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Living Cheap while Saving to Travel

Written by Jessica on March 20, 2011

Being cheap is a state of mind. If travel is important to you and you aren’t independently wealthy, you have to find a balance between saving and spending. Usually one that involves a lot more saving and a lot less spending. When you’ve exhausted your options for earning more money, it’s time to look at how you can spend less.

There are hundreds of ways to spend less money. The problem is that everything and everyone is against you. This (American) society is driven by spending. It is encouraged relentlessly, subliminally, and excessively, in everything you do. You have to mentally put travel first. Every time you open your wallet to buy that ten dollar sandwich, there should be a voice in your head saying, “that’s another day I can’t afford to be in [insert place of choice].”

Before we get on to our list of ideas, make sure you have the rest of your financial system in order. See this article on financial literacy. Also, there are huge websites dedicated to the subject of saving money so you can travel, Man vs. Debt is an excellent one.

Here’s our laundry list of ideas. We have done all of these at one point or another.


  • Pack your lunch- or skip it. That way you can leave the office earlier.
  • If you do eat out, consider eating before you go and ordering small plates. And don’t order stupidly priced drinks.
  • Eat chicken or pork instead of pretty much every other type of overpriced meat. Or don’t eat meat.
  • Make a menu plan and shop only for those items at the store
  • Find a local cheap supermarket. Around Seattle we found Vietnamese supermarkets to be the cheapest (and they have the best quality produce).
  • Buy in bulk. (but make sure it is actually cheaper first)
  • Start a garden. Don’t forget to water it.
  • Make friends with a hunter or a fisherman. Or learn yourself. Deer, moose, bear, salmon, trout are all good eats. And most hunters are more than happy to share the meat for costs substantially less than the supermarket.

Rent & Mortgage

  • The smaller your residence the less furniture you need, the less space to heat, the less crap to clean.
  • If you want to travel long term, don’t buy a house. For oh-so-many reasons.
  • Don’t sign a lease that you can’t break easily, quickly or cheaply.
  • Don’t move into an apartment “complex”. Most charge lots of move in fees and are very inflexible when it comes to breaking a lease or subletting.
  • Live near public transportation. And use it.
  • Get a roommate. Or two.


  • In terms of heating: wood stove is usually cheapest, then gas, then electric. (In the USA, that is) Blankets are also good.
  • Call your internet provider every 6 months and demand the introductory rate be extended. Make up stuff, cry if you have to. Don’t give up and certainly don’t pay full price.
  • Cancel your cable. TV is a waste of time. Besides, Netflix is cheap, and libraries rent movies too.


  • Consider a smaller car or a motorcycle, or even a bicycle.
  • Never buy a new car. Unless it’s a Bugatti or a Lamborghini. In which case, why are you reading this?
  • Consider car share companies like zip-car.
  • Call you auto insurance company and negotiate. There are many ways to get a lower rate. Usually just asking and being polite goes a long way.


  • Set a limit for “spending” money every month. I draw it in cash at the beginning of the month. To spend on clothes, coffee or other random crap. When it’s gone - stop buying crap.
  • Don’t buy things that are difficult to store, give away or sell. (Like furniture, pets, or cars)
  • Don’t buy anything new. (Except possibly underwear).


  • Don’t sign a long contract with your cell phone company. Negotiate the length or buy a used phone.
  • Buy your computers direct from a manufacture. And get a warranty. Resellers only markup the prices.
  • Check out university surplus stores for cheap computer spares and monitors.


  • If you are in any way affiliated with a school, you are a student. And nothing beats student discounts (except maybe senior discounts). Take advantage of that while you can.
  • Use the web to make sure everything you buy is at the best price. Check out bar code scanner apps for you cell phone. It lets you scan any item in a store an then tells you where  you can buy it cheaper.
  • See if you employer gets discounts at local shops.


  • Find a bank that doesn’t charge fees. Or go to your current bank and negotiate away the fees. (Yes, they are all negotiable).
  • If you’ve got some savings for an upcoming trip- put it in a place with some interest. Preferably a place where it’s harder to spend too.
  • Don’t keep any balance on your credit card for more than 30 days
  • Call you credit card company an ask for a lower interest rate. Be nice, but persistent.


  • Pay em off. No, “I’m building credit” is not a good reason to pay less. You’re wasting money. Pay them off. If you can’t pay them off, at least pay more than the minimum payment.
  • Ask for a lower rate- works like magic for some loans, impossible for others. Either way it never hurts to ask.
  • Don’t pay late. But if you do, be nice, apologize, and ask for that stupid late fee to be reversed. Paying on time is the easiest way to negotiate better deals.
  • Defer student loans. Not something I suggest lightly, but is is pretty easy to do. Knowing the average student debt is ridiculous these days, sometimes deferring a low interest student loan for a month or two in order to pay off a high interest credit card is a smart move.

Let’s hear all your other ideas in the comments!

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