Every year, Christmas happens (substitute with any other religious or non-religious holiday). Then it’s your mum’s birthday, and your best friend is getting married in the summer. Before you know it, your travel savings go down the pan.
For the average person, like myself, it takes years to save for a career gap. In fact, it took both me and Alex five years to save for our year-long travel career break. To find out more about how we did that, and how you can too, check out our essential guide to saving money for a travel career break.
During those years, events come up and celebrations happen, and you begin to stress about money and worry about saving. If you’re one of these people who can just stick to their guns and say no, I admire you. That was something I had to work on.
I enjoy taking part in the festivities. I like being generous and spoiling myself and others when I can. When you’re saving and you have to say no to things, it can really get you down. You need to remain focused on the overall goal.
Over these last few years of saving, I’ve found ways to get around these problems. In this article I share some of my favourite ways to enjoy times of celebration while keeping on top of your travel savings targets at the same time.
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Whether it’s religious festivals, birthdays or weddings, giving gifts is usually part of the tradition. Then there are the politics around gift giving; making sure you’ve given a gift of equal value, checking you’ve not missed anyone off the list, and so on.
While these celebrations shouldn’t really be about spending all the money you own on things that people don’t need, that’s the trap we’ve fallen into and it can be a complete downer if you’re trying to save your money for something else.
Of course, giving gifts is enjoyable. I love seeing the smiles on the faces of the people I love when I give them a present they really like. But, for these last few years at least, I made a promise to myself that I was going to save for something really important to me.
Putting yourself first is not selfish. Alright, technically it is by definition, but looking after yourself and doing something you want to do is important. Friends and family will understand that. After all, do you want the people you care about to look after themselves and achieve what they want to achieve?
Spend time, not money
There is a common misconception that you must buy someone a gift to show them that you care. Wrong. Spending money on something you don’t even know the person wants is a colossal waste of time.
You will have a talent or skill that will be useful to the person you would like to buy a gift for. Whether you know it or not. You just need to think. Instead of spending money, choose to spend some of your time.
Offer to clean someone’s kitchen, proofread an assignment, walk the dog, paint a picture, sew a cross stitch, knit a scarf, teach them a new skill, write them a song, bake them a cake, cook them a meal, share a new TV show with them – the list goes on.
The chances are that you will actually enjoy it more because you will get to spend some quality time with your loved one. If they are worthy of a gift, then they are worth your time to come up with something more creative than a box of chocolates.
Set a gift spending limit and let people know
Like I’ve said before, gift-giving is enjoyable. However, it doesn’t need to be so expensive. Being honest about what you are going to spend on people allows them to match what you can afford.
No on wants to feel awkward when you’re sat around a table exchanging presents, only to find that the person you spent a fiver on has spent ten times more on you.
Set people’s expectations and be OK to talk about it. I have no idea why money and gifts are such taboo topics, but let’s start breaking that down right now.
Do Secret Santa
Secret Santa is the perfect way to give gifts for Christmas. Everyone receives one, everyone buys one and everyone is involved. With Secret Santa, everyone already knows the rules so there is no explaining to do beforehand.
You set a spending limit, draw a name from a hat (or an online generator) and buy that person a gift. When we do it with friends, we always try to keep the spending limit as low as possible. It makes it more interesting because you really have to think outside the box.
Get creative with your wrapping
You’d be surprised how much you can spend on fancy wrapping paper, gift tags, bows and bags. It all adds up and it’s all money you could be saving.
Instead of doing that, why not try getting creative with recycled newspaper, cardboard boxes or magazines. Make a talking point out of the fact that you’re saving for a travel career break.
People will enjoy the novelty of it. In all honesty, you get the same experience from it. At the same time, you’re doing a little bit to help save the environment.
Put an extra £1 away per week
During the year it’s a great idea to put £1 or a couple of dollars into a piggy bank or electronic savings vault at least once a week. Come Christmas time or other celebrations, you’ll have a little buffer that will help tide you over.
I know £52 doesn’t sound like a lot, but you can make it go quite far if you try. This way, you’re not eating into the travel savings, but you’re also not needing to spend all of your wage on one event.
When I was little, me and my sister used to get 20p pocket money per day to spend on sweets. One year we decided to put our 20ps into a box every day. We saved £12 over 1 month (that’s a long time for a kid).
We were so happy that we were able to buy something for our parents for Christmas. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it does make a difference.
Send electronic cards
A box of Christmas cards can be expensive nowadays, and individual birthday or wedding cards can rack up over the year.
