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A Step by Step Guide to Get Started Budgeting

step by step guide to get started budgetingThe idea of budgeting can be a polarizing thing.

A lot of people are put off by it because of preconceived notions and confusion about how to best go about it.

If you had mentioned the word ‘budget’ to me a few years back, I probably would have looked at you strangely and dismissed it. Because, hello, who really wants to sit down and do the tedious task of looking over your spending.

Thankfully, budgeting doesn’t have to be some tedious mind destroyer if you don’t want it to. It can actually be pretty fun to do. It’s all about picking the right system and tools that work best for you.

My first foray into budgeting came when I was 18 and in my first year of college. I was working a lowly food prep position at McDonald’s and trying to figure how my money kept vanishing into thin air.

So, I downloaded the free budgeting tool Mint and got to work tracking my spending within the service. Suddenly for the first time, I was able to monitor my transactions while making goals and assigning set amounts to different spending categories.

It was kind of like a game of sorts. Being able to see how savvy I could get by staying within my set amounts for spending categories. The most prominent one being the food and groceries category, because let’s be honest, that one was a chaotic mess of late night drive-throughs, takeaway coffee, and one too many pizza deliveries.

Mint was cool but over the years, I started to want something more. To see what else was out there. Through some trial and error, I started to find my groove with budgeting.

So far, its led to hitting some pretty sweet financial goals. I was able to ditch a blue collar job I hated, move abroad for a year and a half, pay off $21,000 in student loans within 18 months, and build up a good-sized emergency fund.

If you’re ready to get organized with your money and better work toward your goals then keep reading. Here’s a step by step guide to budgeting.

Start Tracking Your Spending

Do you know where you’re money is going every month? Not in the vague “oh well I think I spent around this much on entertainment…” but in the “I spent this exact amount on entertainment last month”.

It’s easier for your money to feel like it just disappears when you’re not actively tracking it. $11 here, $18 there. It doesn’t feel like much until you add it all up.

Tracking your spending combats that. It makes you more conscious of spending decisions so you can prioritize better on what matters most to you. And hey, maybe that priority involves buying concert tickets or getting a dog. It’s all up to you!

Everyone has different priorities but tracking one’s spending is helpful to everyone.

There are a few ways to do it. You could use an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet and input it manually. For online options, a free tool like Personal Capital lets you track your spending as well as monitor your overall financial picture.

Figure Out What Motivates You

You can’t start budgeting if you’re not sure what your motivations are. A lot of people falter with budgeting because they don’t have a clear reason why they’re doing it.

Think back to some big achievements you’ve done (maybe it was getting a dream job, hitting a fitness goal, or saving up for something) You probably had a strong reason why. Channel that same inner grit into your financial goals. You’ll have a much better shot at sticking to your budget this way.

Figuring this out can take some time (i.e. it’s not something you can sit down and do within a half hour). Think about your ‘why’ during moments when you’re getting ready for bed, taking a shower, or other idle moments.

To help you stay motivated, employ some of the tips below:

  • Figure out a plan for what to do when temptation arises
  • Enlist friends help by telling them your motivations
  • Use visual reminders (whiteboards are good for this!)
  • Surround Yourself with disciplined people (personal finance facebook groups can be great for this!)

Create Financial Goals

The main purposes of a budget are to help you become mindful of your spending as well as helping you reach your financial goals in a more organized and strategic manner.

No more wingin’ it and hoping for the best. The stuff that gets measured gets improved.

Think about what financial goals you want to accomplish. These could include:

These are typical goals that people often have in common. Don’t forget to think about other goals you may have. These could include saving up for a new computer, education expenses, a new phone you want, books, or any number of things.

Think of both short-term and long-term goals you would like to hit. Make sure to look at what you value as you commit to your financial goals.

If you’re a movie buff who loves going to the cinema every week to see the latest, then cutting out going to the movies isn’t going to go over well. Cut back in other areas and brainstorm ways to do things cheaper. If you like to eat out a lot then download an app like MealPrepPro. Use something like MoviePass if you see a lot of movies.

Get small and specific with the goal. For example, saving for retirement is boring. Saving for retirement so you won’t have to live on $1,200 a month and eat beans and rice for every meal is better. You feel me? Good.

Studies show that setting small goals and checking them off motivates us to accomplish those big hairy audacious goals (BHAG) like paying off student loans or saving for something big.

