I often get asked how I manage to travel so frequently and the answer is simple really: I’m very good at saving and planning. My favourite saving tip is Warren Buffett’s “Don't save what is left after spending; spend what is left after saving”. The man isn’t worth USD71 billion for no reason. This is what I do, and you can do it too!
1. Get your priorities straight
- I know someone who has “been wanting to go to Japan for yearrrs” and they would always talk about it. This was more than 1.5 years ago and while they’re at home doing their nails, still have not set a foot in Japan, I’ve been there 3 times. If you really want something, work hard for it, and save for it. Don’t use mortgage as an excuse, because everybody has debts, it’s how we prioritise. I don’t put all of my money into mortgage, not even half. Each fortnight 1/3 of my pay goes into the house, 1/3 goes into savings and I spend the remaining 1/3. If you want to fast-track it and reduce the interest, good for you, but don’t feel sorry for yourself and feel sorry for yourselfwhenever you see people travel, you just look pathetic. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that person anymore.
2. Know who your friends are
- It's good to have friends, be sociable, go to parties and all but they all cost money. There are only a handful of people that I am more than happy to spend money on, and they know who they are. If I'm invited to a party by someone whom I'm not close to, I have no problems declining it. If you have FOMO (fear of missing out), this might be something you'd like to overcome.
3. Subscribe to services
- I subscribe to a lot of airlines, mainly because of their cheap fare alerts. I also check out flights often, as sometimes airlines have unannounced sales. I scored return tickets from Perth to Osaka last year for a mere $420, true story. FuelWatch is a fantastic tool to compare fuel prices within WA, the prices are accurate and displayed a day in advance so that you can make plans to fill up accordingly.
4. No expensive habits
- I don’t smoke, have fake nails, pay for gym memberships (I go for runs instead), go to masseurs or spas or anything like that. I'm not fussy with my hair so I get it cut by student hairdressers at Taylor Weir, which costs ~$20 each time instead of ~$70 at professional hair salons. I particularly don’t enjoy going shopping. Being obsessed with clothes, shoes, handbags, beauty products etc, especially paying for them at full price, is a strange concept to me. My favourite pair of shorts is 5 years old, cost me like 15 bucks, and I still wear them. I don’t watch TV anymore but even when I used to, we never had paid channels. It’s a waste of money, that’s what fast internet is for.
5. Use cheap mobile/internet plans
- My phone plan has been $10/month for nearly 3 years (200MB data + $165 text n’ talk credit) until recently, I increased it to $15/month to enable 4G reception (400MB data + $200 text n’ talk credit). My Naked ADSL plan is $60/month for 100GB. This doesn’t apply to me but a lot of networks combine multiple mobile plans, home phone and internet together so shop around until you find the one that suits you.
6. Reduce electricity and water usage
- Sounds straight forward and downright cliché but not everyone does this. I opt for the fan instead of air con in summer if the temperature is below 36oC (97F), and in winter I layer up instead of using the heater. For the garden I use solar lights. If no one is at home for more than a day we turn the water valve and wall power outlets off.
7. Enter competitions
- Don’t have the mentality of “I’ll never win, so many people are entering”. You’ll never know your luck until you win it. So far I’ve managed to score a $100 Grill'd gift voucher, double passes to a Kesha concert (don’t ask), a movie, a musical, a festival, and a 24-month magazine subscription. At the end of the day, you only regret what you didn’t do, right?
8. Work over-time
- People always question my sanity whenever I do OT after a 10-hour shift but you know what, that’s where the money is. Let’s put this into perspective: If I could earn 1/5 of my return tickets to Vietnam for doing 2 hours extra, bring it on!
9. Tax refund
- Always keep receipts and declare them when you do your tax. Also remember that if you go overseas, you can claim GST back (normally 10%) according to the Tourist Refund Scheme, if your purchase is valued more than $300 and the purchase date is no more than 60 days before your travel date. If you buy technology off the internet though make sure the items aren’t tax-free.
11. Avoid paid parking
- I never pay for parking unless I really have to. If I go somewhere that doesn't offer free parking, I'd find free parking around the place and walk there. Whenever I need to go to the city, I'd park in Northbridge and walk down, even in summer. It only takes 15 minutes, I can take as long as I want and what a great way to exercise! Saving 3-5 dollars at a time doesn't seem like a big deal but if you can save that amount three times a week, that's $500-800 saved a year. Return tickets to New Zealand anyone?
