Our journey to world travel started years before we booked our first flight. We were average people that tried to follow the traditional path in life. We worked hard, went to school, and had good paying jobs. But a few years back we noticed a problem in our lives. “Someday,” kept alluding us. Each day it was harder and harder to get up for work. No matter how hard we tried to save, every year when we completed our taxes we were left scratching our heads, wondering, where did all our money go? This typically led to a few weeks of tightening our belts, pinching pennies and staying in every night to eat ramen or peanut butter sandwiches. It never lasted long and we would end up blowing through whatever money we saved in no time.
In 2013, we made a decision to buy a house because that’s what seemed like the next logical step in our lives. We made a commitment to each other that this time we would make it work. Although our goal changed from a house to a year of travel, this is the path we followed and I hope it leads you to reach your goals.
Start Tracking Everything
Everyone is quick to set a savings goal and start squirreling away their change in a glass jar above the fridge. The problem with that approach is it’s a short-term strategy for a long-term problem. To make a real change in your finances you have to commit to changing your relationship with money altogether. The first step in the journey is to start tracking where your money is going. You can’t plug the holes if you don’t know where the leaks are. There are a number of ways you can do this but I found that Mint and a good old fashion composition notebook worked best for me. My wife and I would keep track of all our purchases and then verified them against Mint to make sure we didn’t miss anything.
- Don’t cheat yourself here and track your expenses down to the penny. I know it sounds tedious but it will give the best picture and will help you really come to terms with spending patterns. The numbers don’t lie. We did this over a 3 month period because we wanted to get the most accurate picture and 30 days was not a big enough sample size.
- Don’t commit to any big changes just yet. In the beginning, you’re simply observing. When we did this we were surprised just how much we were spending at gas stations and coffee shops. Buying a drink here and a few snacks there really adds up quick.
Keep an Eye on Your Money
Once you have an accurate picture of all your expenses, it’s time to create a family Income Statement. Record your income at the top and start subtracting all of your monthly expenses. Whatever is left over is your what you have available for discretionary spending or savings. If you find that you are actually in the negative at the end of the month, jump ahead to Trim the Excess and start considering other avenues of income. We were in a similar situation at times and I was able to make some extra cash moonlighting as a valet.
Post your family Income statement somewhere the entire family can see. This will help to keep everyone accountable for where the money is going It also helps to discourage spontaneous spending when you can see the big picture. At this stage of the game, it is not about reaching a goal, it’s all about awareness.
Trim the Excess
Once you have a clear picture of your income and expenses, it is time to trim the excess. Start looking for things you can trim back on.
- Monthly subscriptions you really don’t use.
- Monthly memberships to gyms, clubs, spas etc.
- Cable TV – Do you really need that many channels?
- On-Demand Movies – These rentals can add up quick.
- Tolls – Are there other routes you can take?
- Artisanal Coffees & Drinks – Can’t you make this at home?
- Landscaping – If you cut the gym, this is a great form of exercise
- Dining Out – Learn to cook and stay in.
- Luxury items – Manicures, Pedicures & Massages. If money stresses you out are these purchases really worth the price?
- Calculate how much you are PAYING to work. How much are you spending on Tolls? Gas? Car payments? Time? We found out that we were paying an extra $800 a month to get to work. We had two luxury cars, left around the same time and our offices were less than 20 miles apart. It takes some time to get used to but becoming a one car family has saved us a lot of time and brought us closer together.
Set your Daily Budget
It is typically easier to accomplish a goal when you break it down, which is why I love the idea of setting a Daily Budget rather than just a Monthly Budget. Following a daily budget can turn your savings plan into a game. It’s simple, to calculate your daily budget follow this equation:
(Monthly Income – Monthly Expenses – Savings amount)/ Number of days in the month
This result is your daily spending limit. Try to stay below it each day in order to increase your savings. It’s really that simple. I used to do this on pen and paper each day until I found the Daily Budget Original App. It’s a lifesaver and easy to set up. You can find it for free on both the App Store and Google Play.
