With the resources available to travelers, the relative strength of the American dollar in many destinations, and the deals being offered by the travel industry, it’s easy for savvy travelers to plan budget trips. In fact, there are countless destinations where $40 or even $30 a day will go far, and you can easily travel for a week or more on less than $500.
But traveling still costs money, and the idea of coming up with even a few hundred dollars can be a daunting one for many cash-strapped would-be wanderrs. But even if your income is on the lower end, you can still save enough money for a trip. With a little creativity, determination, and yes, a bit of sacrifice, you can whittle down your expenses and find ways to fund your travel dreams. Here are 28 ideas to help feed your piggy bank.
1 – Reduce or eliminate your car usage
Walk, bike, take the bus, or invest in an I-Go or Zipcar car sharing program. I-Go monthly prices range from free to $30 a month plus around $7 per hour. If you use it 10 hours per month, that’s only $70 and likely much less than you spend on car payments, car insurance, and gas for your own car. Eliminating one car could save you anywhere from $50-$300 or more each month. Even just reducing the amount you drive every week could save you $25 a month or more in gas.
Money saved: $25 – $300 per month. $300-$3600 per year.
2 – Reduce your power, water, and gas bills
There are several ways to reduce your utilities bills without living like you’re back in the dark ages. Unplug appliances (which can still suck up to 40% of their normal energy usage even when turned off) when they aren’t in use, take shorter showers, and turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. Let your hair air-dry when you can rather than blow-drying it and only run the dishwasher and laundry machines when they are full. Keep your heat and/or central air set at milder temps, and avoid using them at all when possible. For every one-degree change in temp, the savings could be up to 5% of your monthly bill. You’ll be surprised how much the savings add up.
Money saved: $10-$50 per month. $120 – $600 per year.
3 – Renegotiate cable/phone/internet
Have you ever called any of your providers to complain about your high bill? Many people don’t realize that their cable/phone/internet bills can often be negotiated. It may take a bit of time on the phone, but calling and saying your bill is too high will almost always result in it being lowered. Most companies don’t want to lose your business, so they can offer a lower rate if you threaten to leave for one of their competitors. It may not result in much, but they all add up, especially if you can get all three (internet, phone, cable) lowered.
Money saved: $20 – $50 per month. $120 – $300 per year.
4 – Give up your gym membership
If you’re a gym rat who loves working out, this may not be feasible for you. But if you go once a week or less, why not keep the $30-$100 a month you would have spent on your gym membership and invest in a small home gym instead?
A few dumbbells, a good pair of running shoes, and maybe a fitness DVD or two are really all you need for the occasional home workout. Or skip the traditional “work out” all together and look for other ways to incorporate fitness, such as by taking the dog for long walks or runs, biking to work, or joining a recreational sports league, which combines fitness and social time with friends into one inexpensive package.
Money saved: $30-$100 per month. $360 – $1200 per year.
5 – Reduce or eliminate your caffeine addiction
Starbucks may do its best to make us all think we need a daily dose of caffeine in the form of fancy lattes and mocha-whippa-cinos, but the $3-$5 you’re spending each day on coffee could be put to much better use. If you can’t give it up altogether, switch to home-brewed or drink the free stuff at your office. Even cutting out the pricey coffee a few days a week can make for significant savings.
Money saved: $30 – $80 per month. $360 – $960 per year. Based on 3-7 drinks per week at $3 each.
6 – Brown-bag it to lunch
Bringing your own lunch to work doesn’t have to mean resigning yourself to an eternity of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. There are plenty of creative and delicious lunches you can make at home and take with you. Get ideas from places like Recipe.com, make an extra large dinner and bring the leftovers for the next day’s lunch, or make and freeze everything on the weekend to save time. We love to have cooking Sundays at our house, where we’ll make a few large batches (soup in the winter, pasta year-round, bean, veggie, and grain salads) for the week. At $5-$15 a day, you’ll save a lot over the course of year by packing your own lunch.
Money saved: $15-$45 per week. $780-$2340 a year. Based on 3 lunches per week.