12. No branded things
- Unless it’s a Tiger rice cooker, or anything else that requires reliability, I'd buy the generic brands. You think it’s only a few dollars cheaper, but it all adds up. Fashion-wise I definitely don’t go for designer brands. I tend to buy dresses from dotti, jeans from Jeanswest, underwear from Victoria's Secret and other things for cheap on eBay. If it has a bottom, 4 surrounding pieces of fabric and sturdy handles, I’d opt for that $20 bag instead of the $2000 Gucci thank you. I especially don’t spend a lot of money on wallets. I think it’s ironic to spend shit load of money on the one thing that is supposed to hold your money in the first place.
13. No full-priced or unnecessary things
- I can’t remember when the last time I buy anything full-priced was, be it grocery, clothes, electronics or even books. If I have to shop for summer clothes, I wait until the end of summer and do it, and that applies for every season. I hear you say “But you won’t get the sizes you want!”. Well if I didn’t buy it 3 months ago, probably because I didn’t need it then, so if I can’t get the sizes that I want now, it’s fine. Consider it money saved, I didn’t really need it anyway. Even when I'm buying discounted clothes, there's a price range that I stick to: Tops/skirts/shorts < $15, casual dresses < $30, jeans < $65, fancy dresses < $100. Just remember though, only because something is on sale doesn't mean you need it. If you buy things because you like or want them, rather than need them, they're just gonna cluster your home and empty your bank account.
14. Don't be afraid to haggle
- It's probably the inner Asian in me that comes out everytime I go shopping but I almost always ask for discounts. If you're doing grocery shopping and it's the last item of the day, ask to combine with other products for a cheaper price. If you're going clothes shopping and there's a (washable) stain or (fixable/hideable) tear on the garment, ask for a few dollars off. If you're buying a new laptop, ask for a free bag. What about free memory cards, pouches or cleaning products while getting a new camera? Don't be shy, be persistent but polite. Once in Hong Kong, a teapot set that I wanted was priced at something ridiculous like $75 each. I walked away with 2 for $40.
10. Shop online
- There’s a stigma for online shopping, a lot of people don’t trust it, and that’s fine. But I’ve done it on eBay for 10 years now and have not had any problems. Shopping online is cheaper because the businesses obviously don’t need to pay rent or labour. If you don’t need the items straight away, are willing to wait for 4-6 weeks then eBay is the place for you. Of course always check the credibility of the sellers. If they have more than 2000 positive transactions, that’s normally a good sign. I recently took advantage of eBay’s 20% discount off electronic goods and bought a new camera body plus 3 lenses for 3.6k instead of 4.5k from Kogan. $900 saved right there!
OUT n' About
15. Buy in bulk, cook in bulk
- We buy groceries in bulk, cook meals in bulk, freeze them then reheat them when we need to. It saves us a lot of time, electricity and gas. I’m an easy eater so it works for me, but might not work for those who want different (fresh) meals everyday.
16. Buy coupons/deals/vouchers
- Ever since I started buying vouchers online (2011), it's saved me a lot of money. Being a foodie it enables me to try food at new places without costing an arm and a leg. Spend only $45 for $100 spending credit or $129 for a 3-course truffle degustation for 2? Don’t mind if I do! Just make sure you don’t forget to use them, because a lot of businesses count on buyers’ forgetfulness. The main deal sites that I use are Scoopon, Groupon, LivingSocial & OurDeal, they’re trust-worthy, have good deals and great customer service in case you need a refund. Dimmi has fantastic flash sale deals for 50% off food bills and you earn points by simply using the site to book and write reviews. It's also a good idea to check out reviews on urbanspoon to see if the place is really worth it.
17. Join free membership/reward programs
- I have around 30 memberships that I’ve signed up for over the years. I only use about 5 mostly (flybuys, Priceline, Boost Juice, utopia, Nando's), but the others, I signed up because I could. I don’t say no to the chances of getting discounts. At one point I had a separate wallet just for membership cards. A lot of these places offer freebies on your birthday, even if you haven’t been back for ages, so milk it!
