Want to Travel More? Play the Saving Game

by Gray Cargill on March 11, 2011

Post image for Want to Travel More? Play the Saving Game

Do you wish you could travel more, but your paycheck seems to be gone at the end of every month?  You’re not alone.  Especially in the past couple of years, most of us consider ourselves lucky if we even have a job, let alone have seen a raise that has kept us even with the cost of inflation. If the only thing standing between you and more travel is money, then you’ll want to read on. Because if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s the Saving Game.

I like treating the money-saving process as a “game” rather than a “spending diet” because diets invoke an image of deprivation and sacrifice. Whereas a game is fun! The more money I save, the more fun I have playing the game because I’m “winning” (and not in the Charlie Sheen sense). And really, there’s very little sacrifice involved here, it’s just a rearrangement of priorities.

One of the advantages of being raised by Depression-era grandparents is that I learned how to make do with what I have, and I haven’t always had a lot. But I have also made my priorities happen for me: My family couldn’t afford to send me to college, so I put myself through via scholarships, loans, work study, and two jobs. My first job out of college only paid $13,000, but I still managed to pay off my student loans early (while paying rent on a 1 bedroom apartment). I bought my condo in the suburbs 10 years after college, when I was only making $29,000 a year. And I’ve managed to travel to several countries and all over the US as well.

Does this sound like a game you’d like to play? Great. I’ll teach you how.

Game board

How is the Saving Game played?

Your goal is to have a financial priority (travel, for instance) that you work toward. If you reach your goal, you win. Your obstacles are many, but you aren’t competing against other players.

The Rules are Situational

How the Saving Game is played depends on your priority.  My goal has been to travel comfortably as much as I can while keeping my full-time job (with its oh-so-useful health benefits) and my home.  So I’ve been playing the game a bit differently than (for instance) round-the-world travelers do. If your only goal is to travel, and you don’t care how you do it, you could save money while traveling by couchsurfing, staying in hostel dorms, traveling overland by bus rather than plane, etc.

How I Play the Game

Because it’s my vacation from work, travel is my reward to myself. I like to splurge a bit. In order to do that, I save money upfront by being frugal in my everyday life–money that I can later spend during my trips. Here are some of the things I’ve done to save money over the years, things you could do too if you have a similar goal:

Make more money. If you can’t convince your boss to give you a raise or get a higher paying job, you can try to work more than one job or start a small business with low overhead on the side. I put myself through college working two jobs in addition to work-study. I’ve owned a small side business in the past and currently, I’m earning money selling advertising on this website. It’s not enough to live on, but it helps pay for my trips.

Pay attention to what you’re spending money on and how much you’re spending. I’m one of the country’s last holdouts when it comes to automatic bill-paying. I like writing checks and balancing my checkbook. That way, I’m very aware of where my money is going and how much I have at all times. I am starting to move some bills to automatic bill pay, just to avoid the monthly service fee. But when my credit card bill comes in, I read it line by line.

Stop spending on discretionary items. Unless your shoes have holes in them, you don’t need to buy a new pair. Unless your cell phone died, you don’t need to upgrade. To avoid the temptation to spend on “wants” rather than “needs”, stay away from retail stores, even online. (Unless of course, you work in one.)

Go car-less. I lived for 17 years (as a working adult) without a car. I either walked or took public transportation everywhere. I was able to save thousands of dollars a year this way.

Pot, Stove

Learn to cook from scratch. Food, while a necessity, is also one of the most flexible budget items. Trust me, if I can learn to cook, anyone can. Practice makes perfect (or at least, edible). Not only is it cheaper, but it’s a lot healthier than eating out or eating prepackaged foods.

Eliminate non-essential bills. A year and a half ago, I canceled my landline telephone, which I never used, and just use my cell phone now. Savings? $56/month. Last summer, I did the same with my cable TV. Now, when I want to watch a show, I do it on my laptop via Hulu.com. Savings?  $71/month. Total savings per year by making these two changes? $1,524. Depending on your destination and travel style, that might cover your whole trip!

Entertain yourself cheaply. Obviously, we all have friendships to maintain and you do want to have some fun in the here-and-now, but who says social interaction has to cost money? Why not just get together with a friend and go for a walk or hike somewhere scenic, where you can chat and catch up while getting some exercise? Or dare I say it? Have friends over to play cards or a board game.

