Odd Things I do to Save Money for a Trip

I’ve given up buying coffee on the way to work and almost never go out to eat. Lists that cover things you can do to save money for X-reason, no matter how general they may be, are definitely valuable. If every list you look at has even one idea you haven’t yet thought of, the time investment of reading (or browsing) is worth it. If you’re hoping to spend some money on a trip (or any other want-but-don’t-need-for-survival item), I’ve got some tips to save for travel!

Now if you know me personally, or have ready anything I’ve ever written, you’ll already be clued in to the fact that I don’t make a whole lot of money working for a non-profit, nor do I have a whole lot of free time – but I still find a way to “go away” at least twice each year. People become suspicious of how I make it happen and I’m here to tell you that it takes a whole lot of hard work. I think it helps that I grew up understanding the “value” of money- started working at age 15 and understood that if I wanted one of those frilly yogurts with the candy packet on top (circa 2003), I was going to have to take it from my hard-earned, union dues deducted paycheck. Though I feel like I had a bit of a head start in my relationship with money, I do employ some unorthodox methods of saving.

I came up with his list over time. I realized that there were some habits that would gain me a little side-eye at work or family members would poke a little light fun, and that’s when I realized that some of my travel saving methods might be a little unorthodox. Whatever, it got me to Africa in August 2017 and will get me to Quebec for the Women in Travel Summit in May 2018.Let’s get into it:

15 Odd Tips to Save for Travel

I’m meticulous and plan in advance when I’m going to shell out money on something “frivolous”

Every Thursday is Donut Thursday and the coffee shop near work. I plan to spend $3.24 on a donut maybe once per month- but they release the flavors the day before. If they don’t excite me, I don’t get one and that money stays in my pocket.

Taking the time to examine if its something I really want, or just think I want in that moment has saved me lots of money.

I don’t spend on decorating

I spent $8 on a clearance watercolor of a cow. I hang pictures using clothespins and twine. The sticky 3M hooks and double sided tape are my best friend. If its too heavy to stay on the wall with some tape, it either goes back on the shelf, brought to Goodwill, or in rare and special cases, put into a case for safekeeping (for when I’m paying enough in rent to be allowed to put nails in the walls).

We all want to have a nice living space, but spending money on throw-pillows and nice art can be a bad use of funds if you’ve got a spending goal. Goodwill/thrifting and DIY repurposing are great solutions.

I have four roommates

That’s right: five people sharing a living space. It’s not ideal, but it saves me from spending more than 1/3 of my monthly net income on housing. Yes, sometimes I need to do some deep breathing when the pots pile up, but if I want to save money for a trip, its totally worth it. [Also, side note, they’re all rad ladies, so I feel super lucky there!]

I wash the “disposable” aluminum pans and ziploc bags

Yes, I’m serious. I meal prep like a champ which usually means freezing soups and lasagnas. Once they’ve been consumed, I carefully wash and dry the bags and disposable aluminium pans. Given how often I would go through them, I’m saving money and a little stress on the environment. I treat recycling like an extreme sport.

Like I said before, I prep like a mofo

I have a few soup recipes that are super filling and less than $1 per portion. Because I cannot eat the same thing every day, I keep 2-3 portions for the week, and then freeze the remaining 2-3 portions for times when I’m too busy to cook. This way I’ll have something I know I like, which will keep me from being too tempted by the ease of takeout. I always have something more satisfying in the freezer, too – something like a lasagna or cottage pie – something that I know can and will win out over a takeout burrito (because sometimes the though of soup is a little boring… but a cheezy, tomato-y lasagna……..).

Intermission: Here I am at Victoria Falls in Zambia…. on my last “I saved like a weirdo to afford this” trip!

I’d rather buy the whole pineapple for $2.50 and carve it myself than the frozen bag for $3.99 with only 2/3 the volume

Truth be told, I would actually rather buy the easier option – but that doesn’t make the most financial sense. For me, I’d rather take a little extra time than spend a little extra money.

I almost never Uber

Train, walk, bus…. Uber is reserved for when I’m physically incapacitated or its too late and the train isn’t running.

I also don’t own a car, which means no loans, insurance, or gas money being spent regularly.

I pay my rent with a money order so it is deducted on my terms (versus my landlord’s “I’ll cash this check whenever I feel like it” timeline)

This is pretty self-explanatory.

I truly rarely buy coffee or lunch out

BUT if I’m having a rough week  – or recovering from a trip – given how tight I usually am about this one, I don’t feel guilty about indulging in a coffee + donut.

I utilize bulk bins when grocery shopping

I buy “in bulk.” By that I mean  I use the bins that have the lower unit price, but usually only buy exactly what I know I’ll use since the shared kitchen space is limited. Also, pantry moths are a real problem in old houses, so I don’t want to keep grains so long that they’ll potentially get ruined. Oatmeal isn’t supposed to fly.

I compare baseline grocery prices

I’ve got 2 grocery store options within a 10 minute walk. I had a day off and some time to kill, so I listed out the top 15 items I buy most frequently OR are the higher ticket items (like coconut milk), and found the cheapest versions at each store. I now know where to buy which items.

Another intermission/Bonus tip: Here I am in Nicaragua on a beach that I would never have been able to get to if I didn’t (a) save like my life depended on it and (b) allowed myself to be bumped from a flight just for the high-ticket voucher. I always volunteer because of the compensation!