7 – Cut down on salon and spa costs
No one would suggest your let your personal appearance take a dive in order to cut costs, but there are ways you still look good on a smaller budget. Stretch out the time between haircuts, waxes, dye jobs and nail care, or do them at home (nails and simple hair color only for women; guys can do basic buzz cuts at home). Try different salons when they offer discounts to new clients, or sign up to be a hair model and receive a free cut. Visit apprentice, rather than master, stylists or book services like cuts, facials, and waxing at a beauty school. Haircuts by students at the Aveda Institute, for example, are supervised by instructors and cost just $15.
Money saved: $100 – $500 or more per year. Based on cutting out 2-10 services per year.
8 – Visit your local library
Knowledge is power, but that power doesn’t come without a price, one that’s usually higher for hardcover. Cut down on your reading expenses by buying used books rather than new, or taking advantage of your local library, where you can check out books completely free of charge. If you already have a large stack of books at home, trade them for credit at a used bookstore, or join Paperback Swap, a free book-trading program. If you’re an ereader junkie, find a few buddies and share books among yourselves to cut some costs.
Money saved: $20-$50 per month. $240-$600 per year. Based on buying 2-5 books per month at $10 each.
9 – Buy and sell at second-hand shops
Chances are you’ve got a closet full of clothes yet still you find yourself buying more. To revamp your wardrobe on a small budget, take your forgotten threads to a resale or consignment shop. You can leave with cold hard cash, or trade the clothes for credit to buy new-to-you duds in the latest styles. When it comes to shopping at retails stores, stick to your budget, never buy anything unless it’s on sale (on the same note, don’t buy something just because it’s on sale or a “good deal”), and always check the price for additional discounts after your purchase – many stores will offer a price adjustment within two weeks, for even more savings.
Money saved: $100-$1000 or more per year.
10 – Re-evaluate your living space
We all need basic shelter to survive – a warm, secure place with four walls and a ceiling at the minimum. We don’t necessarily need 2000 square feet, granite countertops, Jacuzzi tubs, and dual-dishwashers. If travel is your highest priority, consider downgrading just slightly. It doesn’t have to mean living in a cramped closet, but giving up one or two amenities or a bit of square footage can make for a significant decrease in rent. If you prefer the space you have, consider taking on a roommate to help cover the costs. If you own your own place and have some extra living space, consider renting out a room on AirBNB or similar sites.
Money saved: $100-$1000 per month. $1200 – $12,000 per year.
11 – Go for take-out
Don’t like to cook, or just don’t have the time? Going out to enjoy a restaurant meal multiple nights a week is one of the quickest ways to destroy your budget. If you can’t cook at home, grab take-out instead of heading out for a sit-down dinner. You’ll save a little by not having to tip as much, and if you want to enjoy a few drinks with your dinner, it’s much cheaper to grab a bottle of wine or beer from the store than order at a restaurant (where alcohol is marked up by 30-50%). If you’re used to ordering food and having it delivered, consider going to pick it up instead. Bonus if you walk or ride your bike instead of driving.
Money saved: $10-$50 per month. $120 – $600 per year, based on ordering take-out vs. going out 2-10 times per month and saving $5 each time.
12 – Make a meal plan and cut coupons
Coupons aren’t just for 1950’s housewives. Keeping track of coupons may seem overwhelming, but it just takes a bit of advanced planning. Make a meal plan and a grocery list based on what coupons you have and what ingredients you’ll need for the week. Never buy something just because it’s on sale. If you find a particularly good deal on something that keeps well, stock up and freeze it for later. Even if your coupons only save you an additional $10 each trip, that’s still $40 per month.
Money saved: $40-$80 per month. $480-$960 per year, based on saving $10-$20 per week.
13 – Sign up for freebies and rewards
In effort to bring in business (especially in this economy) and reward loyal customers, many bars, restaurants, and shops will offer email discounts and deals to those on their mailing list. Set up an email account specifically for this purpose and sign up to be on the mailing list of all your favorite places. You’ll not only get advance notice of deals and special events, but you’ll often score invites to private parties and trunk shows. If a store you frequent offers a reward card (a buy 10, get your 11th free kind of deal), sign up and take advantage of the savings, but only if you would have spent the money anyways. It defeats the purpose if you spend more than you have originally would have, just to get the bonus.
Money saved: $10-$100 per month or more.
