Updated: August 2021
Let’s face it, traveling is expensive, especially when you are trying to bucket list travel. Sure, you can couch surf and backpack to save some money but sometimes those “roughing it” experiences are not the experiences I’m after. I’m far from a luxury traveler, but I like to be comfortable (even if I sleep in a car). I consider myself a comfort budget traveler, but I am always willing to splurge on an exceptional experience. So how do I save money to go on all of my bucket list adventures? It is not always easy, especially when you support yourself living in one of the most expensive cities in the US, Miami, but these small changes to your lifestyle can help make a big impact on your bank account.
Before I get into the details of how I save money to travel, the biggest secret to successfully saving money is committing to your priorities. Travel is a priority for me, so that means a new car, designer wardrobe, or cocktails by the sea (unless it’s the Red Sea) aren’t things I choose to spend my money on. On the other hand, maybe you want a new car, a new house or love eating out. It doesn’t matter your priorities; it just matters that you have them straight and spend money accordingly.
All of these money-saving strategies will be much easier once you have prioritized saving money and know what you are saving for. Saving money can be fun! I turned saving money into a game and got so much joy from watching my bank account grow, only to be depleted on an upcoming bucket list experience. This list includes all of the small things I do that add up to help fund my wanderlust adventures. Everything on this list is easily adaptable to various lifestyles and are strategies that anyone can start doing now.
Without further ado, let’s get to it. Here are 15 quirky ways I save money to travel.
Tracking income & expenses
Tracking your spending is the best way to know what you are spending money on. It puts everything into perspective. I created a basic excel sheet to track monthly income and expenses to see what I was spending my hard-earned money on and if I was actually saving anything. Once I realized I was not saving what I wanted to, I broke my expenses down even further into categories (rent, food, car, toiletries, gym, entertainment, subscriptions, clothing, minuscule items, etc.). This helped me understand where my money was going. From there, I gave myself a monthly budget for each category based on my savings goal. If I went over in any category, I would subtract the overage from the following month’s budget. If I were under budget, I would add the extra savings to the following month’s budget to allow myself to spend more if needed. It helped me start saving without sacrificing everything all at once.
I put all of the information into an excel sheet like the one below. In addition, here is a link to a Google Doc template (with formulas) I created to help get you started tracking your savings.
Using simple formulas to compute income and expenses helped me understand exactly where my money was going and where I could cut back. My budgeting started post-college graduation, and I haven’t stopped since. I started using my excel sheet religiously in 2014 when I moved to Miami for a new job. It helped me stay on track and save for my first home. It’s amazing what happens when you see on paper that you spent $700 on entertainment and $350 on subscriptions in one month. Insert shocked face here.
Organizing your life (and your closest) is the best way to see what you have to avoid buying things you don’t need. After complaining I needed more space, I decided to organize my entire apartment and clean out every drawer. It was just what I needed to see what was cluttering up my life and bank account, a lot of random stuff I did not remember ever having. From never-worn clothing with the tags still on, 1/2 empty shampoo bottles, bags of toothpaste tubes, lotions, and face creams I had yet to open, they all added up. I threw away what was no good and used everything before buying anything new. It turns out I have enough space, as long as I don’t clutter it up with junk.
Stop eating out
Everyone knows avoiding restaurants can save a TON of money. Living in Miami, a dinner out is an easy $60.00 at least. Even if I didn’t order a drink, $40 plus tax and tip was too much for me to be spending on one meal, especially if I didn’t even leave full. Once I started keeping track of what I was spending, I realized how much eating out was costing me. So, unless it was a special occasion, I made the conscious decision to stop eating out. Instead, I’d meet up with friends after dinner or, on occasion, I’d eat before I went out so I wouldn’t be tempted to order a big meal. It’s my way of being social but still sticking to a budget.
No eating out goes for delivery too. Delivery fees and tips for Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub, etc., can really add up. I would spend at least $5-$7 extra in fees per order. A few orders and I already spent what a meal would cost. If I order out, I always pick it up to avoid additional fees, I still leave a tip, but it’s never as expensive as delivery.
Lastly, avoid daily coffee and snack breaks; they really add up! It might require more effort, but bringing snacks from home and making your own coffee can save $100s a month. Also, if you want to travel more, ditching this costly habit is a great way to increase your savings.