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I don’t eat meat (usually)

Easy to cut it out at home. So easy. Per weight, beans are way cheaper…. chili with beans and quinoa is way more cost-effective than ground beef.

I look for free things to do in Boston when I have some time to kill

Not all social activities need to carry a high price tag. Walking around an art park is free. So is hanging out by the harbor. The Boston Calendar is a fantastic tool to keep an eye on for free festivals and whatnot!

Cash diet

When I’m a little concerned about my credit cards, I go on a cash diet. I take out a conservative amount of cash not at the beginning of the week, but rather right before the first time I’ll need it for the week, and then make it last. If I have a surprise expense, it goes on the debit card so its actual money being spent (and not credit).

Saving cash and coins

When I’m on that cash diet, I don’t spend the coins. They go straight into a jar and I just let them accumulate. Once I have $100 in coins, I turn them in and take the payout as a single $100 and save it for a trip. When birthday and Christmas times come around, I tell interested parties that I will never say no to cash and I do not find it impersonal to receive money as a gift. A gift like that (or a Visa gift card – something along those lines) goes into a special place and is saved for a time when I really, truly want to go somewhere but simply cannot afford it off my normal income.

I hate to echo the masses, but it really comes down to one thing: priorities. Behind essential living expenses, my push to save money for travelling is what motivates me.

If it wasn’t implied, let me state it explicitly: its not always easy to save money for a trip. It takes a lot of mental fortitude and the ability to keep your eye on the prize (which is particularly difficult when the prize is still a hypothetical trip and not yet on the horizon).

  • What are your best tips to save for travel?
  • Anyone out there who lives at home with Mom/Dad to save some $$? How is that?
  • Any big trips on the horizon that you’re trying to save for? Tell meeee!
Posted in Budget Travel, How To, Inspiration, Travel, Trip Planning and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. i love this post! doing simple things as not buying the frozen (less) pineapple just make sense when all the savings add up! <3 I also do a lot of things to save money for travel but those weekly money challenge (if you've ever heard of it) is what works the best for me. <3

  2. These are really smart ways to save! I get this question a lot as well. It’s not that hard to save for something if it’s your passion!

  3. I completely agree! I don’t drink alcohol because it’s an unnecessary expense. I won’t use the Keurig machine at work, I’ll buy tea bags and just run the hot water though it because the cups are SO expensive, I rarely order coffee. I do the same with things like pineapple, I’ll cut it myself etc. If travel is a priority there are definitely ways to make it work!

    • Ohh yeah good point about the K-cups! I keep a single-cup French press at my desk so that way coffee is literally 3ft away if I need it and not tempted to go out!

  4. There are so many things I do and then refuse to do. Living in CT is so expensive that I need to do a lot of things on the side to save money! And I do almost all of this, but I’m weak when it comes to food. I like to go to restaurants a lot, but I’m trying to change this!

  5. Wow good for you. You are one serious travel saver! When I was 18 I went to South America on a school trip. I saved so hard as the point was that parents didn’t pay out. I had a massive money box I filled with every penny o found or saved.

  6. You are so disciplined, I am really impressed. Food is definitely an area I could work on being more budget conscious. Thanks for the ideas.

  7. Love this! People don’t realize the little things everyday really matter and add up. Another thing I do is a capsule wardrobe, helps to save money on clothing and keep it to just the essentials.

  8. Love your tips Katie!
    Eating is definitely the thing that makes the biggest difference for me – meal prepping alone is amazing! Spending on decorating is my weakness though.. need to get that one sorted 😉

  9. Great ideas! I’m a budget traveler too and know that you can experience great things if you just plan them properly! I’m also a crazy couponer 😉

  10. Absolutely great post. I have found in the past that those who “complain” the most about not being able to afford to do things that others around them can afford are simply those who aren’t willing to sacrifice the hundreds of things they drip drip drip their money on in order to save hard for the big ticket things they really want. I used to work with a colleague who earned the (exact) same salary as me, had a lower rent per month and no other compulsory outgoings. She’d tell me how “lucky” I was to be able to travel as much as I did but wasn’t so happy when I pointed out that she spent £50 on drinks etc on a night out every Friday and Saturday night, that was at least £300 a month, often more, plus several hundred more pounds a year on make-up, music and new shoes and handbags. I mean, seriously, enough that she could have afforded every trip we took twice over!!!!!!

  11. These don’t sound odd at all, just normal things to those of us addicted to travel! People at work used to laugh at me all the time, but I’m the one off travelling the world while they are still in the office!

  12. Thanks for sharing your very detailed advice here. I think this is useful in general, whether we want to save money for a trip or something else.

  13. I do have a List for my payments.. It’s like a household plan. For example: i also do prep meals and i know how long they last, so i plan when i have to do the next grocery shopping, for fresh stuff i do have an specific amount with me, so i just use cash. I do have a to-go mug and a bottle (better for the environment) and take Drinks with me as well as food. I also try do do upcycling or “Recycling” clothes instand of bring new ones therefore my friends and i do swap-parties where we all bring the clothes we no longer need and swap them. I also prefer to but high quality stuff over buying a lot of cheap things.. When it comes to equipment, clothes etc. I’m wearing the same 5 pairs of Jeans since i dunno… 3-5 years, some i own longer than that.
    I also loooove to read, so i have a membership – it’s way cheaper for me to lend a book than buying them and well, store them in a Shell afterwards as i have read them and will not use them a second time.

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