How To Budget For Travel When You Earn Almost Nothing
So how the frick do I actually afford to travel so regularly? It's not about income, never has been! It's about mindset. If you want to travel, you'll make it a priority. If you don't make it a priority, you don't want to travel!
The #6 tricks below have funded many months of international backpacker travel.
I'll say this flat out. I live below a minimum wage income. The reason I can afford to travel is through micro-managing my budget and counting every cent. Not having any kids or pets helps!
I keep a running monthly budget for 6 months past and into the future in a Google Doc I can assess from all devices. This allows me to analyse what I spend, what big events I have to save for coming up, and balance out the projected budget if I overspend in one month. A sample would look like this:
$2000 (Monthly budget)
$194 Diploma payment
$717 rent (Shared rent of our one bedroom apartment)
$200 food ($100/wk split between two people)
$20 other bills
$40 public transport
$45 phone plan
$5 Google bill
= $749 ($749 leftover? That's a flight to Asia!)
But I don't leave it there. With 6 months of projected budgets I am able to set saving goals per month. For example, if I knew I needed to save $300 in April to afford a holiday in June, I would be left with $449 spending money or around $110 spending money per week for my social life and general household expenses. (Usually it's a lot less than this.)
To make sure I don't blow the $449 I record every purchase in the doc. EVERY. PURCHASE. $3 loaf of bread? Write it down. $12 pint? Pop it in. $50 airport taxi? Don't miss that!
Planning so far in advance allows me to flexibly mould my saving goals around other expenses. If I overspend in April, I can increase my projected savings for May. Simple!
2. Grocery & other shopping lists
If it's not on the list, don't buy it. It's really that simple.
I keep a running shopping list on my phone that I divide into halves. On top I put regular essentials like pasta and rice because we go through a lot every week. Down below I put more of a wishlist of more expensive superfoods or pricier vegan alternatives that I cyclically add into the regular shopping list as I can afford it.
By walking into the supermarket with a list and a weekly shopping budget, you can never be shocked by how much you've spent.
This also applies to clothes and household items. I have a rule of sleeping on any purchase over $50. I also keep a running 'to buy' list of clothes I notice I'm lacking, special event outfits I may need to buy something for, and decorations/furniture I'd someday like to add to the house. Of course I can't afford to just go out and buy these things, but when I can afford to buy something, it only comes off these lists.
Again, if it's not on the list, don't buy it.
3. Low rent
Never live above your means. If you want to travel, you will not be living in a luxurious penthouse apartment. If you're spending more than 50% of your income on rent before bills, don't complain to me that I'm "so lucky" I can afford to travel! You need somewhere clean and dry. You don't need 3 stories, a working fireplace and a pool. I currently spend 35% of my income on rent in an inner city apartment, and that's as high as I'd ever go!
"I make myself rich by making my wants few," Henry David Thoreau. What do you actually need in life? Is it a subscription to a monthly fashion magazine, or is it to see the 7 Wonders of the Natural World?
Forgoing your obsession with consumerism is the best thing you can ever do. Owning a lot of appliances and the latest fashion does not define your personality, it strips you of one. You are more than what you own. Recognise this, rid yourself of all the unnecessary crap, and only surround yourself with items you need.
Once you get past the addiction of buying things "because they're cute" you'll realise how effective the impact on your wallet is. Instead of 10 pairs of heels, you have one pair that goes with everything. Instead of a bedroom covered with knick knacks and wall hangings, you have a few statement items with personal significance to you. Instead of an entire professional sized make-up kit, you just keep your favourites you know you look good with.
Minimalism is more than just the money-saver, it's an important part of personal growth. But for now, we are just relishing the dollars kept in the bank once you develop the guts to walk straight past that sale, because buying what you don't need does not bring happiness. But buying plane tickets does!
5. Reserve birthday and Christmas gifts for essentials
There's always new expenses that crop up pre-travel. Luggage, warm clothes, a new camera and all those expensive travel knick knacks like travel pillows and portable chargers. Plan your packing list months in advance so there are no sudden last-minute expenses. Plan your packing list, and write your wish lists accordingly. Let everyone know there are a few things you definitely need, so you'd appreciate it if they could prioritise those. This year, I'm asking for some of the warm clothes I need for snow!
Bonus tip: Domestic flights make an excellent birthday present.
6. Ditch your car
Sell the damned car if you can! If you need a car, don't buy above your means. If you need to pay it off over several years of instalments then here's a newsflash, you cannot afford that car.
Alternatives: Tram, bus, train, your two legs. You get the picture. This is a no brainer. Do your bit for the environment, your health and your wallet whenever you can.
What tips do you have for saving?