Meet Andrew from AJWalton.com!
I keep finance really simple. I have 3 main principles I follow that anyone can start implementing today in order to save up cash for travel or any other goal they have:
Start by separating our income from our expenses: Most people spend roughly what they earn – no matter how much they earn. We say “I'll save when I start earning more.” This is like saying “I'll start exercising once I've lost 30 lbs.” Saving needs to start now, whether we're making $500 a month of $5000. The technique is simple: set aside a percentage of every paycheck before paying any expenses. Even if this is just 5% to start, it'll build one of the most important life habits we can form. I'm more ambitious and aim for 30% (20% minimum plus whatever I can on top), but I'm already used to this system! The most important thing is getting started.
Focus on big wins, not minutiae: Some people try to save money by making 1000 tiny changes. Cutting coupons, getting the cheaper coffee brand, whatever. It's much more effective to look for the low-hanging fruit of savings that could save $100s in one go, like refinancing a mortgage, consolidating debt, selling an old car, and negotiating bank fees. This not just saves money, but precious time and energy we could use productively – to advance our career for instance.
(Note from Vanessa: I LOVE this!!! While any money saved is good money in my books, never be afraid to go after big financial changes, no matter what your goal is!)
Automation: Decisions you have to make every day are the path to failure and frustration. For instance, trying to cut back on a ritual Starbucks coffee in the morning is a plan doomed to failure, since we'll have to repress our desire every day, possibly multiple times. It's much better to systematize our decision making, like having our paycheck automatically deposited, and then transferring a percentage into our long-term savings. (Another note from Vanessa: I LOVE this too! It's not Starbucks that's killing your travel savings - it's the fact that you don't actually save for travel!)
Outside these fundamentals, I'd suggest picking up a hobby so we don't need to rely on the external world and the spending of money to entertain ourselves (though we'll be able to when we want!). For example, I like learning languages and Katia likes knitting.
When my buddy Ian went to Ibiza, Spain while I was in France, I knew it might be my only chance to party with a life-long friend overseas. I bought a last minute flight at some outrageous price and we hung out for 4-5 days, partying until sunrise – at which point I'd sleep for a couple hours before grabbing the scooter and hitting the beach, soak up the sun, or touring around the island. I'm a ridiculously thrifty dude, and I'd say it was a bargain. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Definitely the house I rented on Koh Samui, Thailand for a pittance – about 3700 Thai Baht per month after paying utilities, which at the time was about $120. I was a 5 minute scooter ride from the beach, had personal space, and tranquility. Try living in a crowded hostel dorm room for that kind of money - $4 a night. There are precious few places in the world it can be done.
Talk to locals! If I had relied on Google to find apartments I'd end up paying double the price – expat rates in expat places. Locals live at local rates, and they've figured out how to maximize the cost/value ratio in their city. They know where to shop, eat, find living space, and how to get from point A to B on the cheap. You can have access to 1000s of years of experience in an afternoon by talking to 20-30 people.
The internet is an amazing tool for making travel cheaper & more convenient, but one thing I try to stress in my guide to travelling the world on any budget is that there are some things you can only find out from those who live it.
This is one of the things that bothers me about conventional budget travel. Money often takes a front seat over experience. But it's not that s/he who spends least wins. Travel is about having enriching experiences, and also being in the proper state to enjoy these experiences.
So I'd rather spend a buck on a bus ride now and again and save an hour walk (if I've already done the route) than lose that hour. I also only spend a few hours searching for flights. To me getting a great deal in 2-3 hours is better than getting the deal of the century in 20 or 30 hours, especially since the difference might be – what – 50 bucks?
I look at it this way – if I find the “big wins” we talked about earlier – and for travel that means drastically slashing transportation and lodging costs, then we don't have to think super hard about the rest. Even though I have a reputation for being a sometimes-extreme budget hacker, my first priority is always my time.
So to answer your question directly: The way to make every moment count is to realize that time, and not money, is your most valuable travel resource. Investing money in travel experiences is an investment in yourself. For you that may mean visiting a museum, eating certain local fare, going on a day trip, or chilling in a park with wine and cheese. Whatever it is, don't repress it.
And finally, see every destination as if it's your last time there. The world is sufficiently big that it often will be.
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