My boyfriend and I are currently embarking on a six-month sabbatical around Asia, which is something we have wanted to do for years. We’ve already spent time in Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Cambodia and Thailand, and plan to visit another two or three countries before we fly back home. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the trip, many of them centred around money. How much have we saved in order to travel for six months, without earning an income? How were we able to save for such a long trip? In this post, I’ll be sharing how I saved up for my sabbatical.
When it comes to wanting more money (to pay for a holiday, or whatever you want/need it for), we essentially have two options; make more money or spend less of the money we have. This is not a post about passive income streams and multiple side hustles (although they sound great and I’d love to monetize this blog one day!). It’s not about selling all your worldly possessions on Facebook Marketplace or finally cancelling that gym membership that you never use. This post is about intentionally, consciously choosing to buy, use and consume less. It’s about the sacrifices, cut-backs and choices that I have made, which you can make too if you want to save more of your income. Some of these changes I introduced once we’d decided to take a sabbatical, while others were already common practice. Whether it was an old or new habit, having a specific saving goal really reinvigorated and motivated me.
We first started talking about taking a sabbatical in January 2018, and ten months later we were on a plane heading to Vietnam. During those ten months, we weren’t living on pot noodles and barricading ourselves inside our flat every evening to avoid spending money. We still socialized with friends, visited family and even had a fantastic holiday to Colombia during that time. We were just conscious about our spending, every step of the way. We knew that every expenditure, however large or small, was money that was being directed away from our sabbatical fund. In some cases, we decided it would be worth dipping into the holiday fun, but in others, our Asian adventure took priority.
I should preface this post with the following disclaimer: I had very low monthly expenses as a result of not having a child, a pet, a car or a mortgage. If you’ve got any of those (or all four!), then some of my suggestions may not be practical for your lifestyle, but hopefully others will be. Either way, I hope you’ll be inspired to review your spending habits and examine any areas where you can cut back.
So when I say ‘buy, use and consume less‘, what exactly am I referring to? I am referring to the many, many things I have stopped purchasing so that I can build up my sabbatical fund. All the things which, when weighed up against my saving goals, came up short. All the unnecessary purchases that didn’t bring me enough happiness to warrant delaying or sacrificing my dreams.
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I have stopped buying the following:
- Tangible reading material. This includes hard copy books, magazines, recipe books and newspapers. Some people refuse to move from tangible to digital books, but I am a 100% kindle junkie, with hundreds of books squeezed onto my handy, compact e-book. Before buying a new e-book, I search for the title on Libby, the virtual library app. I use Libby for audio and e-books and it’s saved me so much money by borrowing instead of buying physical or e-books. I haven’t bought a magazine for years. When I did, I’d quickly whizz through them then leave them around, gathering dust, until they made it into the recycling bin. I no longer buy recipe books; there are thousands of fantastic recipes available online. I get my news online and only pick up free newspapers when back in my home city.
- A TV. As we move house so often, transporting a bulky TV would be very impractical. So we just do without, and I honestly don’t miss having one. Not having a TV saves money on expensive channel/cable packages. Instead, we share a Netflix account with family members and can always find something to watch.
- The latest technological releases. I own a laptop and phone but don’t splurge on the newest models as soon as they are released. Instead I do my research, find products which suit my needs and don’t worry if something is a few years old, as long as it still does a great job.
- DVDs. I no longer buy DVDs as they take up space and most of my favourite films are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime. When I use these websites to access films, series and documentaries, I am more intentional and selective about what I watch.
- CDs. My Spotify premium account provides me with all the music I need (and saves storage space!).
- Paper diaries. My diary is completely digitalised, along with my address book.
- Duplicate items. I don’t bulk buy items, even if there is a good 3-for-2 offer. Instead I keep one of each product in my house (i.e one bottle of shampoo, tube of toothpaste or bottle of washing up liquid).
- Decorative items. As we move so often, we don’t buy decorative items like posters, paintings, ornaments and knick-knacks to adorn our shelves and walls. The apartments we rent are pleasant enough without these items, and we like the simple, minimalist aesthetic.
- Single-use, novelty kitchen items. Such as spiralers, egg poaching pods, fruit corers and avocado slicers. Our rented apartments usually come with everything we need and we own a few essential items that we bring with us (like a moka pot because we’re coffee addicts!). I don’t consider an avocado slicer to be essential, as much as I love avocado!
