How I Saved 20K in Less Than 2 Years

I saved twenty thousand dollars in two years, ten thousand of that within an eight month period before my trip. As a result, I’ve become a little bit of an expert on how to save a lot of money quickly. If I pulled this off, you probably can too. I’m not money genius, even now I struggle to keep a budget on a monthly basis. I had a couple lucky breaks, but I didn’t have a particularly high paying job. I did have determination though, and that gave me discipline.

In a lot of ways, saving money to travel is like going on a diet. When you want to lose weight, you have to change your habits, your intake and output, and you have to adjust the way you think about food. There are a million fad diets but we all know that in reality the only way to lose weight is through healthy diet and exercise.

Similarly, the only way to save a lot of money fast without going insane or giving up is to spend less and make more. It’s not glamorous, and it’s kind of hard but it gets the job done.

So instead of some elaborate system, here is the common sense way to save money and still see a movie or have a cocktail once in awhile.:

Set a Goal

Tax Calculator and Pen

photo credit: Dave Dugdale

When I made the concrete decision to travel  I set myself a goal of saving $10,000 in 8 months. I already had $10K in savings and I figured I’d need around $20,000 for what I wanted to do. That meant coming up with an extra $1250 dollars a month, which wouldn’t be easy but I was something I felt was obtainable based on my situation.

So the first thing you should do, right now, is set yourself a goal. Think about how much money you need to make your dream a reality and how much you can realistically save per month while still being able to like, eat and stuff. You can also set yourself smaller monthly goals to keep up momentum.

It’s important when you do this that you don’t set yourself up to fail. You have to believe that the goal is obtainable, otherwise the whole thing is still in fantasy territory. Set yourself a minimum amount, than view anything more than that as gravy.

A word on debt:

Debt is the worst! I get many, many emails from people who want to travel, but feel trapped by their loan payments.

I don’t think that student loans should necessarily prevent you from traveling. It may make things a little tougher and slower, but loans can be worked around. It’s something you will need to take into account as you plan your budget and your goals. Personally I had, and still have, student loans that I pay off every month.

When you plan your travel budget, be sure to budget for paying your loans (trust me, you do not want to default while you’re on the road). Consolidate if you can so that you are only dealing with one monthly payment, and make it religiously, even as you’re traveling.

If it’s not just student loans we’re talking about, if you are deep in credit card debt or home payments or something, then the first step is to get your financial house in order as best you can before planning out your trip. Kind of a bummer, but once you straighten out your finances you’ll be good to go.

Cut Back Spending

This little piggy

photo credit: hill.josh

After you’ve set your goals it’s time for the hard part. Look at where your money is going and figure out where you can cut way back. You will find most of your new savings come from turning off your spending on things you don’t really need.

For me, this meant moving in with my mother to save on rent. If you can do this, I highly recommend it- nothing saved me more money as rent is usually a major expense. It wasn’t always ideal but I kept my sanity. Even if you can’t crash with parents or a relative, downgrading to a smaller apartment or taking on roommates are both options for paying less rent.

It also meant giving up on a lot of poor spending habits. I stopped buying lunch at work and started bringing a bagged one. I gave up online shopping- the amount of money I’d spent on impulse while bored at work was out of control. I started passing up on social opportunities that cost a lot of money: concerts, fancy dinners or clubs, and concentrated on things like hanging out at dive bars.

I didn’t strip my life to total austerity b/c I don’t believe that will work. To go back to my diet analogy: if you completely starve yourself you’re just going to end up binging later on. I still spent money, but I was much more conscientious about where it was going- only to things that truly mattered to me.

Boost Your Income


photo credit: Clearly Ambiguous

It wasn’t enough for me to just cut my spending way back, I also needed to get more money coming in. After all, I was only making 37K a year before taxes and there’s just so much you can squeeze out of that.

So I started looking around for other ways to make a few bucks. The biggest boost to my savings came when I sold my car. I loved my sleek black Jetta but it wouldn’t do me much good while I was tromping around Asia. My only regret was that I waited until I was down to the wire to sell it. If I’d done it earlier I would have had more time and probably could have gotten a better price for my baby.

