Saving up and Spending Less

Later in this book, in the section “Creating an Income” I discuss in detail different ways to make money while on the road, but before you go, you need money. The easiest way to make extra money is spending less. The new word of your life is: Frugal. 

There’s that standard ‘5 Ways to Save Money’ blog post you’ll find when you Google search ‘how to save money.’ I’ll cover those ideas briefly, but since I don’t spend $5-$10 a day on coffee, or live in a two bedroom house by myself, those ‘Ways’ don’t apply to me. I had to find new ways to save money—ideas I’ll share with you.

Some people will recommend that you set yourself a financial goal. “When I hit $10,000, I’ll go traveling.” I found this to be difficult simply because once I started saving up a decent amount of money the idea of “Why not keep saving money?” would enter my mind. Which, of course you should save money. Of course. Right? People will tell you it’s important. They’ll tell you a hundred reasons why you need to. But what will you use your savings for? Emergencies? You worked like crazy, saved up money, to only use in case of emergencies? Emergencies, if avoided, will allow you to keep working? Could I ever afford a house at $10 an hour? Even at $15 an hour? Not where I lived.

And that’s how we broke ourselves out of that way of thinking. No amount of money will ever be enough, so it’s my advice that you set yourself a time goal, not a financial goal. New Years works really well as a starting point for your trip, especially if you’re starting your trip in Europe. A European winter is cold and wet, and you will find no shortage of cheap flights from American hubs to European ones. 

Something we like to do is to buy the ticket once we get the slightest urge to travel. This past time, we bought our ticket in May for an October 10th departure. It allowed us to bust our asses knowing we would be gone come October 10th, no matter what happened.

Some people find this to be a more stressful option, and that’s understandable. The point is finding what works for you. What will motivate you to leave? Even the most travel-excited person will experience some trepidation as the departure date moves closer. A swarm of ‘What ifs’ will enter their head, making them doubt their decision. After all, it’s easy to keep working. Keep paying rent. Keep the life you have. It’s secure, it’s warm, and there’s a much smaller chance of sleeping outside. But if you never sleep outside, then you’ll never know how it feels to have the stars as a blanket.

In a year and a few months I was able to save about $6,400. Darcy had closer to $7,400. In total, that’s $13,800. 

If you were to break down the money we left with ($13,800) by the days we’ve been on the road (for ease, let’s say 365. At the time of me writing this, it’s been closer to 425, but I picked up a few shifts at my old job when we visited our hometown around the 1-year anniversary date of when we left) and you will find that we have spent $37 a day combined, or $18.90 a day each. Pretty cool, right? Less than $20 a day to explore Europe. Just two hours at my job, or two-and-a-half if we included taxes, will allow me to spend a day in Europe. In a 6 hour shift that’s 2-3 days, depending on taxes taken out.

The question becomes: how does one save money?

Let’s break it down by idea.

Live at home

It’s an obvious answer. Around the world, you will find people who live with their parents. Here, in Southern Italy, most people, men and women, live in their parent’s house. It’s completely common for someone in their forties or fifties to live with their parents, because it’s cheaper (among other reasons). If you can pull off living at home, nearly every traveler will recommend that you do so. Darcy’s mother started a new job that took her out of town 5 days a week, so we moved in to take care of the cats. We went from paying $800 a month in rent plus $200 in utilities to paying $100 a month each, for everything. So we each began saving an extra $400 a month. I can’t tell you how fortunate we are for that. Not everyone is that fortunate so what else can you do?

Renting

If you are renting, and you are renting above your means (too big a place, too expensive, etc) then you can find a way to save a little money here. The obvious things require you to have an extra bedroom, or a living room you can make private. Rent it out! For long-term you can put it up on Craigslist, or pass around the word that you’re looking to find a roommate. Or, if you don’t mind the extra work for probably a little extra pay, you can try to list your extra room or living space on AirBnB. 

If the space you have can’t be rented out as a bedroom, you could try to rent it out as a studio to a writer or artist.

