About a month ago, I learned a very costly adult life lesson. I had spent the last 7 months or so being fairly serious about setting aside money for savings and travel. I was planning on going to London in the spring, Cairo in the late summer, and mayyyyybe a summer trip to Paris for a conference I had been accepted to. I know, dream big. I also had set aside nearly enough money to sign a new lease on an apartment and a little bit of a rainy day fund in case my phone took a swim, etc.
Things went downhill when I received my W-4 form in the mail and realized (let’s be honest my dad spotted it) that something was awry. Long story short, due to some rather large clerical errors it turned out that I owed the IRS a large sum of outstanding tax. I’ve got a pretty standard salary for a recent post-graduate in a non-engineering/finance/insert-successful-money-making-field-here degree. My paychecks at the end of the month are enough to get by, but nothing prolific. My entire travel fund, my rainy day fund and a chunk of my apartment savings were gone in an instant.
Once the immediate panic subsided, I sprang into action. I looked at my existing spending and immediately slashed it. In order to keep myself accountable, I converted all of my spending to cash. I put my credit cards away and used my debit card only to withdraw cash at the beginning of each week. Once it ran out, I was done for the week. That was it. I deleted Uber from my phone (the app where savings go to die). Every single time I opened my wallet, I was forced to make tradeoffs—if I spent $4 on a fancy cup of coffee at Starbucks, it was taking away from something else, and sometimes that something groceries. Most sadly in the context of this blog, I had given up on my travel plans. Paris, London, Cairo, all three were out of the question.
It’s been about two months since the IRS bomb dropped on me, and to be honest, it’s not been great. There have been some weeks where things have been really tight. Turning down plans because I simply couldn’t afford them has not been fun. I’ve questioned whether or not I should buy a diet Coke in the same way a few months earlier I would debate a nice dinner out. But, with a fairly aggressive spending/savings plan, my savings account has been creeping up. I’ve been sticking to my very disciplined cash-only spending pattern, which has kept me on track.
With my immediate financial crisis on the road to repair, I’m starting to dream again about my travel plans. Paris? No way. London? Probably not. Cairo? That, I’ve still got my sights on. In the meantime, although I’m a little nervous about the expense, I’ve got a weekend trip to New York City planned for this weekend, and a trip to Philadelphia planned for May. When you don’t have very much money to travel, cheap buses and frequent flyer miles, if you’re lucky enough to have some accrued, are a beautiful thing. Sometimes we forget that exploring new places closer to home can be just as much as an adventure.
Although I’m nowhere out of the woods yet, I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve been able to save in the last couple months. It does comes with sacrifice. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a proper night out with friends, and I haven’t bought a lunch or even really a snack at the office since this whole debacle started. Sometimes, my financial situation has been embarrassing. Depite this, it is easy to see how the same dedication that I have been putting into getting myself out of debt can be applied to saving for travel. I may ease up a bit and allow myself some more fun once the debt is taken care of, but I do plan to apply the lessons I’ve learnt to growing my travel fund back up again, and hopefully making this trip to Cairo possible.
Even if you’re lucky to have not suffered any surprise financial setbacks but just think “hey, travelling would be great, but I just don’t have the money on my current salary”, take a look at your spending and see if there are areas where you can cut back. You’ll be surprised to see what your spending actually looks like—I know I was. If you’re in less extreme circumstances than I currently am, even little changes will start to add up and grow your travel fund.
This whole situation, while un-ideal, has reminded me of a few things:
- Although I have been feeling super super poor recently I have a dry roof over my head, I’m not starving, and can just about manage to pay all my bills. We’ve had a really harsh winter here in the Northeast and there are lots of people who are not so lucky, and I’m humbled and grateful for what I do have.
- If you’re serious about your savings and differentiating your wants and needs, you will be surprised at how much you can save. Sometimes it’s because there is literally no alternative, but this also applies to saving for travel. Make it a saving priority, people!
- Sometimes your travel dreams get put on hold, but don’t give up on them. You will get there eventually, even if there are setbacks.
- Always check your pay slips and make sure all your paperwork is in order! Don’t assume that your information has been entered correctly. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own finances, even if they’ve been handed over to the professionals. Trust me, been there, doing that, it is not a fun experience.
Happy (financially aware) wandering! -xo