I am far too acquainted with Ramen noodles. Not only did I enjoy this budget-friendly meal throughout my childhood, but it was also a staple for me during my college years as I strained to learn how to skillfully budget my earnings. During my undergrad, it also served as a stealthy distraction from actually studying for my finals, because fixing someone a bowl of soup totally counts as productivity, right? It seems that no matter what stage of life I'm in, consuming a bag of $0.20 dried noodles is a constant reminder that, if necessary, I could always survive on very little. So how did a girl earning minimum wage in the local mall and eating Ramen noodles afford a ticket to Ireland while in college?
One of the many questions I often get asked about my travels are how I afford them, and the answer has remained quite simple over time. Throughout my twenties I've (1) wanted to travel so badly that I was willing to make any sacrifice just to see one more city and (2) learned how to eliminate unnecessary expenses in order to afford my flights. While in a few instances I did acquire scholarships and grants to fund overseas studies, becoming a budgeting expert is one of the main reasons that I've had some amazing opportunities. It wasn't a stroke of luck, it was hard work.
While I realize I can't speak for every financial situation, I wanted to share some easy ways to save enough money to travel by this summer by simply cutting out purchases that often amount to significant cash loss. More than anything, it is the drive to travel that propels experiences to happen. Individuals don't just get lucky, they make their dreams a reality. Below you'll find a list of ways to build a healthy budget and save a relatively large amount of funds so that you can cash in on a new experience and valuable memories, and you don't even have to eat Ramen noodles to do it.
SHANNEN'S 20 WAYS TO BUILD A TRAVEL FUND
Things to Eliminate:
1. Cups of Coffee (or other frequented beverages)- For all the coffee addicts out there, as well as coke addicts, or any other type of beverage addict, stopping often for drinks can add up quickly. Try buying in the grocery store and bringing drinks from home. Starbucks also sells prepackaged coffee that is *almost* as satisfying as going to their store.
2. Clothes Shopping- Limit your purchases per month, and give yourself a few days to decide if you really need an item. If it doesn't bother you that you haven't bought it after 48 hours have passed, chances are you didn't need it anyway.
3. Eating Out- As tempting as it is to have someone prepare delicious food for you, try cooking a meal for yourself. Make a grocery list every week and try to stick to it. You'd be surprised at the amount you'll save!
4. Bar Tabs (for those 21 and above)- Try hosting fun activities at your apartment rather than going out. There are also many things to do around your town that are completely free! Google low-budget activities. In the budget below I was extremely generous on allocations, as I've literally seen acquaintances in college spend hundreds of dollars in one night, and then have no money for the next few weeks of school.
5. Cigarettes (for those 18 and above)- For those choosing to support the habit, imagine how much money you would save per month by kicking it aside. It amazes me how individuals who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day will tell me they can't afford travel expenses.
6. Unused Belongings- Do you have clothes or electronics that you no longer use? Try selling a few items on E-bay, or visiting thrift shops to trade your clothes for cash.
7. Driving When You Can Walk or Take Public Transportation or Just Not Go Outside- You can save a whole tank of gas within a month by using public transportation to get to nearby places. Ask yourself if the car ride you're taking is a necessity!
8. Unnecessary Bills & Memberships- How long has it really been since you've visited the gym? Do you really need cable access, or will Hulu and Netflix suffice? Cut back on bills you don't need, or use less heating, air conditioning, and electricity to lower your charges.
9. Buying Smart Phone Apps or Songs- Perhaps this isn't a problem for most, but I often find myself making quick and unnecessary purchase to download useless apps or songs that I must hear immediately. You can go without it!
10. Buying Things That Are $1 or Under Just Because They Are $1 or Under- You don't need gum. You don't need a candy bar. Fight the urge. Stay away from the bargain section located at the front of most Target locations. It's a trap!
Things to Add:
1. An Airline Mileage Account- For every few trips you buy, you could get one for free by using miles! Don't throw away free earnings with your airline, sign up for a rewards account.
2. Bill Companies That Partner with Airlines- Did you know you could earn reward miles just by paying your bills? Check with your company to see if they have partnerships with any airlines you use!
3. A Travel Savings Account- Separate your spending money from your savings. Visually seeing your money add up in an account will help you to refrain from spending.
4. A Part-Time Job- If you have a skill that can earn you money in your spare time, or just want to pick up a few hours on the weekend at a local store, designate the extra funds you make toward your travel account. Seasonal work is also an opportunity to earn cash for your savings.
5. A Social Schedule- Decide on a specific day of the week to designate for going out. Stick to your schedule, and remember it's okay to decline a few invitations. Going out less will reduce spending for you each month.
6. A Budget Spreadsheet- It helps to visually see where your money is going. If you're not keeping track of what you're spending your money on, chances are some purchases may be going toward frivolous items. Create a budget and follow it.
7. Scholarships- Many schools offer study abroad opportunities which can be funded by grants, scholarships, and other financial aid. If you have the opportunity and the academic standing, you might be able to travel for free through your university and earn college credit at the same time. Many financial aid plans might leave you with a refund check for extra spending money abroad.
8. A Roommate & Possible Future Travel Companion- Having a roommate can help you cut down on your bills, and if they are also interested in traveling, they can keep you focused so that you can both achieve your goal of affording the expenses. You might even be able to split the costs of certain portions of your trip.
9. A Grocery Shopping List & Knowledge of Cooking- So much money can be saved by cooking at home and bringing food to work and school rather than buying it on campus or at restaurants. You might even be able to cook in bulk and ration a cooking session out for a couple of days. Learn how to grocery shop for yourself and utilize smaller funds for purchasing food that will last you a longer amount of time.
10. An Ability to Say “No”- Remember, you don't always have to say yes to every invitation you receive. Learn to moderate the amount of time and money you spend, and your savings will start to grow before you know it.
Don't believe it? Add up the numbers for yourself! You could afford a plane ticket to Europe by summer! Make adjustments that are more realistic of your monthly spending habits, or add other expenses that you might accumulate over the next few months, and watch the dollars add up!