18. Use credit cards
- Unlike most money saving tips out there that advise against the use of credit cards, I know my spending habits and how to manage my money so I take full advantage of my credit card’s awards system. I try to pay with AMEX as much as possible as it offers way more Awards points for every dollar spent, compared to Mastercard (2.5 vs 1). Also if using AMEX is only a few dollars more than Mastercard (AMEX usually incurs a higher fee), that would be my choice of usage. By using credit card to book flights, Commonwealth Bank (CBA) gives me complimentary travel insurance, given that I spend more than $1000 on return flights and accommodation. CBA also offers extended warranty on purchases covered by Australian warranty, what’s not to love?
19. Take advantage of your credit card’s Awards system
- I have a friend who mainly redeems credit card points for flights and fancy hotels. Travelling for free, yes please! But she lives in the US and our Australian banks are stingier than that. Okay I can’t really speak for any other banks but CBA makes us redeem points with Flight Centre, whom only works with full-priced tickets. If I can get a return trip to Sydney with Jetstar for $350, no way I’m gonna spend $600+ with Qantas. On my birthday, however, my bank offered me a 10% discount for point redemption so I exchanged them for some fuel vouchers. Free fuel for months! If your bank has an amazing redemption system, let everyone know so we can all save!
20. Pack food before going on a trip
- Whether it’s a road trip or a flight, I always try to bring my own food. I make things that don’t have a strong smell nor require heating up, and can stay fresh for long, like sushi, or fried eggs on rice.
21. Sleep in the car
- My boyfriend and I take a lot of road trips together and recently I’ve been doing a lot of milky way/star shootings. Since we’re gonna be awake during the night, it would be a waste of money to book accommodation so we rent 4WDs and sleep in them. They’re big enough for 2 people (Hyundai ix35 is my favourite, so roomy and my boyfriend can stretch his legs fine (he’s 175cm or 5’8” tall)), run more smoothly compared to 2WDs and have loads of room to store things. Probably not the best thing to do during winter but imagine a cool summer night, sleeping by the beach, under the stars. Yep, been there done that!
22. Look up currency exchange rates at destination
- If you’re going overseas, look up the currency exchange rates at the local banks, and compare it to several banks and currency exchange agencies at home. You then can make the decision to either carry cash over there to exchange, exchange money at home, or withdraw from overseas’ ATMs. I don’t use a cash passport or travel money card, I’m more comfortable with carrying cash because more often exchanging cash at the destination is more profitable. Although if I have to pay for anything more than $50, I’d use my credit card if possible. The exchange rates won’t be that much different, yet I get to earn points. Also check out Citibank Plus everyday account, which offers no monthly account fee, no international ATM withdrawal fee and free international transfers with selected banks (thanks Aosheng for the tip!).
23. Plan your trips in advance
- If you have your trips planned months in advance, more often you would get cheaper tickets. If possible try not to go during school holidays, plane tickets are way cheaper during off-peak periods, and so are accommodations. Furthermore, planning early ensures you have the flight, accommodation and/or mode of transportation that you want, at the price that you want.
24. Travel light
- I travel extremely light so most of the time I don’t pay for luggage, which saves me at least $100 per return flight. If your hand luggage doesn’t look bulky, the check-in staff most of the time won’t ask to weigh it. I also opt for web check-in option, print out my boarding pass and go straight to the gate. Again if your hand luggage doesn’t look bulky, the boarding staff will greet you with a smile and let you through. If all else fails, pray. I find travelling light works for all seasons except winter. I normally only bring 2 shorts, 3 tops, PJs and enough undergarment for my summer trips, an extra pair of jeans, a beanie and a scarf for spring & autumn. In summer wash my clothes everynight and hang them out to dry, in spring & autumn I don't sweat as much so not much washing is needed. This wouldn't work in winter due to the bulkiness of the clothes themselves, they won't fit into your little suitcase too nicely, are heavier and no way they would dry overnight, unless you resort to a dryer.
25. Fly with budget airlines
- I don’t really care if the airline serves complimentary food during the flight, I normally sleep through my flights anyway, so flying budget suits me just fine. If you know you’d get hungry on the flight, stuff yourself before you go, or buy something small that you can eat on the plane. No flight entertainment, no problems. I have an iPod, that would keep me entertained for hours. I know a lot of people have had problems with AirAsia and Jetstar but they are my favourite budget airlines, AirAsia for their on-time performance (plus they have the BEST inflight magazine) and Jetstar for their ease of online check-in (during which you get free seat assignment).
