The following advice applies to anyone, no matter where you live. For us, we were able to save big by living and working as English teachers in South Korea, where rent and living expenses are low and expatriates’ teaching salaries are high. Regardless, the cost cycle is the same whether you live in the US or South Africa: get paid, pay rent & utilities, buy groceries, pay for transportation and spend moolah on leisure. Fitting in a vacation budget amongst all that is what we’re going to help you do.
RENT AND BILLS
Jen and I moved in together after 3 months of dating (*insert gasp*) and immediately opened a separate account for bills (*insert second gasp*). At the end of every month, we would both deposit in an amount that we both agreed would be a bit more than enough to cover the upcoming month’s rent, utilities, groceries, and other routine monthly bills. It was helpful that we were able to call our bill companies and set up automatic payments paid at the beginning of each month. Whatever we had left in our personal checking accounts was our own money to save or spend.One of the greatest detriments to saving money is choosing to not pay off your bills in full. The penalty fees and interest that collect on the whatever you don’t pay are a lost cause, they go directly into the pockets of banking fat cats. Make it a top priority to pay off your bills every month in full.
FOOD- SPEND SMARTER
+Cook at home as much as you can. It’s cheaper, more fulfilling and it can be healthier. The story that junk food is cheaper than healthy food is a myth. A full chicken dinner for two at KFC is around 12 to 15 US dollars, whereas in both Korea and Canada, we can buy a whole grilled chicken, steam some veggies and blend up a couple of smoothies for 8 to 10 US dollars.
+Try to buy in bulk if possible; if you calculate the weight to dollars ratio, you’ll realize that you’re saving in the long run. Some of the best savings are in the frozen foods aisle. Frozen chicken breasts, frozen mixed vegetables, frozen berries are all healthy foods that are frozen at their peak freshness and can be used easily anytime, and will save you a ton of money in the long run.
+Picking up the occasional splurge item is cool (I see you, apple pie!) but let it stew in your shopping cart for a while you stew over how badly you need it or not. This is where it helps to avoid shopping on an empty stomach, too.
+Save online. Never had I ever considered buying meat online until Jen looked into it, and soon we were getting twice the quantity of frozen chicken breasts shipped to our door next day for less than Costco’s prices (hello, Gmarket for those of you living in S. Korea). You can also look into local market deliveries on fresh veggies and fruits.
YOUR DREAM VACATION ACCOUNT
Open a savings account and start depositing every month or every paycheque. You can start small, even just 20 USD a month, and increase the amount gradually over time. By starting small, it’ll help you get used to “giving up” that money for now, so that putting away bigger amounts of money later won’t feel like you’re losing out as much. Remember, it’ll just be there waiting for you to treat yourself to an awesome vacation of a lifetime when you’re ready!
Okay, so this subheading does sound like a bit of an oxymoron for those of us who love to party. You don’t have to feel like you’re missing out on life just because you’re saving. We never felt FOMO while we were saving. We were fortunate to take advantage of cheap and widely available liquor in Korea, but, that doesn’t mean we went on half-week drinking benders with friends either. To keep your bank account plump like Scrooge’s while kickin’ it like K$sha, try hosting or organizing BYOB parties, rooftop potluck cookouts, or picnics at the beach/park (depending on the open container laws in your country). Set a goal for how many times a week you *should* allow yourself to eat/drink out. The important thing is you don’t have to sacrifice having fun but just be more conscientious of how you go about it.
CARDS & POINTS – MAKE THE SYSTEM WORK FOR YOU
+Looking to knock off hundreds of dollars on your travel purchases? We both wiped 350 to 400 USD of flights off of our credit card bills with just a click. Debit and credit cards that refund you 1 or 2% of your purchases as “cashback” or rack up points that can be redeemed as cash are a fantastic way to get benefits for spending money that you needed to spend anyways. BUT, if you’re going to use a credit card, the only way this system ends up benefiting you is IF you always pay off the balance in full every month. This way, you get all the benefits of the credit card while using it no different than a debit card. Win-win! No excuses, just do it.
On top of that, when you use a good travel credit card for your travel purchases, it’ll hook you up with travel insurance that covers emergency medical bills, luggage loss, and even pay for a hotel if your flight is delayed for a long while. Not once have we had to purchase travel insurance, thanks to this perk!
