To my fellow millennials, college students and recent college grads – how many of you think you could afford to spend several months traipsing through Europe on your own dime?
I’m guessing if I posed this question to a crowded room, not many hands would shoot up in the air.
This travel scenario has been a dream of mine for a while now, and I’m making it a reality this summer (in fact, I’m leaving in two days!). Traveling is one of my greatest passions in life and I decided a while back that once I graduated, I would pool my savings and take an extended break from the school/work grind that has consumed my life for the past decade.
I needed a break to unwind and unload. To remember what it feels like to not have a half dozen different projects, papers and exams all due the same week. To spend time with my loved ones, resurface my hobbies, go for long runs and embrace uninhibited free time.
So just a few months ago, I bought a one-way ticket to Barcelona with Niko.
One-way ticket: $268
Yes, you read that correctly.
Our jaws dropped when we saw this price listed on Google Flights. $268. Some people walk out of Lululemon with a receipt higher than that. Niko and I scanned flight prices for the entire month of June (since I was graduating mid-May) and purchased the cheapest ticket we could find. We decided to start in Spain, and then weave our way throughout Europe for a three-month span (due to recent employment, our trip has been cut shorter, but we will still be there for two full months!).
Flights are typically the biggest upfront cost for travel. And some of you may not even have $268 in your checking or savings account right now. So here’s a little insight into how I’ve managed to save more than five figures during my college career…
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1. Paid internships and jobs during the school year and summer
I will start by saying that I am incredibly fortunate because I graduated with a diploma in hand and zero student debt. This is certainly not the case for most college students, but there are still plenty of ways to make traveling on a college budget work.
For the past 2.5 years, I’ve had paid internships and jobs during the school year, plus sporadic babysitting gigs. When my second semester of sophomore year began, I realized I wanted to have some extra cash on hand, so I started working at a local boutique right near my apartment. I only worked about 8-12 hours per week because I still wanted to have plenty of time to devote to academics and social activities, but it really helped me begin building my savings.
I started putting away a portion of my paycheck into savings every month, and that’s truly where it all began. It wasn’t much money, but it was enough to build a base and I held myself accountable for never dipping into that account unless there was an emergency.
By the time my junior year rolled around, I obtained a paid internship as a digital marketing intern. I got a slight pay jump from my boutique job, which enabled me to funnel more funds into savings. I received a monthly stipend from my parents for groceries and gas, and I found that I was able to live almost entirely on that sum each month, while socking away the majority of my internship salary.
I also kept my cash flow strong during the summertime through various jobs and internships. This is where I saved a huge chunk of money, because I worked more hours and thus received thicker paychecks. Plus, working doesn’t mean “giving up your summers” because I still found plenty of time to travel and do fun things on the weekends.
- Excel sheets
- Written expense logs
Living on a monthly allowance or salary means you have to become a solid budgeter. I had to make a lot of cutbacks. I didn’t stick to any sort of rigid budget because that’s not my style, but everyone has different preferences.
For instance, some of my friends have made intricate excel sheets to help budget out all of their purchases.
For me, I just always try to think twice before I buy something and consider whether I really need it, and I have a journal log to record my monthly expenses and income. This is not meant to be stressful or cumbersome; I find it helpful having an outline of how much I’m spending and earning each month.
Start thinking about your monthly purchase categories (food, gas, clothing, debt, etc.) and begin working on cutting back in certain areas. A few examples of cutbacks include…
- Buying store brand products at the grocery store instead of name brands. I constantly buy “It’s Berry Special” from Harris Teeter instead of Special K Red Berries cereal, which saves me almost $2 a pop!
- Switching to secondhand stores for clothing, accessories, home goods and more. I’ve been a major thrift store proponent for years now (my friends have even deemed me the “Thrift Store Queen”) because there are so many dirt cheap, unique finds.
- Eating out less. I stick to eating out only 1-2 times per week because then it makes the occasion more special, plus it keeps your wallet happy.
- Cutting back on random splurges. The sundress you don’t really need, the latest fad gadget, the nights out where you buy three too many drinks…you might find your money disappearing to these costly expenses. Although I’ll always support the occasional “treat yourself” day. 🙂
TBH…I even began searching for the cheapest gas stations in town to fill up my car. My mom always teases me for worrying about a few cents in gas, but I’m telling you, it adds up!
3. Finding unique ways to make extra money
- Resell apps
- Secondhand clothing stores
- Yard sales
Over the years, I have discovered several unique ways to make money, while also emptying my closet. I’ve used an app called Poshmark since 12th grade to sell my clothing, shoes and accessories. It’s served as an easy and effective way to purge my overwhelming amount of stuff, while also putting money back in my pocket.
The best part? I’ve profited from most of the clothing I’ve sold. I often spend anywhere from $3-15 on clothing items at consignment shops, and then I am able to sell those items for up to five times as much as I spent. It’s become my savvy businesswoman technique – buy a cute top, wear it a few times, then put it up on Poshmark and make all my money back. And then some.
I’ve developed an eye for what I know will sell on Poshmark. I can head to a thrift store and find Lilly Pulitzer skirts, Lucky jeans and super funky hipster sweaters that all sell like hotcakes. It’s hit or miss, of course, but I always get excited when I see a name brand tag pop up on the clothing racks.
Guess jeans at Goodwill: $4
Guess jeans sold on Poshmark: $20
To date, I’ve made around $3,500 through selling my stuff on Poshmark.
There are many seller/buyer portals available – Craigslist, ThredUp, Free & For Sale (specific to universities), letgo, Facebook Marketplace and more.
In addition, there are lots of stores that will take your clothing and turn it into cash. For instance, I often go to Plato’s Closet with a loaded bucket of clothes, shoes and accessories and I walk out with a wad of cash. It’s hit or miss, because sometimes they only take a handful of items (or none at all), but it’s always worth a shot.
Last but not least – yard sales! I recently had a yard sale, and after five hours of people surfing through my racks of clothes and tables of homegoods, I had accumulated over $1,000. Not only did I get rid of tons of stuff I no longer needed, but I made way more money than expected. Yard sales require a good bit of work in terms of purging, organizing, pricing and advertising, but you’d be surprised how quickly you can turn your junk into money.
The expression “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rings very true in my world.
I hope this was helpful, and let me know if you have any questions about how to save and budget!