Ask yourself:

  • Why exactly do I want to achieve this goal?
  • How will my life look differently by achieving this goal?

Select a budget system

Envelope method: Revolves around using cash only. You withdraw the amount of money you need for the month, put it in envelopes, and then once the money inside the envelope is gone, that’s it. You have to wait until the next month starts before spending in that category again.

Zero Sum budget: You give every dollar a job. Your budget should be zero at the end of the month. This budgeting style can help if you have a habit of mindlessly spending money on things once you pay all of your expenses.  

The awesome book, Zero Down Your Debt goes more into this. The authors used this budgeting method to help them get out of $50,000 of debt and go on to work for themselves.

50-20-30 budget: A percentage based system where 50% goes to your needs, 20% goes to your savings and debt repayments, and 30% goes to your wants.

Category budget: You assign amounts to different categories and aim to keep spending under that amount.

Choose your tools

I’ve used a selection of different tools in my budgeting journey. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I started using Mint when I was 18 and in my first year of college. For simplicity, pen and paper have also been used.

The pen and paper method didn’t work for me too well since it was completely manual. Sometimes life would get busy and I would totally forget to write down my spending. Using an online service like Mint really helped keep me on track. Currently, I’m on a free trial of You Need a Budget (YNAB) and seeing how I like it. Testing things out for the win! 🙂

Below are some different tools you can use to budget.

Pen and paper: Simplicity sometimes beats the rest. If you like writing out your expenses by hand and keeping track of spending and receipts, then you could just use a simple pen and paper or write in a notebook to budget.

Excel spreadsheet: Spreadsheets really make some people jump for joy. They can be pretty great since you’re able to input your spending and have it push it to the appropriate category and total everything for you.

You need to have Microsoft Office installed on your computer. Alternatively, some budget spreadsheets also work in Google Sheets (the free excel alternative).

Mint: Mint is that popular budgeting tool you’ve probably heard about countless times, but never really learned more about. Lots of people use it because it’s a free cloud-based service (rather than remember where you put your excel spreadsheet on your computer.) that is simple to use and categorizes your spending. 

You connect your bank account and set goals for your finances. Sign up for a free account

YNAB: You Need a Budget is similar to Mint, but it employs the specific approach of building a zero-sum budget and giving every dollar a job. It allows you to set goals, track your progress, see your spending trends over the long term and teaches you to live on your income from the last month. You budget based on what you have already earned.

It’s a paid tool that costs $6.99/month. A free 34-day trial is offered. Judging by some Reddit threads and online comments, a lot of people swear by YNAB and its many benefits compared to Mint. Sign up here

Personal Capital: This free financial planning tool allows you to budget and also monitor your net worth. You can get a full picture of your financial life by syncing your bank accounts along with your investment accounts and any assets or liabilities you have.

Sign up for a free account and get started with monitoring your spending, savings rate, and being able to monitor your overall net worth.

Whew! A lot to go through to build a budget. It’s all worth it though. Going through the steps listed and you’ll be well on your way to building a budget that works for you.

Budgeting isn’t about restricting yourself. It’s about giving your money a plan. As with a lot of things in life, budgeting doesn’t come without making a few mistakes here and there. Use this step by step budgeting guide and experiment based what works for you.

Forgive yourself, break down your goals, and create some daily actions. It’s how you get successful with budgeting. Let me know how it goes!

How did you get started budgeting? What tactics and tools worked best for you? 

The Reason Why You Should Focus on Earning More

focus on earning moreWhen money feels tight, the first thought is to cut back on expenses. In fact, a lot of money saving articles and advice would mirror the sentiment. Do you need to save some money? Go look through your spending and see where you can cut back.

It’s good advice. A lot of people still don’t track their spending or have a set budget in place. There is usually always some department to cut back in. Food, eating out, shopping, and excessive subscriptions are the popular categories to look at.

I’m sure I could cut out my Netflix and Spotify subscriptions, but I’ve kinda got some killer playlists going on and need to finish watching that British show Lovesick.  Yeah, I use the $18 a month I would save by cutting them, but it gives me some entertainment.

With this said, you’re primary focus shouldn’t be on spending less.

Despite what negative comments on money articles would lead you to believe, your $11 a month Netflix subscription isn’t the reason you can’t get ahead with your finances.

Your focus should be on earning more.