Many people take it even farther than that and offload all that stuff that they won’t need in their new life. Honestly I was a bit lazy on this front, but you can make a surprising amount of money selling your old clothes, books, electronics etc.

I also had money coming in from this blog which, while not a lot, was a helpful extra boost. Most people probably don’t have a profitable website but you can still pick up an extra part time job. If you don’t have time for that look for smaller opportunities- babysitting, helping someone move, whatever little gigs you can pick up.

Every extra dollar brings you one step closer to your goal, so get creative!

Stay Motivated

It’s hard. Living simply for many many months while everyone you know is continuing to be normal can really get to you.

Keeping your eye on the prize, reminding yourself constantly what you’re working for can help a lot. Every $20 I managed to save and not spend was a day in South East Asia. Every extra $100 that came in was some cool activity I would get to do somewhere. It’s delayed gratification but it works.

Make yourself a separate savings account and don’t touch anything that goes in. The highlight of my month used to be depositing a huge chunk of my paycheck into that account. Watching the number jump higher and higher was a reward in and of itself.

Finally, don’t be afraid to splurge a little once in awhile . During my time of intensive saving I still found the money to fly across country to visit a friend in San Francisco. I felt like if I didn’t my restlessness would make me lose my mind. Spend money on things that really matter to you and you won’t spend it on crap that doesn’t.

So to sum up:

  • Set reasonable goals
  • Cut back on major expenses
  • Don’t buy crap
  • Make extra money however you can
  • Get a separate savings account
  • Keep your eye on the prize

That’s pretty much it. There’s a pretty good chance that once you make these changes, you won’t ever go back to your old ways. I reached my goal over a year and a half ago, my initial trip is over, but I still don’t spend money on stupid clothes I don’t need or Starbucks coffee. It just doesn’t seem worth it anymore. Just like people who want to lose weight need to learn to eat better, I’ve learned how to spend in a healthy fashion.

Read more about my “Spending Diet” here.

Pinterest- 20k in 2 years

Article by

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.
  1. Great post! Thank you so much for not recommending that people defer their student loans. I see so many “how to afford to travel” posts that tell people to do that and I strongly disagree. One, it may not even be possible to defer your loans (I know I didn’t qualify for a deferment before I left on my trip) and two, you still accrue loads of interest while you’re in deferment, which means you end up owning even more in the long run. The better way to go about dealing with loans is just as you say – factor the payments into your budget.

  2. Bamboo Dave says:

    I read this post from beginning to end. I am constantly over-spending, mainly because of my social life. I spend most of my time in Berlin and Budapest and I love the bar culture there. Plus I have been eating out almost every day. This week I have been trying to do things a little differently, by actually going to the supermarket and buying cheese and ham (there is free bread at the hostel I’m currently staying at!). Saved about £40 so far this week just by doing that.

  3. This is such a great post. I also like how you don’t suggest deferring student loans. I like that you manage to both have an adventurous lifestyle and grounded reasonable perspective. Too many people assume they are mutually exclusive.

  4. Great Post. I like your point about comparing saving to a diet – I feel exactly the same way! It’s hard when everyone else is going out to lunch and your are eating another PBJ.

  5. I haven’t yet decided when I’m departing for my trip, but I should likely do that soon – it will make things much easier in the long run having a goal.

    I’ve started trying to save money, as well. It’s tougher than it seems, though. Small things, random hunger pangs at work, eating out of boredom…those can really kill your budget.

  6. Great Post! We’re saving hard for a trip now too – and a ‘debt diet’ is a great way to think about it. I agree with the commenters above, don’t defer your student loans!

  7. Kevin aka Eyetravelsolo says:

    Very accurate post. I’ve done all these except as you mentioned, i didn’t sell the Jeep first, it was too much fun. Now I’m still sitting here trying to sell it in a bad economy. After 3 months of no reasonable offer on it, i may have to sell to the Used Car dealer and take a huge loss. If your going to sell your vehicle, do it first.

  8. Great post! I began saving alot of money, similarly cutting out my expensive coffee and truffle habit from every morning, and making sandwiches to snack on at work. That alone saved me over $150/week…and that’s without the other cuts I made. It really is amazing how quickly small changes can affect your budget.

