9 Easy Ways to Save Money to Travel

Reclining Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand

How to Save $10,000 a Year to Travel

Travel is my passion, and in the last six years, I’ve taken big family trips to Thailand, Morocco, Ireland, Greece, the American West, Florida, New Orleans, and Chicago. I’ve also gone to the Netherlands with my husband and Costa Rica on my own (travel posts).

One of the questions I get asked quite often is how I afford to travel. My husband and I are both teachers, and while we are fortunate to be living comfortably, it’s fair to say that teaching isn’t making us rich.

The disposable income we do have, though, goes to travel. To me, it’s a matter of deciding where to spend the extra money (after putting aside some college funds and retirement savings).

I don’t at all mean the following list to be judgmental. We all make choices, at least those of us fortunate enough to be able to do so. When I look around, though, I hear people saying they can’t afford to travel, and I see a lot of different choices being made from the ones I make, so in the interest of sharing ideas, here goes…

9 Easy Ways to Save Money to Travel

1. Avoid retail therapy

This one is easy for me. I hate shopping, and I am not into clothes. I have always been a jeans and a T-shirt kind of girl. I should probably invest some more money into clothes, but I get comfortable with a few outfits, and I tend to stick with them. It sure saves me a lot of money though. We all need clothes, of course, but I am talking here about the extra clothes some people buy for “retail therapy,” stuff they get when they just go shopping as entertainment and they already have plenty. (Image source: Sarah Depper)

  • Retail therapy: $200/month = $2,400/year
  • Not using shopping as entertainment: $0/year
  • Savings: $2,400/year

 2. Exercise at home

I know I am comparing apples to oranges here, but I have joined gyms in the past and then not gone regularly, while I will exercise regularly at home. (I also know people who pay for a gym membership and then don’t go, but that’s another story.) A treadmill, some free weights, and some exercise videos can give you a lot more sweat for a lot less cash.

  • Gym membership: $60/month = $720/year
  • Workout at home: $100/year*
  • Savings: $620/year

*Based on a $1,000 treadmill lasting for 10 years

3. Drive a used car

We’ve all heard the lament that when you drive a new car off the lot, it depreciates rapidly. Yet many people take it as a matter of course to buy or lease a new car every couple of years. My car is about ten years old, and it’s getting to the point where the next repair will have me deciding it’s time to say goodbye. I am going to look at buying a certified used car that’s in good shape. For the last six years, the fact that I have avoided a huge monthly car payment is one of my biggest savings. I also hate being behind big-ass SUVs on the road, and I certainly don’t want to be behind the wheel of one.

  • Buy/lease new SUV: $350/month = $4,200/year
  • Certified used sedan with financing: $150/month = $1,800
  • Savings: $2,400/year *

*I actually have no car payments at present, but my luck will run out someday, I know.

4. Get out of debt

We had a lot of debt in the early years of our marriage when we had student loans, went back to school for a time, and made so little that our income didn’t cover our expenses. We made a concerted effort to get out of credit card debt. Credit cards are evil! Don’t use them. Actually, I use them all the time, but I only charge an amount that I can pay off each month. Why do I charge then? I accumulate points that go toward airline tickets, so most of the flights I have taken have been “free.” (Image source: PT Money)

  • Credit card interest: $67/month = $800/year*
  • No credit card debt = $0
  • Savings = $800/year

*Based on carrying a balance of approximately $8,000 at 10% interest

5. Make your own coffee

Many people regularly pick up a big Starbucks cappuccino to start their day. It’s so easy to make your own coffee, though. I love setting a timer the night before and waking up to the smell of coffee. I use a travel mug, too, to take it with me. (Image source: Esparta Palma)

  • Starbucks: $3.50/day = $1,280/year
  • Brew my own: $0.50/day = $180/year
  • Savings: $1,100/year

6. Do your own nails

Only some of my friends get their nails done, but I am sure many can think of something comparable that they can give up: facials, massages, tanning, waxing, and so forth.

  • Getting nails done: $30 twice a month for a year = $720
  • Emery board and nail polish: $20/year*
  • Savings: $700/year

*I don’t actually wear nail polish, but I threw some in to be able to round up.

7. Make your own lunch

I bring my lunch almost every day to work, usually a sandwich, but frequently leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. I tend to pack healthier food than I would pick up, and I like the savings too.