Yes, I know, you’ve probably heard the words “side hustle” uttered several times. It’s become a buzzword nowadays. However, despite the trendiness it holds, at the end of the day, it is a very helpful thing to have.

This isn’t to say spending less and frugality aren’t helpful. They are. Frugality is a muscle you can develop over time in order to limit the amount of monetary baggage you carry. It helps you learn to value what’s important and what you can really afford.

It’s a necessary habit to have throughout life. But…it shouldn’t be your main focus.

Why? Well, because the world is an expensive place. Rents are going up constantly, house prices are bananas (and not the fun Gwen Stefani kind), and wage stagnation is alive and well. It’s a lot to take in and realize, but when you’re earning a tiny paycheck and putting half of it towards your closet size apartment, cutting back won’t give you the substantial gains you probably need.

A focus on earning more isn’t just for those earning a low income, it’s for everyone. The best thing you can do to hit your financial goals is to earn more.

Frugality Has a Limit

There are two ways to cut back. The first involves cutting out the nice-to-haves. The second way involves cutting out every non-essential thing and only focusing on the bare necessities (a.k.a. the joyless budget). Frugality articles tend to focus on the first way. Internet commenters and keyboard warriors seem to focus on the second.

Either way, there comes a point when you can’t cut back anymore.

Freeing up $100 a month extra in your monthly spending can be great, but what if you have a gigantic student loan payment to make every month. How would you be able to meet that and save for your other goals like travel, retirement, wedding, or a home down payment?

Being frugal is helpful in making you mindful of your spending, but it won’t help a lot if you’re looking to work towards several savings goals and grow your wealth.

Earning More Gives You Options

If you’ve ever played any sort of video game, you would know that you get several lives for your character. So if some disastrous event happens and you get depleted, you can use another one of your lives.

Too bad life isn’t like that. Although having a side hustle can get you semi close to that feeling.

Earning more money could provide a sense of financial relief that cutting back probably would never be able to provide.

According to a 2017 study by Bankrate, 57% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. For young millennials ages 18-24, 67% have less than $1,000 in savings.

The statistics are bad but not surprising. Saving money is hard. It can be done, but what happens if you have several financial goals to hit and don’t make enough to contribute to all of them?

If you were to lose your job, have your car break down, or have an unexpected expense pop up, a few different things could play out. You could use your big emergency fund to help tide you over or you have a panic attack., scrambling to figure out how to cover your expenses.

Ideally, a big emergency fund would be great. You would have the recommended three to six months of expenses in it. Handling unexpected expenses would be okay.

The problem is fully funded emergency funds take awhile to build. I’m talking months or years to get them to full capacity.

A side hustle can give you an additional income stream to use for when you don’t have a fully funded emergency fund or enough income from your main job to reach your goals.

It Teaches You Valuable Skills

Probably the best thing that comes from having a side hustle is the skills you learn from doing it. I’ve learned more about selling, pitching myself, and being confident in my skill set with freelancing that I have ever gotten from any traditional job I’ve worked.

The two things I’m doing right now, blogging and freelance writing, have allowed me to learn a lot. Content marketing, and how to approach it at different angles, has been a skill I’ve grown from doing freelance writing. Putting together graphics for posts and Pinterest has taught me more about graphic design (although I’m still very bad at it, haha).

Changing things around on my site and WordPress theme has made me better at understanding WordPress as a content management system.

Simply put, you can learn a lot from having a side hustle. A focus on earning more, rather than cutting out everything from your spending, can have a greater benefit than the obvious one of earning more.

Earning that first bit of money, outside of a traditional job, gives you an awesome feeling.

Bottom line

Frugality has its place but overall, the earning more side of the equation can yield some pretty good benefits.

You’re able to test out entrepreneurship in a low-risk setting, diversify your income, and learn more about how to position yourself as someone with value to bring.

What do you focus on more? Cutting back or earning more? What benefits do you think a side hustle provides?

How to Build a Mini Emergency Fund While on a Small Income

how to build a mini emergency fund on a small income

Being financially prepared for when an emergency strikes is important. Life happens. Things break. The last thing you want to be doing is having to put an unexpected expense on a credit card with 20% interest.

Emergency funds are essential. They give you peace of mind when something pops up. They keep you from that crippling situation of feeling stuck and without options.

Now, there are two big things to know when it comes to emergency funds. They’re really hard to build and people often underestimate how much they need in one.

