How We Saved $75,000 to Travel

I want to start this post with some disclaimers:

  • Nate and I are not super rich people

  • We work regular jobs (although Nate’s is more freelance work)

  • We are not receiving any money from our parents or taking out loans to do this

  • We do not have inheritances or trust funds of any kind

  • When we started, Nate had $15,000 in credit card debt

  • We both currently have student loan debt

That said, we have some advantages:

  • We both have stable work and make good salaries

  • We don’t have kids or any other dependents to speak of

  • We do not support our families financially

  • We don’t have car or home loans (we own a car and rent our apartment)

  • We live in Chicago, which surprisingly boasts some affordable rent when you compare it to say New York or the Moon

  • We have some really good family examples of financial responsibility and living below your means

Okay, so now that that’s out of the way, here’s how we did it.

1. We took a hard look at where we were.

First, we did the math.  Combined we had about $10,000 but needed $65,000 more to hit our goal.  We had about a year and a half to do it, so we broke it down by month.

2. We set shared goals.

If we were going to even come close to our savings goal, we knew we’d need to start saving $3,500 every month.  We looked at our budgets to make sure it was doable.  We said that number out loud and to each other.  We started to wrap our minds around hitting it.

Touring the Salt Flats of Bolivia

Touring the Salt Flats of Bolivia

3. We both put skin in the game.

We combined our finances months before we got married.  We decided to do that because we knew it would be hard for us.  I’m a penny-pincher.  Nate is a spender.  We knew it was a topic we were likely to butt heads on but that we couldn’t exactly avoid if we were going to forge a life together.  So we took the plunge and combined all of our accounts.  It wasn’t always easy, but after a while, we’ve seemed to have worked out the kinks. 

4.  We communicated and checked in often.

We started a shared Google doc that tracked our savings every month , and we checked in often.  I’m a firm believer that the first step to getting your financial house in order is to know what you have and how you spend.  That sounds simple, but so many people don’t.  It’s easy to go on autopilot, but it’s not likely that your natural inclination will be to save without focusing any energy on it.

5.  We got creative with making extra money.

In the quest to hit this goal, Nate and I did all manner of things to earn money.  We babysat, dog sat, taught cooking classes, sold e-books, presented at trade shows, ran urban scavenger hunts, sold stuff on the Internet, leased apartments, and even did a professional photoshoot with our dog.  

This Dogvacay photoshoot with our dog, Lily, snagged us $400 for the trip fund.

This Dogvacay photoshoot with our dog, Lily, snagged us $400 for the trip fund.

6.  We cut expenses.

We cooked and ate in.  A lot.

We cooked and ate in.  A lot.

On top of earning extra money where we could, we took a hard look at our spending every month.  We cancelled cable and gave up our Hulu subscription. We cancelled my monthly public transit card, and I started riding a bike to work. We cooked instead of eating out.  

We bought clothes from consignment stores and saved coupons for things we knew we’d need (like winter coats).  We even put a blanket up over our big front window in the summer to keep the heat out and reduce our air conditioning bill.

By the Fall, we felt like we were in the home stretch but knew that September is historically a low-income month for Nate.  So we embarked on No Spend September, a month-long challenge to tighten our money belts.  All of these little cuts contributed to the bank account filling up.  

7.  We stayed related to the end goal.

Trip planning at the wine bar near our apartment in Chicago.

Trip planning at the wine bar near our apartment in Chicago.

This was by far the most effective strategy.  While not spending money every time we wanted to was hard, we did our best to stay connected to what this experience would get us.  

Every week we met to plan the trip and talk about what it would be like.  I started a Pinterest travel board.  We reached out to fellow travelers for advice.  We read blogs and went to local meetups.  Whenever we could, we let the idea of this trip excite and inspire us.  And that kept us accountable in our savings.  Before buying lunch for $10, I’d ask myself if I wanted to spend that money or see the sun rise over the ocean from a beach in Vietnam.  Vietnam won.  

Some months we’ve done really well and saved $7,000.  Others we saved $0.  Still, by having the common goal to work toward, we’ve made an enormous amount of progress, and the process has forced us to talk about our money habits and ultimately brought us closer as a couple.