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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Shereen Answers Your Travel Questions

In this blog series, I try to answer your most pressing travel questions. I like to take a question from my audience and go a bit in depth to help them out, while also helping others with that same problem or question. If you want to ask a question, include it in a comment, send me an email or reach out on social media. I'm here to help!

saving for travel

This one comes to us from @amelia_wasserman on Instagram. She asks: What is the best way to save and budget for a big trip you know is a year or two away?

Number one: 

Planning that far ahead is very smart. It gives you time to really plan what you want to do and come up with a reasonable budget, so you aren't having to live off granola bars on Day 3 or miss out on doing things because you don't have enough money to eat and participate in activities.

Number two:

Do some research to see what kind of budget you're going to have to shoot for. Get a ballpark idea of airfare costs, accommodation rates and transportation needs. Start compiling a list of "must-do' activities and look at those prices as well. Add it all up and you have a "minimum" budget to keep in mind.

Number three: 

Start looking at where you can cut costs, by finding discounts and coupons. I never pay full price for anything if I can avoid it. I'll search online for the best rates on everything, and many attractions have cheaper rates if you order tickets online or you purchase ahead of time...or you might find something like CityPASS will get you an amazing deal on a whole bunch of things you want to see/do.

We have a trip on the horizon to Scotland for a family wedding in a few years. I'm already putting together ideas for what I want to do there and have talked with my husband about lengthening our trip to include a true vacation on our own afterwards and heading back to London. While we could fly, we can also save airfare and a room by taking Megabus overnight and getting a sleeping compartment. It'll be cheap and possibly not the most comfortable, but they have WiFi and the bus leaves Scotland in the evening and arrives in London in the morning, so we'll be up and ready to go when we stop. What I'm saying is creativity counts when planning. That idea may very well save us over $150 alone.

Number four: 

Get to saving! You all know I'm not rich by any means. If I was, I wouldn't be writing this blog, because I'd be out traveling and spending my huge piles of money. I have to save like everyone else. So, here are some ideas on how to save during your everyday life, even if you think you don't have any funds to spare.

The little things

  • Start bringing your lunch every day. I hate making a lunch, but I also hate being broke, so instead of going out to eat every single day, I either pull together a lunch before I head to bed, or I make twice as much dinner as we can eat and have the leftovers for lunch the next day. I'm lucky that I don't work far from my house, or all week, so I can run home for lunch, make something fast to eat and then head back. When I work from home, I also scavenge for food at home, even if it sounds blah. Power through and think of your awesome trip. But don't forget to splurge every once in a while for fun.
  • Start a change jar. We always have a place we can toss coins we have at the end of the day. Those little amounts can add up. Maybe you'll only find yourself with an extra $75 at the end of a year, but that could be the difference between getting an extra meal or two out or doing something you really don't want to miss out on. I find that a jar I can't see into is easier to ignore when I find I'm cash poor in my wallet.
  • Drink coffee at home/work. It's easy to fall into the trap of stopping at Starbucks and picking up that Venti Caramel Macchiato,but even if you're only paying $4 a pop and only twice a week, that's over $30 you're spending. Cut back to once a month when you really neeeeed it and buy a big thing of fancy creamer or coffee syrup and make your cup at home and/or at work. Every time you want to go get a coffee, but don't, put that money into your vacation fund.
  • Get rid of stuff. We all have a bunch of extra crap we don't need. Start rounding it up and either sell it online or have a garage sale. That extra money can really make a difference to your budget.

Shopping

  • Meal plan. Yes, I hate doing it too, but I never go to the store without a list and I try to buy only a few things that I can use to make several meals. Some ideas: chicken, lettuce, onion, bell pepper, black beans, tortillas. Use this to make both fajitas, but then also use the rest of the chicken to make chicken salad. Mix in some onion, put it in a tortilla as a wrap with lettuce and some bell pepper strips. I've also put the same fajita fixings on top of a baked potato or just over rice. Think ahead. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Also, don't forget the coupons!
  • Go on a penny pinching kick. Do you need to buy anything this week that isn't food-related? Start asking yourself if what you're buying is a need or a want. Just doing this can help you start making better choices and spending less in general. Instead of buying that pair of shoes you are looking at, put that money aside for your travels. Even if it's just something little like a magazine or lip gloss, immediately move that money over. You've spent it, but now you've invested it in your future trip.
  • Stay in for date night. Instead of going out to dinner and movie, make a meal together (or get a frozen pizza and salad) and rent something from Redbox, or look through your Netfilx/Hulu/Amazon Watch queue. Put the difference in your vacation fund.
  • Use Groupon or Living Social. Want to go out, but don't want to spend the bucks to do so? Scour your daily deal sites and save half or more for something fun. This is also a good way to save money on vacation.
  • Get cash back with Ebates. I don’t buy/book/reserve anything without checking the merchant lists on Ebates. Yes, I know that my favorites are there, like Piperlime, Sephora and Groupon, but there are tons more, including a bunch of travel sites you can use to book your vacations, too. Seriously guys, if you aren’t using Ebates, you are throwing money out the window. It's free to join and easy to use. 

General money-saving 

  • Set up a separate savings account. Set up an automatic deposit, either through work or on your own online, to go to that separate account. Even just $50 per paycheck can quickly add up and it's not so much that you'll notice it's gone. If you can afford more, change the dollar amount that goes, even if this is a one-time occurrence or permanent.
  • Open a high-yield checking or savings account. Just like I say above, make sure it's separate from your everyday account. While your money is just sitting there, you could be earning more each month for doing nothing more but keeping it in the bank. Free money is good!
  • Use an awesome saving app. I've been using a new app called Qapital. It's really changing the way I spend and save. You set up a goal, or multiple goals, and then set up rules in order to save for them. I've been using this app for six weeks and have saved nearly $100 just by doing things I normally do. I have two rules set up (because I can't go too crazy and my "goal" is far off): One is the $2 round-up rule, so any time I use one of the cards on file, they round up to the nearest $2. That means if I spend $4.50, $1.50 will go into my Qapital account, to make up $6, which is the next denomination of $2 after $4.50. I also have an IFTTT rule that says anytime I check into a place on Swarm/Foursquare and use #coffeetour, it transfers another $1 to my account. 
So, there you have it. All the current ways I save for travel and find all those extra dollars in my budget when I think I'm practically broke. You can do this, and when you think you can't, think of my friend who has a family of 8 on one income and still finds the time and money to go on at least one fantastic vacation a year, plus fits several weekend getaways in as well. You got this! I hope my tips help. They have changed the way I save, and I have a very part-time side job that isn't guaranteed week-to-week (but is exactly what I wanted) and that allows me time to do all my other things, like writing this blog and planning all the trips I want to take.

If you have other tips on how to save money, please let us know in the comments. And if you have your own travel questions/challenges you need help with, put that down there too, so I can get helping you next!   

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