As I looked at ways to get more money for traveling, I found that, things that bring comfort and convenience to our lives can empty your wallet fast. So, I’ll be focusing on steps you can take to save more money for your travels, by making some simple adjustments to your monthly expenses and habits, that could put thousands of dollars into your travel fund.
It’s important to know how much money you have coming in and how much going out. Most people know exactly how much their take home pay is, but when it comes to the money going out the door, that’s a different story.
Keep every receipt and track all of your spending for one month. Usually, one week of expense tracking is shocking enough. By doing this, you can see where all your hard earned cash is going and begin to recognize opportunities for savings.
Here’s seven tips to save big money on your monthly bills and expenses so you can travel more.
Electricity - Turn out the lights. If you aren’t occupying a room in your home, don’t leave the lights on. When the weather gets colder, turn down the heat a few degrees and wear an extra sweater around the house. The same goes for the summer heat, turn down the air conditioning and go commando if you have to, just remember to close the curtains for your neighbors sake.
Power down all electronics and unplug them, or turn off the surge protector when they’re not in use – they keep using electricity if you leave them plugged in. I’ve made a habit of doing this every evening, before I sleep; shut off the home theater, the computer, etc.
If you haven’t already, replace your light bulbs with energy efficient CFD’s or LED’s, they cost a bit more than conventional bulbs but they will save you money on your electric bill and last longer.
Mobile Phone - Shop around and find a reasonable plan that fits your lifestyle, preferably with as much unlimited talk and data for a low, flat rate. The mobile carrier I use, has a rewards program to reduce or eliminate the cost of handset upgrades.
Use apps like Whats App, Viber and Skype, to avoid roaming charges and get free international texts and long distance calls. If you live in Canada like I do, you know what I’m talking about. Mobile phone rates are high in Canada, so we need to save wherever we can.
Get rid of your land line – seriously, how often do people use land lines anymore? I haven’t had a land line for over 10 years and I don’t miss it at all.
Cable TV - Bruce Springsteen had a song in the early 1990′s called “57 Channels and Nothin’ On”. Now, it’s more like 257 channels and nothing on. Get rid of your DVR and your premium cable package, it’s chalked full of TV shows and channels you don’t watch anyway.
I cut my cable, bought an Apple TV, got a Netflix subscription and it saves me about $660 a year. That right there could pay for a 2 week hotel stay in Thailand.
Cars - If you can get by without a car and use alternative transit, do it, cars suck serious cash from your wallet. For most of us, that’s not a realistic solution, given the fact that many North American cities were designed around the automobile. “Downsizing” your car, is another option that can save you thousands per year.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ego and status of having a nicer car than your neighbor or co-worker, but all you really need is a reliable ride that gets you where you need to go. I traded my Acura for a Mazda 3 and it saved me well over $5,000 a year in car payments, insurance, gas and maintenance.
Coffee - If you buy coffee at a place like Starbucks all the time, stop it. Let’s say, for example, you spend $5 a day, everyday for your caffeine fix. That adds up to about $1,800 per year. You could fly a long way for $1,800, like a round-trip flight from New York to Sydney, Australia.
Make coffee at home instead. When I say make coffee at home, I don’t mean those K-Cup things that go into Tassimo machines. You pay a huge premium for the convenience of single servings. Buy some ground coffee, or grind your own whole beans and buy a Bodum knock-off at IKEA for ten bucks and start saving.
Home Cooking - Dining out, the drive-thru, packaged foods like frozen dinners and potato chips, cost big money. Again, you’re paying a huge premium for the convenience. Spending $100 a week eating out – a conservative number for many people I know; would add up to over $5,000 in savings by cooking at home and packing a lunch for work. If you don’t know how to cook, learn. There’s an App for that. Better yet, take a trip to a place that has awesome food and take a cooking class, it will change your life.
Travel Rewards Credit Card - Accumulating travel rewards points that can be redeemed for free flights and hotel rooms should be considered a form of savings and they do help to reduce your travel expenses. Do your homework and find a card with agreeable terms – not all cards are created equally. Look for cards that offer bonus points for signing up and pay attention to the fine print; there may be restrictions and annual fees.
Now, I was hesitant with this one at first, given the rampant abuse of consumer credit in our society. Credit cards are unsecured debt, meaning they are high risk and that’s why they charge 20 – 30% interest on unpaid balances. It’s easy to get carried away and go on a spending spree for the sake of getting more points, but that will turn your travel points card in a liability very quickly. The point is to save, not get into debt.
Here’s my golden rule for using credit cards:
Always pay your bill in full every month and never, ever carry a balance or opt to pay the minimum payment.
Charge as much of your everyday expenses on your travel rewards card as you can – like bills, groceries, gas, etc. and use the points as part of your overall travel savings strategy. Remember, only charge things you can afford to pay off completely, when the next bill arrives.
Bonus Tip: Alcohol - Ease up, or eliminate going out for drinks after work and on the weekend. Booze is expensive where I live, especially at restaurants, bars, and pubs. Enjoy an occasional store bought drink with the savory meal you just cooked at home.
Oh yeah, one last thing, open an online savings account and use the automatic savings feature so all the money you’re saving after applying these practical tips will actually get saved – and it will make more interest than the 0.1% you’re checking account is paying.
Don’t think of these money saving tips as a sacrifice or a budget, think of these as practical action steps to achieve your travel goals. Let other people drive expensive cars, drink over priced coffee and dine at the trendiest restaurants every night of the week; because you’ve got some serious traveling to do.
All the tips I presented in this post, I’ve done myself. If they can work for an amateur traveler like me, I know they’ll work for you too. Whether you’re saving for a dream vacation or you’re saving for a long term adventure, travel often and travel well.