21 Things I Don't Spend Money on to Pay for More Travel
Travel is both my job and hobby, which means that it is one of my top priorities, too. And while I try to make our trips as budget-friendly as possible, it still costs money to book plane tickets, have a place to sleep every night, and participate in incredible experiences like zipping around icebergs on a Zodiac boat and riding in a helicopter above the island of Kauai.
So how do we travel to places like Iceland, Switzerland and Hawaii without going totally broke? We prioritize travel in our budget over other things that a lot of Americans tend to blow their money on — often without even thinking about it.
An ice cream cone here or a manicure there might not seem like a lot out of pocket, but when you take a hard look at what you’re spending your money on over time and compare it to the cost of plane tickets and hotels, you start to see what that hard earned cash could be buying you.
I frequently find flights to places like the theme parks of Florida, the beaches of California and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for $50 to $100. How often have you blown that much on an unplanned Target splurge (I’m guilty, too)?
We all have different goals and priorities, and that’s OK. Maybe it’s more important to you to look like a million bucks than to enjoy a million dollar view from the top of a mountain. But if you constantly find yourself envious of all the Instagrammers on fabulous vacations while you’re sipping Starbucks and filling your online shopping cart, take a minute to check your goals (and where exactly all that disposable income is going).
If you need some inspiration and ideas on where to cut back, keep scrolling for 21 things I don’t spend money on so I can pay for my travel habits instead!
(Free hotel coffee may not taste as good, but the caffeine works just the same.)
Coffee shops. Starbucks is a once every few months kind of treat for me so I save a good $1,000 each year over weekday drinkers. I make my coffee at home in a Keurig with reusable k-cup filters that I fill with regular coffee, which is cheaper.
Lunch out. Eating a homemade salad or sandwich over lunch at a restaurant saves me close to $2,000 a year. Now that I work from home, this is especially easy, but even when I commuted to the office, I made sure to keep salad supplies handy and meal prep my lunches ahead of time. Even picking up premade meals from the deli at the grocery store can cut your lunch expenses in half if you regularly dine out.
Name brand groceries. When I worked at a grocery store as a teen, I learned that many store-brand grocery items are actually made by the big-name companies but sold under a different label for a fraction of the cost. I avoid the familiar brands and opt for lesser-known ones all the time and they literally taste the same as their counterparts (sometimes even better). I took it a step further and started doing most of my shopping at the discount supermarket Aldi a few years ago, and have shaved 25-50% off my grocery bill easily.
Alcohol. I’m sure many people will tune me out here, but we don’t drink any alcohol in my household (at home or out and about). While we do this solely for moral and personal reasons, the money we save is a huge bonus, especially considering Americans spend 1% of their earnings on alcohol (according to this article citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
Meal subscriptions. Sure, getting ingredients for dinner delivered in the mail may be cheaper than eating out, but buying them at the store saves way more, and if I have to cook them either way, I’ll go for the cheaper option, thanks.
(Stroll right past those overprices souvenirs.)
Designer clothes and shoes. Even at a cheap retailer, I have a hard time paying tag price for anything I wear, heading straight to the sale section instead. I avoid expensive brands and opt for discount department stores instead. I also don’t go out shopping much to limit the temptation. If I shop online, I leave items in my cart for a couple of days and often end up abandoning them because I forget (and therefore didn’t really need it in the first place). I also hang on to clothes for way too long so I don’t have to shop every season, and when I do get rid of something, I try to sell it on eBay or a similar site to recoup some cost. The same goes for shoes, jewelry and purses.
Expensive makeup. My mascara comes from Target and I’m OK with that. Some studies suggest that women spend tens of thousands of dollars on makeup during their lifetime, so using drugstore brands for a third of the price or less of the fancy stuff likely saves me hundreds each year.
Regular salon visits. Considering a haircut and color or highlight easily costs upwards of $100 and touch-ups are needed every 8 weeks or so, I save at least $500 by only getting my hair cut once or twice a year. It’s more laziness than intentional for me, but I’ll take the savings either way.
Manicures and beauty services. No professional waxing, lashes, tans, extensions or pedicures here. I don’t spring for a lot of beauty items or services, opting to do things at home or skip them all together and pull off a natural look.
