A challenge for 2017: how to spend less and travel more


Sometimes travel comes across as this daunting, unattainable thing that only rich people or somehow privileged people can do, but it isn’t. And as with anything else in life, if you want to travel badly enough, there’s ways to make it happen.

To me, the single greatest way to have more money for travel is to spend less money on the nonsense we don’t even realize we’re spending so much money on. Like dining out all the time, daily cafe coffee and shopping for more things we don’t need.

So, if you want 2017 to be a year filled with more trips, here’s a challenge: see just how much you can save if you forget about the extras below and put that money into an adventure fund. The point may not be to eliminate exactly what’s below, but to pay attention to money spent on things that seem harmless or cheap but add up to a whole lot over time.

Cut out meals out

Now, there are some people who love to find and try new restaurants or meet friends for dinner or stick to planned date nights, and I’m not saying to leave all of that behind, but some of it is probably excess.

I enjoy dining out from time to time, but my money doesn’t go toward that on a regular basis. I take lunches to work, cook dinner at home most nights and treat meals out as treats on weekends or as occasional outings with friends.

If you look at just buying lunch out, and we go with a low estimate of $8 every time you buy lunch during the week (even though in New York you’ll hardly find lunch for less than $10 unless you’re eating dollar pizza every day—which is another way to save if that works for you), that’s $40 a week, $160 a month and a whopping $1,920 a year. I don’t know about most of you, but to me, that’s a lot of money for travel!

There are round-trip tickets to many places for $300-$400 depending on how close you are to those places and what time of year you’re trying to go, which means you can be fancy on one really great trip for the year, or sleep by friends or Airbnb and get a couple trips out of your lunch money savings.

If you’re one of those who eats dinner out too, even four times a week, and we estimate that dinner is $15 on average, that’s $2,880 a year. Add that to your lunch money and you’re looking at $4,800 you could save by just not dining out.

I get that not eating at restaurants means you’re eating at home, which means you’re spending more on groceries instead, but it’s a fraction of the cost. It’s about $10 to buy ingredients for spaghetti, let’s say, but that amount of ingredients can make spaghetti for four or four meals for one, which means you’re eating for $2.50 a meal. Just saying.

Scale back on Starbucks

OK non-coffee drinkers, don’t bypass this one, because maybe you’re buying a morning smoothie or a bottle of water in the middle of the day and that adds up just the same. But Starbucks (or like-priced coffee shops) is an expensive habit. Even if you try to keep the cost down by ordering a tall (which most people don’t), it’s $4 every time you walk in. Forget it if you take the pastry or muffin from time to time too. If you do that every day during the work week, that’s $20 a week, $80 a month and $960 a year. Another large sum of money that could make for a really good trip.

Skip out on some of those happy hours

I don’t mean to be the grinch who stole fun, but if you want to travel more and think a great trip beats a couple extra happy hours with coworkers, skipping some won’t feel that bad. Think of it as relocating your fun. Preferably to some other country instead of the bar on the corner. Happy hour can easily be $30 every time, and often more if you buy rounds for others, have to take a Lyft home, tip the cute bartender bigger, whatever. But let’s go with $30. If you do happy hour once a week, that’s $120 a month and $1,440 a year. More adventures to be had with that money.

Don’t chase that next outfit/shoes/iPhone

Here’s where I struggle the most. I still like to shop, always have, so this one is a good reminder for me too. It’s easy to walk into a store or skim the Internet and want another outfit or pair of shoes or the latest iPhone and buy it. It’s easy to spend money on things we feel like we need. But if you look at that new outfit and weigh it against using the money for a portion of a plane ticket, it may not look quite as good. It’s harder to estimate the amount you could save here since it depends on how you spend, but if you cut back on these kinds of things in favor of more travel, you’d be surprised how much you’ll extra money there will be.

No cable maybe?

I know people will be sensitive about this one, because some people need TV. I don’t happen to be one of them and I don’t have cable, but I get it. However, not having cable saves me at least $50 a month, which works out to saving $600 a year. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s still a plane ticket to a lot of places. And with ways to work the TV system these days, you can share a Netflix account with someone, buy a $35 Google Chromecast to stream stuff from your phone to your TV, share someone’s cable account for regular channels, and still watch a lot for nearly no money.

How much does this challenge save?

There won’t be a fixed number since we can’t calculate the savings from cutting back on shopping, but if you only take buying lunch out, Starbucks, happy hours and cable, the savings could be as high as $4,920 a year. That’s nearly $5,000 in savings from things that aren’t that hard to cut out, and way, way more money for travel. You’re welcome. Go forth and adventure.