There’s a misconception that you need to have a lot of money to travel. But being able to take a vacation is not limited to those who have lots of money. It’s very possible for most of us to be able to save up for a great vacation, but the key is planning & taking action!
Go From Just Dreaming It to Doing It!
People tell me all the time how much they would love to see the world or take their family on a beach vacation or Disney vacation. But they don’t. And usually, the reason is lack of money. That’s because they say they want to travel, but they don’t actually make saving for travel a financial priority.
In fact, we’re caught up in a world where saving isn’t as fun as spending — and we’re encouraged to spend all the time.
But it can be fun to save money, especially when you know the awesome reward you’ll get!
Yes, You Can Go to Hawaii!
My parents are a perfect example. When I was young, we were definitely not rich. In fact, there were some pretty rough times – as most family’s experience from time to time. Yet, we went EVERYWHERE!
From Disney, cruises to the Bahamas, Mexico, New York and Hawaii. They showed me that it’s possible if you have your priorities straight. For Josh and me, travel is an important part of our lives. So we have chosen to build our lifestyle around our passion in order to make travel a financial priority.
Here’s the 5 Step Action Plan: We’ll Go Over Each in Detail + Lots of Tips!
We’ve taken the process of saving for vacation and broke it down into 5 main steps for you to save money for your next big trip. This helps make it as easy as possible for you to get started. Plus, we’ve included tips, tricks and tools for each of the sections below to help you get results.
- Household Budgeting & Management (Tools & Apps)
- Set a Travel Budget & a Goal (Amount, Destination, Date)
- Start Saving Money (Easy Ways to Do It)
- Spend Less Money (a Big List of Ideas and Examples)
- Earn More Money (Options Outside of Changing Your Career)
If you follow these steps, you’ll be on your way to saving for that big trip before you know it!
1. Get a Handle on Your Money: Household Budgeting & Management
The very first thing we must do is get a handle on our money. What we have, where it’s going…and if there is even any leftover! This might be a hard reality check for some, but it also doesn’t have to be.
After having a picture of your finances, you can then CHOOSE to make decisions that will get you to your goal!
And trust me, when you are on the beach in Hawaii you’ll be really happy you did!
Maintain monthly household budget
I know you might be cringing at the word “budget” but it doesn’t have to be a big scary thing! And honestly, it lays the groundwork for everything. There’s no way around it, you must know how much money you bring in and how much is going out on a regular basis. You don’t have to document every penny like an accountant, but taking the time to get a handle on it is critical.
Trust me, we are not accountants over here (far from it really…)! So we have a very simplified budget that we use. We made an Excel spreadsheet that is structured into just a few categories:
- Fixed Expenses
- Variable Expenses
- Multiple savings accounts
Fixed expenses are things that will always need to be paid each month, such as rent, school loans, insurance, car payments, etc. Basically, these are things we can’t easily get rid of. We have to pay for a place to live…and I have to pay back my student loans (ugh!). It might be possible to get rid of a car payment, but it might not be easy or the right choice.
Variable expenses include things like groceries, gasoline, dining out, shopping, and misc. fun. Everyone has variable spending. And some of it you can’t get rid of totally. However, variable expenses are the EASIEST items of your budget that can be adjusted and controlled. We’ll get into some examples later on in the post when it comes to saving.
Here’s the formula:
Monthly Income – Fixed – Variable = Money Left Over for Saving
Overall, the idea is that if you take your regular monthly income (after taxes) and then subtract your monthly fixed and variable expenses, then you are left with how much money you can possibly save.
How to Create a Household Budget (Or Download Our Budgeting Template)
You can use tools such as bank statements and reports, financial software (like Quicken), or just good ol’ Microsoft Excel. There are also money management apps out there such as Mint where you can connect accounts and track spending and help create and stick to a budget. Another app you might like is BillTracker – where you can keep track of due dates for certain bills and amounts.
Find out what works best for you.
For us, we use an Excel budget template that I built which is suited to our family’s needs.
- I update my Excel Budget Spreadsheet at the beginning of each month
- I input budget numbers for every line item (mortgage, car payments, insurance, gas, etc.)
