HOW TO SAVE FOR TRAVEL: A BUDGETING GUIDE
I'll be the first to admit that during my first experience living alone abroad I failed to properly prepare my finances. To be honest, I barely planned the trip at all and it showed in my finances.
Of course I had an amazing trip, but I know I could have done it better, and with less of a burden on my support systems back home.
Since that first lesson, I've strongly advocated strategic financial planning. I determined to never under-prepare myself again. It isn't as easy as skipping a Starbucks every day (seriously, why is this always the no. 1 piece of advice offered like we all buy a Starbucks a day?).
Luckily my mom is a banker, and I am a business graduate, so finances are our bread and butter so to speak, and I started to treat my money and banking as a business instead of as my personal spending account. Let me explain.
*Keep in mind I live in Canada and research comparable accounts in your country.*
1. EVALUATE YOUR FINANCES
Start by looking at your income and your bills. There is a widely shared rule of thumb that your bills should not exceed 50% of your income, and you may be living outside of your means if they consume too large a portion of your income (or at least in order to save). Consider lowering any bills that are excessive, such as cell phone bills. You might want a 1.5GB plan, but would 750MB get you through the month? Now write down all your necessary expenses. Save groceries and gas, we'll touch on that later. Your Starbucks (Tim Hortons for us Canadians), clothes, and meals out do not count. Those are discretionary expenses.
2. PAY WHAT NEEDS TO BE PAID (i.e. FIXED COSTS)
Assuming you are paid bi-monthly (if you are paid weekly, adjust to reflect that), start by paying the respective portion of your bills. A monthly bill would require half paid in the first two weeks of the month for a bi-monthly pay period, or a quarter (possibly a fifth, depending on the weeks in the current month) paid for a weekly pay schedule. If you know you will have a large cost in the future (such as property tax, or some other yearly recurring cost) put aside the proportion of that as well. That way you won't be blindsided into dipping into your savings when the bill comes due.
3. DETERMINE YOUR SPENDING BUDGET (i.e. FLEXIBLE SPENDING)
Now your bills are paid for. It is time to determine how much you need to live for the two (or one) week pay period. This is where you determine how much you are willing to sacrifice now to save for later. If you are okay with saving long term, you can keep a higher budget for yourself. If you want to leave right now, then you should try your best to limit this budget to it's minimum. Keep an eye on your gas and groceries spending per week, as this budget will include gas, groceries, and your fun. I keep mine at $300 for two weeks. It gives me enough to survive, and to pick a few nights to do something fun when I'm going stir crazy.
4. PRIORITIZE YOUR SAVINGS (i.e. FINANCIAL GOALS)
Next, figure out what you are saving for. Travel? A home? An expensive item? You can have multiple goals, as long as you separate them. The money left over after your non discretionary bills is what you will have for saving and spending. Set up an approximate ratio based on your priorities or the goals urgency. Once you reach one goal you can set up new goals or redistribute your ratio. I keep around a 3:2:1 ratio for travel, a house, and emergency savings respectively right now.
5. SET UP YOUR ACCOUNTS
It's time to organize your bank account. I utilize a lot of accounts while still only using one debit card, which makes the accounts free and means I am unable to access the savings unless I transfer funds to my primary account via online banking. I have the following accounts:
This account I consider my "junk account", all my pay checks begin here and I delegate my money from this account as well as using it for my spending money until the next pay period. Once money is transferred from here to savings, I cannot take it back (figuratively) and must live on the amount I have budgeted for the pay period.
Savings Account #1
I use mine for travel savings. Earns very low interest, but is set aside for the sole purpose of travelling. Again, once it goes in here it does not come out.
Savings Account #2
An emergency savings fund. Meant for only immediate and unexpected emergency costs such as vehicle repair. The goal is to build this up to 5 grand, then periodically add to it, and each time it reaches 6 grand, transfer the excess one thousand to car savings.
Savings Account #3
Car savings, excess money from the emergency fund will be the only money I transfer into here. Ideally, by the time a car is about to give out for good, you will have enough to purchase a new one in cash.
Savings Account #4
Where I put aside gift savings. Birthdays and Christmas are constants, so having a few dollars put aside here eases the burden on your spending account.
Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA)
I would highly recommend opening a Tax Free Savings Account, or your country's equivalent. I use mine for house savings because I want to put a down payment on a house after my next big trip. In reality, it is good for any long term goal.
Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)
I have started a RRSP, but have minimal savings going towards it as it is not my priority.
Credit Card #1
Low limit for small spending, I keep mine at a five hundred dollar cap. This helps to build up your credit (which everyone should be doing!) and you are unable to build up thousands in debt.
Credit Card #2
Higher limit for big purchases, I keep mine at three thousand for now. This account is mostly for travel planning purposes. Most flights will require a credit card, and booking activities for other countries in advance, hostels, etc. Only put on this card what you can pay off. That means if you can't afford it, you don't use it.
6. ALLOCATE MONEY TO SAVINGS (i.e. FINANCIAL GOALS)
When all is said and done, you should have your bills paid, your accounts set up, a bi-monthly (or weekly) budget, and a ratio of where you would like to allocate savings. So, the last step is to transfer any money above and beyond that spending budget to your savings proportionate to your ratio. For example: if I start with $1600, lets assume $400 goes to bills and $300 goes to spending money for the two weeks. I have $900 left over to distribute at a ratio of 6:4:2 to my savings so approximately $450 would go to travel, $300 to my house fund, and $150 to my emergency savings.
Now, the trick is that every budgeted pay period, your spending money only becomes topped up, and not added to. So just because you only spent $150 this week out of your spending budget doesn't mean you can keep $450 from your next pay (your $150 left over from your spending money plus your $300 spending money for next pay period). That extra $150 will go in the pot to be redistributed next time to bills, spending, then savings. So you saved an extra $150, good work!
Your last job is to repeat this every time you get paid, on pay day. Don't wait. It will become habit and an automatic, easy process for you. I don't even think before doing it anymore because I already know where all the money is going.
*Note: I am not a financial planner, so as always, this advice is my based on my personal views!
If you have any questions shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment below. I'm more than happy to help in any way! Do you have any savings tricks you employ to get out and travel the world? Share below!