So many times, we fool ourselves into thinking that we can’t afford to travel. I am certainly a victim of this evil ploy to keep us from exploring the world. It happens because we get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget to examine the holes in our lives where money that could be going toward travel is actually leaking into a bottomelss pit. I’ve decided that this year is when I take more than just short road trips in my region. This year, I’m planning three larger trips to experience with my lovely lady…all while saving up for our wedding in the fall. Here’s how.
Creating and maintaining a budget is hugely important, and for many years I ignored it. I never really understood a well-thought-out budget’s importance in my desire to do things, let alone in the grand scheme of my life. But this year I realized that having a budget is key to getting things done and being able to go where I want to.
Travel is important. Travel not only links us to the world around us, but opens our minds to other ways of living—some better, some worse—that can actually make us better people. Better human beings. It’s really important.
But in our day to day lives, it’s easy for us to brush travel off as a luxury. For many—especially those who have children—travel sits on the back burner of the “should we eat, or should we go to Disney World” stove. But it doesn’t have to. It’s really our own fault for not budgeting the time and money for it. And travel doesn’t have to cost a lot. There are deals to be had, and free places to go, and inexpensive food to be savored, which all add up to a fantastic adventure.
There are two budgets I’ve created to help fund my travel while still paying my bills. My weekly budget is heavily cash dependent and keeps me from spending too much on stupid items. It’s brand new to me, and I developed it specifically so I would think about what I’m spending before I spend it. Credit—and even debit—cards make it way too easy to drop money on things while you’re not conscious of it. That’s what banks are depending on. It’s what got the U.S. economy into trouble.
My monthly budget is a larger overview of my spending habits and what goals I need to achieve by the end of the month. Unlike the weekly budget, the monthly budget is more of a big picture deal that keeps me on track and my eye on the prize. The monthly budget includes both the money I think I’ll have coming in, and the money I think I will be spending (i.e., student loans, car payments, rent, etc.). A great tool to help manage all your budgets while seeing exactly what you have in all your accounts is the online financial management tool called Mint. Try it out.
THE AUTOMATIC SAVINGS PLAN
A few years ago, I signed up for a bank account with ING Direct. Back before the recession, this account offered a high interest yield on savings accounts, which meant more money in my account each month, and an incentive to keep putting more in. ING Direct (which will soon become part of Capitol One) is strictly an online bank, but you can still deposit checks, make withdrawals, get a credit or debit card…just about everything you can do with a brick and mortar bank, except deposit cash.
My favorite feature of ING’s system is the Automatic Savings Plan. With a few clicks, you can have ING automatically withdraw a certain amount of money from another bank account and deposit it into your ING savings account. If ING is your only bank, and you have direct deposit set up, you can set up another savings account (at no extra charge) to deposit a certain amount into. In fact, you can have multiple savings accounts set up for free. I have my travel fund, my emergency account, and a car repair account, all of which receive a portion of my paycheck. I never even miss the money. The great thing about this setup is that it makes it very difficult for me to touch that money until I absolutely need it. Say, for instance, when I’m ready to take a trip.
The best way to stay out of debt is to not get into it in the first place. At least, not unnecessarily. Credit cards are a necessary evil in our economy, and it has been proven that most people don’t know how to use them responsibly. I include myself in that category. If I can offer you any advice, don’t get into debt with credit cards. Have one credit card for emergencies or for things like gas and groceries, but don’t spend more money than you know you’ll be able to pay back at the end of the month. If you’ve set up your budget and stuck to it, you won’t have to worry.
Travel is both a right and a privilege. We certainly have a right to see the world and experience people whose viewpoints differ from our own, so that we may become better world citizens. But the means to see that world—specifically, the money it takes to get there—is a privilege that we must earn. And with a little planning, focus, and organization, we can earn that right.