- At the top of the sheet there is a cell for income & savings too – so I can calculate what’s coming in and what is left over after all bills are paid.
- Then as bills our paid each month, I update the spreadsheet to mark items as paid and to reflect the actual spending numbers
- This helps me to see if there is a discrepancy — if I’m under or over budgeting! (example – I budgeted $200 for gasoline but we spent $300.
- Finally, I make adjustments for the next month.
** Download a copy of our FREE Budgeting & Vacation Saving Excel Template HERE!
VIDEO: How to Use Our Budgeting Excel Template to Save
Watch the video for additional budgeting & saving tips + a tutorial on how to use our Budgeting & Vacation Saving Excel Template (free for you to download).
Analyze Your Savings Possibilities (or Lack Thereof)
After you subtract your fixed and variable expenses, you should have money left for savings. If you don’t, then you have a bigger issue and probably shouldn’t be spending money on travel right now. In this case, you may need to take a harder look at your lifestyle and see if there are any expenses that you can reduce or eliminate. You can also try to make more income. However, that’s not always possible for some people. So in many cases, you might just need to focus on expenses.
The ONLY way to save more money is to increase your income (not always possible) or find ways to reduce your expenses.
If you really want to save more money for travel, then you are going to have to analyze your savings and find a way to squeeze out more savings. Being able to tackle this really will help give you more money to work with that you can save for vacation.
We can’t really move onto the next steps of saving if you have no savings. So focusing here first gets you on your way!
Savings Strategy – From Our Actual Financial Advisor
According to our financial advisor, when it comes to your savings, you should have multiple buckets (or savings accounts) to put your money in:
- Emergency fund = our financial advisor recommends that we should have at least 6 months worth to cover your fixed & variable expenses in case of an emergency situation
- Long term savings = includes retirement or investment accounts
- Other savings = big purchases, such as a house or car
But we’ve added one more to this list:
- Travel savings = Because this will help you focus on your efforts on saving for a trip!
These financial tips will help you achieve stability regardless of travel. But building travel into this plan will help you achieve your goals of traveling without disrupting your financial well-being.
2. Set a Travel Budget & a Goal
It’s a fact that setting goals is one of the best ways to achieving it. So, now that you have a system in place to get a handle on your finances and be able to track what you are saving, it’s time to create goals to work toward!
Research Trip Ideas
You may already have an idea of where you want to go, such as a family trip to Disneyland. Or maybe you are still in the process of figuring that out.
Whichever, you’ll need to start to diving into the costs of the trip. Basically, you’ll need to research it as if you are booking it so you can see what the real costs actually are. Example, what are the cost of Disney tickets? How many days would we want? How much do hotels cost in the area? Would we need a rental car and flights?
Also, is there a busy season? A best time of year for going? Or maybe you have to coordinate it with vacation or holiday time off work?
Create Your Travel Budget by Working Backwards
Don’t fret about being exact with your estimated travel budget! And you don’t need to research every single detail. What you are really trying to do is work backwards from the vacation that you want to take and figure out what you need to save to cover the cost.
We actually have a tool that’s a great way to work backwards and identify the cost of your trip. It’s our Vacation Planning Template (free Excel download). It’s pre-formatted with line items and formulas to help you easily plug in numbers and it will automatically calculate an estimated cost.
The great thing about this tool is that you can use it here in the very beginning stage, then when you have saved the money and are ready to go you can use it again in more detail to help you build your actual itinerary!
Keep the Budget Reasonable
It’s also important to keep your trip reasonable. For example, maybe your first round shouldn’t be a $10,000 trip around the world! That just might not even be feasible for you, at least anytime soon. As they say, sometimes it’s just the little “wins” that help you feel more accomplished and keep you going for bigger goals.
If you plan a trip that is reasonable and achievable, then you might even be able to save for it faster. The quicker that you can see all of this working and earn your “reward” then the more you will be motivated to keep it up.
Set an Official Goal: Destination, Date and Budget
As with anything in life, setting goals puts you on a path to achieving it. And it’s important to be specific. Set your goal officially by identifying the destination, the date you want to go, and the budget needed for the trip.
Write it down. Post it on your fridge. Anywhere that you will look at it regularly. You might even plan to take the days off work. This helps give you something tangible to work towards & makes it seem real!
