Let's Talk About Saving Money: My Background and Beliefs About Saving
After traveling to 20 countries over the past 11 years, I thought that eventually the things people asked me about travel would change. Because over that time, travel has changed significantly.
When I went on my first international trip, I didn't have a smartphone. Or a Facebook account. Much less Instagram, WhatsApp, a travel blog, and a legitimate backpacker's pack. But no matter how many new technologies and platforms come out to make travel easier, I still regularly get asked the same 2 questions I was getting asked at the very beginning.
What's my favorite place I've ever visited (an impossible question to answer) and
How do I afford to travel (a question that does have an answer, even though it isn't very glamorous or magical)…
I can afford to travel because I save money.
On all the blogs I've ever written, I've shied away from talking about personal finance for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that I work in finance (or at least, I used to) so I know how different people's financial situations can be. However, the more I read online and on social media about travel, the more convinced I am that if you are going to talk about travel online, you should also be talking about money.
Because if I am still getting asked how to fund travel in the age of instant access to all the online information in the world, then it is obvious that travel bloggers as a whole aren't doing a great job of answering this question about how we fund our travels.
My Savings Background
Early on in my career, the reason I didn't write about saving money or even talk about it with my friends was because I thought everyone was already doing it.
My mom opened a savings account for me before I was a teenager. I'd put my allowance and Christmas money into the account using paper deposit slips, and I had a little paper book where the banker would record my balance by hand each time I went to visit the bank. Other kids would spend their money on toys or makeup or clothes, and I would spend mine to see the balance in that little paper book increase (we can discuss the overall implications of this upbringing some other time, but the material point is that I was born and bred a saver).
By the time I got my first job at Subway just after turning 15, I was an old pro at the savings game… and got two good years of saving in before graduating from high school. Throughout college, I made sure a (very) tiny portion of my various part-time restaurant and internship paychecks was going into savings, even though I was using most of that money for living expenses at the time. That savings account, my various income sources, scholarships and help from my family allowed me to ultimately graduate college with zero debt… and no money left in my accounts, which is why I started work full time directly after graduation.
But still, I broke even… and that was the goal.
Let's Talk About Privilege
Another reason I haven't written about funding travel, even after entering the workforce and realizing my relationship with saving money isn't entirely normal, is that I recognize I'm privileged.
The fact that my parents taught me to save, the fact that I was born in a place with access to reliable financial institutions where I could open a savings account, the fact that my parents themselves always saved and had money to contribute to college tuition, my mom's choice to spend her career working for a company that offered a tuition benefit for their employees' children, the fact that I had a roof over my head and plenty to eat so that I could focus on working and making the type of grades that paid off in the form of academic scholarships, the fact that I live in a place with employment opportunities, and the fact that all of these privileges culminated in a full-time offer of employment starting one month after graduation… those are the privileges I was born with. Even the U.S. passport I hold is a privilege, because it allows me to travel to most of the places I want to visit relatively easily… a privilege that passport holders from a variety of countries around the world simply don't possess.
I always thought that if I wrote about saving money, people would immediately scoff and quit reading my blog. "Well, of course I could save for travel if I worked in finance and had no student debt"… that type of thing.
But there are some issues with that line of thinking.
First, I was saving my own money way before I worked in finance, so I know firsthand that you can start saving on any level of income. At this point over five years into my career, I know just as many people making around $30,000 annually who save some money as I do people earning nearly $100,000 annually who don't. Second, saving money is such an integral part of almost everything I write about— buying and renovating my fixer upper, traveling, and most recently quitting my job— that it feels like a serious omission to not discuss saving money more directly on my blog. Finally, at some point, I have to stop feeling personally responsible for other people choosing to quit reading my blog, because that's their choice to make… and I guess this is that point.
Because a few eye rolls, scoffs, and even lost readers are worth it to me if I can inspire one person to save a bit of their paycheck this month who wasn't already doing so.
Saving Money Is a Choice
If you live in a developed country, have access to reliable financial institutions, and make a consistent living wage that allows you to meet your needs, and you aren't saving any of your money, it's because you are choosing not to save. Yes, I acknowledge this is at least a two part decision for most people: you may choose to accrue a level of expenses that is equal to every cent you earn each month, and therefore there is no money left to save. But accruing the expenses was also a choice… or a collection of choices, generally made over years, to prioritize things other than saving money. If this is your financial situation, you’re in the majority: according to a recent Bankrate survey, 65% of the U.S. population saves 10% or less of their income, with 19% saving nothing whatsoever.
I’ve noticed over the years that stating that saving is a choice has a tendency to ruffle some feathers… so let's reframe that statement. If I have a gym membership, and bring my gym clothes with me to work, but after work I don't actually go to the gym… the reason I didn't go is because I chose not to go. Most people would agree that there isn't some external factor that prevented me from going. I might have chosen to go to happy hour with a friend instead, so you could argue that I chose to prioritize my friendship over my health in that case. But it would be difficult to argue that it was someone else’s decision, because it wasn’t: it was mine.
I don't mean to sound harsh, but establishing this baseline— this core belief that saving our own money is our own responsibility— is vitally important.
Because taking responsibility for our own actions is one of the only ways we can start making positive change in any area of our lives.
Why Is Saving Money So Important?
As much as I hope everyone in the world who is able to do so starts saving their money aggressively, I know that no one can make the choice to save for you. It’s a choice you have to make for yourself. But why should you make that choice?
Because saving money gives you freedom.
I understand that people have a variety of relationships with money conceptually, and not all of those relationships are positive. But at the end of the day, money is simply a tool that allows you the freedom to do what you want. Saving your money allows you the freedom to quit your job if you need to quit, and it allows you to travel, and it allows you to self-fund a business, and it allows you to secure your ideal living situation, and it allows you to retire early if that's your goal, and it allows you to weather downturns or fund emergency expenses, and it can allow you to do hundreds of other things… the possibilities are truly endless.
But how much should you save? And where should you start? And how do you know how much to save for a large expense (like a trip?) How do you choose an amount to save each month that is both realistic and aggressive for your personal financial situation? And how do you know how long it will take you to reach your goals?
These are all legitimate questions, and they are the type of questions I plan to discuss more often going forward. With this post, I wanted to get my background and history out there, as well as my core belief about saving money (that for most people reading this blog, saving money is a choice you have the power to make for yourself).
Because starting at the beginning felt like the right place to start.
Now, we can move on to the fun stuff.
What specific questions do you have about saving money? What's your relationship with saving money? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.