This post was most recently updated on November 27th, 2023
First of all, remember I am NOT a luxury traveler. So don’t be looking here for first-class transportation and 5-star accommodations. I’m talking about reasonably priced hotels, coach fares, cooking many of your own meals, and even using coupons for attractions. Also, when you do save enough money, you will have to be disciplined enough to take the savings and reserve it for your vacation, rather than spending it on a wardrobe or the newest cell phone. With that in mind, here are many ways we use to save money to fund our travel budget:
Credit cards that give rewards
If you’re not using credit cards, you’re missing out on a great way to get something back–as long as you pay off your balance every month. You’ll never get ahead if you’re paying any interest! Credit card rewards can include cash rebates, airline miles, or points towards merchandise. Find the one that rewards your spending the best, and then use the card to your greatest advantage. It’s best if you use a card that doesn’t charge annual fees.
This website compares all credit cards that give rewards without annual fees. That being said, I do use a United MileagePlus credit card that charges an annual fee because it has some added benefits that are helpful to us: bags checked free, 2 club passes a year, and priority access to award travel seats. In a year, we typically earn enough rewards to purchase two RT saver award seats on domestic flights…or one RT standard award seat. Or nearly enough for one RT to Europe. Estimated savings: price of two domestic RT tickets = about $700
Update: I now use the Chase Sapphire card because it is so travel-friendly. I get the same kind of travel rewards that convert to airline miles, or I can even trade the points in for cash. Use this link to sign up and get up to 60,000 points to book your next flights with! I’ll get 15,000 points if you do — thank you so much!
Use GasBuddy and Club gasoline stations
GasBuddy is a very simple app you can download to your smart phone and it will show you the closest gas stations with the best prices, no matter where you are (in the U.S.) I used this app just last weekend to find the best price for gas as we were driving home from northern California and saved about 10 cents per gallon compared to the price of the first gas station we passed after exiting the freeway.
We also have a Costco membership that gives us a 4% cash back bonus when we buy gasoline. Since Costco’s gasoline is typically already the cheapest around, we save even more at Costco. Estimated savings: (based on 100 gallons of gas per month): $120 in gas savings, buying at Costco gas stations (.10 per gallon savings over other stations) + $144 in cash rebates (4% of gas purchases) = $264
Purchase online through portals with cashback programs
My favorite online portal is Rakuten.com (formerly Ebates).Many major companies have made agreements with Rakuten to give cashback bonuses for purchases made through the Rakuten.com website. It’s free to join (and I even received a $10 gift card when I joined), and easy to use. Just type in the name of the company you wish to purchase from, and it will take you right there while activating your cashback benefit. Cashback percentages range from 1% to 25%, although most are between 2 and 5%.
Rakuten will send you your cashback bonus via PayPal or check every three months, as long as you have earned over $5.00. Otherwise, your balance carries over until you have earned $5.00. Several airlines are on Rakuten as well as nearly all of the major hotel chains and Booking.com. Even Walmart is on Rakuten. If you can just remember to use Rakuten when you make your purchases, you might get a hefty check back to put towards your travel budget. I usually forget to use Rakuten, so my savings aren’t super exciting. Writing this is serving as a great reminder to me. My cashback bonus = about $20 a year.
Plan menus and stick to a grocery list to save money
Maybe you already do this just to make ends meet. But I think most of us get quite sloppy with our grocery budgets — and fall prey to buying things we didn’t plan on buying. You’ll save so much if you make a list of what you need before you go to the store and only buy what is on your list. You’ll save even more if you cook from scratch instead of buying pre-packaged or ready-to-eat foods. I may be going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to bet you can save at least 10% on every grocery shopping trip if you make a list and stick to it! Savings potential = $400 a year
Have a hobby that pays
Take online surveys that pay cash/gift cards
There are a lot of websites that pay you to take surveys and visit their clients’ websites. I’ve only used two of them: MyPoints and Inbox Dollars so I’ll tell you about those. Both are free to join (don’t ever pay to join any survey websites!).
- MyPoints will send you about 4-6 emails a day. Some of the emails award you 5 pts, just for clicking on their link to a clients’ website. You can get a lot more points if you purchase anything with their offers. Some of the emails will only reward points if you purchase, do a survey, or sign up for computer gaming. I RARELY ever buy anything. I OCCASIONALLY do a survey. And I NEVER play the games. The only purchase I’ve made is from the Avon offers. When they offer 2000 points and free shipping for an order of $30 or more, I jump on it. That’s when I stock up on chapstick, make-up, hand lotion, etc. Anyway, eventually the points add up and you can exchange them for a huge variety of gift cards. Choose one (like a Walmart or Amazon gift card) that will save you money in another area of your budget, and then transfer that savings to your travel budget! Savings = $30-$50 a year, just for clicking a few times a day.
- Inbox Dollars will also send a few emails a week–more surveys than “click-thru” emails. When your total gets to $30, they’ll send you a check and a $5 bonus towards your next $30.00 This won’t allow you to save enough money all by itself, but how many times are you just waiting in a line and you could be clicking on emails with your smart phone to earn money while you do it!? Earnings about $60 a year.
Be a User Tester
I have not tried this, but it’s something my daughter does. She’s written all the details here on her blog. Basically, you register (free) to be a user tester, answer some screening questions, and wait for the tests to come to you. You’ll get paid for “thinking out loud” as you review a site or service. If you did only one test per week, you could expect to earn about $500 per year (completed desktop tests pay $10, while mobile tests pay $15).
