In the run-up to the wedding of a pair of boho artists I attended recently, the couple sent out a notice that no wedding gifts were necessary, and as such no gift registry was available -- but that anyone wishing to give a present could contribute to their travel fund found at TravelersJoy.com.
When you visit the site, you find many of the typical trappings of a wedding registry site: photos of the couple, a greeting and a wedding date. The page also had a short statement of thanks, a description of the trip (to Bangladesh), a map of their destination and, of course, a mind-numbingly easy way to give money. As with a registry, there are options for various budgets (you can contribute $15 for a guidebook, $75 for a spa treatment or $150 for a hotel night).
Having friends and family subsidize one's travels isn't a possibility for everyone, but my friends' honeymoon idea got me thinking about novel ways to fund and save for travel. With money as tight as ever, and travel expenses arguably down but definitely not out, all of us need to think about how to set aside the Benjamins that a big trip requires. Following are nine easy ways to save up money for your own vacation.
1. Open a Dedicated Savings Account
If you are serious about your effort to fund your travels directly and methodically, rather than out of whatever is in your bank account when your travel date comes around, this is a critical step. In most cases the cost to set up an account is zero, save for a bit of your time.
If you go this route, make sure you do not face any minimum balance penalties when you actually start to spend the money you've saved. It may also be useful to have ATM and online access to the account, which will let you draw money directly from the account when booking and while you travel; this keeps you from mingling your regular accounts with your "trip money," guaranteeing that the money you set aside for the trip is the money you actually spend.
Using a single, dedicated account will also help you keep on budget during your trip, as the easiest way to know how much you are spending is to track the balance of your dedicated travel account. You can keep an eye on your balance as your trip progresses, and track the true cost of your trip without too much effort.
2. Then Set Up Automatic Transfers
Once you have a dedicated account set up, you have to fund it. If you don't trust yourself or family members to do so, set up an automatic transfer at a regular interval to do it for you. This is easy to set up and can really add up over time. A transfer of $14/week ($2/day) adds up to nearly $730 by the end of a year; that would have funded flights for my entire family to the aforementioned wedding, and we could have skipped the 13 hours of grueling summer weekend driving we did instead. Look into package deals, and you can sometimes take a whole vacation for not much more than that.
If you've set up a recurring direct deposit for your paycheck, often you can work with your employer to have your deposits split among multiple accounts. So you could have 1 or 5 or 10 percent of your paycheck go straight into your dedicated travel account -- without having to move it yourself or being tempted to spend it.
3. Let Someone Else Do It for You
If the preceding approach sounds like too many trips to the bank branch, you can do the whole thing online -- and even have someone twist your arm. To that end, check out SmartyPig.com, where you choose a savings goal when you set up your account, and let SmartyPig keep the transfers going until you reach your goal. You can have family and friends contribute as well.
When you reach your goal, you have several options on how to collect the money, including transfers back to your banking account or gift cards at popular retailers. On top of that, it seems that SmartyPig offers one of the highest interest rates in the country, so your money works for you as well. Below is a video of a family using SmartyPig.com to save for a trip around the world.
4. The Trusty Change Jar
We finally filled up a large pretzel jar of spare change recently, and took it to a local bank with a change machine (avoid the supermarket machines, which take a significant chunk of your savings). We discovered that we had accumulated more than $500 of spare change -- yeah! Seem impossible? Not at all -- it only takes $1.37/day to get to $500 in a year. If most families have two adults emptying their pockets into a bucket every day, the silver adds up fast. Our son has his own change jar as well.
5. Do a True Budget
It sounds like a government budget office tactic, but I encourage you to do a budget that accounts for money you don't spend while on your trip. This includes food, lower energy bills, weeknight movies, Netflix or on-demand rentals, suspended newspaper delivery, etc. This will give you a much more honest cash-flow analysis of how much your trip is going to cost you. Don't forget to factor in non-travel costs like boarding for pets and hiring the neighbor kid to mow the lawn; in the end, for plus and minus, you will have a better sense of what the trip actually costs.
6. Liquidate Directly into a Travel Fund
Almost everyone I know has a plan to get rid of a ton of stuff on eBay or Craigslist, and almost all of them have yet to get to it. They need motivation; the decision to put all monies collected directly toward a travel fund can provide just that. Once you set up an account of some type per the above, start emptying out your closets of all your extra stuff, and fill up your dedicated travel accounts with the income. I recently sold a filing cabinet for $50, a dishwasher for $150, an old "Sports Illustrated" magazine for $37 -- there's a night's stay at a very decent hotel right there.
Good old-fashioned yard sales seem to be doing better than ever. Our annual neighborhood effort generated about three times as much income this year compared to years past.
7. Travel Grants
If you are traveling for professional, educational or research purposes, you may qualify for any number of travel grants available to qualified individuals. In most cases travel grants do not fund entire trips but will rather offset some of your expenses -- so while you won't get a free trip, it can be considerable money in your pocket nonetheless. Check out this primer for finding and applying for travel grants.
Also, if you're planning a volunteer vacation, you can often drum up support from churches or temples, community organizations, and other local charity-minded institutions.
8. Get Everyone Saving
Any parent knows that travel costs multiply dramatically when kids are added to the mix -- you need more plane tickets, bigger rental cars, more beds, more tickets to attractions, more food, more more more.
If your kids get allowances, or if you give them a weekly spending budget, they should help save for the trip as well, whether in cash from their allowance or chits from their spending limits. Explain that vacations cost extra, and that while you are still paying the bills at home during the trip and will cover most of the travel expenses, they will need to save up for any little extra stuff they want to buy. Let them know specifically what they need to save for -- you'll pay for airplanes, hotel rooms, meals, park admission and the like, and perhaps they'll pay for souvenirs and non-mealtime desserts.
9. Grandparent (or Parent) Travel Grant
You know you sweat the high cost of taking a family on vacation, but getting your kids to look at travel as something that costs a lot more money than staying home can be a challenge. Grandparents.com has a great solution that can be used by grandparents or parents alike: have the kids apply for a travel grant from you to fund the trip.
The site suggests establishing a foundation, giving it a name, having the kids create a budget and outline their responsibilities, getting letters of support -- in short, going through the full grant process.
Finally, as always...