How I Saved $2,000 for My Dream Paris Vacation

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In my house, family vacations were a big deal.

Growing up, we took two big trips each year, one in the summer and one during winter break. If the trip was on this continent, we’d head in the family van and drive across the country. My dad theorized that we’d save money and see more along the way. Occasionally, we’d splurge to visit Pakistan or Sweden, where some of my family lives.

These trips, though sometimes exhausting, made a huge impression on me and cemented an early love of travel.

Last fall, I decided I wanted to go to Paris. One of my good friends from college was in her final year of graduate studies in Bordeaux and knew fluent French, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I just needed the money to get there.

My Family Didn’t Instill a Love of Budgeting …

My parents were responsible with their retirement funds and life insurance but would overspend with plastic when they really wanted something. I was acutely aware of some of my parents’ habits, and was determined to do better when I grew up.

On the whole, I’d categorize my financial status as “ignorant.”

Three years out of college, I was slowly paying off a five-figure student loan but at least I didn’t have credit card debt. (My parents helped pay tuition and credit cards until I graduated, so that helped.)

Then I graduated, and started work. Even though I had a good job at an advertising agency in New York, I had residual emotional baggage from my previous stint as a low-paid regional reporter in North Carolina, making $35,000. When I switched to advertising, my salary bumped up by more than half.

I thought I’d be comfortable, but New York expenses made it difficult to feel like I ever had enough.

I also never really knew where my money went. I had signed up for a 401(k) through my job but couldn’t tell you how it worked. My budgeting consisted of depriving myself of things I wanted for as long as possible before indulging in a few major splurges every month, mostly because I never knew exactly how much money I had. I rarely went clothes shopping, but when I did, I would spend hundreds of dollars. Now I’m 24 (I’ll be 25 in August) and I’m starting to change the way I’m thinking about my money.

And all that started with this vacation.

My Paris Dream Would Require Real Planning

Between flights, hotel rooms and spending money, I wanted to save $2,000 to travel comfortably in France for eight days. I assumed around $800 for roundtrip airfare and around $100 a day for food (converting from euros). I was staying with my friend in Bordeaux for three days, so that would be free.

Instead of either a crowded hostel bunk bed or a luxury suite, I compromised for the remaining days I’d be there. I booked a small, lovely apartment in central Paris through Airbnb.com for me and my friend, and it cost $88 a night for four nights–divided by two. The rest of the money would be for things like museum admissions, metro tickets and shopping. I could’ve done the trip on much less but I wanted to be able to try nice bars and restaurants; I didn’t want to travel halfway around the world to deprive myself.

In researching budgeting tools online, I came across LearnVest and immediately enrolled in the Take Control Bootcamp. The bootcamp encouraged me to set long- and short-term goals for my income and savings, which got me thinking about the things that matter most to me: my values, my ideal future. It also made me think about what I’d regret not doing—like visiting the City of Light.

How I Got Myself to Paris

First, I created automated savings accounts for every goal I have (travel, education, emergencies, health expenses and eventually buying a home). Since the money is automatically deducted from my paycheck, I can’t miss what I’ve never seen.

I started by cutting back on unnecessary expenses. For example, I stopped getting manicures and pedicures in the winter, and I postponed getting a new phone until Black Friday.

But in order to make my travel dreams a reality, I really needed to earn more money.

At my annual review last November, I came with salary research and a list of my accomplishments on the job. I felt prepared and left satisfied. After a surprise promotion (and subsequent raise), I went back into my checking account and adjusted my budget and savings transfers accordingly.

I also started looking for side income. I began doing more freelance writing, editing and even started mystery shopping at restaurants (basically, dining out anonymously so I could report back and owners can learn more about customers’ experiences at their restaurants). Mystery shopping doesn’t really buoy my income much, but it’s a nice way to subsidize my monthly dining. I got into it by visiting the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website to search for opportunities in my area.

Between the raise and the side income, I ended up putting away $300 to $400 a month for Paris.

And, Finally …

All in all, it took me about six months to save for the trip—which I finally went on this April!

To avoid spending money I didn’t have, I didn’t book my flights or hotel rooms until there was enough money in my special travel account. I ended up exceeding my savings goal a bit and kept the rest in the account for travel later in the year.

(For 27 more ways to save on travel, read this.)