For the longest time, I couldn’t really master the concept of emergency funds. I understood the essential nature of them but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to properly build one.

It seems pretty self-explanatory at first sight. You save money out of each paycheck, put it in your savings account and BOOM! A nice little cash fund you can use as your for rainy days (or more like raging storms).

Although I never felt successful in my efforts towards building and maintaining one. Back in college, I would routinely skim a little off the top whenever I was feeling a late night supermarket run. As I worked first post-grad job, I would use the account as a catch-all for vacations, emergencies, and any other savings goals. Whenever an actual emergency happened and I used the money from the fund, I would get unmotivated since my savings were set back.

It was a beautiful mess. Beautiful in the sense that my emergency fund account had an assortment of ~wonderful~ nicknames I changed whenever the mood struck (cash by senseless, dollars in vogue, etc). Mess in the sense that I didn’t have a consistent savings habit that helped my emergency fund stay strong, no matter how much I was making.

Let’s face it. When you’re in your twenties, building an emergency fund can be especially hard. You have to deal with several savings goals like student loan repayment, car payment, house downpayment, weddings (yours or attending friends) and the generally high cost of living that comes with living in a major city.

Saving the recommended 3-6 months of expenses is freaking hard. However, I’ve learned that having a small and growing emergency fund is better than no emergency fund. Given that I’ve had an emergency fund throughout several periods of my life (broke college student making minimum wage, recent grad making entry level, and working professional making $1200 a month) I’ve learned some things about how to build an emergency fund while on a small income.

Negotiate Your Bills

Auto insurance is such a pain. When I would look at my statement every six months, it would give me aches with how much I was paying. If I had paid attention to the latest television infomercial, I would have immediately canceled my plan and gone for one of those seemingly sketchy places that advertise for “low low low” auto insurance costs.

I like my auto insurance (USAA), so instead of choosing between a sketchy place or continuing to pay what I was paying, I called them up. I chatted with the customer service team about how I was thinking about leaving. After not too much time, I was able to get a lower rate! My record of not having any recent accidents or traffic violations probably helped, but it never hurts to call and ask.

There are four bills off the top of my head that you could negotiate: auto insurance, internet/cable bill, cell phone bill, and student loans.

Internet providers are infamous for raising your rates after a one-year period. Call up and ask about promotional offers. Check out lower cost cell phone providers like Cricket Wireless or Republic Wireless.

I pay $40 a month for my Cricket Wireless service, which uses AT&T’s network, for unlimited talk/text and 5GB of data.

If you have a lot of private student loans, consider the option of refinancing. Check out LendEDU for refinancing options.

Track Your Spending

You may think you’re “good with money” because you don’t do common money trappings like subscribing to cable or eating out a lot. Bar hopping isn’t your kind of thing and you’re loyal to your Keurig coffee maker, so buying lattes all the time isn’t even a thought.

Status level: responsible. Right?

Well, not completely. If you’re not tracking your spending, you can never get a full picture of your financial situation. Tracking your spending helps you uncover money leaks, unnecessary fees you may be paying, and areas to trim.

There are a few ways to do this.



Personal Capital

A notebook is pretty self-explanatory. You write down your purchases and at the end of the month, tally it up. Mint is a free money management platform that lets you track your cash flow and expenses.

Personal Capital is a free money management platform, similar to Mint, but with a lot more features. Some describe it as “Mint on steroids”. With it, you’re able to not only track your income and spending but also your investment accounts and net worth. There is a financial planning tool within the service as well.

You can sign up for a free Personal Capital account. Seeing the visualizations of your cash flow and investments can really help you stay motivated towards your goals.

Once you start tracking your spending, you could see areas where $5 here or $10 there goes. It may seem small, but small progress is better than no progress.

Create a Separate Savings Account

Having your savings account parked right alongside your checking account at the same bank isn’t the option when building a mini emergency fund on a small income.

Several months ago I opened an online savings account with Ally Bank. My savings account earns an interest rate of 1.25% APY. This is 125x the interest rate that my old savings account was at a traditional brick and mortar big bank.

Ally Bank even has a calculator where you can see how much more money your savings account earns in interest being at Ally versus other traditional banks. You won’t get rich off of a 1.25% APY but it’s sure as heck a lot better than the 0.01% your savings account is probably earning right now.

Aside from the interest rate, having your savings account at a different bank keeps you from being tempted to dip into your savings during non-emergencies. When you can’t see the money constantly, you’re less tempted to spend it.