“I’m Going to San Francisco in May 2022 – $1,100”
Setting a target date for your trip will also help you visualize it happening, and will help you to make money decisions accordingly. Example – buy those new pair of shoes…or buy tickets for a boat cruise in San Francisco during my trip in May?
You will be surprised at how quickly setting a travel goal will take it from just a dream to a reality. You’ll be so excited for your trip that you won’t mind making sacrifices to save for it!
Because it already feels real!
3. Ways to Make Saving Money EASIER
For some of us, saving money is not as easy as it sounds. But it’s not impossible! Below we’ve outlined some ways that you can make saving money WAY easier. If you pick a couple of these options and stick to it, you should have no problem saving money for your next big adventure.
Create a Separate Bank Account for Travel (AKA Sinking Fund)
Creating a separate account for your travel savings is honestly, one of the best things you can do! Sometimes this is referred to as a “sinking fund” which is really just a separate account that you stuff extra money into.
You might even consider using a completely different bank from your daily spending because it helps keep you from dipping into it (out of sight, out of mind). This system works great for us! We build up money in this travel bank account and then book and pay for everything for the trip from this account.
It also helps us stay on budget and not overspend on the vacation because we know exactly how much we have available. And since all of our bills are already paid first out of our primary bank accounts, we don’t worry about spending the money from this travel account.
Travel can get expensive, and you may feel guilty about spending thousands on a vacation. That’s why having a separate bank account for vacations helps you by designating this money for travel purposes. And since everything else is taken care of, you should feel never feel guilty about spending it; that’s what it’s there for!
I can’t tell you how nice it feels when you are on vacation to just be able to enjoy yourself spending money and not worrying about it — because that’s what it’s there for! It’s kinda freeing!
** PRO TIP: It’s also good to have multiple bank accounts (different banks and ATM cards) when you are traveling, especially overseas, in case one card isn’t working or you are having trouble with an account. Sometimes banks will flag what they think is fraud…and you don’t want to be locked out from your only account. See our Money Travel Tips post for more information.
Pay Yourself First
This is a financial planning concept where you basically “pay yourself” into your savings BEFORE you pay for bills and other expenses. For example, I know from my budget about how much money we are able to save each month. So when we are paid, I immediately transfer it out of our primary bank account into our savings accounts (including our travel savings account).
This way, we are not tempted to spend it. What is left in our primary account is what we have budgeted for our fixed and variable expenses.
Paying yourself first really forces you to stick to your budget and your savings goals!
Automatic Transfers to Savings Account
Another thing you might consider is setting up an automatic transfer to your savings account. This just takes the manual work out of it – as long as you know enough money will be in there to cover a transfer! But you could also do a little here and there. Maybe $50 bucks a week or twice a month?
Keep a Coin Jar
Another really easy way to save up a bit of extra money for a trip is by using a coin jar in the house. We hate change around here (especially Josh because it’s annoying in his pocket). So we actually have a cute wooden container that looks like décor in our living room.
Periodically, we dump our change into it from our pockets, wallets, etc. Even when we clean out the car! It’s not a ton of money, but when it fills up and we cash it in at the grocery store (using those machines) then we sometimes have upwards of $100 bucks we didn’t realize we had!
Set Aside Your Tax Refund or Bonuses
If you often get a tax refund at the end of the year or any type of performance bonus, you might want to consider stuffing all of that into your travel savings account! Depending on the amount, it could really boost your account and get you on your trip faster. Plus, since it’s extra money you didn’t have before you might not need it for bills or anything like that (hopefully).
Use Apps for Saving
Now there are a lot of apps you can download to your SmartPhone that also help you make saving money easy. Acorns is a popular app that makes it easy to save by rounding up your purchases and stuffing them aside for you to save. It’s nice to have something so easy that you really don’t have to think about it much!
Accumulate Credit Card Travel Points
This option for saving for a vacation comes with some serious responsibility! First, using credit cards can KIILL your budget because it can be difficult to keep track of your spending. Also, you need to have discipline! Just because you have a $5,000 credit limit doesn’t mean you actually have $5,000 to spend.