My ten days in Paris and Bordeaux made all the hard work and budgeting sacrifices worth it.

Even though it rained the entire trip, the experience was incredible. I’m so glad to have stayed in an apartment right across from Notre Dame, instead of a cheap, rowdy hostel farther away. I climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower, gawked at the Mona Lisa and walked across the Seine while French men shamelessly flirted with me. I spent hours upon hours giggling with one of my best friends and ate a ton of cheese.

And the best part? I didn’t have to worry about money a single time while I was there.

How My Vacation Changed Me for Good

And the added benefit was … saving up for this trip helped put all of my goals into focus. Throughout my life, there have been so many things I wanted to pursue but didn’t, either because I was afraid or because I thought they were silly or impossible.

When I was a kid I really wanted to learn an instrument. I also wanted to learn how to swim (yes, I don’t know how to swim). When I got older, I thought it would be really cool, and potentially useful for my career, to learn Arabic.

I made plenty of excuses: I was too busy with school or I didn’t have enough money. Arabic classes and music lessons would be time-consuming and expensive. I told myself that needed to save my money for more long-term, “serious” goals, like buying a home or saving for retirement.

That started to change when I began to picture the life I want and the person I want to become. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in five years, but I do know I want to speak Arabic, and play the guitar, and I want to travel. While that sounds simple, it’s not exactly cheap.

I’ve resolved not to scrimp on little things (like depriving myself of everything I could for most of the month) or to spend on meaningless things (like my subsequent crash splurges when I can’t take the deprivation anymore). It means I’ve got to be a hustler, continually finding new ways to earn and save more. I’m resolved to earn more side income and continue to adjust my savings targets to match my ever-evolving priorities.    

On to My Next Goals!

I’m currently signed up for an online Arabic course but won’t let myself sign up for guitar lessons until later in the year, when my education account replenishes itself. I want to do a lot of things, but I’ve resigned myself to not doing them all at once.

I haven’t started automatically deducting for health expenses since it’s not a pressing issue, thankfully, but I think I might want Lasik eventually, so I’m planning to start soon. Just the idea that I’ll be saving for a procedure like that makes me feel like I am finally taking care of myself. 

Since I know I’ve got enough money going into savings because I’ve automated it, I also don’t feel as guilty spending what I do have in my checking account on a latte run or an occasional meal out.

I’ve also now paid off one of my three student loans. And, at 24, I’ve got five figures saved up in the bank for things that are important to me, like taking classes and owning a home someday.

Who knew saving for a dream vacation would lead to a whole new philosophy on budgeting for my dream life?

  • Sonam

    Sadia, you are an inspiration! I am so amazed at your article and so happy for you =) I would love to know more on how you prepared to get a raise at your annual review. I would love to do the same but I am not sure how to begin. My review is in September so I have some time. I look forward to your advice!

    • http://twitter.com/sadialatifi Sadia Latifi

      Thanks for the kind words!
      For raise prep, I did a lot of salary research – check places like glassdoor.com, etc. And then list out your accomplishments with as many specifics as possible (think about what you do outside of projects, too, like you how add value to company culture – numbers are good if you can measure profits, etc.). And aim high, don’t lowball yourself because you feel like it’s too much to ask for – I think that’s the biggest mistake people made. If it’s a percentage that’s in the double digits (feels scarier to say out loud), I’d recommend saying the number instead. If it’s less than double digits, I’d just say the percentage. When I did research, I found out that I was being underpaid for my specific field by about 15%. It’s also helpful to look at competitors and shop around a little to see what’s out there so there’s more incentive to keep you around. 

      Lastly, if you have a really good relationship with your boss (like I do), I’d recommend giving him/her a heads up before the actual review so they can start working on things behind the scenes. My boss knew I was going to ask for something (and knew that I had researched some places), and so I think he was working on some stuff on his end with HR before my actual review. I realize that won’t work with everyone, though.

      Most importantly, kick ass! If you work hard and are a team player, they will want you to stay and will do whatever they can to make sure you do. 

      Good luck!

      • Sonam

         Thanks so much for your help Sadia! I hope I can do it like you did!

  • ‘Ty

    waow! i’m 33 and you’ve inspired me. I have been trying to badger my hubby into allowing me to visit Nairobi in Sep for a friends wedding, now I know what I’m going to do…. Save up and work enough for it! Thanks thanks!

