Starting in 2016 I changed most aspects of my life to afford long-term travel. I don’t simply save for a few weeks or months to pay for a one-off vacation. Instead, I live frugally, even when on the road. Here’s how I saved $2,000 a month while living and working in Boston. Ultimately, I was able to save about $25k in two years enabling me to quit my full-time job and work on freelance projects while traveling.
How did I save money to travel?
I made drastic changes in the way I lived and spent money. I also used a budget app (Mint) to track finances and set up weekly reminders with budget goals to hold myself accountable. Here are the specific actions I took to slash spending.
Move in with a roommate to maximize savings
Boston housing is expensive. When I lived alone I was in a (relatively) cheap apartment that was a 15-minute walk from the subway and paid $1,700 a month. After the lease was up I moved in with a roommate in Cambridge, paying $1,200 a month for my half of the rent. While it was an adjustment to have a roommate again, the apartment was just a block from the subway and near a number of coffee shops and restaurants. While I prefer living solo, pocketing $500/month was a much better deal.
Shop cheaper grocery stores
When I first put a savings plan together I made a spreadsheet and realized that after rent, food was my biggest expense. I was easily spending more than $500 each month. First, I kicked my Whole Foods habit in favor of a local discount chain, and then I got more serious, making loose meal plans and opting for generic items over brand names. You can see a full breakdown of my cost-cutting measures in the story I wrote for The Kitchn. Ultimately, I brought my food budget down to about $200 a month.
Buy secondhand clothes
Slashing the amount of money I spent on clothes and shoes was infinitely easier than cutting food costs—I like food more than clothes! I also stopped making trips to the mall and instead used online thrift stores like Thred Up when I needed new clothes. All items are sorted, categorized and ranked for quality by employees, making it less likely you’ll end up with terrible items.
Cut out seemingly small expenses
In addition to the big changes, I also tried to make smarter choices about small expenses each day. For example, I started brewing my own iced tea and taking it to work instead of heading out to Starbucks for an afternoon treat. I brought lunch nearly every day so I didn’t need to fork out $10-$15 on a takeout meal. I cut cable and turned the thermostat down to 65 F in the winter (I love hot temps and used to keep it at 75). Sure, I needed to wear a heavy sweater around the house, but it also saved me hundreds of dollars.
Like I said, the food budgeting was the most challenging, but after a few months sticking to this stripped-down budget, it all felt normal. Looking back, I feel a little silly that I spent much of my adult life wasting so much money on things I didn’t really need and don’t miss.