  9. Great, realistic post. It’s pretty simple. i see these money saving posts all the time actually and what it comes down to is simply a no-brainer. Just cut back on spending and really focus on what you want. I’m going to be debt free this month and can’t wait to see my savings just grow for my trip!

  10. I am so glad that you liked my Flickr photo (top one) so much that you included it on this page.

    I enjoy when people use my photos that I work hard on, but as I noted on Flickr below each photo I let people use my photos on the condition that they provide me credit to my site.

    Please add my link when you can.

  11. Really great post. The thought of being able to save that much money in two years is pretty crazy for most people but just goes to show that it is possible by just altering the way you think…

  12. I think I need to get into a position where I *earn* $20,000 a year first >_>

    Fantastic tips though. I’d love to be able to do it someday.

  13. Good tips Steph!

    I’ll add the easiest way to manage debt is never get into it. The North American mentality is debt debt debt, it’s normal. In the rest of the world people buy what they can afford.

    If you want to see the rest of the world, start thinking like them.

  14. Great post! I’m not saving to go travelling but I am saving towards buying a house with my partner so still some handy tips!

  15. This is brilliant. I really love the point ‘Don’t buy crap’. Most people don’t realise how much crap they buy and waste so much money. It’s a good idea to write down everything you buy and highlight the things that you didn’t really need. It makes it easier to spot the ‘crap’ next time you go shopping.

  16. When I had to save up for study abroad, starting a separate savings account helped a lot. Watching the money grow gave me motivation to keep going! Another option is to open up a Certificate of Deposit. It’s a savings account that you can’t touch at all (no withdrawals, no deposits), but you accrue a little bit more interest than regular savings accounts. Although it doesn’t take deposits, you can be sure that your bank wont allow you to withdraw any money from it for a certain period of time. Just an added security for your travel bucks!

  17. Thanks for the awesome tips!
    To help out with my savings, I have a piggy bank covered in pictures of places and things I want to do when I travel, to help keep me motivated. It’s stays in an obvious spot in my room, so it’s always reminding me of the end goal!

    It’s always so satisfying when I pick up the piggy bank, and can feel the weight of all the coins. All your hard work saving your pennies is tangible.

  18. vivalafrique says:

    I found the best way to figure out what I spend money on is by keeping a daily log of my expenses. Even though I’m a pretty minimal spender due to minimal income, it helps me account for what I’m wasting money on. I love eating good food, and I spend way too much on food, both at the store and at restaurants. Keeping a log definitely makes me think before I spend because I feel more accountable.

    How long did you travel on the $20,000?

  19. Great tips! For those with job benefits, I’d recommend taking advantage of all the reimbursements and benefits offered through your employer and insurance. For example, submit your claims for exams, contact lenses and materials, and contraception, and, gym membership (some insurance companies reward members who maintain a gym membership for at least 4 months in a calendar year). Deposit and use all the money in your HSA.

  20. Great tips! You know, I’ve written lots of posts before about saving money for travel but I think you hit the nail on the head with this simple line: “don’t buy crap”.

    So many of us just buy, buy, buy without ever really thinking about it (and I mean everything from clothes to groceries!) and this is how we end up in debt. If we could all just be more mindful about our consumption, we’d be well on our way to saving (for vacations or whatever else). Yes, sacrifice is important too (like you mentioned, moving in with parents, brown-bagging lunch etc) but shopping for only the things you *need* is a good first step!

  21. great tips, some times we take all this for granted and therefore we dont achieve our goals. if we follow what you outlined here there shouldnt be a excuse to save something significant

  22. Ah, I love money saving posts. I’m totally nosy about money and I LOVE when people talk about how they make it, how they spend it and how they save it!

    Thanks for sharing!

  23. Didn’t see using recycling (aka charity shops) as a way of keeping essential costs down. I’d add them to the list.

  24. I was able to save 14,000 CAD in less than a year by doing a lot of what you mentioned as well. I always would put away $1000 a month, and did work my butt off but I was living in Toronto where expenses are high also. If you have a goal, then you just got to work hard an keep thinking about why you have set that goal and what will come of it. There is no way you will fail. That’s what i think. Then with my money, I was able to travel for 300 days on $9500 (including flights) to Iceland, England, India, Thailand (3 times), Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, back to India, Morocco, Turkey and Greece. Anyone can do it!