Learn to love pre-owned items. Growing up wearing hand-me-downs taught me that there’s nothing wrong with pre-owned items, so long as they’re in good condition and serve their purpose. I’ve lived with hand-me-down clothes, furniture, electronics, kitchenware, you name it.

Pay off your credit cards every month. If you let the balance roll over, you’re wasting your money by having to pay interest. If your credit card bill is too high to pay off at the end of the month, then you know you’re using it too much. Don’t charge anything unless you know you have the money in the bank to back it up.

If you still suck at saving money, force the savings. If your employer offers direct deposit, you should be using it. Another way I force myself to save is by not adjusting my withholding during the year from my paycheck. I always get a killer refund every year. People keep telling me to stop giving Uncle Sam the interest-free loan, but for me, it’s a great way to not spend it throughout the year. When it arrives, I see it as my “vacation fund”.

I do have my limits as to how I’ll save money. I won’t keep my house at 58 degrees all winter. I won’t rummage through my neighbors’ recycling bins looking for returnable bottles. I will never again eat tuna fish sandwiches every day for lunch  just to save money. And I won’t move in with my parents. Everything else in my life gets routine scrutiny.

How are you doing at the Saving Game?  What are your favorite ways of saving money?

Photo credit:  epSos.de, JD Hancock, Marco Arment.

Gray September 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I hear ya on the conveniences. Luckily, there are a variety of ways to save–or as you mention, earn extra–money, so among them all, there’s bound to be a way that works for everyone. As long as you take that money and squirrel it away for travel, rather than more “stuff”.

Lisa @chickybus September 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Great tips here! Wish I could follow more of them. It’s hard sometimes as I like certain conveniences. Fortunately, I do pay off my credit card each month and I don’t spend on certain things.

It’s often easier for me to make more money. I usually teach an extra class or set up my taxes so that “they owe me.” Then, in April, I get cash for both.

Gray May 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm

LOL, Michelle. I know you’re not alone in this. I think starting with a few changes is the best approach, actually. If you try to change too many things about your life all at once, it generally doesn’t stick, because it’s too hard. Make a few money-saving changes habitual first. Then add a few more, and so on. Good luck!

Michelle May 19, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I will admit, I am a horrible saver. If I leave the house, I end up spending money. It upsets me sometimes but it’s like I have no willpower when it comes to spending. I’m trying to be better. I’ve decided that, over the summer, I will only drive to run my major errands on weekends when I’ve been paid and will stick to walking and shopping at my local farmer’s markets and coffee shops on the weekends. It’s a start. I already to the automatic transfers from my pay checks but it doesn’t always stick. I’m hoping having my tight wad brother move to town next month will help and his habits will rub off on me : )

suzanne April 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Very practical and useful tips! Thank you! One just needs to have discipline when doing these. As for me, I do have different envelopes on my “savings” bank. I have a Christmas envelope ( for gifts), charity envelope ( for my tithes) , food envelope ( for eating out) and yes, travel envelope ( for travel). Every payday, I put some money in there.

Gray April 1, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Thanks, Suzanne. I’ve heard a lot of people find the envelope system quite useful, both for everyday budgeting but also when they travel–they’ll have one envelope for food, one for entertainment, etc. Whatever works!

GRRRL TRAVELER March 18, 2011 at 3:55 am

Nice tips, Gray. These are all great ways to sock it away. I’ve pretty near done the same.

On the other hand, there are so many travelers out there whom I meet who are traveling months to years. I don’t know how they do it. The stories are varied and none that I can really relate to quite as well.

I guess I’m just in the Saver category for now…which can feel like a long, slow process. 😉

Gray March 18, 2011 at 11:04 am

Everyone has their own way of doing things, for sure. We all need to find a way that we can live with.

midwestguest March 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I’m a big fan of several of these tips, having done some of these things for years. Paying off your credit cards each month is a big one for me, but my all-time favorite has to be the save-your- change gambit. I’ve done this forever, and I used to combine it with rounding my paycheck down to the $10 mark just below the total to save that overage along with my change (if my paycheck was XX3.18 for instance, I’d save that extra $3.18). I did that until, one day, that account totaled more than I owed in my mortgage…so I paid it off quite a few years early.
Paying off your mortgage early? Savings equal literally thousands each year 🙂
Still save my change these days…was saving for a vacation home, but a major medical situation in the family transformed that fund into a medical fund. Not the use I’d planned for it f’sure, but having that money in hand has certainly eased things quite a bit.

