Almost Fearless

The Trouble With Saving: Day 9 of 30w30d

This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.


30 ways in 30 days, saving money, finances, frugal, best travel ideas

Some people have no problem saving for long term travel or a round-the-world trip.  This post isn’t for you.

Every year, millions of people set out to save money and fail.  In recent years, Americans saved in the negative numbers– meaning they not only didn’t save a penny, but they came out more in debt.

The Saving Myth

The way we think of saving is misleading.  It’s like losing weight, you don’t just lose weight, you eat less or exercise more, but there is no specific action called losing weight.  It’s an expression that describes the end result, not the process.  For saving it’s the same way, it’s not what you do as much as what you don’t do.  Saving is actually inaction, we’re stopping ourselves from spending.

Like losing weight, saving is hard.  You don’t just eat less once, you have to make the decision dozens of times a day.  Same with saving– if you save $5 by not buying a magazine, that money sits in your pocket for the next temptation.  All it takes is one digression.  At the time you might say, “it’s worth it” or “I need it” but even if you had said no 100 times, if you say yes once and spend that $5 it’s still spent.

Changing the game

We all know this, and yet at the end of the month you might be wondering where it all went.  Spreadsheets and money management software might reveal to you that you spend $200 in this category or $1000 in that– but it doesn’t change the behavior.  Does knowing that you didn’t lose any weight last week make it suddenly easier to exercise every morning?  You may be more motivated, but the challenge is the same.

What if we changed the game?  What if instead of trying to not-do-something, you just eliminate that choice.  Think of it this way… most people manage to spend about what they make.  If they make $30,000 one year, it’s spent.  If they get a raise to $50,000,  suddenly spent.  They get the big promotion to $100,000 and still, they live paycheck to paycheck.  You swear it won’t happen to you.  You imagine how much money you’ll have if you just made X amount.  And then you get there and your expenses magically expand to fit your new salary.

Flipping the problem

Instead of trying to save, which doesn’t seem to work for most people, what if you just made less money?  What if your paycheck when down by 25% tomorrow?  You’d cut back, right?  When your checking got down to $100 you’d skip eating out and figure out what to do with with the 5 lbs of lentils you have sitting in your pantry.

To me, this is the easiest way to save.  Not having money reduces all kinds of temptations and you can continue to live and spend like you normally do– not really thinking about it, keeping an eye on your total in the bank and cutting back only when it gets too low.

How to give yourself a pay cut

Most banks let you link a checking and savings account and schedule automatic transfers online (if not, you’ll want to switch now, because this feature is important when you’re on the road).   You’ll want to figure out your pain point, the least amount of money you can live on.  For instance, add together your fixed, unavoidable expenses like rent/mortgage, utilities, car payments, gas, food and student loans.  Gym membership is not an unavoidable expense.  Neither is Netflix, magazine subscriptions, clothing, going out, or beer money.  Next find your salary deduction amount:

Total salary – unavoidable expenses = salary deduction amount (i.e. savings)

Set a transfer that is scheduled for the day after you get paid for that exact amount.  It moves the money into savings before you ever have a chance to spend it.

Does this work?

I used this for about a year before quitting my job.  My husband and I put away my entire paycheck.  Yes, we had to majorly cut back.  We moved into a smaller apartment, we didn’t pay for internet or cable, we didn’t use the heat (in Boston) until December 1st, I got really creative with whole foods like rice, beans, lentils, homemade bread and so on.  But we made it work.  Since we’ve been traveling, I still put away everything I make, and we live on 25% as much as we did two years ago.  These days, it’s easy.  We’re not saving, we rarely even think of money.  We’ve just been able to reset our spending so it allows us the freedoms to work less, travel more and live anywhere.

Why it’s worth it

After a few weeks, you find something amazing happening… you’re living on less than you thought possible. You might have more free time because you shop less (seriously).  You’ll begin looking at everything with a critical eye.  Is it worth it?  Can I do with out it?  Is there something cheaper I can get?  When you reach this point, congratulations, you’ve broken the cycle.  Welcome to Saving.


1.  Find your pain point– the amount you need to cover the bare minimum expenses.

2.  Transfer all of your salary (minus your expenses from #1) to savings immediately after getting paid.

3.  Bask in the warm glow of having less money (i.e. don’t panic).

Additional Reading:

Family Saved with Cash Only

118 Ways to Save Money in College

The Frugality Cheat Sheet

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • We fount out we can function on one paycheck nearly 7 yrs ago when I was placed on bed rest by by OB/GYN. In October 2007 I left my job so we have been on one income ever since. We’ve always been very frugal, but our mindset is we can do better. Now that we have a serious goal of being out of the US by 2010 we are even more frugal. We do not owe any credit cards, we usually pay it off every month. We just paid off one of our cars. The two tings we owe are our student loans and our mortgage and we are quite proud of that. I think it can be done. For us it’s a matter of priority, a strong will to achieve our goal of becoming location independent family and a lot of discipline. It’s a good early lesson for our daughter as well.

    Great post once again.
    .-= @gotpassport´s last blog ..The Empty Lexus =-.

  • Wow, this post is almost directly in line with a post I just wrote about automating your savings. We must be on the same wavelength 🙂

    Great post though. I think it’s amazing how less we can actually live on if we make the effort.
    .-= Raymond´s last blog ..How I save $40,000 per year =-.

  • Great article. That’s exactly how I save! And it really does work. My partner and I live on about 25% of our income and save the rest. We are planning to leave the UK permanently to travel next year so that’s a big motivation.

