How to Save Money for Traveling…Even When You Have Kids

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Saving money to travel
Sometimes saving up to travel can feel like counting pennies. Photo credit: slgckgc

It’s true. Traveling is expensive. Beyond that, it’s not a necessary expense so it can be really hard to justify why you should spend $3,000 on planes tickets and hotels versus repaving your asphalt driveway at home. And maybe you should pave that driveway. Asphalt would look better than a patch of dirt and gravel and your home is an investment and…yeah, all of that.

The fact is that traveling is a choice, a lifestyle, and a commitment. For some, it’s a dream to go on a far-flung vacation even once in their lives while others swing trips on the regular…but how do they do it? Well, the fact is that some of them make a ton of money or bought Amazon stock ten years ago. I have never been that person. I make a perfectly average income and I manage to travel by balancing that average income with decisions that make sure I have some left over each and every month (well, except for the month where we had to repave the driveway).

Here are my tips for saving up to travel:

Watch the little expenses

Budgeting for travel (and really anything else) starts with the little things. It’s the little things that add some spice into your daily life. Who doesn’t want a caramel frap with whipped cream sometimes? Or some pad thai delivery instead of cooking up yet another batch of Crockpot chili? And sometimes is fine, but if you find yourself buying coffee often, dining out often, or getting food delivery often, or buying stuff at Target that you really don’t need – well, that’s where to start. If you want money to travel, cut back on those things and you’ll get an instant boost to your travel fund.

Watch the monthly expenses

After watching the little expenses, saving money jumps next into taking a look at your monthly bills. Often, there’s a lot to be saved on these if you pay attention to them rather than setting them to autopay and forgetting about them. Can you switch to a lower cost cell phone carrier and still be happy? Has your cable and/or Internet bill crept up on you over the years? Give them a call and ask what they can do for you to get that bill lowered. What about car insurance? Have you checked in with your agent or company lately to see if you qualify for any discounts? It’s a pain and I hate calling anyone as much as the next person, but making a few calls to your monthly billers can sometimes help you shift these bills down by a bit.

Travel credit cards
My favorite way to make travel more affordable? Get a card that earns you free or discounted flights. Photo credit: Sean MacEntee

Watch the major expenses

Okay, so this is one of the harder parts. The truth of the matter is that it will be really difficult for you to budget for travel if you have a finite amount of income and you set your daily life up to be on the higher end of what you can afford. Travel will never outweigh paying off credit cards or student loans or the mortgage. So if you find yourself facing a super tight budget and skipping your morning coffee won’t nudge it enough to make that trip to Hawaii possible anytime this century, then it’s time to ask yourself how serious you are about travel – and whether you’d rather have your daily life set up to be expensive or whether downsizing might be worth it. And it may not be worth it. But if you are yearning to just GO and can never afford it, then getting a more affordable apartment, condo, house, car, or what have you will get you there a lot faster than cutting out lattes.

Use a save the change program

I tried one of these years ago and I can’t say I was blown away, but at the same time, if you really have trouble saving up, every little bit can help. Many banks offer programs where you can kick a little extra cash into your savings account by rounding up purchases or earning a little cash back. Ask at your bank if they have a savings program you can join, or check out this list from Nerdwallet that tells you which banks and credit unions have these kinds of dealios.

Use a savings app

Perhaps bank savings programs don’t give you enough control for your taste, and if that’s the case, then look to a savings app. These babies give you a way to track and manage your savings right on your device, as well as include plenty of ways to customize. Some are really similar to the bank programs, some do have fees so make sure if you use those that you’re saving enough to make it worth it, and some are free. Here’s a nifty list on The College Investor of savings apps worth trying out.

Get a credit card with travel rewards

Ah, the holy grail of affordable travel. Credit cards with travel rewards allow you to earn points to spend on travel. Free money, ya’ll! There is nothing sweeter than checking your account balance and seeing that you have enough airline points to go somewhere for half price…or even for free! Of course, these involve credit cards so you have to make sure that your balance, interest rate, and annual fees are all manageable. Do your due diligence and find a card that’s right for you. There are a ton of travel rewards cards out there these days. Depending on where you want to go, choose wisely. There are travel cards offered by banks and by airlines. Generally, both kinds of cards let you spend on flights, hotels, or other things, but if you really have you eye set on free or discounted flights, then an airline card might be where it’s at.