But what if you don’t have space for another person to live? Try pets. Using a website like Rover.com, you can offer to board animals for a little extra cash. There’s a pretty involved background and screening process, but you can bring in an extra $30-$60 a night.

I even know someone who uses his extra space to grow mushrooms which he sells to local restaurants. Now, that’s much closer to a business idea than a little side cash, but you can try something similar. 

Bills

Is there some way to reduce your utility usage? In Savannah, where the summer temperatures often brush 100 and the humidity is unbearable, we don’t use the A/C. Instead, we purchased a little fan to go in the corner of the bedroom and only used it at night to keep the air flowing. (I won’t lie, we mostly did this because we didn’t want to pay a high utility bill for an A/C that was last refilled with Freon in the late eighties.) But there are ways to cut your utility usage.

Water

A water bill might not fluctuate as much as an electric bill, but there are still ways to cut your usage that isn’t just cost-saving, but environmentally friendly. A quick Google search of ‘Water saving methods’ will yield a number of smart ideas, but to get you started, here are a few:

• Ditch your shower for the bucket and sponge method. Works best when it’s summer, but it’s a great way to cut water usage.

• If you have an older toilet that uses 2-4 gallons to flush, try putting something in the water tank. I recommend filling up one or two 1 liter bottles with water and placing it in the water tank, so when your tank fills up, it will fill up with a liter or two less. Don’t worry, it’s still plenty of water to flush with! 

• Don’t flush as often. This works better if you live alone or with a partner, but you don’t need to flush the toilet for every pee. Some toilets, mostly found in Europe, will allow you to start and stop the flow of water, so if you’re attached to the idea of constantly flushing you can choose to just use a little water.

• Change your shower head. When we rented an apartment, I brought my own shower-head that used less water but delivered higher pressure. It was a win-win situation of better showers with less water.

• This one is an easy one. If you have plants that you’d like to keep watering, use the cold water from the shower or tap as you’re waiting for it to heat up. If you’re in an older home with a hot water tank, and not on-demand hot water, you can get a good gallon or two of water before the water heats up. Save this in a nearby bucket to use for watering plants, flushing the toilet, or mopping.

As you can tell, some of these ideas are more extreme than others. It’s all up to you, and how committed you are. But would you rather have a dinner out in Rome or an extra long shower?

Electricity

Your electric bill is really the one that can fluctuate. Sometimes, there’s not much you can do in the short term to keep it low. Darcy and I rarely use the A/C or heat simply because of the cost. If it’s truly just insanely cold, we will use a little heat so the bathroom can warm up during shower time. But since heat rarely affects either of us, we leave the A/C off in the summer. Some other ideas are: 

• Turn off the lights when you leave, and in the rooms you don’t use.

• Change out incandescent bulbs for LED (then keep them for when you get back, or give them away).

• Turn off the power strips when you aren’t using them.

• Unplug things from the wall when you aren’t using them.

• Try not to use lights in the middle of the day, instead, open the blinds. (Darcy’s family really enjoys using lights in the middle of a sunny day, and I can only imagine their electric bill.)

This allows us to have an electric bill under $40 when most people we know spend more than $200. That’s a savings of $160 a month, or $1920 a year.

Cable/Entertainment

In this day and age of online, on-demand streaming, it’s not common to have a cable bill. If you can, cut it. If it’s bundled in with your phone (which I discuss about a little later on), still cut it. Unless you absolutely need it, it’s better to use a service like Netflix or Hulu.

If you can also cut your streaming service, I recommend that as well. I have plenty of friends that have Netflix accounts and I imagine you might as well. See if one of them would allow you to be on their account if you gave them the $2 a month (or whatever it is to go from one screen to two screens).

Internet

This one makes me bang my head against a wall. Well, this and phone bills. In all the countries I’ve lived, I’ve never seen more expensive internet than in the States, or more broken internet (Come on ATT and Comcast, how hard can it possibly be to offer decent, working internet?). If you can cut it, even if it’s just for the few months before you leave, I recommend cutting it.

