food that you can put in the freezer. It’s a game of chance, but it can yield great results: I once managed nearly the whole week’s shop for under £4.
5) Stop buying branded products.
This goes for food, but also for clothing and household products.
Have you ever stopped to look at the price difference between a branded item and the supermarket’s own version? Sometimes, the supermarket’s own version can be as much as 80% cheaper.
There’s a theory that these products are sometimes even made & packaged in the same factory, with just a different label stuck on the tin, but I don’t know how true that is. What I do know is that I probably save around £5-£10 a week by purchasing supermarkets’ own products.
6) Ask yourself: do you really need the shoes?
…or the album, or the gadget, or the book, or the jacket, or whatever your particular weakness may be.
Every time you buy something, think about it twice. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I need it?
- Will I use it?
- What could this buy me on the road?
Example: I once bought a beautiful pair of heels for £69. I didn’t need them, but they were gorgeous. Their kooky design and retro shape were like a siren call through the shop window. So I bought them. They then sat in my wardrobe for the next 7 years, and maybe saw the light of day four times: not exactly value for money. Recently, I bought a return flight to Barcelona for just £49 – a whole £20 less than I paid for the heels and a whole lot better value for money. Conclusion? I shouldn’t have bought the shoes.
7) Find your foible and fix it.
My weakness is snack food. In particular: anything chocolatey or sweet.
I’m terrible for snacking. Walking down the confectionary aisle at my local supermarket is like going grocery shopping with the devil.
So, for the sake of my bank balance and my waistline, I need to find a way to fix this.
One way, of course, is to avoid the confectionary aisle, but this solution isn’t perfect, and I still get snacky cravings during the evenings.
The other way I’m combatting the sweet tooth is to use my hands more. Example: when I’m watching TV, I also edit photos or make cards or do something crafty. I find that I’m thinking less about wanting to snack, simply because I have something else to do with my hands.
Of course, everyone’s foible is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but you probably know what yours is.
(A big one is smoking. A 1-pack-a-week habit costs around £500 a year.)
8) Try to pay with cash.
A lot of people I know hardly ever carry cash around. Instead, they live by their debit card. I recently got a contactless card, and it makes paying for things so quick and easy. Which means that frittering away your savings is also worryingly easy.
Instead of flashing the card about, try setting yourself a limit for the week. Think realistically about what you need to buy each week (note the word need). Excluding the things that come directly from your bank account (like rent / council tax / bills) how much should you be spending each week?
Let’s say for argument’s sake that you decide your weekly spend should be £80.
Get this money out of the cash machine on Monday morning. Put it in your purse. Whenever you need to buy anything, pay for it using this cash. Each time you go into your purse, you can instantly see how much money you have left for the rest of the week, and this will help you stick to your budget.
If you have money left over at the end of the week, put it in a special piggy bank. Use this money to pay for extra treats when you’re travelling.
Related to this point: try not to shop online. When purchases are just a button-click away, it’s far too easy to spend more than you want to. Limit your online shopping to things that you absolutely need, and which would be more expensive to buy in person. (Think: flights / train tickets / printer cartridges.)
9) Don’t feel guilty about spending when you have to.
I live in a very rural area, which means that a lot of my weekly budget goes on petrol. That’s fine. If I didn’t buy petrol, I wouldn’t be able to get to work, which means I wouldn’t be able to earn any money in the first place.
Sometimes, once you get focussed on saving up for something, any money you part with can make you feel guilty. This is something that has happened to me before, when I’ve become so desperate to save money that I feel resentful even when I have to pay for things like food.
But if I felt guilty every time I filled up the car, I’d be miserable all the time. The same goes for eating. There are ways to eat more cheaply (maybe avoid the truffles & the venison cutlets), but you shouldn’t starve yourself just because you’d rather be lying on a beach.
10) Stick a picture in your purse.
Everyone has that one place that they desperately want to get to. The place at the top of their bucket list. The one which makes them sigh that wistful, dreamy sigh. The one that makes them want to pack their bags and hop on the next available flight, or boat, or train, or bus, or rickshaw.
Motivation is key to saving successfully, so by cutting out a picture of your dream destination and sticking it in your purse, you’ll be encouraging yourself to saving. Every time you go to spend money, you’ll be greeted by the image of your dream. You’ll be reminded what you’re saving up for. It will make you feel good every time you choose to buy the cheaper option. It may also make you think twice about spending money on something you don’t really need.
Got any other saving tips of your own? I’d love to hear them.