- Seasonal decorations. We don’t decorate our apartment for Easter, Valentine’s Day or the changing of the seasons. When we’re in Germany, we don’t feel the need to decorate our apartment or buy a Christmas tree because we spend the festive period back home with our families.
- Things on impulse. I rarely go shopping anymore, and when I do, it is because I am looking for a specific item. Items that I want to buy are added to my ‘to-do’ list and stay there for several days (if not longer) until I’m sure it’s something I definitely want. Not only does it make my shopping trips much shorter and more efficient, it means that I am shopping with a purpose. I no longer wander around the shops when feeling bored or stressed, which greatly reduces impulsive or emotional decision-making.
- Sale items that are just ‘OK’. I used to be such a bargain hunter, but in hindsight, I was often more attracted to the low price than the item itself. Unsurprisingly many of the sale purchases were only worn once or twice before being donated to charity. I still occasionally shop in the sales but just for things I really want or need. I always consider whether I would still buy the item if it was full-price.
- Clothes I’ll wear ‘someday’ – If it doesn’t fit or suit me now, I’m not buying it! I don’t purchase clothes for hypothetical events, like friends’ weddings I might get invited to someday. I have a sufficient number of formal dresses for those occasions. Remember you can rewear outfits to formal events – people care much more what the bride and groom are wearing! Renting formal clothes is another option, or asking your friends and family if they have anything you can borrow.
- Pajamas – Some PJ sets look really cute but a vest top and tracksuit bottoms or shorts suffice!
- Fancy bedding – Although they make the bed look extra cozy, I don’t buy blankets, throws and multiple pillows for our bed. It seems like a bit of a waste of time to assemble them every morning and then remove them before bed.
- Specific exercise clothes – Like with nightwear, I just wear vest tops and comfortable shorts or tracksuit bottoms to exercise.
- Fancy dress costumes – I have spent so much money on Halloween & fancy dress costumes over the years (which have been thrown away or lost), which feels very wasteful. Next time I am invited to an event that requires a costume, I will try to put something together from what I already own, or borrow one from a friend.
- Water bottles – It is extremely rare for me to buy water bottles on the go, as I always have my resuable water bottle with me, like an appendage!
- Holiday souvenirs – I used to buy a lot of souvenirs whenever I travelled, including bright, tacky photo frames that I would gift to my family (sorry fam!). Nowadays I don’t buy souvenirs just for the sake of it and wouldn’t buy a hat, T-shirt, key-ring or bag with the destination or “I heart Barcelona” on it (but to each their own!). I occasionally buy fridge magnets and postcards if they really stands out.
- Expensive coffee – I usually make my coffee at home or get free coffees at work. When I meet friends in coffee shops, I order an espresso or espresso macchiato, which are much simpler and cheaper than the frothier, flavoured alternatives.
- Experimental makeup – I used to have so much makeup that I rarely (or never) wore, including wacky, illuminous eyeshadows (why?!) and countless creams, pastes and polishes. I used to own dozens of nail varnishes – every colour of the rainbow – which was so excessive. I only have ten fingernails after all! Now I have a very simple makeup routine, am much more aware of what colours do and don’t suit me and only buy what I know I’ll use.
- Hair products and accessories – At one point, I had a wide range of hair products including sprays, gels, serums, clips, slides and rollers…which I never used. Now I prefer very simple styles and only have a handful of products for treating my hair.
- Sunglasses – I used to have a dozen pairs of different colours, shapes and styles, but now much prefer classic shapes and neutral colours that don’t clash with any of my clothes.
- Foreign currency – Instead of getting money from my bank (or a bureau de change) before travelling, I withdraw money when I arrive at my destination. I have bank accounts with N26 and Revolut which both offer free withdrawals in many/most European countries and very reasonable exchange rates. I also try to pay on my debit card as much as possible to avoid having lots of leftover currency at the end of the trip.
- High heels – I tried. I really tried. The unavoidable truth is that I have the grace of a drunken elephant then I try to walk in heels… so I’ve given up! Luckily I’m five foot eight so even in flats, I am the same height – or taller – than many of my friends.
Regardless of any differing circumstances, I hope this post will give you some ideas about how you can re-evaluate your spending habits, make positive changes and cut back on unnecessary purchases. The money you would have spent on things that are not practical or useful, don’t align with your personal style or aren’t meeting your needs can be redirected towards your specific saving goal instead. If you have any additional saving tips, please leave them in the comment section below.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com