Look for Additional Income Streams

When you’re building an emergency fund while on a small income, there comes a point when you can’t cut back anymore. You have to grow the gap between your income and expenses by looking for ways to make extra money.

You could look into different side hustles and part-time jobs. Part-time jobs could include things like waiting tables, working at a grocery store, Amazon Flex, and other jobs where you have to be at a place at a set time and for a set number of hours.

A side hustle is different than a part-time job. Usually, it has some flexibility to it. There are short-tail side hustles and long-tail side hustles. Short-tail ones allow you to get up and running and start earning relatively quickly, these could include driving for a rideshare service like Lyft, babysitting, or doing deliveries.

Babysitting (Use and ask around in your area)

Dog walking/pet sitting (Rover, DogVacay)

Delivery (Postmates, DoorDash)

Rideshare driving (Lyft)

Waiting tables

Taking Surveys

Short tail side hustles are great for being able to help you build up an emergency fund quickly while on a small income. However, if you’re truly looking to expand your income streams, it’s worth looking into long-tail side hustles.


Freelance Writing

Graphic Design

Web Design/Development

Virtual Assistant


Think beyond just what’s in front of you when you’re looking for ways to make extra money or grow your side hustle. The best book I found for getting into a problem-solving income potential mindset was Chris Guillebeau’s side hustle book about going from a side hustle idea to making money in 27 days.

What if instead of just driving for Lyft, you created a website centered around educating rideshare drivers on things and providing them with helpful information. Harry from The Rideshare Guy did just that.

Let’s say you do dog walking via Rover for a side hustle. What if you studied the best practices, learned what dog owners are seeking most, and improve your client list by implementing the things you learn. You could consider developing your own dog walking business.

Meal Plan

Meal planning is one of the best things you can do to cut down your food spending. A lot of people spend more than they need to when it comes to their monthly food budget.

Meal planning is often thought of as tedious and time-consuming. While it isn’t the simplest thing to do, it is far less complicated than people make it out to be. Sites like The Minimalist Baker and Budget Bytes provide a lot of healthy, simple, and budget-friendly meals you can try.

$5 Meal Plan is a meal planning service you can look into If you’re looking for simple, weekly meal plans. If you’re into writing stuff down, get a meal planning notepad to keep track of recipes.

Building up an emergency fund isn’t easy. It takes some creativity beyond just cutting your expenses. Getting to the recommended e-fund of 3-6 months expenses can take a while. Don’t focus too much on that set amount.

Focus on building a mini emergency fund of about one month’s expenses. It will give you peace of mind and keep you from going into panic mode whenever some unexpected expense comes up.

Additional Things to Try

Ebates: Use the cashback site Ebates for when you shop online. Ebates allows you to earn cash back when you shop through their portal at more than 1200 stores. When you sign up for Ebates, you’ll get $10 bonus after making your first purchase.

Ibotta: Use Ibotta to earn cash back on purchases you make in store. Get a $10 bonus when you sign up and make a purchase.

Utilize water more often: Pre-made and single-serve drinks can add up to so much money after a while. Not only that, but they’re usually loaded with a lot of sugar. Use the water from your sink and buy some low-cost drinker flavorings, ice tea mix, Crystal Light, or Kool Aid. 

But How Does It Make You Feel?

saving money doesn't have to feel like a sacrifice

Saving money is important. Duh! Right? Everyone likes to save money. Unless you’re one of those lucky souls who won the lottery and ride your Ferrari off into the sunset. For the rest of us, we like saving money.

At least I think people do. Most people would give a quick yes when asked if they wanted to save more money. If you read any of those “x tips to save more” articles on the interwebs, then you know the routine.

Cut your cable subscription, brown bag your lunch, and make water your friend rather than your carbonated pal, Coca Cola.

These are all often repeated tips. Why? Well, because they work. Lots of people do or have them and they can gain from cutting them out. The obvious gain being the saving money part. I mean, do you really need to buy a $10-15 takeout lunch every day of work? I don’t think so.

After doing the cutting back, you’re left with a nice little pile of newly available funds. You usually have a few options: put the money in your emergency fund, invest it, or use it to pay down debt. All solid options.

Making yourself be good with money usually starts with cutting back. The art of really understanding your wants vs. needs. The benefit is clear: you save more money! *fist pump*

Are there any other benefits? This is where people usually draw a blank. They’ve saved their money. There doesn’t appear to be any other advantages.