Subscription boxes. I don’t know when everyone became so obsessed with getting boxes of stuff in the mail monthly, but subscription services seem to be available for everything these days. I really don’t understand why people like to pay for bundles of clothes or makeup that they don’t even get to pick out when they could buy things they actually want with the money instead.
(My watch only cost $5. Check out the view I bought instead!)
Everything new and shiny. We try not to get obsessed with every new and cool gadget that comes out. We still haven’t hopped on the smartwatch trend, and while my husband has been begging for a drone, I keep waiting for the prices to dive. If I need a piece of tech for my business, I take a lot of time shopping around and patiently waiting for deals. We did recently buy a robot vacuum, but that’s only because it was cheaper than a maid. (But really it was because our vacuum broke and a robot one was the same price as a DIY one.)
Unlimited data phone plans. 4 GBs of data serves two people in our household well each month and saves us $50 or more each month over an unlimited plan. That’s $600 savings each year.
Phone upgrades. Our phones are always at least two years behind, and we didn’t even have smartphones at all until 2013 (we basically lived in a cave). Not upgrading every year saves us tons, and we don’t have to make endless payments or dish out hundreds for the newest model that will be old news in five months.
Multiple streaming platforms. I heart Netflix as much as the next person, but there are just too many different streaming services to pay for these days. Each one is upwards of $10 a month, and if you’re subscribed to all the different video and music options, that adds up! Now, cutting the cable cord and replacing it with a couple of cheaper platforms, I can get on board with.
(Spinning in fields like a kid doesn't cost a dime.)
Annual passes. While we enjoy attending athletic events and the theater, we don’t maintain memberships or annual passes to anything. I always crunch the numbers, but we typically don’t do the same activities enough times to make a pass worth it, even at Disney (where we go at least once a year). The same goes for when we travel — we never buy the all-inclusive city sightseeing passes or bus tours, only paying for places we badly want to see or opting for free experiences and outdoor adventures instead.
Gym memberships. Even the cheapest gym memberships cost at least $300 a year for two people. We have an elliptical, free weights and take walks around our neighborhood instead. Or, we sit on the couch and watch TV and eat chips.
Professional services. We pay for pest control to spray our house every couple of months (because have you seen Texas roaches … gross), but aside from that, we at least attempt to take care of repairs and services ourselves before calling a professional in. Opting out of lawn care saves us close to $1,000 each year. Changing the filters, fluids and bulbs in our cars ourselves saves a hundred here and there. And fixing household appliances that need minor work saves a bundle over service calls. My husband gets credit for most of this.
Travel upgrades. We always shop around for the best flight and hotel deals and go for the cheapest option 97% of the time. That means if it costs extra to check a bag, we pack light. If it costs extra to pick a seat, we don’t. If a window view or king-size bed is $10 more a night, we skip it. These little upgrades seem minor on their own, but considering how much we travel, they add up fast.
Financing and interest. The only time we’ve taken out a car loan was to get a better deal on the purchase, and we paid it off ASAP. Whether it’s a car or a new mattress, paying for things up front instead of financing every purchase saves tons on fees and interest and ensures that you actually have the money to pay for what you’re buying and you aren’t handing off the bill to some later version of yourself who probably also won’t want to pay for it. The same goes for credit cards. We use them to get points and cash back, but ALWAYS pay them off every month so we aren’t charged unnecessary interest. We try to avoid having debt in general, with the exception of our mortgage, which we make double payments on each month. Sure, we could use that extra money for a fancier hotel, but saving as much interest as possible on the big debt of a home purchase will give us much more money down the road.
Gambling. We don’t buy lotto tickets or participate in any other forms of gambling. So basically we don’t stick our money straight in the trash can.
Rent. There’s a common misconception in the travel blogosphere that you can either travel the world or settle down and buy a house, but throwing money away on rent just so we can be free of responsibility doesn't make much sense to me. Our mortgage bill is actually less than we were paying at our last apartment, which I’m sure has only increased in the last few years. Though we certainly aren’t putting off travel for retirement, investing our money wisely while we’re young will help us to travel more when we’re older, too. Because I’m sure we’ll have just as much wanderlust at 76 as we do now, and maybe then we'll splurge on the balcony suite with an Eiffel Tower view.
What can you cut back on to buy more travel?