By: Kiersten Rich
This post was written in partnership with You Need A Budget — as always, thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
One of the most frequent questions I get is how do I pay for the trips I go on? The simple answer: budgeting! Whether I’m traveling solo, with friends, or with Meyer, budgeting for a trip is the key.
Not only does budgeting out my trip help me stretch my pennies and figure out where my priorities are, but it also helps me to avoid the stress of unexpected expenses.
I evaluate where my money is going and that is the key to being able to travel.
(You might be surprised by how much money you spend on coffee — which could easily add up to a plane ticket!).
Since I budget out my trips when I’m traveling solo, I apply the same tactics and principles when it comes to budgeting for a trip when traveling as a couple.
From figuring out what kind of trip you’re after to who pays for what to ways to stretch your dollars—these tips are key for reducing stress, making the trip come to fruition, and ensuring you and your partner are on the same page!
With the help of YNAB (You Need A Budget), here’s how to budget for a trip when traveling as a couple
The easiest way to create an estimation of what a trip will cost is by breaking down your travel style and figuring out where you want to spend your money.
My suggestion is to create a rating system. Take the main variables — food and drink, accommodation, tours + experiences — and rate each of these items from 1-3 (1 being the most important). If each of you do this from the start, it will open a dialogue for where you’ll expect to spend most of your budget.
Are you foodies? Happy to dine on the cheap in order to pay for big experiences?
Food and Drink: 2
Tours + Experiences: 3 (would rather save here)
Accommodation: 1 (would rather splurge here)
This will help determine where you’d like to spend more of your budget and where you can cut back.
Determine Where Your Budget Will Go
Together rank which things are most important. Assume your fixed costs (transportation — flights and such to get there and Uber or public transportation once you’ve arrived) is ___% of your budget.
With what is left over, what becomes most important to you?
How do you like to travel? How does your partner like to travel? Communicate with each other about what kind of trip you’re after. Is this a completely luxe bucket list excursion, are you thinking about a mix of “high and low” things, or could you easily travel out of your backpack?
Communication is key so there is no violation of expectations.
I personally like the approach of mixing “high and low” when it comes to planning a trip. By this, I mean choosing to stay at some properties that are less expensive and then splurging on a really nice hotel for a couple of nights. This also means eating street food along the way and then having a few fancier meals.
It all comes down to your priorities and what you want out of the trip. Here are a few things to consider when figuring out what kind of trip you’re after and your travel styles:
Like I mentioned above, are you planning on staying at both “high and low” properties? Are you opting for all budget accommodations? Would you prefer to stay in an Airbnb wherever you go? Are you comfortable staying in hostels?
Talk about what kind of places you’d like to stay in and this will help you when it comes to planning and booking later on!
How will you be getting around at your destination? Are you relying on public transportation (metros, buses, trains)? Are you planning on biking around, walking, or renting a car? Some folks prefer to rent a car or exclusively take Ubers/taxis.
Think about transportation costs so you can work them into your budget.
Food + Drink
When it comes to traveling, I’m all about trying the local cuisine and am a big fan of going on food tours! If you’re staying in a location for a couple of weeks and have a kitchen available, you may want to cook some meals yourself.
Talk about how often you plan on eating out — whether that’s street food or local restaurants — and what your expectations are for this.
What kind of experiences do you want to have while traveling? Do you want a local guide to show you some of their favorite spots? Do you want to explore the nightlife and party scene? Are you going on cultural tours? Perhaps you’d like to relax and hang out by the beach for a majority of the time.
Have a chat about what kind of things you want to do and what your priorities are!
These are all things I would recommend talking about when traveling with your best friend, as a group, or with a parent, too!
Saving for the Trip as a Couple
After you’ve figured out what kind of trip you’re after, it will be easier to make a budget when you know where your priorities are.
Creating a budget for the trip helps you plan in advance, figure out how much you need to save per month, and takes all the guesswork out.
Instead of asking yourself “Can we afford to go on this trip?” you’ll have a gameplan and know exactly where your dollars are going and what you need to budget for.
Actual Steps to Take
When Meyer and I save for a trip, we each commit to saving some percentage of our income each month. While it’s not always equal or split 50/50, we set the trip as a goal and we each save X amount toward it each month.
We started using You Need A Budget to create a spending plan for our day-to-day lives and plan for future travel.
Things have been a little crazy financially as we just moved from South Africa to California. I bought my first home and the travel industry is somewhat at a standstill (meaning work is quite volatile)… so adding structure to our finances and planning for the future is extremely helpful!