There are plenty of fun, free ways to send cards or notifications online. Use that to your advantage. Not only are you saving your pennies, you’re also helping the environment.
If we’re honest, cards are pretty pointless anyway. You put them up for a couple of days and then they go straight into recycling. Of course, there are always those beautiful cards with really personal messages that you like to cling on to, but they are few and far between.
Invite friends over for drinks, rather than going out
Even if you live in a tiny shared flat like we do, you can still invite people over. Your friends won’t care if your furniture is a bit worn or if you don’t have matching glasses. If that is what they care about the most, then I would ask you to reevaluate your friendship.
No, simply invite people over, get some cheap cider you can disguise with mulling spices, and enjoy some good old-fashioned talking.
Do you know how much it costs in London nowadays for a pint or beer? Anywhere between £4 and £7. Three of those and that’s a whole week’s worth of travel savings turned into empty calories and regrets.
Don’t go shopping during the Boxing Day sales
Yes, that £60 pair of boots does have 50% off, but what good is that if you didn’t need them anyway. You’d just be spending £30 on something you don’t need. Are you even going to wear them?
And, don’t forget that you’re going to be putting your belongings into storage when you travel. Are they good enough to warrant paying for storage space? Probably not. If you don’t go to the shops (or visit the websites) then you won’t spend any unnecessary money.
Set a budget for the work Christmas party
You’re planning a career break, which means you have a job, and jobs have Christmas parties. (Even those who are self-employed can go out and enjoy a few celebratorary drinks. Alex and I are having our very own career gappers Christmas party).
It’s so easy to get carried away at these things. It’s the end of the year and you want to let your hair down. Just remember what you’re saving for and why you’re doing it.
You’re excited for a Christmas break? Trust me, that feeling with be amplified by many levels on that last day of work before a six-month career gap. Set yourself a budget for the party and stick to it. Only take cash and an emergency credit card that doesn’t allow you to withdraw any more.
Don’t buy new clothes for the Christmas party
You might not get to go out very often and you probably want something sparkly or sharp for the office Christmas do. Instead of buying a new outfit, spruce up something you already have.
Get creative with sequins and buttons. Try out some home die. Watch some YouTube videos to get inspiration.
You do not need new clothes. If you don’t believe me now, you will when you get back from your travel career break.
Book into a hostel, not a hotel
For some reason, people still turn their nose up at hostels. Most of the hostels we’ve stayed in have been better than hotels and a fraction of the price!
Especially over festive periods, hotels can bump up their prices to meet demand, but a hostel will always have you covered. Book into a private room if you’re not ready for sharing bunks in a dorm yet.
Also, if you’re travelling somewhere new to see friends or family, or attend a wedding, a hostel is a much better option for getting information about where to eat and drink, and what else to see while you’re there.
Plan in advance
We all know it’s cheaper to book things in advance. Of course, last-minute deals can sometimes save you money, but they are also unpredictable.
Do yourself a favour, and if you’re travelling somewhere to celebrate, plan and book in advance. That includes hostels, transport, maybe even a nice little Groupon voucher for a meal while you’re there.
Food and drink
Don’t buy loads of gimmicky Christmas food or drink
Mince pies are OK. But seriously, companies make so much money just by changing the colour of packaging and upping the price during the holidays.
Don’t fall for it. Show those advertisers that you’re onto them and put down that family box of chocolate fingers.
Just stick to your regular, normal food shopping. Your wallet – and probably your health – will thank you for it later.
Eat what’s in season
This isn’t just a tip for special occasions, this is a rule to live by. When you eat produce based on seasonality, it’s much cheaper and it’s better for the environment.
Many supermarkets do special weekly deals on fruit and veg (or at least they do in the UK), so just buy them instead of your usual.
Don’t worry if you’re not too handy in a kitchen. Google and YouTube are your friends. Take some time to learn about new ways of cooking – this will set you up well for life on the road.
Make the most of offers, vouchers and discounts
Everything is always on offer. OK, so that’s a massive overstatement but there are plenty of discounts and offers for you to utilise.
Before you buy something, spend ten minutes seeing if you can find a voucher code online. Also try to take advantage of deals that come by email.
For example, we had an email that gave us £20 off if we spent £60 on an online shop. Sure, we don’t usually spend that much, but that’s £20 worth of free stuff. Spend it on things that can be stored in a kitchen cupboard, like pasta, rice and tins, and you’ve saved yourself a fortune.