However, there are some GREAT credit cards on the market which can help you earn a ton of travel rewards points. Those points can build up over time when you make purchases, giving you extra money that you can use to book your vacation.
Our favorite card that we use is Chase Sapphire. We use it for certain expenses during the month and over time can build up a lot of points (I think we have at least $2500 in there now). These can be redeemed directly for travel (such as last month I booked a hotel in Orlando for a weekend getaway) and we can also redeem as cashback.
We also have a Disney credit card to accumulate Disney reward points as well as other airline cards to earn points and free flights.
** READ MORE: How We Used Credit Card Points for a Hawaii Trip
It is also possible to earn even more points by booking travel with your card. For example, whenever we buy plane tickets or book a hotel we always use our Chase Sapphire card because we earn extra travel points vs. when we buy groceries.
However, this is honestly an advanced technique that should only be done if you already have money saved up and the discipline to save money and not overspend. We always immediately pay our credit cards off, and we never put something on a credit card unless we already have the money in the bank to cover the expense.
In short, we always recommend that you save up the money FIRST before you spend it on a vacation. Don’t just put your vacation on a credit card if you don’t have the money saved to pay it off.
4. How to Spend Less Money
While we can’t always control everything about our finances and everyone’s situation is different, the one area that each of us can focus in on and have an impact is HOW we choose to spend and save our money. This is the area where you have the most control. If you really want to see the world or take your family on a memorable vacation, then you need to make it a priority in your budget.
Years ago I remember stumbling across a really great concept when it comes to talking about money and empowering yourself. When we use words like “can’t afford” it puts a negative message out to the world (and ourselves). However, if you spin that phrase and instead say “I choose not to spend my money on this” then it’s a more positive way of thinking and actually feels empowering!
Shift Your Mindset to Prioritize Saving for a Trip!
So when it comes to saving up for travel, it’s important for you to shift your mindset. No one has a money-tree growing in their backyard. And few of us are independently wealthy have unlimited money flowing into our bank accounts. So it’s really about taking control of our finances and making the decision to spend and save how we want! And if you want to save up for travel, by golly go for it!
Since everyone’s financial situation is different, choices need to be made. This is where having that “variable expense” category in your budget can help. These are things you can try to cut back on, things like shopping or dining out.
Ultimately, it comes down to wants versus needs; and the lifestyle that you value. And for us, we value travel as a really important part of our life. So we make it a point to build saving for trips into our household budget — and that has allowed us to build up our vacation account enough to go on some pretty amazing adventures around the world over the years!
Overall, we’ve decided that we don’t care to spend money on things around the house because we would rather go on trips.
Meal Planning in Advance
It’s amazing how much just planning out your meals in advance can help you when you go to the store, and also during the week when you are tired and hungry. It’s good to know that “hey it’s Tuesday, I’m making tacos!” But we also keep it a bit flexible with a few meal options we can swap around.
Maybe we don’t feel like tacos tonight, but we’ll do the steak tonight and do tacos tomorrow.
Make a Shopping List & Stick To It!
It’s kind of amazing how good this really works. But you have to make it a habit. I love lists, but that’s my type-A personality! Seriously though, I always go blank when I’m at the store and can’t remember what I need to buy anyway. And nothing is worse than spending $100 at the grocery story and coming home to realize you don’t have all the ingredients to make any meal!
Plus, it’s super-efficient! And I don’t like being in the store longer than I have to.
So before I go to the store, I think of my meal plan for the week and write down all the ingredients we need. I get my list ready before I leave the house – then I’m in and out of the store like a pro with everything I need…and I can know that I didn’t overspend on junk.
Make Enough for Leftovers
Typically, when we cook dinner, there is always enough for another meal. So we might have it later in the week on another night when we don’t want to cook, or for lunch the next day. It usually doesn’t cost more to make a bit extra and can really lessen how many meals you need to make in a week.
Recreate Something That’s Expensive at the Store
There are some things at the grocery store that you may feel like is a necessity, but is actually pretty expensive. Sometimes you can find ways to make it yourself for cheaper. For example, it’s kind of ridiculous how much granola costs! We love putting it in our yogurt, but at $5 dollars (sometimes more) per bag, it’s outrageous!