If you need internet, most cafés have free internet (with purchase of a coffee, of course), or if you have a stellar phone plan, try using your phone as a hotspot.

Phone

Darcy was paying around $100 a month for her phone through ATT before we dated. I paid $45 a month for T-mobile family plan with my brother and had twice the data she did. After a few years together, she wanted to jump on to our plan, and it cut her monthly costs by $60. When she was added in, my and my brother’s costs also fell, so we each paid $40 a month. Darcy began saving that $60, which is $720 a year. If you can find a friend, a partner, a sibling, a parent, anyone to get on a family plan with, I recommend it. Of course, it comes with its own challenges, but it’s an easy way to save money. And, if you ever come back, it’s easier to get reactivated with your old number if you’re on a family plan than getting a new one by yourself.

Gas

Not many people have gas, but if you do, there’s not much you can do to lower your bill. If I’m not mistaken, most gas companies make you pay a minimum amount every month simply for the hookup, and when I had a gas range that I used every night, I paid just under $48 a month (which include their base cost of $35 a month).

If you use gas to heat your house, and you live in a place where you can use less in the winter, then I recommend that. But if you live in the plains of Alberta, it’s probably best to keep it on and not wonder what sleeping in -40 feels like.

Food

If you don’t already eat every meal at home, or bring your own lunch to work, this is the easiest thing you can do to save money. If you can’t cook, there are mountains of Youtube videos out there, and cooking is an invaluable skill that will make you friends the entire world over.

If you’re preparing for a trip, it’s not a bad idea to limit yourself to cheap staples before you go. Lentils, beans, rice. With the right spices, you could have yourself a fantastic meal at the fraction of the cost of eating out.

If you eat meat, and you’re not completely set on continuing to do so, try cutting meat out of your diet. Even the cheapest cuts of questionable meat are more expensive than beans, and packs the protein you need. Later in this book I talk about eating out, but since we’re vegetarian, we’ve found that we save tons of money by not eating meat in restaurants. 

You don’t have to eat just beans and rice at home, but if you’re preparing to go across the world, I would think it’s best to save all the money you can for all the amazing cuisine experiences you’ll have abroad.

Another way to save money through food is to cut your snacking. Personally, I love snack foods. Chips, pretzels, popcorn, Cheeze-Its (Extra Toasty, of course). But I stopped. Just saving that little bit of money every day means I get to, drumroll please, buy all sorts of strange and exotic snacks when I travel!

Drinks (Alcoholic)

We don’t drink much, especially when we’re in the States. Drinks are expensive out in bars, and what’s the point of buying Belgian-styled ale in the States when we’re about to be near Belgium in just a few short weeks?

If you can kick alcoholic drinks, or stick to PBR, try to do so. It’s an easy way to save a few extra bucks, and you can use that when you hit the road.

Drinks (Non-Alcoholic)

If you have a daily coffee or tea habit, and you are okay kicking it, that will save you a decent chunk of change. But if you absolutely need a morning coffee or tea, try making it at home. It’s a fraction of the cost of having it at a café, and you can make it exactly to your desire. 

[Darcy’s Unasked for Opinion: If you really want something, like a lavender spice latté, or a bowl of noodles from your local asian-fusion place, and you can’t seem to beat the craving, try making it at home! The ingredients to make it will cost you the same as the food or drink out, but you can keep using those ingredients to make more than one.]

Cut Needless Spending

Bear with me here. For whatever reason, as soon as Darcy and I get excited about a trip, we start planing all sorts of projects. Just before we left for this one, we decided to make the perfect backpack. (We used old sailcloth, an old yoga mat, and new hardware. The sail is soaked in beeswax to make it waterproof. We made it to last a month of travel and it’s going on month 15 with no sign of ending.) We finally finished it after a two-day sewing frenzy the night before our flight took off.

Luckily, we didn’t spend too much on it. Maybe $5 for the hardware. The sailcloth we were given for free by someone who repairs old sailcloth, and the yoga mat we had lying around.