  25. This is great advice! I am glad that you touched on the subject of school loans. I have more recently become interested in somewhat long-term travel, but I feel a bit put off by the fact that I owe on loans and also want to save for travel. Would you say that saving for both is best, or possibly paying loans first (that is, if I had come up with 20k, to put it towards loans first and then wait another year or so to save again and use it for travel)? It is tough being a graduate and wanting to see the world! Thanks again

  26. Rosh Muni says:

    So true! I saved 10k in 8 months, for my masters degree. It helped to split the goal into smaller fractions, like saving 5k in 4 months, you’d see the reward sooner, so you can feel the achievement. And then put the 5k into a fixed deposit so it’s totally locked up. Then build up on the next 5k. Now i’ve achieved my goal, but the thrill of seeing 5k every 4 months is such a joy that i’ve continued to do it… now i’m saving up so that I could totally resign and study full-time 🙂

  27. My sister and I are currently saving up to go backpacking next summer. Great idea to make a travel savings account to keep that money un-spendable before the actual trip!

  28. Really great post! I think the hardest part is figuring out how much you will in fact need. Our 6 month sailing trip for exmaple includes the purchase of … well the sailboat.

    Side note: Couch Surfing so you can still travel on a tiny budget while you save for the BIG trip also works for us. Like you said so well, you can still spend on what matters. To us travel – of any nature – matters. Travel closer to home too. We have discovered so many absolutely charming towns and villages just by staying local. It’s still a trip … 

  29. I just started reading your blog, and it’s great to hear of other people out there saving money to do what they love! There’s definitely way too many people who tell me, “I wish I could do what you’re doing,” but they don’t realize that they actually CAN if they realllly wanted to. Way to be debt free! 😀

  30. Hey Stephanie,

    This is a great post and think you sum it up quite neatly. Like dieting though, I think saving is much easier than people give credit… just earn more and spend less!

    Most people have at least six months of saving before they board their first flight so even the smallest of recurring expenditures mount up over that timeframe. I found the best thing I did was spending a whole month recording everything that came in vs. everything that went out.

    Do the same and you’ll be amazed how quickly the money piles up. In fact, you should take a gander at the post I wrote shortly after doing this myself:

    Amazed what you find happens if you leave your nuts alone!

  31. Good advice if you are able to move in with your mom and sell your car. Unfortunately, how many of us can do that??

    • Yes I was very fortunate to have those advantages. However most of my tips apply to pretty much everyone:
      – Set reasonable goals
      – Cut back on major expenses
      – Don’t buy crap
      – Make extra money however you can
      – Get a separate savings account
      – Keep your eye on the prize

  32. WOW! Thanks a lot for that post! I´ve been doing that for years now with a little help of my credit card account too. And except of moving back to my parents. That´s the last resort 🙂

    The most important thing is to keep an eye on the price. Compare prizes – even in the supermarket whilst buying bread. 1 USD is a breakfast in Cambodia!

    And the best way to control that is to make a outcome vs income list like Ben mentioned. Or you can set a budget for everyday…

    I was earning roundabout 20K bucks a year since 2006 and since 2007 I´ve always made at least one trip to SEA – without stressing my bank account too hard or my credit card. And I do have to pay back student loans also.

  33. Lashea Coney says:

    Great Post, I’m a single mother of four children and I’m always trying to find ways to save money. One of the things I decided to do is purchase large bucks of things at the beginning of the year like doing tax seasons. I buy 2 or 3 Large boxes of washing powder, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, tissue, etc. It saves alot of money doing the year. Its one less thing I had to worry or place in my budget. Thanks for this article.

  34. So to sum up this article…move back in with your parents, sell your car, and mow your parent’s lawn/sit on the couch when you’re not working and you will easily save boat loads of money.

    I wouldn’t call this saving, so much as mooching off your parents and selling important assets to your lifestyle. All for a vacation that lasted how long? Don’t worry, you’ve got lots of pictures from the vacation to look at………..

