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The following list is based on the tips and tricks that I implemented to be able to travel to Europe for six months when I was 18, purely from savings accumulated from minimum wage jobs. Please remember that these tips are a guide only and based off of my own personal experiences. However, while your situation may differ slightly or greatly from mine, I truly believe that by implementing some or all of these ideas into your own life it can maximize your saving potential. And in turn this can help you achieve your travel goals! So without further ado, here are my Top 10 Ways to Save When You’re On Minimum Wage.
1. Work Smarter Not Harder
Chances are if you’re on minimum wage that you’re in some type of part-time job. This is usually because you’re busy busting your butt at school, uni or your side hustle and can’t afford to take on more hours. The good news is, you don’t have to!
I managed to go to Europe for six months and see 17 different countries all while I was working a fast food job. I knew that school was important and only committed to two shifts a week during busy school periods. I would only move up to three if I had a lull in school work and only more than that in the school holidays.
I’m not sure exactly how it works in other countries, but here in Australia we get time and a half for working Saturday shifts and double time for working Sundays. I realized pretty early on the key to saving more money with no extra effort was to pick up a weekend shift. I got through most of school working a Wednesday shift and a Sunday shift. If you’re crazy committed you can absolutely do two weekend shifts to maximize your savings. But be warned this can lead to burnout pretty quickly.
2. Move back home for a while if this is possible for you
Again, chances are if you’re working a minimum wage job this is already your situation either due to your age or financial situation. I obviously did not have the choice on this one leading up to my gap year, because I was still underage at the time. But when I was saving up for my study abroad year I chose to (and more importantly, my parents let me!) stay at home to maximize my saving potential.
I also moved back home when I was preparing to move to Melbourne for my job recently. Your parents made you and as such they are your original number one fans. If you have a good relationship with your parents, consider sticking around as long as possible, or moving back in if you’ve already moved out. Of course it should go without saying though, pull your weight and pitch in where you can to help lighten the load.
3. Make sure your friends and family know so they can support you
While we’re on the subject of family, make sure they know about your savings goals! This goes for your friends too. There’s nothing worse than feeling like a party-pooper by ditching plans that don’t fit in with your budget. However by letting all your nearest and dearest know that it’s nothing personal and you’re just being dedicated to your travel dreams, this can save a lot of hurt feelings. It also decreases the likelihood they’ll try and unknowingly tempt you with pricey outings in the first place. If will power is not exactly your strongest skill this can be a godsend!
Pro tip: the friends who know about your goals and still try and make you feel bad for missing an event here or there are not your true friends. Real friends have each others backs and you should eliminate that kind of negativity from your life if you can!
4. For the love of God, please have a budget!
I know this one seems obvious, but you would not believe the amount of friends I’ve had tell me that they want to travel, but have no concrete savings plan or budget on how to get there. My plan went a little something like this.
At my fast food job I was on about $11AUD/$7.40USD an hour (remember our cost of living in Australia is higher so it does balance out). My two shifts brought me to about $165AUD/$111USD a week, and I had the foresight to start saving for my gap year about two years in advance. This meant that if I had saved every dollar of that money I could have saved $17,160AUD/$11,564USD.
However I was smart enough to realize that, even while living at home and not having a whole lot of expenses due to my age, that it was unrealistic to think that I could save every single dollar. So I decided early on that my blow budget for the fortnight (which was how often I got paid at the time) was $50. With that $50 I could spend it on whatever I wanted – coffee, clothes, a snack from work (this happened more often than I’d like to admit), but when it was gone, it was gone. No exceptions. If I had a week where I didn’t spend the whole $50 I wouldn’t then transfer in another $50 on top. I would transfer whatever the remaining balance was to get me to that amount.
Just like people who smoke struggle to quit by going cold turkey straight away, I knew that trying to do the same on my spending was never going to happen. By giving myself a little bit of leeway to indulge in the things that make life enjoyable, I didn’t have a full meltdown and end up blowing a huge chunk of cash on a random impulse purchase. I’ve seen it happen, and believe me it is not pretty!
5. Leave the card at home
However if your impulse control isn’t quite as good as mine, just remove the temptation. Leave your card at home, and always carry an emergency $20 in case of things like a low bus pass or grabbing a loaf of bread from the store. I know these days that we have Apple Pay and similar where we can still spend without our cards. Just don’t install it, simple as that.
6. If you have to Afterpay it, you can’t afford it.
Same as above. Just don’t do it.
7. Make your savings hard to reach
This one is tried, tested, and made advocated for by much smarter people than myself, such as Scott Pape in his bestselling The Barefoot Investor. Now as most of you will know if you’ve read the book, Scott advocates for two everyday spending accounts (one for everyday expenditure such as groceries and the other is your splurge card for #treatyoself type purchases) and two savings accounts (one short-term and one long-term) within one financial institution, and then having an emergency fund (also known as “mojo”) with a different bank.
This is great advice and is what my current financial situation closely resembles now. However back when I was still in school I didn’t need this many accounts. Instead I had my $50 fortnightly allowance on my everyday transaction account with one bank and then I had my savings completely separate with another, and I never touched the card for this account. This meant if I was really tempted to splurge on something out of my budget I had to go through the process of transferring the money over and think about what I was doing. Plus PayID wasn’t a thing back then so I had to wait the 1-2 business days for it to process, and actually step away and think about if I really needed it now I was no longer in the heat of the moment.
8. Ask well-meaning relatives for cash gifts for birthday and Christmas presents instead of more crap you don’t need
I’m a big believer that as a society that we have way more crap than we actually need. Do yourself a favour and tactfully let your loved ones know that you’d prefer a cash gift for the upcoming occasion. Often we end up with those random gifts where you have to wonder what they were thinking because the person buying it has no idea what you actually want. This can save them both the time and hassle of buying you something you’ll just pretend to like, when money would have been the easier solution.
If you have relatives who are insistent on ‘getting you a little bit of something to open’ (trust me I definitely have those) think about some physical purchases that you need for your travels anyway. Some great options here can be a travel journal, document holder, destination guides or even something practical like travel insurance.
9. Make your goal a visual one
Human beings. We’re a visual bunch. That’s why so many banking apps these days will actually let you upload a picture as a savings goal to work towards. If your bank does this, I highly recommend using it. This wasn’t an option for me at the time. But what I did have was vision boards, both digitally on Pinterest, and hanging up on my bedroom wall, right opposite my bed. Whenever my goal felt out of reach, or I was tempted to indulge in a little online shopping, I would look at my board. I filled it with pictures of all the places that I was going to on my trip, with the intention that I would replace those photos of other people’s travel experiences with my own.
And guess what? That motivation was enough to fuel my fire and keep me on track. And when I got back? You best believe my vision board was then filled with my own photos of those amazing places.
10. And finally, keep your end goal in sight.
The only downside of being prepared and saving early is that it can be hard to stay motivated to keep saving when the time to travel is still so far away. And working minimum wage jobs like I did in a fast food restaurant can definitely get you down if you allow it to. But every time I didn’t want to haul my ass in for another shift, a customer yelled at me for just doing my job, or even if I really just wanted to buy those new jeans, I would stop for a minute and picture my future.
And in my future I was sitting on a beach, sipping a cocktail, and content. Content, because I knew it was my own hard work and effort that got me here, rather than on the back of a handout from my parents like a lot of people I knew. And let me tell you, that future did come true. And it was just as great as I imagined!
Did you find these tips helpful? Or have any of your own that you’d like to share? Either way, leave me a comment below!
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