YNAB teaches four simple rules that show you how to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt, and save more money so that you can spend it on the things that matter most to you.
We’re using YNAB to come up with a spending plan and to create a special savings fund for numerous things: our wedding, honeymoon, and all sorts of bucket list destinations!
First, we figured out what our monthly expenses are—mortgage, groceries, transportation, fun, etc. Then, we plugged that into the YNAB software to figure out just what we can set aside each month.
They also offer free video training and live workshops. The best part is you can sign up for a free 34-day trial (no credit card required) to see if it would be a good fit for your lifestyle!
Come Up With a Spending Plan + Travel Budget
Even if you don’t have *exact* figures for things (accommodations, food, transportation), you can research ballpark estimates and/or figure out how much you’re budgeting per day of the trip.
I really like using YNAB’s Four Rules to help figure out how to prioritize and budget successfully:
Give Every Dollar a Job — Know exactly how you want to spend the money you have available before you spend a dime. This will ensure that you have money for the things that matter most to you.
Embrace Your True Expenses — Figure out what you really spend and treat those infrequent expenses (like annual car registration, insurance every 6 months, or replacing your phone every few years) like monthly expenses in your monthly budget. Breaking big or uncommon expenses down means you won’t be surprised by them later on!
Roll With the Punches — Accept that things change and your budget should be flexible. You won’t spend the same amount on all categories every month, so be prepared to move money around. Moving money around doesn’t mean you are budgeting wrong, it means you are actually budgeting!
Age Your Money — Break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle by aiming to reach the point of using the money you earned last month to pay this month’s expenses and don’t go over that amount! This margin will create more peace of mind than you can even imagine.
Who Covers What While Traveling?
Even if you saved independently, are spending on your own, or have mutual accounts, if you want to split expenses while traveling, there are a few options.
Establish who is paying for what ahead of time — it can be really complicated and hard to keep track of who pays what if you’re each grabbing tabs along the way. If you are trying to keep things even, make a plan ahead of time.
I would recommend having one person pay for everything and then divide it by two and have the other person reimburse you.
If you’re not using a credit card, you can equally pitch in cash in $100-or-so increments along the trip. Cover all mutual expenses like transportation, accommodation, etc. Let one person be in charge of the money and keep receipts.
Relax on keeping things equal at mealtime and/or be considerate of your ordering. It’s NEVER going to be equal unless you order the exact same thing. If you really want to keep it 50/50, pay for meals individually, and split the purely mutual costs.
If you’d like to use an app to figure out everything, Splitwise is great! You can easily record whatever each person pays for and figure out who owes what later in the trip.
Typically with Meyer and I, I pay for everything on a travel rewards credit card because we get the points we used to book our flights and hotels, and then at the end of the trip, we’ll split the costs and he pays me back for his half.
Top Tips to Cut Expenses Before a Trip
So, now that you’ve got a budget and a general idea of what you’re spending on your trip, here are my top tips to cut out expenses and put those funds toward your trip!
Evaluate how you spend and figure out what things are a priority (do you really need multiple streaming service subscriptions or can you opt for just one?).
Eat at home as often as possible. Meal prepping can be a great way to cut down on food costs!
How often are you buying coffee and/or juices? Consider each $5 cup and how frequently you’re making those purchases — they add up!
Sale doesn’t mean shop. This is a huge one for me—just because something is on sale does not mean you need it. Unsubscribe from as many retail emails as possible so the temptation isn’t there!
Date Night at Home
On top of dining at home more often — consider making the planning process of your trip into a date night!
Instead of going out, stay in, open a bottle of wine, and plan your dream trip together. Read reviews, look through blogs, pin photos of what you want to do, and find tours you’d like to go on together!
Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Because you’ll be making travel purchases, have you considered getting a travel rewards credit card?
Personally, I’m a big believer in travel reward credit cards if you are in a position to pay off the balance every month.
Most cards will give you 5x the points to the dollar on travel purchases — so you can rack up points pretty quickly (especially if you sign up for a new card and earn the bonus), and then apply those points to your flight or next trip!
Ways to Cut Back Expenses While Traveling
Wondering what ways you can cut back expenses while traveling? Here are some of my go-to tips:
Embrace the location and have a picturesque picnic (imagine sharing a bottle of wine on the banks of the Seine in Paris or snacking on some cheese and prosciutto near the Spanish Steps in Rome!)
Focus on the place and experiences rather than expensive souvenirs
Take public transportation (trains, metros, buses over taxis or private cars)
Look for budget activities and if the destination has some sort of tourist city pass for a discount on popular attractions
Take advantage of free things to do — research free museum days, festivals, etc.