    • This is just the story of how *I* personally save enough money to jump start a new career/life style (BTW, still going strong nearly 4 years later). Your mileage may vary. The point is, yes if you want to do something dramatic, dramatic changes must be made- and that is true no matter what you’re saving up for.

  35. Been saving like that for some upcoming trips. So far it has been working great. It is good to see proof that it actually worked for someone. Hopefully I will be able to be on my way soon. Thank you for sharing. It helped me.

  36. Not to step on the accomplishments of those who have graduated, but one way I’d suggest paying for travel is to make travel your education. Skip out of a semester of college. You’ll learn more abroad and you may find the right opportunity for you somewhere else in the world. Perhaps somewhere where your university pigskin won’t help or isn’t needed to be successful.

  37. justine says:

    you got lots of love on this post, but I’m going to be the one to say, I just don’t think some of these options are that realistic. First off, the BIGGEST way to save money is OF COURSE to NOT pay rent (moving in with parents). However, I don’t necessary think one can really pat themselves on the back for “saving” a lot of money when in reality, you are just freeloading off of your parents.
    You also mentioned selling your car, but lets be real, the average person needs that car to get to work, especially if you live in a city where public transportation isn’t an option. I’ve had friends that “save” by not having their own car, but honestly, it’s a bit annoying as they are always mooching rides off of their friends and can only hang out if someone picks them up/drops them off. So, I guess, my biggest complaint is that sure, we can all save a ton of money by mooching off of others (rides and rent) but let’s call it what it is then- freeloading -while your pocket gets fatter.

    • Well I didn’t sell my car until the week I left for my trip, so I wasn’t mooching rides from people (at least not for very long). I acknowledge not everyone can move in with their parents. This is what worked for me- and worked well for my mother as well as she doesn’t like living alone and I was able to cook and help her around the house. Your mileage may very.

    • How is it “freeloading” if you’re paying to support yourself, buying your own groceries, and pay for your own entertainment while working full time, especially if your parents are totally open to it? Don’t be rude and pretentious just because YOU don’t have the option to move in with your parents and try to put down somebody who can. Saving money is saving money no matter how you do it. The fact that you took the time out of your day to negatively comment on this shows a lot about your bad character.

  38. I’m a young Airman in the Military, I barely make 20k a year and managed to save 20k in 2 years. I don’t have many bills besides rent and my car note, but as long as you live within your means; it’s pretty easy.

  39. This is so helpful and exactly what I need. Coincidentally I am in the middle of coordinating a move back in with my mother after my next trip (to Thailand). I’m hoping this is exactly what I need to finally get my act together to take a really big trip.

  40. Worst advice ever. Why not use the $20K you acquired by freeloading off of Mommy and liquidating assets like a car, which by the way, selling does not equate to saving, on something meaningful like a down payment on a home or paying off your “pesky” student loan. Maybe even grad school, but then again you do not seem like the academic type. Anyhow, hope living in your Mom’s basement and no longer having a car was worth your awesome “twenty-something trip”. I will make sure to wave hi when I pass your public transit bus in my Audi.

    • Hi Tom, your comment is really rude, did you intend it to be?
      We all make different choices in life, which is the beauty of well, life. Just so you know, I am not living in my parent’s basement. I was able to leverage my year long trip into a successful career as a travel writer (no grad school required!) and am currently living with my new husband in a beach paradise in Mexico (no car required!). Loans are inching closer to being paid off by the day. Along the way I’ve had some pretty amazing adventures, which you can read about on this website. I’m pretty content with my choices, hopefully you feel the same way about yours.

      • I know my comment is coming abit late but I could not help but reply. Tom, when your an old, grey fart, and your unable to travel for whatever reason (maybe because you spent all of your money on fancy cars) I bet you will be full or regrets. It is people who consume there life with useless material things, such as Audi’s, which only bring temporary joy and satisfaction- those are the people who are full of regrets at the end of the day. I think spending money on traveling and seeing the world is way more worthwhile then some fancy care. But then to teach his own.

    • daniellemlloyd23 says:

      I just read some of these, linked from your new post about saving and this one made me laugh literally out loud. You go Steph!