26. Sleep in dorms/hostels/capsule hotels
- If you’re a solo traveller and don’t mind sharing space with strangers, staying in dorms or hostels is the way to go. Instead of spending $70 on a hotel room, a bed in a dorm can be as cheap as $7/night. Capsule hotels are my new favourite things, you get privacy in your own pod but still have the human contact. My favourite capsule hotels include Capsule by Container (Kuala Lumpur airport, klia2 terminal), Nine Hours (Narita airport, terminal 2), Hotel Shin-Imamiya (Osaka) and Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae (Tokyo). Just make sure you read reviews before booking, some aren’t as clean and/or quiet as others.
27. Use booking websites instead of booking directly
- I use agoda and booking to book my accommodation. I used hotels briefly to take advantage of their newcomers’ stay-10-get-1-free reward but that was it, they don’t have the variety that agoda and booking offer. Agoda is my main resource, as I can earn points, and I like pre-paying for my accommodation, in Australian currency. I use booking as a back up to cross check prices and sometimes prices on booking are cheaper than agoda. The good thing about booking is that most places offer free cancellation until a few days before, unlike agoda where they charge you a USD15 cancellation fee for the majority of places. Same goes for car rentals, I always use Airport Car Rentals because it cross checks all car rental companies, and most of the time it’s cheaper to booking with ACR than booking straight with the company. Skyscanner is a super useful tool to check and/or book plane tickets but always cross check with the airline’s website, sometimes it’s cheaper booking straight with the airline if you only travel with hand-carry. Skyscanner opts for full service, hence the higher price. Hopper is a new service where it predicts price drops in plane tickets but I have yet to try it out.
Last but not least...
30. BE HAPPY 😄😄
- The happier you are, the less stress you're gonna feel and the less "retail therapy" you're gonna need! Most people like to reward themselves after a stressful time by splurging on an expensive purchase or booking a holiday last-minute. If it's within reasons, you can afford it and will not beat yourself up about it, go for it. Otherwise always think twice about the "reward" that you're getting yourself (into). I like to reward myself with food and would not hesitate to splurge on special occasions, but I always ensure that I am financially prepared and will not physically feel guilty after eating a 10-course degustation at Balthazar.
28. Eat local food
- For example if you’re going to Asian countries and constantly want pasta, a steak or burgers, you might as well stay home. Firstly you’re not getting the full experience being overseas and secondly, Western food is a lot more expensive over there. Why not try the local food such as nasi lemak when you’re in Malaysia, nasi campur in Indonesia, bibimbap in Korea, chicken rice in Singapore; stuff yourself with bánh mì thịt (pork roll) in Vietnam, dim sum in China, siu yuk (roast pork) in Hong Kong, kaeng phet (red curry) in Thailand, lechon (suckling pig) in the Philippines or simply pig out at night markets in Taiwan? Whenever I’m in Japan, I’d eat on average of 8 onigiri (rice balls) a day. They’re about 110yen ($1.3) each and I’d have 4 for breakfast and 4 to snack throughout the day. They’re cheap, come in 10+ different flavours, easy to carry around and fill you up!
29. Budget your trip
- Every trip is as cheap or as expensive as you make it. Everybody questions how I can afford Japan 3 times within 13 months when it’s such an expensive country to travel to. It really is all about planning and sticking to your budget. Last February I booked my November return trips 9 months early for $420, my accommodation usually cost around $40/night, and I only spent $700 on a 12-day trip in April. I’d also rather sleeping at the airport overnight, than spending on accommodation for only a few hours, unless the airport offers capsule hotels at a reasonable price.
So those are my tips! They might not work for everyone but that’s what I’ve been doing for years and looks like things work out just fine :). Thank you so much for reading the lengthy post, let me know if these are helpful, which your favourites are, and feel free to share your own!
If you're feeling especially generous and want to make a difference today, please donate to Live Below the Line! The organisation focuses on improving education conditions in Cambodia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. Otherwise you can just follow my LBL blog for fun and see HOW I SAVE ON FOOD MONEY for 5 days by spending only $10! 😄😄
Have a happy hungree day!