- As you start to examine your fixed expense take a close look at your credit cards and how much you’re paying monthly. If you are only making the minimum monthly it will take you years to get out of debt. When we reached this step in 2013 we were drowning in credit card debt. Fortunately, we were both working and technically only needed one income to cover our expenses. It was tight for a while but we made it work. As soon as my wife would get paid we would make a payment toward on our cards. We followed the Snowball Method and it worked wonders.
- Focus as much of your monthly income on paying down debt first, its the fastest way to financial freedom. We both adjusted our 401K contributions to next to nothing so we could lower our debt as fast as possible. There’s no sense saving for tomorrow if you can barely afford today.
Clear your Clutter for Cash
It’s incredible how much clutter we accumulate in our lives. It starts as a junk drawer and then somehow within a few years you have a junk room. I hate thinking about how much money we have wasted on things we never needed in the first place.
Learning to let go of your clutter is not only a freeing experience, but it can also be quiet lucrative.
Grab a few boxes and start cleaning. If you haven’t used it in the last 30 days do you really need it? My favorite approach to this step is to host a Packing Party. It’s a little extreme but the results could be astounding.
Once you have rounded up all your boxes its time to purge. Thanks to the internet there are tons of different ways to clear your clutter for cash. I recommend a three layer approach. First, try to sell your items online. My go-to marketplaces were LetGo, 5 Mile, OfferUp, Nextdoor, and eBay. Whatever you can’t sell within 30-40 days put together for a yard/garage sale. Anything that is left over donate to your local shelter, church or thrift store. We followed this approach and within two months, we ended up making over $2000.
Break the Cycle – (Produce, Consume, Repeat)
One of the hardest things to do when working towards changing your relationship with money is to break the cycle of produce, consume, repeat. Every day you get up and work to earn an income, which is used to consume more than you need, which ends up leading you back down the same cycle, over and over again. Focus on becoming more intentional with your purchases and you will find that you will naturally spend less.
Whenever we were out and about and felt the urge to buy something we followed a few simple rules:
- No shopping carts or baskets. If you can’t carry it than you don’t need it.
- If you want to buy something you have to carry it around the store. My wife hates to carry things.
- Sleep on it first. Purchases over a set dollar amount ($50) require a good night’s sleep before purchasing.
Set a dollar figure and increase it by 25%
It sounds weird setting a dollar figure goal after you already started saving but it works. The majority of the steps up until now have been about changing your relationship & mindset of money. This is the hardest part. Once you have a new perspective you can finally start to narrow in and focus on a figure you want to reach.
When we first started saving, we were working towards a house. We knew that we needed to save enough money to put down at least 10% down. As we started the build process we quickly realized that we needed to save more. What about moving expenses? We needed to have enough to cover appliances too. How about the inspection? The fact is no matter what you are saving for, there are going to be variables you didn’t even consider at first. Rather than get caught off guard build them into your savings plan.
Assess the situation
As you start to get closer to your goal, pause for reflection. Is this really what you want? Why or Why not? This is when you really remove yourself from the situation, stop and think. Is this the right decision for me? The reason I include this step is that so many people set a savings goal around big material purchase. For example a car, a boat or in our case a house. It was at this stage of our savings plan that we realized purchasing a new house would be a mistake. What we needed was to focus on resetting our lives and actually living our lives. Your epiphany may not be as dramatic or you may realize that your savings goal was in line with your life’s path all along. The important thing is that you take the time to reflect and be honest with yourself. The worst feeling in the world is Buyer’s remorse.
Celebrate & Take Action
Once you have Assessed the situation it’s time to celebrate and take action. You did it! You reached your goal. But don’t forget what you learned along the way. In the end, the key to saving for anything, from a house to a year of travel is to change your relationship and your habits with money.