      When this rude asshole is old and achy and realises that he can’t get on a plane, let alone see the world he might think a little differently. But hey- maybe I’m completely wrong and life is ALL about Audis and mortgages. And I bet he will comment back and try and troll me about my grammar or something equally inconsequential.

      Sorry. I normally don’t comment on stupid crap like this but oh my word!

    • Well until you write an article about it nobody cares about you OR how unimpressed you are. Clearly your 40k you saved only afforded you the time to sit around and bash other people needlessly, so I doubt any of us want to hear about it at all anyway.

  41. Steven Stix says:

    Love these tips! And I have some more:
    1) drop the smart phone and get a “dumb” one. Save about $50 per month. Get a low-priced tablet (e.g., Kindle Fire) or use your old iPhone as a wi-fi only device. Wi-fi is available everywhere; you really don’t need to pay for cell-based data plans
    2) call your car and home insurance company and tell them you want to go through all your coverage because you found another carrier that is cheaper. They’ll probably help you “find” 10% off or more.
    3) speaking of car insurance – An expensive policy from GEICO, Progressive, etc. is not needed. You can find one usually for less than $25/month from a place like Insurance Panda. If you spend too much on car insurance from one of those big companies, chances are you are simply funding their expensive TV ads with cute animals.
    4) compare what your house is really worth to your assessment. Many assessments have never been properly adjusted down to reflect the market over the last 4 years. We cut our property taxes by about 20%.
    5) re-fi your 30-year mortgage to a 15. The interest rate will drop by at least 50-75 bps, more depending on your current rate. The payment may go up slightly, but it is because you are paying off your loan faster. If it’s possible, get the mortgage paid off before the kids go to college. At a minimum, have it paid off before you retire.
    6) review your credit card bills for all the things you are paying $10-20 per month for that you no longer need. I bet everybody has at least a couple
    7) drop all magazine (paper and on-line) subscriptions. If you look around, you can find comparable content for free.
    8) review your investment portfolio for ways to replace higher fee mutual funds or ETFs with lower fee ones. S&P500 funds/ETFs shouldn’t charge more than 0.10% in fees. Fees may be higher for specialty funds, but they are all coming down fast. If your company 401K uses high-fee funds, talk to the folks in charge. A difference of 25 bps in fees will mean a difference of about 5% in your portfolio value after 25 or 30 years.
    9) and of course the most impactful — never carry a balance on a credit card. If you can’t resist, cut up the cards.

  42. Krishna says:

    Fantastic tips!!!

    I moved back with my Mom (paying rent still but greatly discounted), I have just started to pay my credit card debt off, and will have it paid in full in 4 months. After that I will save for 2 years, and if I am strict I will have 30,000 saved for a 6-10 month trip to India and to pay my first two -three years in University immediately after.

    Goals like these are totally possible with a little self discipline and an end point to reach, even if one can’t move back with their parents or have other financial responsibilities to tend to. Granted they may not be able to save $20,000 or a large amount as quickly, but whatever the goal is can be achieved with a little patience, some discipline and some hard work.

    I think all the points made in this article are spot on, and you just have to go for your dreams in a responsible manner despite commentary to the contrary from others- family, friends or otherwise.

  43. I did something similar over the course of two years and although it was really tough to live small those two years when friends are going out to the bars and buying new cars, I’m so glad I did. Well written and inspiring post.

  44. This has to be the most narcissistic thing I have ever seen,,,,,,Lol, if I ever was broke enough to need help, I wouldn’t show up at my moms saying I need to live here so I can visit Prague,,you don’t look 13, but still act like it. Your post honestly makes me hate humanity

    • You clearly don’t understand the meaning of “narcissistic” because that’s a completely irrelevant adjective in your argument. Don’t be nasty just because you’ve been sucked into the American trap and can’t afford to explore the world; she’s making her dreams happen, can you say the same? I doubt it.

  45. “Make yourself a separate savings account and don’t touch anything that goes in”.

    This is the gold right here. Especially the last part.
    The temptation when saving is to keep taking money back out of the savings account. This defeats the whole purpose of putting it in there in the first place.

    My savings didn’t really take off until I was disciplined in this area.

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