14 – Make staying in fun
Getting together with friends doesn’t have to mean dropping big bucks at a bar or restaurant. Swap out your weekly bar night with friends for an evening drinking at your place, host dinner parties rather than going out to eat, and invite friends over wine tastings, game nights, or movie screenings, and you can socialize and save money at the same time. Trade off hosting responsibilities with others in the group and make every event pot-luck and BYOB.
Money saved: $10-$80 per month. $120 – $960 per year. Based on skipping 1-4 nights out at $10-$20 each.
15 – Save money on movie-watching
With the exception of certain blockbusters, most movies play just as well on the small screen as the big. Wait a few months and rent the movie rather than seeing it in the theatre (if you must, go to a matinee and bring in your own snacks). Cancel in-store rental memberships that charge $3-$5 per movie and go with Netflix or Blockbuster online instead. If you only rent occasionally, opt for cheap Red Box movies.
Money saved: $10-$40 per month. $120-$480 per year. Based on going to the movies 1-4 times per month at $10 each.
16 – Cut out cable
At $30, $50, $100 or even more per month, cable TV isn’t exactly cheap. If you’re a total TV addict, this might not be a strategy for you, but if you don’t watch the tube all that much, consider cutting out cable and watching only the basic channels. With most shows available on DVD or the internet now, you might not even miss it.
Money saved: $30-$100 a month. $360-$1200 a year.
17 – Clean out your credit
If you have significant debt, your interest rates could account for a large portion of your monthly expenses. Work on getting your debt paid off, starting with the cards with the highest interest rate. If you can, transfer the balance to a zero-interest card and pay it off before the interest kicks in. The important thing is not to get overwhelmed by this and regret what’s already done. You can’t do anything now about what you’ve already spent, so get a plan together and stick to it.
Money saved: $10-$100 a month. $120-$1200 a year, depending on your debt.
18 – Learn to cook
Cooking at home costs much less than going out to eat. You could get a 6 ounce filet, salad fixings, bottle of wine, and potato for around $25 at most grocery stores, yet the same meal will cost you at least $50 in any restaurant. At that rate, cutting back on your restaurant meals by just 2-3 times per month will quickly save you almost $100. If you aren’t comfortable in the kitchen, enlist a friend to teach you some basic techniques or take a simple class (even better – take cooking classes during your next trip to learn a new cuisine). The investment will more than pay for itself in the end.
Money saved: $60-$90 per month. $720-1080 per year, based on eliminating 2-3 $30 meals per month.
19 – Creatively decorate
Home furnishings don’t come cheap, but decorating on a budget doesn’t mean you’ll never own anything not made by Ikea. Check craigslist, resale shops, estate and garage sales, and thrift stores like the Salvation Army, for solid pieces that you can recover or refurbish. You may have to dig through some junk, but finding the perfect piece of furniture at the perfect price makes the hunt worth it. When it comes to wall décor, forget expensive artwork and blow up pictures from your travels using a service like Snapfish.
Money saved: $100-$1000 per year or more.
20 – Barter
In the world of frugal living, bartering is all the rage. If you have a particular skill set or some quality items worth trading, put out an offer to your friends and family and see what they are willing to trade. Your accounting expertise at tax time may earn you use of a friend’s timeshare. Or your neighbor might be willing to exchange his gently used, but structurally sound dining table for your old lawnmower. This will also get you in the habit of bargaining for everything while you’re on the road in developing countries – bonus!
Money saved: Infinite.
21 – Save automatically and bit-by-bit
Arrange with your employer to have a certain amount or percentage of your paycheck automatically deposited into your savings account. You won’t have to think about it, and you won’t be tempted to spend the money rather than save it. At home, get a change jar or piggy bank and put all your leftover change in it. You won’t miss the spare quarters and dimes and you’ll be surprised by how much it adds up to very quickly. We do this all the time with change and cash it out the night before we leave on a trip. It’s almost always $75-100, which is several meals, a few tanks of gas, or a night in a hotel while on the road.
22 – Sign up for rewards credit cards
If you have the discipline to put all your expenses on a credit card each month and not go over your monthly budget, then look into rewards credit cards. The key is being able to pay it off each month or it’s not going to be worth it. But if you can do this, you’re opening up another income stream. We have an American Airlines rewards card, and since we’ve been putting all of our monthly expenses on it, we’ve gotten enough miles for one free, round trip flight to both Europe and Central America – or $1700 worth of flights – in a 9 month period. All for using our credit card instead of cash or our debit card and paying off the balance each month so as to not incur any interest. There are a myriad of different rewards cards out there, many that can be used for travel.