Use a shopping list
Once you stop eating out so much, you have no choice but to go grocery shopping more. Shopping lists apply for Target runs, or in my case, CVS runs too. I realized I couldn’t allow myself to shop, or I would spend senseless money on those grab-and-go buckets filled with goodies that seem cheap but always add up and never last. Shopping lists make it easier to focus on what you need and hopefully avoid impulse add-on buys.
Plan your meals
I hate it when I have to throw away groceries, a.k.a money. The best way to avoid this is to plan out meals and go shopping more frequently to get exactly what you need. Once I started planning what I was making for the week, it was easier to cut expenses. Everything I bought I knew I was going to use, which meant more money in my pockets. Also, never go grocery shopping on a hungry stomach; it’s true what they say; you are too tempted to overbuy.
Quit your vices (drinking, smoking)
I don’t smoke, but I am a social drinker. The cost of a drink out in Miami is an easy $12-$25, and when do you ever have just one? Boozy brunches and bottomless mimosas might sound like a deal, but if drinking isn’t a priority for you, it should be easy to cut out. It was not hard for me, but I don’t like most mixed drinks, and a glass of wine after a long day does nothing for me. I will say I have friends that would rather drink than eat, so to each their own. I still go to happy hours to catch up with friends. I order sparkling water with lemon and mint. It’s refreshing, and I don’t get a hangover the next day. At the end of the night, I’m happy I saved money and happier I am that much closer to affording my next bucket list adventure.
Stop buying clothes
After organizing my closet to uncover many more clothes than I remembered, I made a New Year’s resolution to stop buying clothes. I also watched an intriguing documentary, The True Cost, discussing the impact clothing has on the environment and its people. This powerful documentary influenced me to stop buying for fun and transition into a “do I need it” and “do I absolutely love it” buying mentality. I also now avoid fast-fashion clothing, opting for quality over quantity. After I stopped mindlessly buying new trends, each month’s savings motivated me to shop less and less. I almost made it an entire year without buying any new clothing, but now, a few years later, I have very little desire to shop and the savings to prove it.
Drop Subscriptions and cancel memberships
In the past few years, subscription services have really blown up. There are subscriptions for everything these days, from meal boxes and streaming services to photo editing and writing software and everything in between. Watch out for those “free trials” that you sign up for and forget to cancel. I bet most people don’t even know what subscriptions they have. I keep tabs on mine (I only use one credit card to make it easy to see what I paid for) but decided to cancel everything I had, including streaming services and even a travel discount club. I promised only to add them back if life became unbearable without them.
The travel club was only $5 a month and offered monthly discounts on a range of products. Each month I’d spend time looking at the deals and convincing myself I needed something. But, of course, I didn’t need another camera or travel backpack, even if it was a great deal. So that $5 turned into $100s almost monthly after buying stuff for the deals. It was much better if I didn’t see them in the first place.
As far as memberships, gyms were my greatest guilty pleasure. From Yoga, cross-fit, reformer Pilates, and kickboxing, I was hitting them all. Some months I spent over $700 on personal training and HITT classes. I was in my best shape but decided my travel goals were more important. Fitness is a priority, but I decided to save the money and use the smaller free gym in my building. I am not fit as I used to be, but the savings were worth it.
The worst thing with gym memberships is if you have one but don’t use it. Why spend the money if you don’t go? Day passes may be a better alternative. Many other memberships such a car wash, wine clubs, lifestyle, and clothing subscriptions like Fabletics, Stitch Fix, or Burch Box are probably things you can live without. Reevaluate your subscriptions and only keep the must-haves. You’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try.
Don’t be wasteful
Be conscious of how many paper towels, hand soap, toothpaste, moisturizer, etc., you use at one time. The cost of self-care items and household goods adds up. I use these items sparingly to make them last longer to save money; I also make sure to use the entire bottle first before buying anything new.
In addition, I realized I was buying too many products for my hair care and beauty routines. So now I wash my hair less and only use three hair care (shampoo, leave-in conditioner, and silk serum.) and skin products (face wash, serum, SPF moisturizer) regularly.