Well, pull up a chair because your impromptu saving money therapy session is about to start. Put your phone away, don’t check social media, and grab a piece of paper for notes. Let’s begin with a story.

For a long time, I struggled to give up my excessive TV viewing habit. There are just so many good shows! I used to be super into TV. I watched it, rewatched it and loved going over the different plotlines and stories. I even had an old blog where I used to write reviews of movies and television.

I was hooked.

While I’ve never had a cable subscription (#millennialstatus) I did use my parents and friends subscriptions to keep up with shows. When I finally decided to cut down on my TV viewing habits, it was difficult.

It was difficult because there was nothing tangible for me to see from cutting down on my TV viewing. I didn’t have a cable subscription, so it’s not like I was saving money by cutting a bill. Sure, I did have more time in my day, but the added time hit me like it hits most people: I didn’t know what to do with the time.

I sat around, did some extra writing, read some websites. Nothing substantial. However, through a slow progression, I started to see positive results. Without spending so much of my time watching TV, I was able to start studying Spanish again, I picked up a hobby in photography, and I started freelancing again.

Check out some of the photos below that I’ve gotten of Australia so far!

Australia work holiday visa
The South Australian Dingo Fence. Longest fence in the world!
Australia working holiday visa
Squinting while at The Breakaways in Coober Pedy, South Australia


Cutting down my TV viewing helped me feel better.

Every day I had something to look forward to. Instead of being huddled by my laptop watching the latest episode of Casual, I spent my time on Duolingo doing Spanish lessons. I watched YouTube tutorials to improve my photos. I sent out more pitches for freelance gigs.

To be honest, all of those new activities still involved me sitting in front of my computer, haha. However, I’m building my identity capital. Doing stuff that fuels me and really makes me feel good (rather than just that ~shook~ feeling I got after binging the latest season of Orange Is The New Black).

The same feeling came over me when I started cooking more rather than eating out all the time. Back when I was living in Thailand, it was easy for me to eat out. I didn’t have a kitchen (yes, really 🙁 ) and eating out in Thailand was inexpensive. I could usually get a meal for 50 or 100 baht ($1.50-3.00 USD). Imagine my shock when I got to Sydney, Australia (a.k.a one hella expensive place) and I realized eating out would break my budget…a lot.

Side note: visit Thailand rather than Australia if you wanna stretch your dollar further!

Once I started actually learning how to cook, my food expenses went down. It would have been easy for me to look at the savings at the ultimate be-all benefit, but it wasn’t. The biggest benefit was I started to feel better. Turns out, processed snacks and soda all the time really isn’t good for you :).

Ask yourself how your expenses and cutting back on some of them will make you feel. Sometimes you may have to cut back in order to gain more (ex. Cutting back on TV to make more time for freelancing). Maybe it will prompt you to pick up something else like a new hobby or activity. Whatever it is, don’t just see the cutting back as a way to save money. It’s always more than that.

Saving money is about more than just saving money. How does it make you feel? Click though to read about how to approach cutting back in a positive way.

How To Pay Off Student Loans While Traveling

A lot of people wonder how to pay off student loans while traveling. They usually think it’s something that can’t be done without an inheritance or deferring on your loans. Not so! You can travel while paying off your student loans. Read on to learn how.

A lot of people wonder how to pay off student loans while traveling. They usually think it’s something that can’t be done without an inheritance or deferring on your loans. Not so! You can travel while paying off your student loans.

The way you can do it? Working abroad.

This isn’t the first thought that pops into most people’s heads. Whenever people think about travel, they usually picture sitting on a beach, drinking a cold one, and basking in the rays of the sun. In the distance sits a 4-star swanky hotel where there are a hundred different settings for the bath tub.

That’s more of a relaxed vacation. Travel can mean lots of things. Many people would describe it as being an experience of seeing new places and being immersed in new cultures. It’s not all about sitting on a beach all day long sipping a margarita.

A lot of twenty-somethings with student loans dream of being able to travel and see new places. But they think their student loans prevent them from doing so. They look at travel as something expensive and not possible while paying off student loans.

That’s what I used to think. Before I moved abroad, the idea of traveling and visiting several places never crossed my mind. I had graduated university with $21,000 in student loans and was intent on paying them off as fast as possible. Travel was something that would happen years down the line.