+For debit cards, research the cards offered by the bank(s) in your area to see which one will benefit you the most. For credit cards, do a Google search for “best travel credit card” to find one on the market that best suits your needs.We are BIG fans of Capital One’s travel credit card. Keep in mind, Mastercard and Visa are the brands that are most universally accepted, though JCB is gaining traction as well.
+Agoda is one of our favourite lodging sites and you automatically rack up reward points with every reservation. Collect enough and you can redeem them to knock off a good chunk of cash off a future reservation! We’ve collected enough to get 75 dollars off our next lodging – five star hotel, here we come!
+Make an Airbnb account and get 25 USD off a reservation with our reference code. Not only are there some awesome accommodations out there not available on the major reservation sites, such as an old propeller retrofitted as a hotel, yachts, and exotic villas, but you can have the chance to connect with a host who can help you with translating, local recommendations or maybe even be someone cool to hang out with. The best part is once you have your account set up and you send your reference link to friends to start their own accounts, you’ll both save 25 dollars! To date, we’ve gotten 75 dollars off on Airbnb bookings thanks to friends who used our reference code.
+Couchsurfing: By now, maybe you’ve heard of CS but never tried it. You can connect with locals who have a spare couch, bed or even private room to let you crash – for free! But, it’s beyond just free lodging. I couchsurfed with a Japanese family in Nara, and beyond giving me a clean room to sleep in, they picked me up and dropped me off to the train station, cooked me a delicious Japanese dinner and breakfast and welcomed me into their house as a part of their family. Even if you can’t find someone to host you, there are locals who can hang out, such as the wonderful Mins in Singapore who spent all day and all night of New Years Eve with us to bring in 2016 with a wild time. If you’re open-minded and like to connect with people, give Couchsurfing a shot!
NEXT LEVEL: MICROMANAGE YOUR EXPENSES
We do this while we travel and it’s been a great way for us to figure out where our dough is going. If you like to be really organized, or if you’re having a hard time understanding where your money is disappearing to, it’s worth giving this a try. There are several apps that can be downloaded to your smart device (we use Expense Manager for Android) that can be used to log your daily, weekly or monthly expenses and by category. Some apps can even create charts for you to analyze and figure out where you’re doing great and where you can improve your spending.
IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, PLAN IT!
You already have an idea that you want to travel to country X and Y and Z six months from now. Well, don’t just stare at Instagram photos till then, start making some reservations!
+Look ahead to see if there will be any festivals or big events in the countries you plan to travel to. Lodging will become limited for the week of the festival so think about booking accommodation well in advance for those particular dates. We planned months ahead for the Yipeng Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand and lodging options were fantastic and plentiful. When we showed up, our host didn’t honour our reservation and we were stuck sifting through slim pickings for lodging options since the good ones were already booked up. Plan ahead so you don’t get stuck like we did!
+Download the apps for budget airlines. Some, such as Air Asia, will send out a push notification to alert you of mass seat sales and deals. Take advantage of them! That’s how both of us saved 410 USD each on our flight from South Korea to Myanmar.
+Outside of seat sales, many flights can be found for cheap if you book them at least 2 months in advance, and the best days to land cheap flight reservations are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
+Make sure to check both the desktop version and mobile app for your favourite reservation website. We use Skyscanner and often times there will be entirely different flights and/or different prices shown between the two platforms.
+Websites will track your flight searches, so, after a couple of searches, they will raise the price on the destination you’re planning for. Some ways to combat this can include opening an incognito browser window or using a VPN to block your IP address. One of the best strategies can be to do all your flight searches on one device and once you’ve decided, make your reservation from a public computer or someone else’s device that is not logged into your Gmail account. This will prevent the websites from jacking up prices on you because they won’t be aware of your searches from the second device.
HOW MUCH IS THIS TRIP COSTING US?
The plan was 10 months of travel – a month touring all of South Korea, three weeks in northeastern North America and eight months in Southeast Asia. Although we haven’t set an exact limit, since we’re not in any danger of running out of funds, we are micromanaging every step of our trip and will be posting a new article with an entire cost breakdown of every country. Stay tuned!
If you have any questions regarding these tips or have any of your own tips to share, please feel free to leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org