Sometimes a staycation just won’t cut it.
Sometimes you need a real break, a week or two far away from everything that causes you stress. My dream vacation changes on a regular basis. On any given day, it might involve swaying palm trees and endless relaxation, testing my language skills in a foreign city, or having a daring, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. There’s one thing all of those vacations have in common—they cost money. More money than I have. If I want a real vacation, I have to start saving.
Anyone who is living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay off student loans and/or credit card debt, can guess what I’ve been asking myself How am I supposed to “save” money when I don’t have any money to save? I’ve been trying to figure that out. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
If you want to have more money on hand then you do right now, you have two options: spend less money, or make more money. The best way to save money is by doing both of those things at the same time.
1. Know where all your money is going.
If you use your debit card a lot, log in to your bank account and look at what you’ve spent in the past few months. (If you have a few debit/credit cards, check out the Mint app for an overview of your spending.) If you’ve been spending too much on take-out, or buying too many drinks for friends, take notice, and make an effort to lower those numbers. Pay special attention to expenses that pop up on a regular basis, like daily coffee breaks and monthly membership fees. Are there any you can cut out completely, or even in half?
2. Create a vacation savings account.
Go to your bank’s website and check if there’s an easy (and free) way to set up a separate savings account for your vacation fund. Bank of America offers a program where your purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar, and you get to “keep the change” in a savings account. This probably won’t pay for a vacation on its own, but it’s a great way to make tiny contributions on a regular basis.
3. Shake up your spending habits.
Habits are hard to change, but if you can change your daily routine in a few small ways, it’ll enable you to temporarily change your routine in a big way and take a week or two off. If you typically buy breakfast, lunch, or dinner out every day, think about what you’d be happy eating at home (or bringing to work for lunch) and stock up on groceries.
Then whenever you convince yourself not to buy something, like a new pair of shoes, transfer that exact amount of money into your vacation account instead.
4. Don’t cut everything out.
You’re allowed to have fun all year long, not just when you’re on vacation, so don’t punish yourself by saying you’ll NEVER eat dinner out. If you’re too hard on yourself, you’re more likely to give up, and no savings means no vacation. Focus on finding a balance, so that you’re not miserable—you’re just spending less.
5. Have as much free fun as possible.
- Keep an eye on local events calendars for free activities like movie screenings, art openings, and concerts.
- Check out books and movies from your local public library instead of paying to buy or rent them
- Invite friends over and cook dinner together instead of going out to a restaurant.
6. Find ways to bring in more money.
Look for a part-time job that will work around your current schedule. Let friends and family know you’re trying to make extra cash.
In your neighborhood, consider…
- house sitting
- pet sitting
- dog walking
- or tutoring
If you’re crafty, set up an Etsy store to sell your products. When you get paid for your part-time work, put the money into your vacation account. If you’re paid by direct deposit, set it up so the money goes directly into your vacation savings.
7. Sell stuff you no longer want or need.
If you have boxes of old things taking up space in your closet—from designer clothes you don’t wear to musical instruments you don’t play—sell them on ebay or through a local resale shop. Your old hobbies could help pay for a trip abroad AND you’ll cut down on clutter which will get your energy flowing.
8. Keep yourself motivated.
Spend time researching your dream vacation so you have a realistic idea of how much you’ll need to save.
Make a Pinterest board of things you want to do and see on your journey. Update the background image on your computer, tablet, and phone to a picture of a place you can’t wait to visit in person. Anytime you feel stressed or overwhelmed, look at that photo, and remind yourself that all your hard work will pay off when you take a vacation you’ll remember the rest of your life. All you have to do is make it happen.
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