  • Lbowling23

    Vacations are amazing for the soul!
    http://www.lbeeandthemoneytree.wordpress.com

  • wtff

    UM… i would LOVE to know what advertising agency in NYC pays a 24 yr old over $50k?? someone please let me know because ive been slaving away for agencies and am not making anything NEAR that amount -__- 

    • Rob

      pharma.  my ex works as an art director for a big pharma ad firm.  he was making $50k when I met him, had a new job at $80k as art sup when we broke up.  it’s boring and soulless, but you’ll make big bucks.

    • http://twitter.com/sadialatifi Sadia Latifi

      Pharma does pay but I don’t touch any of that stuff. I think it depends on the role you have within the company – I do more strategic/content stuff within the UX department, and it’s a little more specialized so I think that’s what made the difference. I promise they exist, though! You can look me up and try applying for jobs at my company – they are hiring a ton right now! :)

  • DivaCherokee

    Well written and very motivating. I have, for the first time this year, put money in savings for several months for our summer vacation. This article has motivated me to create savings accounts for other things that are important to us as well.

  • Sonya Stephens

    The words “when I began to picture the life I want and the person I want to become. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in five years, but I do know I want to…” really hit home for me. There are so many things I want to do and I can’t let anyone compromise my goals. I need to go for them.

  • Liz

    You must have been there the same time as me … I was there April 9-18 and it rained the whole time :).

    Great job on your budgeting!

  • Thatsnancy

    Very inspirational and logical advice, Sadia! It struck me once again that the beginning of making dreams into reality is having that base income from a decent JOB…if there isn’t much coming in–there won’t be much to save, not matter what type of deprivation or planning we do!! And as women, we need to STOP accepting the .70 to the dollar that men make for doing the same work. It is RIDICULOUS that we are still experiencing this pay disparity in 2012. Kudos for getting that raise and for deciding to be empowered with financial knowledge, Sadia.

  • lizlemon

    Great advice! I’m in a very similar situation, 24, making a little over 50k in NYC and never seeming to have enough money. I have a small student loan to pay off, and I feel like I can’t really spend what I want to while I’m paying it down. My boyfriend and I LOVE food and eating well, and on top of that I love buying new clothes — more things that eat up my money! 

    We want to open a joint savings account to help us actually budget a two week vacation in September (rather than wait until the last minute and have no money to go anywhere, which has happend to us before!) This has inspired me to start saving… right now!

    • wtff

      what industry do you work in? 

      • Taylor

        Don’t you watch 30 Rock? (see her user name ;))

  • Sugarbowl

    Sadia- just a note about your medical expenses. You can elect how ever much it will cost you into your flex spending account when you have open enrollment at work, and it is tax free. Consider it a discount! I did this after years of saying I would get invisalaign- I finally did and I feel so good about taking care of myself. Takes some planning, but you have just enough time now. Go speak to HR.

  • wtff

    “(My parents helped pay tuition and credit cards until I graduated, so that helped.)” /stopped_reading 

    • http://twitter.com/sadialatifi Sadia Latifi

      I totally take your point, but maybe I should give you some more detail: I received financial aid in college and worked every semester through either work-study and/or internships. My parents contributed their expected ‘parental contribution’ amount, which wasn’t huge since we grew up in a lower middle class household. I didn’t really have my own credit cards – I had one in college that was linked to my parents’ account and there was a low credit limit. My dad is insane about money and literally called me to discuss every line item of a credit card bill that was unexplainable. 
      Anyway, I understand where you’re coming from but I promise you I worked my ass off in college and didn’t have a credit card free pass. 

      • Ruebix78

        Don’t bother justifying yourself – you are doing great.  I work in college admissions and plenty of parents “help” their kids pay for school – which does not mean paying for everything.  The vast majority of the students I see borrow about $10k per year themselves, with their parents and grants covering the rest. Far from a free ride, but they are learning the value of their education.

      • Rona

        I don’t understand why some people can’t take the good out of an article. I enjoyed it because the premise is save for your desires actively don’t just sit around and think its going to happen. Sometimes we focus so much on what we can’t do we forget about what we can.

  • Amber

    Great article – I love how it shares the message that saving actually allows us to enjoy life even more.