Gray March 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Wow, interesting to hear that one little tip–saving anything below the $10 mark on your paycheck can help you pay your mortgage off early! Sorry to hear about the medical situation. As you say, though, it’s a good thing you had already saved that money.

Gray March 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm

True enough about credit cards, YS. I remember my grandparents buying things on the layaway plan when I was kid. They paid cash for everything.

Angela March 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Great tips, I love tips on saving. I’m already a good saver (well, I have to be since I’m pretty much always on a tight budget…), but I always learn from everbody’s suggestions, and rest assured I put them into practice!

Gray March 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hi, Angela, thanks for your comment. Always nice to hear from another saver. 🙂

Gray March 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hi, Angela, thanks for your comment. Always nice to hear from another saver. 🙂

Tracyantonioli March 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm

i had an actual budget for a few months–i knew i could only spend x dollars each week (full disclosure–it was $130) this included EVERYTHING that wasn’t a set bill, or groceries (but they had a budget, too). coffee, lunches i didn’t pack, wine, a movie, donuts for my coworkers, a dinner out–it all counted. i recorded everything i spent, and everything i ‘saved up’ went to my travel savings. after doing this for a few months, i don’t even need to keep track anymore. and as i type this, i’m making chicken soup from scratch instead of going out for a friday night dinner.

Gray March 12, 2011 at 12:07 am

Yay to homemade chicken soup! Good comfort food, too.

Linda March 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Excellent, practical ideas. We want to take a big vacation with our kids next winter and we’re bringing them into the game with us. “If Mom says she doesn’t want to cook, remind her that it’s better to eat at home… and we’ll put the money saved into the vacation fund.” We’re foregoing some fun things that we like to do and thinking of cheaper alternatives to pad the fun fund as well.

Gray March 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Great idea to include your kids, Linda! I bet they will come up with some creative ideas themselves for how to grow that vacation fund.

Anonymous March 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Great list–I do many of the things on it! I just sold my car, and I’m beyond thrilled to just have my legs and the bus. So much cheaper than gas, repairs, and the emotional cost of sitting in traffic! I’m also big on cooking for myself, NEVER taking taxis, and always paying my credit card off at the end of the month. I’d much rather have money in savings–and perhaps a plane ticket–than more clothes!

Gray March 11, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Sounds like you’re doing all the right things, Christine. I’m with you on the clothes. Though my lack of fashion sense probably plays a part in that as well! 🙂

lilmissdisney March 11, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I actually do better without direct deposit because when I go to put my check in the bank I automatically transfer a percentage of money to my savings account, that way it s not there in my checking for me to spend the moment it hits the bank.
I also do the change thing, like Nyingrid mentioned. But I rarely use cash. Though Bank of America has something called Keep the Change and with everything you buy the excess change goes into your savings account automatically. You buy something for $2.75 they transfer the extra 25 cents to your savings. It is just like if you used cash.

Gray March 11, 2011 at 10:53 pm

They won’t automatically deposit some into your savings account with direct deposit? Doesn’t matter, as long as you’re transferring some of each paycheck into savings. That’s the way to go. I’ve never heard of the BOA program; nice to know!

lilmissdisney March 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Duh, I guess they will :o). I always get those sign-up to transfer money to saving automatically things but I don’t get paid consistantly so I never tried it. Good idea! So it will work either way with or without direct deposit.

Gray March 12, 2011 at 12:06 am

Definitely, as long as you have the self-discipline to make the transfer yourself regularly, either way works. 🙂

nyingrid March 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I pay for things with cash. But I only use bills. All change that I get goes into a travel fund. You’d be surprised that you can save $700-$800 easily each year this way – that could be flights or hotel $!! It takes discipline, but you’ll be grateful you did!

Gray March 11, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Smart woman. $700-800 is a nice tidy sum to put toward vacation!

Sofia January 18, 2013 at 3:25 am

Haha I love that idea! I hate coins and try my hardest to get rid of them, but putting them into a little travel fund suddenly makes them useful again 😛

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