You've seen stories about people taking off and traveling the world. Here's how one woman saved up and did it.
In high school, Brooke Schoenman took a trip to Italy with her Latin class. She returned home determined to see more of the world.
“I remember being fascinated with how people like me were living in other parts of the world, speaking different languages,” she wrote in an email.
And that fascination would stay with her, leading her to take the biggest adventure of her life.
At 23, while working full-time as a help desk agent, Brooke made up her mind — she would give herself two years to save enough money to travel the world.
She wasn’t just working toward saving for a vacation or two. No, she wanted to spend a minimum of one full year living abroad, fully immersed in other cultures.
So she made a plan: She would cut down on unnecessary expenses. She’d sign up for overtime at work. She’d go out less. She’d take part-time jobs. She’d downsize her lifestyle in every way possible — all with the goal of saving up $30,000 in two years to fund her adventure.
It wouldn’t be easy saving that much money, but Brooke was determined. And she was fortunate enough to be able to devote as much of her time, money, and energy as she could muster to her ambitious plan.
"There was a time that I would work at my day job from 7:30 am to 4 pm," she wrote on Making Sense of Cents, "and then head off to do some evening waitressing ... from 5 to 10 pm."
It's the kind of schedule many people who need to bring in extra cash to cover their financial goals and needs are familiar with.
And it was worth it for her.
“I think having a bigger-than-life goal in mind helped,” Brooke explains. “I was saving for a life-changing experience — something so far from what was normal to me and anyone I knew at the time. It was exciting!”
Along the way, she celebrated even the smallest victories.
“If I took a change jar to the bank and it was twice as much as I thought it would be, I would make a point to celebrate," Brooke writes, "and sometimes I would allow a little splurge.”
The occasional treat was just as important as celebrating the small wins.
"I tried to cut out everything in the beginning, but soon learned that the mental toll of less fun and less freedom to eat out or go to the movies was too much,” Brooke writes. “You have to budget in some fun money, even when you're going for a big huge goal.”
By doing this, she didn’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of her goal. She remained motivated. (Knowing that you're not starving yourself of all life's pleasures is important for any savings goal. It means you can actually stick to your plan instead of burning out too early.)
A year and a half in, Brooke had saved $23,000. She decided that was enough.
Brooke describes herself as “someone who hates to wait." So, she explains, “When I started to get close to my fall-back goal of $25,000 (about $23,000 after plane tickets and gear), I decided that starting my life of travel half a year earlier was an acceptable option."
So, she bought her plane tickets and set off to travel the world.
Traveling was more fulfilling than Brooke could have imagined.
From archeological digs in Menorca, Spain, to watching the jungle wake up at sunrise in Tikal, Guatemala, she pushed herself far beyond her comfort zone and experienced things that many only dream of. She even decided to make Sydney, Australia, her new home.
She's continued to lean on the tips and tricks she learned during that year and a half to fund other (shorter) adventures, like a three-and-a-half-month trip to Turkey, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan.
Today, Brooke's budgeting isn't nearly as extreme as it was for her initial goal, but she remains money conscious.
And she's helping others save too by sharing advice and travel stories on her website: HerPackingList.com. Though her site's geared toward travelers, her tips are relevant for anyone saving toward a goal. (This calculator is also a big help in figuring out how to reach your savings goals.)
Brooke truly believes that saving up for a big goal is achievable. Though, she adds, saving doesn't come in a one-size-fits-all package.
“Everyone will have different circumstances surrounding their saving process. Maybe the cost of living where they are is higher or maybe they can't forego hanging with friends at bars and restaurants,” Brooke writes. “Once you can pinpoint the real reason the saving isn't working, you can test out alternative strategies and budgets until one works.”
Saving is hard. There's no doubt about it.
And $23,000 is a lot of money. For someone doing their best to just get by, such a large amount in such a short time frame may not always be possible.
But Brooke made the sacrifices she needed to save for the future she envisioned. And her experience shows that with perseverance, goals that seem like dreams can be attainable — it just takes patience, planning, and time.
So while your savings goal may not be a trip around the world, securing your financial future is just as exciting. Because while we never know what the future holds, preparing financially helps open some doors. Help make your dreams a reality by setting your financial goals today.