23 – Remember, your budget is your friend
It’ll be nearly impossible to save a significant amount of money without embracing the idea of budgeting. You don’t need to be a math whiz or computer genius to write out and track your budget; sign up with a site like Mint, create a simple Excel spreadsheet, or even just a pen and paper, will do. Start by keeping track of all of your expenses for a month. At the end of the month, take a look at what you’ve spent and start figuring out where to cut. Make a plan you can live with for the next month, and most importantly, stick to it! Knowing where every single penny you’re spending goes is going to save you the most money in the long run. When you drunkenly spend $100 at a bar one night buying shots for everyone, then wake up the next morning and put that dollar amount in your spreadsheet and be accountable for it, you’re going to think twice next time about doing the same thing.
So, just how much can you save?
If you consume copious amounts of coffee, always go out to lunch, never cook at home, and have a second car you never use (in other words, if you could cut out all of the expenses listed here) and make these changes, you could save $475 – $2300 per month and anywhere from $5700 – $30,000 per year. Of course, most people won’t have such drastic results. But even $200-$300 a month will quickly become $2400-$3600 – easily enough for an international trip – by the end of the year.
So maybe you do all of this already. You rarely shop or eat out, you cut coupons, don’t own a car, and always bring a lunch to work. Yet still there’s not as much money available for travel as you’d like. How can you earn extra money? With the same principles of creativity and sacrifice.
24 – Take on a second job
This should be a no-brainer (though it may be more difficult in the current economy). But many people are reluctant to take on a second job because they think the commitment required will be too much. But many employers will be willing to hire a (very) part-time worker to take the shifts no one else wants, or to pick up hours when no one else is available. If your schedule is flexible and you are open during the day, consider contacting a temp agency. If you have office skills, you may be able to pick up the occasional day of work as a fill-in receptionist or data entry clerk.
Money earned: $50-$200 a month. $600-$2400 a year. Based on $50 shifts 1-4 times per month.
25 – Do odd jobs
If you live in a friendly neighborhood or apartment complex, offer odd job services to your neighbors. Post flyers for dog walking, cat sitting, lawn-mowing, house-cleaning, or handy-man or baby-sitting services depending on your skill set. You’ll earn money and meet some of the people who live nearby.
Money earned: $30-$100 a month, $600-$1200 a year. Based on 3-10 jobs at $10 each.
26 – Lend out your expertise
If you have a particular talent, put it to good use making money. If you’re a talented seamstress, offer to do alterations for your friends at a cut rate. Know your way around an engine? Do cheap oil changes for friends out of your garage. Everyone wins with this one. Friends and acquaintances save money on necessary services and you pull in some extra cash with a little bit of work in your spare time.
Money earned: $100-$500 per year.
27 – Sell, sell, sell
See all those unused, unneeded, forgotten belongings cluttering up your closet or basement? Now’s the time to get rid of it all. Host a garage or estate sale, or go the electronic route and post it all on craigslist or ebay. Nicer clothes can be taken to resale and consignment shops, old electronics can be pawned, gold can be sold to jewelry stores, and books and cds can earn a bit of cash at a store specializing in used goods.
Money earned: $100-$1000 per year.
28 – Rent out a room
Renters and homeowners can rent out space in rooms by the night on websites like AirBnB, which allows you to post a profile, set a price, and screen potential guests as you like. The website takes a small percentage of the nightly rate as a booking fee, but the rest of the profit is yours.
Money earned: $250-$1000 a month. $3000-$12,000 a year. Based on earning $50-$100 per night from a guest 5-10 times per month.
If you did all of these things, you could be looking at an extra $300-$1000 per month, or $3600-$12,000 per year. But even doing one or two of these things on an occasional basis could put an extra $500-$1000 in your pocket by year’s end, enough for a plane ticket to hundreds of far-off destinations.
Read more about traveling on a small budget:
- How to Travel Around the World on $40 a Day
- 10 Free Ways to Discover Your World
- The Art of Traveling in Developing Countries
- The Real Cost of Traveling the World Like Rolf Potts