    It is all about changing your mindset. You just get used to not spending money, and in fact it’s liberating not buying things and living simply. You realise how little you really need.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..What would you like to see on Kerala India Travel? =-.

  • Yeah good advice, it is what I did before I left on my first trip. Somehow I went backwards when I got back but in just a few weeks I’ll really be on track again by halving my rent. Once your mind is set there isn’t much that can stop you, I’ll find a way around any problem.
    .-= Dan´s last blog ..Special Price for you Sir! Dual Pricing =-.

  • “…reset our spending…” Love it.

    I’ve worked freelance, mostly from home, for the last 8 years. One of the first things I noticed when I made the leap from working in a downtown office to working from a home office is that I spent less simply because I was no longer taking my breaks walking past shops and restaurants. It’s amazing what we don’t need when we don’t know it exists.
    .-= Amanda S.´s last blog ..A Taste of Farm Life =-.

  • I really like this post. I feel I’ve come such a long way but there are still moments where I feel like spending will make what I do each day worth it. Hence my relationship with money is not quite there yet – as I believe that spending it will make my accounting corporate days more fulfilling and worth it.
    .-= carolina.baker´s last blog ..10 Ways to Save Money, Shopping =-.

  • I’m wondering – do you also continue to fund your retirement accts or is this put on hold while saving for travel?
    I’m also wondering if you’ll be posting about health insurance in your 30 day series.

    These are the 2 areas I am most concerned about in terms of not working at a FT “regular” job.
    really enjoying this series!
    .-= Robyn´s last blog ..Cash-Finding Quandary =-.

  • Robyn,

    I do continue to save for retirement as does my husband. I am planning on addressing the need to save for retirement in a future post, so I didn’t get into that for this one. But’s it a great question and something I think a lot of us think about.

    Regarding healthcare, I am planning on addressing that as well. I’m still struggling with how to address it… only about 55% of the readers are American and many readers are from Canada, UK, Australia, Europe, which has a very different system than the US. So I’m not sure how I’ll approach that– focusing just on American healthcare policies, because we’re the ones struggling the worse with it– or try to tackle healthcare for the major traveling countries.

    Thanks for the feedback, it’s definitely appreciated!

  • But….I like “stuff”
    I like coming home from work and seeing that package sitting on the front stoop waiting for me…and the anticipation of trying to figure out what is in the box before I open it…That’s excitement for me!
    And I don’ t do well with “pain”. My low threshold for pain prevents me from “doing without”…which isn’t so bad for me and my wife, because we aren’t “doing without” and we do manage to put a little away each month (perhaps 10% of our gross monthly income). Can I afford to put away more? Of course, but at what cost? I have everything I want now…and I’m putting away for retirement and some savings…so is saving more money worth the reduction in my quality of life? Well, obviously not…because I’m not doing it…there’s the rub, right? What is the cost of your quality of life. What can you give up to afford to live the way you want to live? Those are perhaps just as important questions and the ones you make. Personally? I enjoy my luxuries and my “ease of living”. And as long as I have my little nest egg (about 6 months of salary in the bank) I can spend freely knowing that I’m safe *AND* comfortable!

  • Ed– All good points, but I’m guessing this post doesn’t really apply to you as it’s not a general how to save post but rather part of a month long series about how to redesign your life so you can quit your job and travel the world.


  • Hi Christine,
    This system works for me. I find that two things keep me highly motivated not to spend frivolously:

    Packing light: I can’t very easily be a digital nomad, go move easily to my next location with too much stuff.

    Freedom to roam: I value my freedom to travel so much that it makes saying no to other temptations easier.

    another not spending hack:
    I give myself a modest monthly cash allowance to buy anything I want…and so I have to consider carefully what I get to buy. It helps circumvent random feelings of deprivation, and has me thinking twice, or three times before hitting the buy button.

    My weakness is books: not great for the budget or packing light.

    I’m really enjoying this series, and want to thank you for your efforts in sharing this information.

    May we all be free to tweetup where we please!

    Now…if I could just figure out the actual weight loss thing. *sigh*

  • The advice also applies to retirement savings. When you get a new job, raise, or promotion, you should immediately set your 401k contribution to X% so you don’t have time to get use to your full salary.

    And then if you’re planning a RTW trip (like I was), toward the end of your employment, you can drop your 401k contribution and save that extra $$$ you’d been deferring for your travels!! 🙂
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..Friday Flashback – World Heritage Sites In Kathmandu Valley =-.

  • regarding retirement: my husband still has a 401K until we leave the US. Also, we both have a Roth IRA that we’ve had for some years now, and we will still contribute to once a month after we leave. We also have a 529 for our daughter’s education. We ask family not to purchase unnecessary frills instead to give her $$ and we put that in her account. We try to explain to our daughter in the best way we can about budgeting, spending and our goals of living abroad etc. One of the reasons why we blog is really for our daughter.
    .-= @GotPassport´s last blog ..Twitter interview with the man from Travel Rants =-.

  • The automatic deduction from paychecks is the way to go. We just live like that savings account is hands off, and every time we sell something on Craigslist or negotiate a better deal on an existing expense we immediately transfer the money to the savings account. It has really kept us on track.

    I’m glad you’re addressing healthcare later on as well as retirement accounts. One other question I have is regarding mail. We still have an online business as well as tax documents and the like, and we are planning on selling our home. Where do you get your mail? What becomes your permanent address when you don’t have one?
    .-= Betsy Talbot´s last blog ..100 Days Left to Reclaim Your 2009 Goals =-.

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