But I actually found a great recipe online that is super easy to make tasty granola at home. We buy all the ingredients and make batches ourselves and store it. I swear it’s so easy…even Josh learned how to make it! And he likes it better than the store stuff.
Another item we make ourselves now is hummus. I tend to eat a lot of hummus, and it’s surprising how expensive it can be at some stores. But with just a cheap can of garbanzo beans, some lemon juice, tahini and spices and can blend up my own at home for a lot less. And honestly…it tastes better and is healthier!
Don’t Go to the Grocery Store Hungry!
No explanation needed. We’ve all been there and we know it doesn’t turn out well. Make it a point not to do this, maybe eat something quick and easy at home while you are meal planning & making your shopping list before you go to the store. I actually do this a lot, because while I’m making my list I realize I’m hungry! So I eat something before going to the store.
Resist Impulse Buys & Stick to Your List
We completely avoid shopping at places like Wal-Mart; where they tempt people with “deals” that coax people into buying stuff they don’t really need. We also make shopping lists when we go to the store, not just for groceries – but for everything!
So keep your head down…and stick to the plan! Avoid stores and places within the store where you will be tempted to impulse buy. Just walk away!!!
Bargain Hunting, Coupons, etc.
Another option that some people really get into is by spending less hunting for bargains or using coupons to save money. However, the key is understanding what’s really a “bargain” and what is just coaxing you to spend more money than necessary!
Josh and I differ on this, because he LOVES bargain hunting and getting a deal. But for me, if we didn’t need it or weren’t planning to buy it in the first place…then we just wasted money (…rant over!).
There are also some great apps out there that can help you find deals and coupons.
- Ibotta: Allows you to browse online for things you plan to buy, then complete a task (ex. Sharing online) then when you buy the product at a partner retailer you earn cash back! It’s like getting paid to buy something you were planning to buy already.
- RetailMeNot: a popular coupon site where you can find coupons for major stores. You can search online or for “stores nearby” to find deals.
- SnipSnap: Similar to above, this is another coupon app but it lets you take a photo of the coupon and use as a digital coupon. Plus you can share the coupons with your friends and find from other friends too!
Dine Out Less at Restaurants
I admit this isn’t easy for us because since we work from home we love going out to eat as a form of entertainment. It’s nice to get out of the house and feel like we are doing something fun.
But dining out costs a lot of money, usually. So it’s one of the things that can be easily cut back. For example, we rarely ever order pizza anymore. That’s because I started making homemade pizza for a fraction of the price…and it’s honestly WAY better (and healthier too). We also found some recipes for making homemade veggie burgers that are really tasty and healthy too.
Cut Back on Luxuries
You’ve probably heard this a thousand times, “cut back or eliminate the Starbucks run!” In the morning rather than picking up expensive coffee, we have multiple insulated to-go cups to bring with us. We choose to buy better coffee and creamer at home to make sure it tastes just as enjoyable as going out. For example – TJ Maxx and Marshalls have some fancy tasty coffee at a discount. And we’ve recently discovered that discount store Aldi is now selling some pretty tasty coffee flavors!
Think about what other “luxuries” you might not need to have regularly. You don’t even have to cut them out completely. Maybe just cutting back or finding an alternative that gives you the same pleasure but for cheaper.
Cancel Non-Essential Subscriptions
Sometimes things can build up that you forget you have. Cancel any subscriptions that you aren’t using regularly, or consider bundling. For example, our streaming services were getting out of hand a while back! We realized we weren’t really watching Hulu much, so we got rid of it for a year. Then we re-subscribed to it and got rid of a different one the next year.
Take the time to look at your bank statements hard. Any subscriptions that you are getting charged for that you aren’t using regularly could easily be cut. You probably won’t miss them much.
Find Alternatives to Things – Like Gym Memberships
Sometimes there are things you pay for regularly that you can find alternatives for. We mentioned things above like making our own hummus, pizza and coffee. However, you might be able to cut back on expenses by finding an alternative to going to the gym.
Maybe you have a local park that has equipment or you can go for a scenic walk / run around a park. Perhaps instead of spin class you can go for a bike ride on a long, flat bike trail (we have a great one here that is over 22 miles long!).
