I’m writing this from the back of the bar I work in. Staring down the row of empty bar stools, wishing I could enjoy the mild February temperatures that have graced New York this week. If you can believe it, I actually wore sandals.
Most New Yorkers are out enjoying the weather and not sitting inside a dark bar. So as I sit here thinking about the little amount of money I stand to make today, I kind of want to talk about the most important part of traveling – money.
It is one of the most common things I hear that stops people from planning long term trips. I can’t afford it. I am not writing this while I sit on a throne of self control, no debt, and huge savings account. No such throne exists in my life.
I am very familiar with the stress and anxiety that comes along with money. I have struggled with finances in every area for all of my adult life. But I still managed to save enough to travel for 14 weeks and move to New York.
I have student loans and mild credit card debt. I also have an income based on how generous the person I’m currently serving a $4 Bud Light feels like being.
There’s nobody in my life offering any type of financial support. Don’t cue the violins just yet, this isn’t a sob story. Just a way to know it’s possible, no matter what your circumstances are.
I have learned how to budget the money I get very closely. Of course there isn’t always a lot extra to save for huge trips, but I manage. With a lot of planning and some sacrificing, I have made it work. I’m also pretty confident that anyone who wants it bad enough can too.
Here’s what I have done in the past to save money or just ultimately be in control of my own finances, to allow myself to travel.
Write It Down
I suggest you first look at your expenses. WRITE THEM ALL DOWN. Writing it down is the only way to really see your money.
Start with your most important bills. Then get that list down to how many times you think you go to a movie and eat out each week. I’m no finance expert but I think the most important way to learn how to save is to know exactly where your money goes. ALL OF IT.
I am so diligent in writing down where my money goes that I actually use a manual checkbook app. It helps me keep track of every single thing that goes in and out of my bank account. Nothing gets taken out or deposited that doesn’t get a check next to it at the end of the week.
It’s an old school method and it works.
In that app I even type entries in advance for payments I know will automatically deduct from my account in the near future and I always look at the balance on my checkbook to know how much money I have, only relying on my online banking apps to reconcile the transactions and make sure the balances match.
Get Real About Your Debt
Once you have made your own list of monthly expenses, write down all your unnecessary debt. For a lot of us, this just means credit cards. All of my strict budgeting plans to save money have a big chunk dedicated to paying off my credit card balances. The less debt, the less payments, the more money I can save.
So you have these two lists compiled. Now what? Unless you’re already accustomed to living minimally (in which case I’m not sure how helpful this post will be), then you’ll probably already see where you need to make some changes.
In a world with online shopping and a Starbucks on every corner it’s very easy to look at your bank account and think where did all my money go? Which is why I suggest that you write down how much money you make and then while looking at your monthly expenses, tell it exactly where it belongs.
I suggest a spreadsheet of a weekly, monthly, or yearly budget. Whichever feels the most manageable to you. It always helps to budget at least for each pay period. However, having a bigger picture has always helped me more than a weekly or bi-weekly plan.
I organize out my finances for the entire year and look at my budget on a weekly basis. Then I have everything tracked, to how much I need to put aside for rent each week to my $20 gym membership.
The spreadsheet is simple. I take out all my monthly bills and then deduct the amount of spending money I give myself each week. This is an amount I have come up with that I know is comfortable to put aside for me to live on for anything that goes outside my normal expenses (a movie, drinks, new clothes, etc.).
Start Saving Everything Else
Whatever money is left (if there is any) goes into savings. It’s that simple.
I used to strictly use Excel to keep track of my budget, I like the formula options to have the math done for me. However I have recently transferred my entire budget over to a bullet journal where I now manually keep track of it. Every Tuesday I look at my budget, take the money I made that week, and I put it exactly where I told it I would put it.
My system is basic math. It’s not meant to be complicated because saving money is not complicated. My budget is flexible when needed but I’m as strict with it as I can be. Yes, the initial planning is time consuming, which is why I choose to do it all at once for the year, and then managing it is easy.
Sacrificing is Hard
The hard part is the things you have to sacrifice in order to stick to the plan. There’s no blog post for that. That’s all based on a list of personal priorities that everyone has to come up wih. I still pay $2.50 almost everyday for my iced coffee because it makes me happy. It’s something I won’t give up. Even if you add up all the money I would save in a year if I just made it at home.
I’ll end by saying that no method in saving and budgeting will work if you don’t actually want it bad enough. Everyone has to decide for themselves. If having the latest iPhone or designer bag is more important than the freedom to travel, that’s on you.
It is difficult make the change and stay committed. But if you just open up a blank spreadsheet and start calculating, you might be surprised with the numbers you come up with.