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Everyone has their “thing.” That thing that they just love, that they’d never let go, that they’d give up everything else for…for some, it’s a hobby like snowboarding or hunting. For others, it’s starting and growing a large family. For others, it’s real estate or entertainment or food. For us, it’s travel. We love to travel. We love experiencing new places and cultures. We love nature and cities and landmarks. We love getting away, gaining perspective, and having amazing stories to tell. My husband and I believe that traveling makes us better people, makes our relationship stronger, and makes life worth living! Of course, we also value budgeting and financial wisdom…and even cheap travel isn’t exactly a drop in the bucket. When you’re trying to save money or simply be smart with your money, you can’t have it all. But we have realized that we are more than willing to give up going to the movies or going out to eat or buying expensive clothes or owning a home if that means that we can afford to squeeze in a few trips throughout the year. Living on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the things you love. It just means that you have to choose your priorities.

How to choose your priority

Imagine yourself 5, 10, 15 years down the road. Imagine yourself as a little old lady (or gent) bestowing wise wisdom upon your great grandkids. Looking back on your life, what is the one thing that you might tell them you regret not doing more of? Would you say, “I wish I saw more of the world”? Or maybe you’d say, “I wish I would have pursued my music more.” Or maybe you’d wish that you were a better skier, golfer, basketball player, etc. Whatever you’d regret missing out on – that’s your “thing!”

You can still be a budget ninja on your splurges

During the days that we were going hard at paying off our debt, my husband and I managed to get free flights, free hotel, and free Cirque Du Soleil tickets on a trip to Las Vegas. We use Airbnb and Uber or public transportation to save on accommodations and transportation costs on our trips. We utilize travel credit card rewards and discount websites. We eat cheap food and site-see for free. We dedicate money each month to our “travel fund” so we never have to wonder if we actually can afford to spend $2,500 on a trip to Punta Cana. And yes, even on vacation, we still track every penny to make sure we stay within the budget we set for that trip.

What’s your thing?

There are people that might think our travel is excessive or wonder how or why we do it. Sure, we would probably have enough money for a down payment on a house by now if we hadn’t traveled at all in the last couple years. But being homeowners is not our priority. Yes, I could buy a brand new wardrobe from expensive stores at every change-of-season, but high-end fashion is not my priority. Of course, my husband the tech-junkie could buy that Go-Pro and Apple Watch he’s been dying to have, but he doesn’t need those things. That moment of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun goes down and the Manhattan skyline lights up like a Christmas tree or accidentally hiking a mountain in the marble gorges of Taroko National Park in Taiwan or hopping around with wild kangaroos in the Land Down Under…those moments are worth cooking at home instead of going out to a nice restaurant.

Every choice matters. That’s not to say that you can’t ever go out to eat or splurge on an electronic or see the new Star Wars movie in the theater. What is important is making those things a splurge rather than a habit. Because for every $50 meal-out that we say “no” to, that’s $50 in our travel fund. For every new pair of jeans I pass up or Friday night I spend at home or movie that I wait to see until I can Redbox it…that’s money I can put towards my “thing.”

Here are a few bonus tips for how we bulk up our travel fund:

  1. We budget for the typical 2-paycheck month, even though there are actually 26 pay periods in a year. For the last two years, I have gotten a “bonus” third paycheck in June and December. The December check seems to disappear quickly with Christmas shopping, but the June check goes straight into our travel fund!
  2. We don’t budget for or count on a tax refund, so when we get one, it goes right into the travel fund.
  3. If we’re able to pick up some unexpected income from dog-sitting, a gift, selling something, etc…travel fund it is!

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