Life experiences may be free, but if you plan to collect them as you travel, you’ll still have to pay for flights, accommodation, food and other necessities. So if you’re serious about this, you should save money to travel the world.
Personal finance experts make it seem like saving money is really hard. It doesn’t have to be.
Saving money can be easy. Just go with the path of least resistance.
Make it so you won’t have to actively make conscious decisions to save money throughout the day. Because that’s when you fail; when you leave it up to Future You to decide whether to save or spend. Future You is tired of scrimping all the time and just wants to spend already. Future You sucks at making decisions.
Read on to find out how even the laziest savers can succeed.
1. Remind yourself why
Saving money is more psychological than anything. It can be tough to stay motivated when you’ve been eating the same cheap meal every day. When you reach a saturation point, it helps to remember why you’re doing this.
Find a way to keep yourself motivated every day.
You can write a note and put it somewhere you will see every day, like in your wallet or on the bathroom mirror. If you’re more visual, put up pretty postcards and posters on the wall. Or get on Pinterest and browse the travel boards on your smartphone when you’re at bus stops or in waiting rooms. (My Pinterest boards are all about travel, by the way. Check them out?)
2. Know your incomes and expenses
Every financial guru out there says you have to make a budget.
Sure, ideally you should have a budget. You should also drink eight glass of water every day, sleep eight hours a night and exercise at least three hours a week.
Here’s the secret if you’re as lazy as I am: you don’t need a budget. (I don’t and I still managed to save 40% of my income.) (That said, if you do have a budget, good for you.)
All you need is a rough understanding of how much money you earn and spend each month. For the longest time, I only knew the approximate numbers of my finances (to the nearest hundred dollars or so) and that worked fine.
If you don’t have the vaguest idea where your money goes, use Mint to track it over one month. It’s quick, easy and free.
Once you know your numbers, it’s easier to come up with a saving strategy.
3. Target your savings
You don’t have to save on everything. Prioritize.
Firstly, focus on your three biggest expenses.
For most people, these would be housing, transportation and food. Read my post about saving on these three top expenses.
You may have different spending habits than the average person, though. For example, if you live in your parents’ basement, you probably don’t have much housing expenses. When you look at your numbers, you may find that you spend the most money on booze or shoes or cigarettes — focus your energy on whatever your biggest expenses are.
Secondly (and lastly), find recurring expenses that you can eliminate or cut. These are easy targets because you can make the switch once and simply watch as the savings accumulate on their own over time. Even small bills add up.
That’s it! These two things alone should save you thousands of dollars. Consider everything else you do to save money a bonus.
For bonus points: 100+ easy things you can do to save money.
4. Treat yourself
If you save on the biggies, you can get a Frappuccino or two when you feel like it.
You have a limited amount of willpower; don’t waste it on the little things. A 2007 paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that, just like muscles after strenuous exercise, your self control could get “depleted” if you use it too much.
Small one-off expenses shouldn’t affect your savings much, so don’t worry about them. Instead, allow yourself some “fun money” and indulge responsibly in things that make you happy.
For example, I already save a lot of money on my three biggest expenses and my recurring bills, so I don’t feel guilty about eating out a couple of times a week. As much as I enjoy cooking, there’s no way I can recreate good sashimi at home.
Just because you’re saving money doesn’t mean you have to be tight with every single penny. It’s all about picking your battles!
Bonus point: open a separate savings account
Knowing exactly how much you’ve saved up might help motivate you.
If this sounds like a good idea, go ahead and put the money in a separate account. When you do that, choose the savings account with the highest interest rate you can get.
If this sounds like too much work, don’t do it. Interest rates for savings accounts are crap anyway. (Quick guide: a difference of 1% means you’ll be getting an extra $10 a year for every $1,000 you save.)
The key is to keep things simple.
Image: David Reber (CC BY-SA 2.0 License).