  • Sarah

    I felt you were eerily describing my same situation! I’ve been trying to get a handle on my budget/debt for years but have the exact attitude/method you did. What helped me is that I recently joined a credit union and consolidated my 2 CC’s into one w/ 1/2 the APR rate and invested invested in our 403b and adequate insurance (while no so great on the pay check, much better for the long term expenses/savings and peace of mind). I reevaluated my goals and decided that CC pay off was absolute #1 and I’ve naturally adapted to being frugal ever since; this time no added mourning/anger for things I can’t “afford”. Once I also figured out that traveling is like breathing to me, I added a great trip to Costa Rica in Dec and am aggressively saving for that trip too (so I also don’t have to feel like I’m poor on vacation since I find that defeats the purpose of even going). I looked at my bank statement and pleasantly found that I have 1k I have not spent and pretty confused as to how that happened as I’m always used to living pay check to pay check. Thanks to your story, I feel renewed inspiration to figure out a minimal 2nd source of income, have that final push to divide up my paycheck before I see it, and confidence that I can be the person I want to be without being broke doing it!

  • maracujation

    thank you for sharing your story.  I am visualizing a short term and long term future that involves getting a good car, some travel, and a simple but cute wedding.  I have a plan to put those dreams into reality by earning some side income and saving.  
    On another note…I always wanted to play guitar too and I do it now..I even play in coffee houses once in a while :)
    a tip I can give you if you don’t want to spend lots of money but want to get started is check craigslist for a cheap guitar (you are just starting so no need to get anything fancy and there are plenty of people out there that got one and kept it in the closet forever..bad for them..good for you)…then google simple guitar chords and focus on learning one, then another, then switching between them, etc.  Look up some easy songs, or youtube lessons and even if you dedicate it 5 min a day you will find yourself accomplishing something you always wanted.  Then when you save for your lessons you will get more out of them because you would have taught yourself the basics already.  Just a thought :)

    good luck and thanks for the inspiration…at 24 your accomplishments are amazing!

  • caitlin

    This was really amazing and helpful, thank you for sharing!

  • Ruebix78

    I absolutely LOVE this article – and I think you will go very far in life because you have already learned the value of a dollar.  While your situation and income may change, the fact that you have learned to prioritize and work hard for what is important to you are skills that will really serve you well.
    I am 33-years-old, working in a field I like for just about 40k/year (doesn’t go very far, but I make do), and have managed to buy my own house, completely pay off my college loans, get my masters degree for free (through my employer – people say I am lucky, but I planned it out and had to make three job jumps before I got to the employer that would pay for the degree I wanted), and I usually take a nice vacation each year and eat out at a few nice places each month.  But you have to prioritize – new shoes or a day trip?  Cable TV or a cruise? The answers to those questions depend on the individual, but you have to be ready to say no to one.  I have accomplished a lot more than many of my friends making nearly double my salary because they tend to spend whatever they get.

    I also love that you use the word “hustle” – because that is exactly what I feel like I do.  I seek out side work, I pick up extra travel from co-workers, because I know it will give me extra money.  If I spend money I make sure I am making something back – points through credit cards (always paid off in full), Groupons, coupons, etc. I have found websites that let me earn money for things I already do – like watch TV, search the internet, post on FB.  I make several hundred dollars each year with that, which I allow myself to splurge with.  

    Good luck with everything – you are doing great!

    • Rebecca

       What websites have you found that help you earn that bit of extra money with the tv/internet/facebook? I’m a grad student living on loans, and any little bit of extra money helps!

      • Ruebix78

        I don’t want to get in trouble for posting links here, but please feel free to email me at ruebix78 at yahoo.com – I can give you a rundown of which ones work well.  There are even apps for iPhones and Androids that help you earn!  Sometimes you can earn PayPal, which is as good as cash, but I usually go for the Amazon gift cards or gift cards to places like CVS/Starbucks/Best Buy (for the splurges).  I’d starting my doctorate this summer and will be getting most of my books for free from Amazon thanks to these gift cards :)

    • pearlie123

      Ruebix78 i love your response and i am interested in how you earned money from searching internet , post on FB and watching TV ….how did you get paid ?

