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What if I said you could do anything you wanted—if only you believed in yourself and asked for it?
Yeah, I don’t buy into that cliché motivational speech mumbo-jumbo either.
Life is complex, with many choices. Some of them are made with our best interests in mind, others not so much. I made a lot of decisions in my early adult years that landed me in a job that felt like I was trudging off to the soul-compactor each day for eight hours.
I was working full-time at a bank, living in a city among the top ranked “best places to live in the U.S,” which really just means thousands of people are flocking there, hiking up rent prices. Getting ahead financially felt like a walk up the downward moving escalator.
I was looking around at my life like, “Seriously, how did I get here?!”
And I wanted out.
I had other aspirations for myself besides counting other people’s wealth, but the disillusionment of adult life was wreaking havoc upon my opinions of the options before me.
Honestly, I would have taken a mulligan if it had been offered to me, but this is not the forward motion of human life. Instead, I had to think of what it was I truly desired to do and make small steps toward that achievement. At 24, all I really wanted to do was free myself of the shackles of debt and travel the world. (Insert romantic violin music and Hollywood sunset motif.)
Saving money as a 20-something single person making less than $35,000 per year was not an easy task. It required an intense overhaul of my spending habits and a re-prioritization of focus.
The focus of the efforts paid off (literally) two years later when I was finally free of my student loans and car payments. After one night of champagne crapulence in celebration of my new debt-free life, I arose the following morning reeling from a headache, determined to begin saving for travel abroad.
So, how was I able to actually do this?
In order to achieve this goal and afford myself the ability to not work and instead travel for a year, I had to make a lot of sacrifices. I made a budget and stuck to it.
Perhaps it is safe to assume that I have missed the mark by answering this question whimsically—based upon the disappointed expressions on the faces of those who have asked—but for those of us working nine-to-five making marginally better than minimum wage, there is no fanciful way to save money. One must hustle. If one does not have several hustles, then one must be diligent with a tight budget.
Keeping a tight budget does not mean that I was unable to have any fun, that I never went out with my friends and never bought anything. On the contrary, most of the people closest to me were shocked that I was able to maintain a “normal life” while also aggressively saving for travel.
I did this by changing my thought process. I began to think about every dollar I spent as something that may potentially take away from my experience abroad or may push back my departure date.
Much of saving is in the mindset one has about it—I viewed each dollar I saved as paying myself.
I work 40-plus hours a week at a job I do not care much for. Uncle Sam gets his cut first, then my landlord, then my stomach, then my car, then the insurance companies, and lastly me. I always take myself into account because I am the one working hard to maintain this life.
To travel abroad for one year, I saved $14,000. This covered lodging, food, excursions, plane and bus tickets, taxi rides, and several trips to art museums. Everything.
I was able to save this much by:
1. Creating a budget.
I set it within the parameters of my income, recurring expenses, and desires for saving. I also built things I loved into my budget (like wine) and made sure that I did not overspend, asking myself, “Do I need this or is this a want?” before making purchases.
2. Cutting out unnecessary expenses.
I got rid of my Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime accounts, cancelled the gym membership, and considered going out to eat as a treat, not the norm. Reassessing these gave me the opportunity to see that I was paying for things that were not actually adding any quality to my life. Cutting them out offered me the opportunity to find other life-giving outlets.
3. Becoming self-reliant.
I needed to learn how to stretch a dollar the way pioneer women must have because every dollar would eventually count. In reading homesteading books and other DIY articles, I found I could make things at home or fix them rather than throwing them out and buying new. I learned about darning holey socks, changing the oil in my car, making cleaning supplies at home, and giving second life to everyday items by repurposing them.
Perhaps the most important thing that happened in my mindset change was that instead of calling it a savings account, I started referring to it as my money.
I would remind myself, this is for me! For my benefit, my livelihood, my happiness. If I do not give it to myself, nobody else will—and I am worth it. This realization made the sacrifices easier, because I was betting on myself and investing in my own future.
Whether we want to travel for a year, own a food truck, or open a store, our dreams are worth the sacrifices and financial-mindset-adjustments necessary to make those dreams into reality. If you are a fellow daydreamer, like me, and make a modest income, I am here to remind you that you can save for your dreams with diligence and a solid plan of action.
We can all use a reminder every now and again that we are worth the effort it takes to achieve our dream—even if it means coming face-to-face with our finances.