Also, a lot of options for workout classes are offered FREE online! For example, there are some amazing yoga instructors who offer free sessions on their YouTube channel (this is my favorite yoga channel!). So I can enjoy a great yoga class at home in my living room without spending anything.
But those are our decisions, everyone is different. So you just need to find what works best for you and your family!
5. Ways to Earn Extra Money for Vacation
For many of us, cutting back on our expenses is one of the best ways to save money. However, there might also be some ways you can increase your income. Now, you might be able to change careers or suddenly go to school to become a doctor. But there are an increasingly number of “side hustles” and other things you might be able to do to bring in extra cash.
Get a Part-Time Job
If you have the time, getting a part-time job is an easy way to earn extra money. A lot of small businesses especially will need help on a part-time basis, even during the holidays or other peak times of the year. It doesn’t have to be an ongoing job, maybe just for a few months or so. Just ask around and you might just be able to find something!
You might even find something that you love and gives you some extra perks. For example, last year we had some unexpected household expenses come up. So, Josh actually picked up a part-time job at a golf course for just a few hours every morning. Because he LOVES golf, he doesn’t even see it as work. And not only does it give us a nice chunk of extra money, he also gets to play golf for free at a luxury private course whenever he wants!
Gig Work Via Online Apps
Another option that is growing in popularity are these “gig” style jobs through various apps. We all know Uber and Lyft, but there are others that don’t require even as much investment. Things like delivering groceries through InstaCart and even other apps like Task Rabbit where you help run errands for people.
It seems like every day there are more tools like this out there. They might not be right for everyone, but they could be great options for some.
Offer Your Services
Is there something you are good at that you can do for others for a fee? You don’t have to create a full on business (if you don’t want to) but you can leverage different skills to make money. Just think about all those kids mowing lawns in the summer for extra money. If you have a lawnmower, why can’t you do that too?
But you might also have some skills that people are looking for too. Things like organizing, cleaning, fixing, etc. Tap into your personal network – or even hop into a local Facebook Group or Next Door group. Where we live there is actually a very active Facebook Group and people are always posting in there about needing help with things like trimming some trees, moving furniture, family photos, and even building websites!
In fact, that’s sort of how we launched our marketing and consulting business PoP Digital Media. But now it’s grown into something much bigger!
Sell Your Stuff
Selling items that you aren’t using is also another great way to earn some extra cash. Plus, you can clean out and de-clutter your house (something we love to do). And with all the platforms out there, such as Facebook Marketplace, etc. it’s easy to sell items you don’t need.
For clothing, there are also some really great online marketplaces where you can sell your clothes for pretty good prices. ThreadUp is a popular website as well as Poshmark and Mercari is also another one that seems to be well established.
Rent Out a Room (or maybe an RV)
Now this might not work for everyone, but some people might have an extra room in their house that they are willing to rent out. Or maybe a room above the garage, or even an RV! Yeah, if you have an RV, travel trailer, etc. you might be able to set it up and have people stay there kind of like an Airbnb. There’s actually a pretty good demand for this and you can make some great extra money.
Watch Your Bank Account Grow & Vacation Without Worry!
It really is possible to save up enough to travel, even if you have modest means. It’s just a matter of having a plan and taking action to work towards your goals!
I heard a great saying recently. “It’s not what you know, it’s what you do.” And isn’t that the truth! Most of us know that cutting back on spending and saving money will help us afford to travel. But in the end, it’s actually DOING it that is going to get us the results we want.
Plus, when you are ready to take a trip then you’ll know exactly how much money you have to spend. This really does make vacation more fun because you don’t worry so much about spending the money. I can’t tell you how freeing it feels! It really takes the pressure off and as long as you are within your budget and have money in the account, you can actually enjoy spending it. Because all your bills are already covered, you know this money is for fun!
** READ MORE: How to Plan a Trip – a Comprehensive Guide from Our Experiences
So we hope that this action plan here and tips will help get you started.
Don’t forget to download our FREE Excel budgeting spreadsheet to help you get a handle on your household budget. And also our vacation planning template to help you come up with the budget you are trying to work towards.
Before you know it, you will have your travel account built up and you will be off on amazing adventures. Happy travels!