Ask for promotion and bundling discounts
If you never ask, you’ll never know. Cable, telephone, mobile, and internet providers are always running promotions to keep up with their competition, and they know you have many choices who you use. Customer service reps are authorized to give you some amazing discounts just to keep you on as a customer. AT&T actually has a department called the SOS department (Save Our Sales). Some of the savings are temporary, and it will be up to you to pay attention to your bills, so you can ask for another discount or the newest promotion when the old one expires.
You can also save by bundling services (adding two or three services). On my phone bill, I saved $20 a month by adding a $6 monthly service I didn’t really need. But why not, if I netted $14 a month? My home and auto insurance also gave me a discount of $15 a month when I put $50 into an online savings account with their bank. Ask and the door might be opened unto you! Haha! It’s a great way to help you save enough money to travel without any more effort than a phone call! My phone savings this year: $250 and another $118 from my insurance = $368
Use Coupons and Groupons
Never pay full price if you don’t have to! And you rarely do.
- I scour Groupon.com regularly for restaurant and attraction deals that will save me money on my dating budget. Dating budget? YES!!!! I hope you have one too. ( It’s so important to make time to be with your spouse or loved one!)
- I also use Living Social (use this link and you’ll get $10 off your first purchase) and Gold Star Events to find a huge variety of fun activities at deeply discounted prices. Here’s a bonus: if you go through Rakuten to buy a Groupon, you’ll save an additional 6% cash back on the Groupon price. Way to compound those savings!!!
- I search for RedBox codes to save money on movie rentals.
- When it’s time to mail packages, I always go to USPS.com and print my own postage; I save an average of .75 on every package that way. And the best part is I’ll receive an email tracking the package every step of the way!
- You probably already know that department store coupons are a gold mine if you are buying clothing and other household necessities. Don’t ever go shopping at JCPenney or Kohl’s without coupons–they’re so easy to find online!
- There’s another way you can earn gift cards from your everyday grocery shopping. Just scan your receipt after you shop and earn points for every receipt with Fetch Rewards. It’s an app you download to your phone so it’s super easy to use. And if you use my code: PKX6Y, you’ll automatically get 2000 points added to your balance.
Not all of my savings in these categories goes to travel–sometimes I need to save just to get what we need, so I’m estimating my savings to be a conservative $200 per year towards my travel budget (although I’m actually saving upwards of $500-600).
Find a bank account that pays interest
I know that’s a difficult task, but I have found one that pays more than most. It’s the only one I’ve found that pays over 1% interest. It’s a Dividend Rewards checking account with First Tech Federal Credit Union and it pays 1.98% interest on everything from 0 – $10,000 in your account (no minimum balance required). There are some easy requirements to meet, and there are NO fees! They even refund your ATM charges. Love it! If you can keep a balance of $15,000 a month, your earnings will be at least $158 a year (but closer to $300), but any balance will receive interest earnings.
Investment in stocks and bonds is always a risk, so you will have to decide for yourself if this is an avenue you want to take. Betterment is a do-it-yourself online investment firm with good ratings, very low fees, and no minimum investment. It’s very easy to use. And I can tell you I’ve made a better return on my money in the last year than I made at the credit union. Let’s just say if you had invested $5,000 last year, you probably could have made $250 or more. This definitely helped me to save enough money! (If you use this link, you’ll get the first month of Betterment free, but the fees are already very low.)
Another website I’ve discovered for online investing is Ellevest, which focuses on wise investing for women. You don’t have to be a woman to use Ellevest, but let’s just say it’s very female-friendly. It’s a lot like Betterment, with the same fees and potential to grow your money at a much higher rate than a regular checking account can. If you use this link, you’ll get $20 to start your account with! (And so will I — so let’s help each other out!)
Keep a budget to save enough money
I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear, because budgets feel so restricting. But in all honesty, a budget is very liberating. I promise that if you create a budget that puts money in a Travel fund every month, you will eventually save enough money to travel. It’s the way to keep extra dollars from slipping through the cracks. It will also motivate you to pass on the extra splurges you might otherwise indulge in. Savings due to having a budget depends solely on you, so I won’t attach a dollar amount to this tip. If you want to read more details about how I used a budget to save enough money for my 2-week trip to Italy, read here.
Okay, now for the bottom line…
So you’ve managed to save enough money to get to a total of $3,520.00
Let’s assume you are a family of four and want to take a one week vacation somewhere in the United States, more than 700 miles from your home. You can also add one week’s worth of your grocery/dating/gas/entertainment budgets for that vacation, too, so perhaps another $300.00–maybe more. So let’s make that total $3,820.00.
Can you plan a vacation with $3,820.00? Let’s see…
The reward miles will get you two domestic flights: $700.00
Additional two plane tickets (for two children) $700.00
Hotel or condo for seven nights at $120/night $840.00
(Be sure to read my post about Homeaway for an affordable apartment or have you
Midsize rental car for 1 week (best prices at Costco) $373.00
Groceries/Dining out $500.00
Remaining for attractions/shopping $707.00
There are so many options here! You could take a road trip with your own car and save airfare and rental car expenses for something else. You could go camping or stay with family and save even more. The fact is, it’s just not very difficult to save enough money to travel, so if you’re itching to take a vacation, start saving and “Happy Traveling!”
I do want to mention here that I am not being paid to share this information with you, so my information is based solely on my own personal experience. I will, however, earn a few credits/dollars from Groupon, Living Social, Rakuten, Betterment, Ellevest, and Fetch Reward if you sign up and purchase anything or fund an account. You can invite your friends and get the same!