We recently published a summary of all our money posts showing that our dream trip cost about $80,000, including the trip itself ($65,000 over 15 months) plus the expenses we incurred before and re-entering US society afterwards ($15,000 over 2 months). Yup, eighty thousand is a pretty big number. There’s a lot of things a person can do for that amount of money. We decided to spend it on a trip of a lifetime. I think, outside of college, this was the best money we’ve ever spent.
Now that you know how much a trip like ours costs, perhaps you’re wondering how we possibly saved that much? It’s not like we had extremely high-paying jobs, but what we did have was a goal! For two goal-oriented folks like Aaron and I, that was essential. Now, how to achieve that goal? The simple answer: we started saving. “That’s all well and good,” I hear you cry, “but I need more details! There has to be more than that!” Ok, here’s how we did it.
- We talked. This is a biggie, we figured out how to talk about money. No small feat, but check that box! Spoiler: talking about money is never actually about money.
- We figured out where the money was going. Once we decided to make things happen, we started looking back at our bank statements to figure out how we were currently spending our money. We also started tracking every single cent … every night coming home with all our receipts in hand and updating a spreadsheet for the other one to see. I tell ya, there’s nothing that makes you think twice about spending money like the knowledge you’ll be explaining it a few hours later.
- We created a budget. With a better grip on where the money was going, we created a budget going forward. This certainly wasn’t the first time we made a budget, but it was the first time we created one that worked. It really helped to have a concrete goal, but setting a budget we could live with was why it succeeded. We knew we wouldn’t be happy if we suddenly had to become monks doing nothing and seeing no one, but we COULD start inviting friends over for dinner rather than going out. Little things like that.
- We created a fail-proof plan to save. This was another key to success. It was not enough to have a budget that made sense, we had to get the money out of my (Anner’s) bank account! Important to know your own weaknesses and if you leave money in my checking account I feel it’s my sworn duty to spend it…probably on shoes. To address this, I handed over my portion of the house expenses to Hubs, took an allowance, and put everything that remained into a travel fund – never, never to be touched. It worked!
- We set a tangible goal. Creating a budget helped cut down our day-to-day expenses, but we needed to know how much we were working to save! To help, we started researching other travel blogs and made some wild guesses as to what we might need to travel the way we would feel comfortable. Initially we decided on $60,000 – about $200/day for 10 months – and set that as our goal (later to be revised…and revised again…especially when we realized we needed to have money for re-entering the US again before we found jobs).
- We re-negotiated every expense. We threatened to cancel our cable and suddenly the whole telecom contract was on the table for discussion. Try it…it’s magic! We (and by “we” I mean Aaron, the man with saint-like patience) did this with every contract we could. We reviewed Every. Thing.
- We penny-pinched. That’s right, no more of Seattle’s famous coffee drinks. (At least not every day.) We brought our lunches from home. One of us stopped buying super cool shoes and the other one stopped buying new tools. We took up the second-run movies at the cheap theater. No more eating out just because we didn’t feel like cooking…ate more pasta than I care to explain…you get the idea. It all added up.
- We brought in more money. If we thought we could get at least $10 for something, it went on Craigslist. We sold like nobody’s business! We took my shoe collection to Buffalo Exchange and Aaron made quite a few jewelry sales. We raised nearly $4,000 this way – and that, my friends, is 5% of the entire cost of the trip! Pretty good, eh?
- We saved our windfalls. We both received bonuses at work and Aaron had a couple of larger commissions, all of which went straight into the travel fund.
- We tracked our progress. I made up a swanky spreadsheet that generated charts and graphs showing us just how well we had done each month. We had our monthly goals and we could see right away if we were on track. Each time we reviewed it we could see what we had to work on and we could celebrate that we were getting closer. Don’t forget to celebrate! That goal really does get closer!
- We adjusted our timeline. As we saved, we realized that our monthly goals were a bit ambitious and we decided that we would feel a LOT more confident if we saved more than we initially planned. We originally thought we’d be ready to leave in about 18 months, but after upping our goals and talking things through so we were both comfortable, we ended up saving for 22 months.
Twenty-two months is a long time and there was no way we were putting our lives on hold while we saved. We still went out with friends, kept our National Geographic Live tickets (consider it “research”), maintained our amazing garden, kept hosting the world’s greatest ice cream social every summer, bought the occasional irresistible bit of art…we just did it a bit more smartly. With the steps above, we were able to have our lives and save, too – skills that are serving us well now that we’re back home and getting re-settled.
We hope this is helpful for fellow-travelers, adventurers and dreamers. No matter what we dream up next, we’re confident we now have the tools to figure it out. We know that having done this trip, we can do anything. And so can you!