Sometimes a staycation just won’t cut it. You know when you need to take a real break, and that means it’s time to save up your extra cash for a vacation somewhere far away from everything that causes you stress.
My definition of a dream vacation changes on a regular basis. On any given day, it might involve swaying palm trees and endless relaxation, or testing my language skills in a foreign city, or having a daring, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
But there’s one thing all of those vacations have in common — they cost money. I’m not exactly rolling in cash, so if I want a real vacation, I have to start saving up my dollars and cents to make it happen.
Anyone who is living paycheck-to-paycheck or struggling to pay off student loans and credit card debt can guess what I’ve been asking myself: How am I supposed to save up my money when I don’t have any extra money to save? Well, I’ve been trying to figure that out and I’ve learned a few solid strategies so far.
The basic premise is very simple: if you want to have more money on hand than you do right now, you have two options: (a) spend less money, or (b) 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 a free and easy 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 are able to 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 for some R&R!
If you buy breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner from cafes and restaurants every day, figure out if you could make any of that food at home instead. Meal planning is key. Figure out what you’re going to eat, stock up on groceries and a pack a lunch for work that is easy to prepare in advance.
Whenever you’re about to make a spending decision that will require you to shell out unnecessary cash (looking at you, H&M, Amazon Prime and lazy-day Ubers…), reward yourself by transferring the amount of money you were about to impulse-spend into your vacation savings account.
4. Don’t cut everything out.
It’s important to find ways to enjoy yourself all year long — not just when you’re on vacation — so don’t suffocate your happiness by deciding that you’re NEVER going out to dinner in order to save up vacation cash.
If you’re too hard on yourself, you’re more likely to give up and revert back to your original spending habits, and you know what that means: no savings = no vacation.
Focus on finding a balance. You don’t need to withhold all joy from yourself until you’re boarding the plane to Turks & Caicos. You’re spending less, but that doesn’t mean you’re signing up for three months of pre-vacation misery.
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 that you are on a mission to save up for a vacation to keep you in mind for any jobs that would enable you to bring in some extra cash.
Options for making some extra side income include:
- dog walking (and you don’t even need to know someone with a dog — sign up on a site like Rover to get started right away!)
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 resale shop. The things you’re no longer using 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 up in order to get there and get home.
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.