A swift leap of faith involved me moving abroad to Thailand to teach English. In the past year of being here, I’ve gotten to explore lots of Thailand and visit places like Myanmar and China. During this time, progress on my knocking student loans never even had to slow down. I’ve worked like mad for the past several months to make more money but I’ve also gotten to travel quite a bit.

It does take some patience and persistence to stay focused on paying them off your loans while traveling. When I was paying off my student loans, there were times when I wanted to use the extra money I had for a weekend getaway or to go off to another country like Vietnam or Cambodia, but through commitment and utilizing and allocating for fun money, everything worked out.

Here’s how to pay off student loans while traveling

Find a job teaching English abroad

Teaching English is one of the top ways people fund their travels and work abroad. It’s for good reason. Teaching English abroad allows you to really immerse yourself in another culture and see how day to day life is.

Teaching positions are typical 40-hour per week jobs where you spend 20-25 hours each week teaching. The rest of the time outside of teaching is either for lesson planning, making materials, or free time!

Googling “teaching English abroad” will yield thousands of results. The top places to teach English are China, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Taiwan. Asia is the most common place people go to teach English. There are English-teaching jobs all over the world but Asia is where the best-paying jobs are. When you’re focused on balancing student loan payments and traveling, having a good salary makes all the difference. The two best countries pay wise are China and South Korea.

South Korea is very popular because it’s a relatively easy place to transition into. Starting salaries for foreign English teachers range from 1.9-2.3 million won. Many jobs provide free housing, free school lunches, and reimbursed airfare cost for your travel to the country. South Korea positions have a lot of benefits!

A salary of 2.1 million won is around $1,850 USD. Many teachers are able to save around $700-1,000 per month. This can put toward extra student loan payments if you desire.

According to Forbes, the average class of 2016 student graduated with $37,172 in student loan debt. If you’re on the standard 10-year repayment plan, paying back loans with a 5.7% interest rate, your monthly payment would come out to $407. Saving $700-1,000 would allow you to pay extra towards your student loans every month.

The blog Great Big Scary World has tips and resources on teaching English in South Korea.

Private tutoring

In an effort to make more money for travel, many English teachers do private tutoring on the side of their full-time teaching job. They usually get private tutoring sessions through inquiries with parents or putting up fliers.

I taught several tutoring classes at a Thailand language center. It was fun and good way to make extra money.

Working Holiday Visa

Australia and New Zealand are two countries that offer one-year working holiday visas to people from several different countries. The visas allow you to work in the country for up to six months with one employer. 12 months in total.

From the countless articles I’ve read, the general gist is that Australia is the best for doing a working holiday. Australia and New Zealand have the same high cost of living, but backpacker/working holiday jobs are more plentiful and higher-paying in Australia.

Kate From The States saved 10,000 AUD in six months from her working holiday.

Now, when you’re wondering how to pay off student loans while traveling, the above options are good ways since they make you money. However saving money when you do travel is also important.

Below are some tips on cutting costs.

WWOOFing & Workaway

WWOOF stands for world wide opportunities on organic farms. Through the website, you can find volunteer positions where you get free room and board in exchange for work. Many long-term travelers do this. It’s a great way to reduce expenses while still being able to experience new things and places. You don’t even have to know anything about farming. Usually the jobs involve fruit picking, cleaning, and general landscape work.

Workaway is also another great option.


I used to think of couchsurfing as this weird thing to avoid…until I actually tried it. It’s great. I used it for the first time when I made a trip to San Diego for a conference. My host was fun to talk to and gave me great information on things to do in the city.

A few tips would be to make sure to go with someone who has lots of positive reviews and has a verified badge. Trust your gut. Always make sure you have the funds to book accommodation in case your host cancels or it doesn’t work out.

Basically, when you’re wanting to know how to pay off student loans while traveling, it comes down to working abroad and choosing budget-friendly options when you travel. Teaching English in good-earning places like China and South Korea where you are able to save up to $1,000 every month really helps.

Thailand (the place I’ve taught in) isn’t as great when it comes to making a good salary. However, I’ve made it work through getting a job at a school that offered higher pay and also doing tutoring sessions during the nights and weekends.

I paid off $21,000 in student loans in 18 months. 11 months of that was spent while abroad teaching English.


How did you go about paying off your student loan debt? Do you like the idea of long term travel and working abroad? 

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