However, be sure to only use deals that you would actually buy or need. Don’t get suckered in by something you weren’t planning to get anyway.
Buy in bulk
This might not always be possible, but it’s definitely more economically savvy to buy groceries in bulk. Washing powder doesn’t spoil, so why not spend slightly more to get twice as much?
Even if you live on your own, there are things you can buy in bulk that will help you save money over time. Remember you’re in the savings game for a long time. It might seem like a large amount to spend up front, but it is worth it in the long run.
Buy a cheap cake and decorate it yourself
Some celebrations wouldn’t be the same without a cake. However, cake can get expensive. Even baking a cake from scratch isn’t always the most cost-effective way.
One idea I’ve used before is to buy a cheap, basic cake from the supermarket and decorate it yourself. Depending on what is on offer, you can purchase icing and sprinkles, or cover it in fruit and cream.
This will really reduce your spends, but it doesn’t lose the message that you wanted to take some time to bake a nice cake for a person or a celebration.
Make your own Christmas jumper
You probably have an old sweater lying around somewhere. Why not get creative with it? There are tons of videos on YouTube showing you how to make Christmas jumpers.
If you don’t have an old sweater at home, see if you can buy one second hand. And if you’re not up for making your own, why not ask around to see if you friends or family have one you can borrow for the occasion?
Go and visit your local community decorations
Most local councils and communities have decorations somewhere in a town square or main street. Make an evening of it by going out with friends and family to see all of the decorations in your local area.
Even better, take a flask of hot chocolate, and if you enjoy taking photos then bring your camera to practice low-light shots. This will come in handy when you’re travelling!
Evenings like this make you feel all warm and fuzzy, and you get to experience decorations without having to spend any money.
Use Freecycle or ask friends and family for unwanted decorations
Thousands of pounds are spend on decorations every year. There will be someone you know who has unwanted decorations in a box in their attic or cupboard. Ask around and see what you can find.
You don’t need new decorations to get into the holiday mood. If you can’t find any old stuff among family and friends, join some local groups online where people sell and swap unwanted items.
The Freecycle network is active in countries all over the world. This is an online community that encourages people to give away their unwanted things. It saved us so much money when we were working towards our career break, not only for decorations but also when we moved to a new flat and needed furniture.
Looking after yourself
Talk to people about why you’re saving
During the holiday season or special occasions, people start asking you to take part in a lot of activities. Everyone’s in a happy mood and wanting to reconnect with friends.
When you’re watching your pennies it can be really hard to stay on top of this. However, the best thing you can do is explain to friends and family that you don’t have endless money to spend because you’re saving for a travel career break.
Talking about it will remind you of why you’re doing it. You’ll get excited about it even more, and people will be most likely be understanding.
Give yourself a treat (but set a limit)
It is alright to treat yourself while saving. In fact, I encourage it. When you buy or do something special for yourself it can make you feel happy.
However, set a limit for how much you want to spend and how much time you have. Sticking within a budget, and knowing you’re doing so to take a travel career break, makes it all the more rewarding.
Spend your time off work planning your career gap, reading books and watching films
During holidays and special occasions you often have a lot of downtime. Use that time to do something productive but relaxing.
Read books and watch films about places you want to go, and things you want to do on your career gap. For more ideas, check out my article on how to satisfy your wanderlust while you’re at home.
This gives you something constructive to do without actually having to do a lot at all. We usually spend a lot of time over the holidays watching films and TV, so why not swap that for something that is going to help you plan your career gap?
You could even set aside dedicated time to research your career gap. Looking at blogs and searching for places on Instagram can be really fun and inspiring. See our travel planning guide for more ideas.
When all said and done, it’s your money. If you’re choosing to save it to take a career break than that is your choice to make, and no one else’s.
Some people aren’t very good at this – me included – but you must say no. There will be things that you’re invited to that you feel you ‘should’ go to, but it’s probably going to eat into your savings.
Never do anything because you feel like you should. Only ever do things that you want to and are within your budget.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas to keep on top of your travel savings during holiday seasons and special events. I’ll keep updating this list with any more ideas that I find.
Join the conversation on travel savings
If you have any great tips for saving money during the holiday season, please leave them in the comments below.
You may also be interested to read our articles on how much it costs to travel the world, six steps to making your travel career break a reality and finding a job when you return from travelling.
Are you looking for practical gift ideas for the traveller in your life? Check out our suggestions for gifts for someone going travelling.
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