It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on bikeforums. Heck, it’s been a long time since I’ve even logged on. But since this forum was such a valuable source of information to me, a newbie on his first bicycle journey, I thought it was about time for me to try to give back. Hopefully the following can be of some use to someone out there about to bike tour for the first time…
So a lot of people over the years have asked me various questions related to the financial aspects of my trip; how did I afford to tour for so long, where did the money come from, how much did I spend on a tour of that length take? Etcetera, etcetera. I’ve never been able to give a very detailed answer apart from the “I’m good at saving money” response (or the sometimes used: “I’m a tight-arse” response) so I will try to explain a few of my ways in more detail here. Granted, a lot of these sorts of suggestions are lifelong habits that you could use at any time. Your up-bringing definitely influences your attitudes towards money. My tight-arse ways are straight from my parents. So here are some suggestions:
1. Carry a pen and paper with you everywhere. If you can, keep it in your wallet or purse. With this pen and paper you are going to record every single time you take out your wallet; how much you spent and exactly what you spent it on. Now I know all you trendy, technology-savy kids are going to want to be doing it this on their iphones or other-brand electronic gadget-of-choice but I say this: “Do it on paper” – the act of writing it in ink and committing it to paper are a forced reminder that you are spending money.
Put down every single amount you spent, no matter how small. Even if you gave spare change to the homeless guy on the street, put it down on your piece of paper.
2. At the end of the week, add up how much you spent and what you spent it on. And don’t reach for that calculator - do it by hand, the way you were taught at school. Now next to each tem of expense, tick whether it was a necessity expense or not. Could you have lived without it? Then it’s not necessity then, is it?). Keep doing this over a couple of weeks, religiously recording every detail of your spending habits. Now you can see what is eating into your future “biking holiday spending fund”. And now you can start to slowly but surely put a little bit more money into a savings fund or in a piggy bank each week to start your bike trip that little bit sooner. Remember every penny you save now, is a penny extra that you can enjoy on yourself while on your bike trip/holiday.
3. Use cash. Set yourself a limit for the week. At the start of the week go to the bank machine and withdraw the cash you’ve budgeted for the week. You’ll probably get it waaaay wrong to start with. Everyone underestimates how much they spend each week. Try your hardest to stick to your cash budget and resist pulling out the credit/debit card when you’ve literally got an empty wallet.
4. Oh and another thing. Get rid of that debt. Ok I know that’s a silly thing to tell people in this credit-based society, but do your best to get rid of your debt. Unfortunately if you are one of those lucky ones to be living in a society where you are often drowned in ridiculous amounts of debt before you can even begin to earn a wage (… one thing that communism did get right…free education…and for everyone). Yes I know, I know…the entire economy would collapse (not sure that’s an entirely bad thing) if everyone started saving their money. But here’s the deal…, yes it may be a great freedom to have that buy-now, pay-later attitude but you will pay more for it later. And the more you pay for it later, the less you get to spend on your bicycle journey sabbatical. Try not to live beyond your means. If you can’t afford to be paying for something with money that you don’t have – shouldn’t you be questioning whether it is really a necessity? How about actually saving up for it and suffering a bit of delayed gratification.
5. You like your corner coffee shop coffee? Your fancy schmancy Starbucks Skinny Caramel Macchiatos and your Caffè Vanilla Frappuccino® Lightly Blended Beverages, but try calculating (that’s right, your getting the idea, on paper) how much it costs you per year for those coffee fixes of yours. Think of how many pecan pies that is while starving for calories on your bike trip. That’s an awful lot of extra peacan pies right there. Start sampling the office coffee machine’s delicacies. Yes I know it tastes similar to the stuff you sweep up off a factory floor and puts hair on bits of your body that you didn’t expect hair to be growing but it’s saving you money right? And your office mates, those same ones that are asking you in for a morning round of coffees at the nearest coffeebar…yep, see them? Those fancy coffee-guzzling workmates? Yep…they are going to be the same fancy coffee-guzzling workmates (still sitting all day in-front of that 15-inch LCD monitor from 9 to 5) when you are riding two sweet wheels down that hill singing wooohooo all the way in a couple of month’s time.
Same with cool drinks or fizzy drinks or sodas or whatever you may call them in your country. Do you really need that expensive sugar rush every day? Try drinking lots of water instead. Oh and none of that fancy schmancy bottled water – you’re trying to save money, remember?
6. Bring your own lunch to work. Sure it may not look or taste as good as that deep fried breakfast burrito from that dodgy looking Mexican trailer near the worksite or that healthier sounding low-calorie baja bowl from Taco Del Mar but you’re here to save money, right? And if you’re lucky enough to be at an office where going out for work lunches are a social thing, bring your home-made lunch in a bag/lunchbox to whatever restaurant you are all going to. I’m sure if you eat it discretely enough the staff aren’t going to mind. And if anyone does bother you about it, tell them you’re on a special diet and can’t eat gluten or nuts or something like that. If it’s a workmate questioning why you are being such a cheap-ass these days, please refrain from telling them you’re saving up so you can quit this lame-ass job and go ride…Remember, those same office mates, the ones that are asking why you’re eating that dodgy looking home-made food when you could be munching on their Taco Del Mars? Yeah those ones… They are the same office mates that in a couple of month’s time, while you are lying sprawled out in a tent under a seemingly endless vista of stars that you never knew existed after an eventful day’s riding your way to freedom, are the same workmates that are going to bed exhausted after another meaningless 9 to 5 day in their dead-end meaningless job where they are just another worn out cog in a tired old, beat-up machine.