But that wasn’t the only project. When we went back to visit, I found some extra-discounted leather and thought, “I could use a pair of sandals since it’s almost summer.” 

So we spent three weeks making sandals. 

Mine didn’t fit, and Darcy found that she liked shoes better.

So, that was a fun way to spend $45 and 15 hours.

Not everyone does stuff like this, and you probably don’t. But take stock of your life, and of your expenditures. Are you spending money on physical things that you’ll have to leave somewhere? Are you buying a massive jar of pickles the day before your flight takes off because you suddenly had an urge for pickles? 

This won’t save mountains of money, but one day you might be sitting on a park bench thinking, “If I hadn’t decided to buy Bitcoin, I would have enough money to get to Vietnam.”

Ditch the car

This one will only work with any real effectiveness in small towns or cities with decent public transportation. And even then, it might just be cheaper to keep the car. Take some time and write down you car costs. Gas, insurance, average costs of maintenance. Compare these to taking the bus twice a day, minimum.

For some of you, the math won’t work out in your favor. It’ll simply be cheaper to keep the car.

But for others, taking a bus might be cheaper. Or carpooling with a work friend.

It didn’t work for us. Since we worked in close proximity to each other, we drove together and left together, usually hitting up a grocery store on the way home. 

But if you find that it saves money, enough for the hassle to be worth it, try it out!

Selling your car can also be the perfect injection of cash into your savings account. Darcy and I live in a college town, so even the worst of beater cars will easily sell for over $1000. I once sold a 2006 Lincoln sedan with a cracked axle (which I made very obvious in the ad) for $1550. Before we left, we sold Darcy’s 2002 Kia Rio at KBB value of $1,600. If you live near a college town, try posting it on that cities’ Craigslist. It might mean the difference of a few hundred dollars.

Side Income

In the “Creating an Income” section I mentioned earlier, I go into great depth about how to make money while traveling and also before traveling. But check around your local cafés cork board or Craigslist for some work you can do on the side. I was able to find work moving chairs at a church. It went from twice a week to four times a week, and before I left I was making an extra $150 a week for only two or three hours of my time. Not only that, but since I was also a babysitter, they would ask me to watch children occasionally during PTA meetings (since the church had a school attached) and would pay well for it.

I have a list of websites in the “Income” section, but check out websites like Taskrabbit.com for physical work or Upwork.com if you want something online.

Credit Card/Savings account

In the Chapter “The Financials” I go in-depth into different credit cards and high-yield savings accounts. If you can set one up well before you hit the road, you will be able to earn a little extra just by having your money in the right bank, or putting all your normal purchases on a card that offers cash-back or miles.

To round it out

These aren’t the only ways to save, and far from it. The question really becomes “How dedicated are you?” Personally, I don’t like to live a total ascetic life before leaving, but there are those who do.

Sometimes, a month before we leave, we will try and cut our costs as much as possible, take extra shifts where we can, and squeeze every last cent out of our time. But we found it’s not sustainable in the long run.

One method of saving money is thinking of dollars in terms of hours worked. I could spend a measly $2.50 on a drink, but that $2.50 was 15 minutes of work. Is it worth it? Would I rather work 15 minutes so I could have a coffee in Paris, instead?

It’s a decent enough tool, but be careful. It’s easy to fall in the trap of “my life is only worth X an hour” and then it becomes nearly impossible to spend money. Small purchases seem unnecessary and big purchases gives me the feeling of “Wow, I worked twenty-two hours for this? An AirBnB in the worst part of Rome?” And once that happens, you start to view your entire life through that lens. 

Money is just money. Nothing but an exchange of energy. It’s only worth what you allow it to be worth. For me, $200 used to be 20 hours at work, and now it’s just $200. Some people make that in an hour, some in a month, so what does it matter how I view it? If I have it, I spend it. If I don’t, then I don’t worry about it. I know I can always figure out how to make more if I need to.

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