How I Saved for a 2-Month Jaunt in Argentina (As a 1st Year Teacher)

"How can you afford to travel?"

If you've been asked this question before it is for one or both of the following reasons:

a.)  You travel a lot.  (Yay!  Go you!)

b.) You have a job that doesn't pay well, people know this, and they're interested in finding out how you do it so they can copy your genius!

Both of the above have been true for me for the past 15 years or so, but I've never really known what to tell people.

"Um, I don't buy things I don't need, I guess?"    

So, here are some top notch strategies you can give your travel-envious friends when they want to take the plunge with their passports too!

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Whisked Away Surprise Travel:  How I Saved for a 2-Month Trip Abroad

It's Grandma's Way or the Highway (aka:  The Envelope Method)

My 95-year old grandmother once told me how she and my grandfather used to save money.  On payday, they would take all of their earnings (in cash!) and divide them up into envelopes.  There was an envelope for groceries, one for clothes, another for going out fancy time, etc.  You get the drift. 

When the money was gone from each envelope, that meant there was no more of that thing for the month!  (Hopefully they were very careful with that grocery money...)

I find this to be genius.

This envelope strategy has a few huge advantages:

  1. You know exactly how much you have + how much you have left.
  2. Cash is a tangible thing.  Credit card is magic that comes to us from the unicorn lands.
  3. You have created for yourself a monthly budget, with the realities of how much income you bring in.

Of course, this is not 1956, and I certainly don't recommend bringing a fat wad of greasy cash into your home after each payday.   However, there is a way to mirror this strategy so that all of your surprise travel dreams can come true! 

How to Apply the Envelope Strategy 

No, really.  I did it in 2012 as a first year public school teacher in North Carolina.  North Carolina, y'all.  I think at the time my fine state ranked 48th in teacher pay.  So... yeah.  I was basically making $1.35 an hour.  Approximately.  (Disclaimer:  I have done zero math for this post and the $1.35 number is for hyperbolic effect.)

Did I also have student loans?  Yes.  Did I also pay a monthly car payment?  Yes.  Did I also sometimes eat?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

Here's how I did it:  the envelope strategy without the envelopes!  It looked something like this:

After tax income - fixed bills - necessities (groceries, gas, misc) - TRAVEL SAVINGS = what's left for extras. 

Travel Savings WAS A BILL that I paid myself each month.  It went straight into savings, right when I felt flush with my North Carolina teacher's salary big time winnings, and it was mine no more.  It belonged to my travels.

***Quick note:  the "necessities" category up there can get really muddy really fast.  Make sure you look back over your bank statements for the past 2-3 months and highlight what you really consider necessities.  How much did you spend on groceries/gas/pet food on average each month?  This is your necessities column.

And so, after 10 months of this strategy, I flew off to spend my 2 month summer vacation in Argentina.  I had zero credit card debt, and a helluva lot of fun. 

What Liz Gilbert told Oprah about Saving $ for Travel

Anyone else listen with rapt attention to anything Oprah + guests say on Super Soul Sunday?  

Me too.  (I knew I wasn't the only one).

Awhile back, Oprah moved the conversations from under the oaks at her California home to magical podcast form, and she interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  

Now.  If you haven't read this book, that's ok, because it isn't really what we are going to talk about here.  It's also not the most lauded work of literary amazingness that has ever been written, but it is pretty damn fun to read.  (Also, just for funsies, this novel by Ms. Gilbert actually is incredible, and if you need a read that's my suggestion.)  

What we are going to talk about, as it relates to Liz + Oprah = Bffff, is a story that Liz tells Oprah during their podcast conversation.  

It starts with a 28 year old woman, who has just given birth to her 5th child (Eee-gads that one made me cringe!) and as the baby turns 2 months old her husband hops on a train and leaves her for good.  


As we know, good and bad situations pop up in life to teach us lessons and help us grow (we know this, right?) and this woman could've easily cashed in her chips and got on with her difficult situation.

But she didn't.

Wanna know what she did instead?  She grabbed an old coffee can, and just like Scarlet scraping in that Georgia dirt she proclaimed that this would not be the end of her.  That coffee can sat in the top of her closet, where no child could reach, and every day she put $1 inside.

Go ahead and do the math on how much $1 per day for almost 18 years would amount to, I dare you.

At the end of those 18 years, when baby #5 stepped out the door, our heroine did exactly what she had been planning to do- she bought a ticket and sailed around the world.

The lesson?  There is no situation so dire that you can't start today working towards what you want.  It may take a long time, it may be difficult, but if you want that trip/job/experience/whatever, start today.  Grab your coffee can.

How to Apply the Coffee Can Strategy

There are a couple of different ways you can make this work for you, present day.  

Sure, you could grab a coffee can!  It would probably feel really amazing to physically put in $1 a day, or $5 a week, or whatever.  Baby steps towards your goal, and all that.

You could also open up a savings account to be used only for travel.  You could set up auto-payments to that savings account from your checking, in any amount you choose, so that you don't have to think about it until it's time to book that trip!

If you are coupled and share expenses with your mate, consider putting away "personal savings."  My sig other and I got this advice before getting married, and it has been THE BEST. 

Each month we put away $100 per person, to be used on whatever the heck we want.  He's bought himself a fancy mountain bike and taken his kid skiing, and I've traveled to Guatemala and gotten a few astrological readings.  

These purchases, had they been made with our joint funds, would've (at the least) been met with some side eye.  But when it's personal savings, anything goes!

So.  How do you save for your trips?  Share below to help out our travel tribe!

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