7. Ok, might be time to curtail that socializing a bit. I don’t want you to not have fun, it may sound like it, but come-on…be creative… fun doesn’t always have to involve downing a half-dozen bottles of beer at the end of a work week. Either that or get some cheaper means of losing sobriety at the end of a week. Mentholated spirits may do the job but I’ve heard it can blind you too.
8. Phone plans. They say it was a recession last year. It always suprises me whilst out and about the number of people with the latest iphone/blackberry/(insert latest cell phone product here). I know you say you couldn’t live without it but tell me how you managed to live your life quite successfully without it years ago? How much is your phone plan? Is this a way to save some extra cash for the trip?
9. Get rid of that car. If you don’t need it. Remember you are going to starting a huge bike journey in a couple of months, you are going to be living on your bike for over half of your waking day, and for the rest of the day you are going to be not more than a few metres away from it. It’s time to start living and breathing bicycles. Live your life by bike rather than a car. Let this not just be a bicycle holiday for a couple of months, let it be… from now on.., a change of lifestyle behaviour. Start living by bike. Grocery runs on the bike. Visiting friends by bike. Sure it might be minus twenty degrees outside and heavily snowing, but it’s time you got used to it…In a few months time there will be no roof nor walls to separate you and the elements. A thin layer of tent material is the difference between inside and outside. Living it real baby!
10. How much you paying for your cable TV subscription? Why not get rid of the TV altogether? You’ll find after a few weeks of living without you will no longer care about the latest TV show rumours circling around the workplace water cooler/coffee machine. And what to do with all this new found spare time that the TV was sucking up? How about spending the time doing all those things that you always tell people you have no time for. You have time now. And what else? Spend more time cooking dinner, have long conversations with friends, long make out sessions with your partner, spend more time doing the things you enjoy doing. Go on, the list is endless. Be creative and think of things rather than being spoon-fed ideas endlessly from that TV draining the life out of your living room.
11. Grocery shop a little more frugally. Yeah ok, I know organic is good for you, and shop locally etc – I know, I like to live healthy too. Yeah, so it’s good for you but it’s often pricier too. You are trying to save money right? Try getting the cheaper budget brands for a while, the cheaper mass-produced corporate fruit and veggies. Just think of it like this: you are in diet training. You think you are going to eat all healthy on that bike trip?? How many health food/community organic markets do you think there are on the road between Fairbanks and Calgary? Umm, last time I checked…none. Believe me, you are going to be ingesting all sorts of unhealthy rubbish on your bike trip, something’s got to make up for the thousands of calories you are burning each day and often junk food is the closest thing that is going to be available. Me? My fix was snicker bars and peanut butter and nutella on rice cakes. You think that stuff is healthy? No. But it gave me back the energy I needed to recover quickly after a full day in the saddle. I was still the healthiest bastard I knew because of all that exercise and fresh air everyday. Healthier than the six-months-ago-me sitting in an artificially-lit office cubicle staring at that 15-inch LCD monitor all day.
12. While throughout this entire post I’ve ranted about ways to cut down on your spending, here’s one suggestion for the opposite: Invest in quality bike panniers. Spend a bit more than the usual and get panniers that will still be useable in thirty years time when you’re taking your grandkids out for bike rides. While I’m not out to be a walking advertisement for my favourite pannier brand, I will say this. They sent out a replacement part next-day-delivery free-of-charge to Alaska to replace the pannier part that had been crushed by a forklift truck while unloading my bike off a train. Paid for itself.
13. Pay good money to buy quality gear – it tends to last and saves you money in the long run. And well designed equipment never loses it’s usefulness. It will never need updating to get the latest and greatest . But then again, on the other hand, don’t waste money on getting the latest / greatest stuff when there is no need. I didn’t have the fanciest high tech Gore-Tex jacket. It definitely wasn’t made of some space-age material straight from the astronauts on the international space station. My jacket was a 15 dollar nylon rain jacket I’d bought probably half a decade earlier. I layered up. When I got hot, I took a layer off. When I got cold, I put an extra layer on. Ok I may not have been as comfy as I could have been … but that 100 dollars that I saved from buying a new jacket allowed me an extra week of my holiday on the road.
14. Consider moving back in with your folks for a while. Is that a gasp of surprise? Ok… I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Think about it though…only for a short while… and only if you’re desperate. Think of those long days of biking bliss. Think of the wind ruffling your hair. Think of those woohoo-inducing downhills. Think of the freedom. A little bit of sacrifice can only make you stronger right?
Sh*t that was long winded. I can go on can’t I?
So if you’ve read this far, you have done well – that’s a lot of ranting and raving you’ve read yourself through. I won’t bore you with anymore of my opinions or tight-ass narrow minded views. But please, what do you think? You agree or disagree? What have been your ways to save up money for a bike holiday?
Oh and a bit of a plug: my North American Bicycle Journey website!