  • Getting take-out for lunch: $8/day five days a week = $2,080/year
  • Brown bagging it: $3/day five days a week = $780/year
  • Savings = $1,300/year

8. The little things

I have become more frugal in a lot of ways; usually it’s more about avoiding waste than avoiding the cost. For example, I pack my own silverware in a reusable lunch bag to work because why have to throw out a plastic spoon and lunch bag every day? I make my own chicken stock from the bones of the chicken because why have to buy it, throw out the packaging, and eat all the preservatives and chemicals when it’s easy, healthy, and delicious to make my own? I avoid a lot of processed and convenience foods because I have learned to cook, and I think it’s healthier. It also saves money. I avoid products like pre-sliced cheese, pre-cut vegetables, and pre-packaged single servings of snacks. I made a rough guess of how much I save based on my experience. (Image source: kraftbrands.com)

  • Buying a lot of convenience foods and processed foods: $60/month = $720/year
  • Not buying them = 0
  • Savings = $720/year

9. _______________

I left this one for you to fill in. What are your favorite ways to save money? Please share with us in the comments.

These savings add up to $10,040, about the cost for a budget travel trip for a family of four.

Don’t just spend, spend, spend

I mentioned retail therapy for clothing, but I didn’t even get into the many other ways people spend, spend, spend for the latest gadgets, huge data plans, cable channels they don’t watch, wasted electricity from leaving everything on, and so on. There’s so much needless waste.

Full disclosure: I am not that frugal

I am not really that frugal and believe in “voting with my wallet.” I will pay extra for something if it supports a value I believe in or if it will be better for my family.

I also value my time immensely. I have my house cleaned twice a month when I could do it myself. I have a busy lifestyle, and I decided it was worth it to me to pay extra to have that free time.

I bring this up to illustrate how I make choices to cut corners in some areas so that I will have money to spend in others.

Look at where you’re spending money for optional things, and see whether it’s something that adds real value to your life. If it does and you can afford it, then keep doing it.

You can have your latte, and enjoy it too

In other words, you can have your latte, and enjoy it too. If pouring yourself a cup of coffee at home is fine for you, though, that’s $1,100 a year that could go toward climbing the Great Wall of China.

P.S. The savings were hard to estimate because they vary widely by region and by personal experience. I made my best guesses based on some Internet research and the experiences of my acquaintances. I know some of my savings could add to different costs, like paying more for car repairs than someone with a new car. If anything, though, I think I underestimated what the average person spends on these optional expenses in my area.

Let me know if you think I’m way off base, what costs are like in your area, or your favorite idea for saving some cash. I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Other “How to” posts:

{Celebrate your courage. Send me a postcard.}

About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days, and writing my memoirs. I am a teacher and writer living in Connecticut.
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8 Responses to 9 Easy Ways to Save Money to Travel

  1. Jeanne says:

    I hate shopping too. :-) As far as buying a car goes, I just bought a brand new car in July. The one I bought was $1500 more than a used one and I figured I rather get a new one for a little more than have to worry whether or not something would be wrong with a used.

    For #9… We don’t spend our change and put it in coffee cans until they get full. It’s amazing how much change accumulates in a short time!

  2. Great post! I read a quote recently that said ‘Travel is the only expense that will make you richer’. So, you and your family are actually VERY RICH it would seem!

  3. The Dose of Reality says:

    Oh, I love this! We don’t really travel because it is so expensive, but you’ve broken it down to where it actually seems doable, financially speaking. This is really uplifting! Exactly what I needed on a Monday (and with a new year full of new possibilities right around the corner!) –Lisa

  4. I think you’re right on with your numbers. I agree on the evil of credit cards! Ack! I have to say you and I are mostly on the same page as far as what NOT to spend money on. I found I’m much more frugal if I don’t even turn QVC on. It just seems to feed some desire to bring something new into the house. I’m a big proponent of waste-free lunches for environmental reasons, but the side benefit is my kids’ lunches are that much cheaper as a result. I also refuse to pay for first run movies. It’s not a movie for the kids if they don’t have popcorn, so even the dollar cinema ends up costing me as much as if I waited a couple months and BOUGHT the dvd. Conversely I will pay more to shop at local small businesses or for environmentally/animal friendly merchandise.

    • Marcy says:

      I agree with you about the first-run movies too. Plus, they aren’t what they used to be, with small screens and people chatting the whole way through, so I like watching them at home. I can usually wait.

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