My simple skincare routine helped me go from spending $80+ a month to $20 or less on skincare products. I love the Cosmetic MD line by Justin Piasecki. They have great customer service, use the best ingredients, and are reasonably priced. They also give great discounts and incentives when you sign up for their email list. It’s like designer skincare without breaking the bank.
Avoid Credit Card Fees
If you have a credit card, pay it off each month. Don’t spend what you don’t have, or you will never catch up. The interest rates are insane and just not worth it. Avoid credit cards with an annual fee if the benefits don’t outweigh the cost and if you are traveling, get a credit card without international transaction fees.
Travel hacking is a big thing in the travel world. I hear all the time about how people get free flights and free hotels using points. It sounds VERY intriguing, especially for someone who wants to save money to travel. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a card that works for me. Most cards require you to spend $3,000-$6,000 in the first few months to reap the rewards, which I rarely do. The perks sound great, but I am not sure I would use them enough to make the $500+ annual fee worth it.
Maybe I’ll get into travel hacking one day, but for now, I use the Discover cashback bonus card and have been happy with my $300 (ish) back a year. There are many credit cards out there with great benefits if you know how to use them. The Points Guy is a great resource for learning how to do just that. Most importantly, do your research and choose a card that benefits you.
Limit ride shares
Uber and Lyft make getting around town so easy, but it really adds up with 5 min rides costing $7-$12. I used to take 3-4 in a night, out of convenience, but I was spending much more than I would have if I drove myself before long. Rideshares are just another thing to be more intentional about. I have a new rule no sober ride shares, and since I rarely drink, I am rarely in an Uber. I even started asking for rides to the airport and looked into public airport transportation. Public transportation in Miami is still more of an inconvenience than it’s worth but looking for a way to save money with transportation is another great way to increase your savings.
Suggest holiday gifts for yourself
Suggesting gifts for yourself can feel a bit icky, but what I realized when I told my family, “don’t get me anything,” is that they still would, and it usually was something I didn’t need and would never use. I feel bad regifting or donating items I know I’m not going to use, so I learned not to be shy about telling my family what I really want when they asked. I now ask for gift cards to Whole Foods or Starbucks, travel experiences, and even my favorite beauty items or lessons on Skillshare or Teachable. I would have spent my own money on all of those things, so now I can save money since I don’t have to buy them myself. Once I made my goals clear to my family, that I was trying to save money and wanted useful things, the gift-giving got much better. I still feel weird saying that, but at the end of the day, I, too, want to give useful things that the recipients will use and appreciate. Here’s a list of 21 Unique gift ideas that travelers never ask for but will love.
Spend more time at home
Spending time at home is an excellent way to keep your savings rolling in, but who wants to be a hermit all month long? I like my alone time, but I also need to get out and socialize with friends to stay sane. I opt-out on concerts and boat days but have more pool days, pot lucks, and brunch parties at home to keep my budget in check. As I get older, I care less and less about going out and just want to catch up with my friends. Having a home-based get-together is a great way to visit with friends and still not break the bank.
Sell your stuff
I live in a small condo and have vowed to live with less, so I often try to sell gently used items to make some money. I used E*bay and Poshmark the most and made over $1,000 when I first started reselling in 8 months. It is not a lot of money, but it is more like a waiting game after the initial setup. Sometimes you don’t get any bites or end up selling things far less than you wanted to, but some money is better than no money. Items such as electronics and camera gear have a much better resell value. Clothing doesn’t resell for as much, so depending on what you are selling will depend on if this making money strategy is worth the effort.
Switch to cash only
If you have a credit card problem, switching to cash only is the best way to save money. Credit cards make it a lot easier to spend what you don’t have, so carrying cash is a great way to stay on budget if you are really struggling to save money. For example, when I was going out a bit more and needed to budget, I would leave the credit card at home and only carry what I was willing to spend for the evening. It worked really well- but of course, friends spotted me if I was a few dollars short, so you really have to be committed to saving money for this tactic to work.
It’s not always easy to cut out life’s conveniences, but if you are like me and crave more experiences than things, the sacrifices to save more to travel more will be well worth it. At the end of the day, I believe that anyone can live a happy, thriving life with less. I hope you can adapt these money-saving strategies to your lifestyle to start reaching your savings goals today. If you have any suggestions for small ways to start saving or questions for the ones I’ve listed above, please leave them in the comments below.