      Also have u visited Asia , esp Malaysia? .. its cheap and absolutely affordable as long as one can splurge the air ticket ;)

  • Jenna

    I did the same thing my senior year of college…visited a friend who was in Paris for part of her graduate program. I saved up from my part-time job, and the trip was well worth the effort! And of course it gave me the travel bug. :-)

    My fiance and I have been saving up for our honeymoon trip, and we are almost there. We did the same thing you did…made sure that we had saved up for the airfare before we booked the flight, and now we’re just about done with the hotel savings. It’s something we’ve been diligently saving up for the last two years, and it’s exciting that we are so close! (And even more exciting that we are not accruing any credit card debt!!)

  • Emi Buckley

    I’m 26 and work as a library tech, teaching computer classes in a public library making under 30k a year. Right now I am working on my master’s degree to be a librarian, but will then only make 36K when I graduate. My husband makes about the same as I do. Granted we live in Tampa Florida, where cost of living is bit less than New York, most of our money is eaten up by rent and car payments. I am having a hard time finding financial advice for those of us living on a more typical salary for those of us in our twenties. When you don’t spend money on lattes, clothes, fancy restaurants etc. Where do you find money to save?

    • http://twitter.com/sadialatifi Sadia Latifi

      Totally understand. I am lucky that I don’t deal with car/cable/grad school stuff right now. That would really eat away at my ability to do any of this.

      I have a friend who makes around $30K working at a magazine. I think she has found a lot of luck earning income on the side – Elance.com, Guru.com, and Craigslist are all great places to start. You may think you need some very specialized skill – but there are a lot of basic editing, transcribing, etc. jobs out there. The  more/better you do, the more you can charge in the future. I also have some friends who do have some more craftier skills than I – think tailoring, crafts, etc., and they find luck on places like Etsy and whatnot. 

      That all being said, saving even $20 for something is still worth it. I’m nowhere near buying a house (financially or emotionally), but I put away $10 from every paycheck to that account – just to know that it’s on the horizon for “someday.” Just because the amount may be smaller, doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It might take longer to accomplish certain things but I think it’s all still possible!

    • Rockstar_chick87

      I live in St. Pete! And I’m 25, and make like 24k a year (with my Bachelor’s in Biology from USF!), and my boyfriend makes about 5k less than me. I also don’t spend money on lattes, clothes, and manicures. Where is the saving advice for people that already “save money”? I totally know where you are coming from! So far though, I’ve found a way to save a whole paycheck each month, so that’s a start.

  • Kime

    I really enjoyed this article! I am 21 years old and approaching my senior year of college. Learnvest has become one of my favorite websites because of the great advice, articles and personal storeis. I would like to take a trip after I graduate next year and your plan is helpful for me to use as a planning guide. My trip may be a month or 2 and possible involve a service project.
    I love how Leanrvest has so many inspiring stories of women that have great goals like purchasing a home, paying off student loans and planning for emergencies. I look forward to reading more inspiring stories.

  • Guest

    This girl is me!  I loved reading an article that felt so relevant to my life!  Thank you!

  • Rl

    wow! impressive article. So maybe you can start saving for our next family trip/vacation! haha

  • chelle

    Well written article!  I am 37 and I found this very inspiring!  I have saved to spend two weeks in France with my mother and it was one of the best vacations to date! I also do not make more than $40k, live in Minneapolis and have been able to travel some and I recently purchased a home! When you have a focus, it makes dividing your money much easier.

  • Yvonne Law

    Very inspiring story – I really took a lot away from this personal story, especially because I also want to travel (Europe, Asia) and learn another language (Japanese, Korean, French)!

    I was very lucky in that my parents helped me pay for college expenses, and supplemented by financial aid and work-study, I took out less than $5K in student loans, which they paid back as soon as I graduated. Of course, now I’m paying them back, but it means I don’t have to pay interest.

    I am paying off personal credit card debt, but on the whole, I’m doing okay financially (though I make a lot less money – $38K in Silicon Valley). I haven’t quite managed to figure out how to create savings goals for some of the things I want to do, though, so this article gave me a lot of great ideas for how to do that.

  • marco

    i make minimum wage. i can’t put $400 aside every month :(

  • salini

    Hey girl, this is really a good post. Im saving for my dream vacation to Paris / Amsterdam this post really helpful. Really hope my dream tour to Paris and Amsterdam will come true.

  • Haylee

    Im trying to go to paris in june 2015 to visit my a foreign exchange student i became close with. im 17 how should i start planning and saving?

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